Fulham are top of the Championship with a goal difference of +48. I am acutely conscious of their capacity to screw things up, however, so what is the best goal difference a team has had and not been promoted?” asks Richard Hirst.
It’s looking good for the Cottagers right now, a positive goal difference of +16 from their last four games sending them soaring at the top. But if you are looking for any historical pointers elsewhere to justify your wariness, then here you go.
Here’s Richard Askham. “Huddersfield Town, 1980-81, Steve Kindon et al,” he writes. “Goals for: 71; against: 40 … +31. They finished fourth behind promoted trio Rotherham, Charlton and Barnsley. It would have been +32 had the ball not gone in off the referee deep into injury-time at Hull. Promotion to the Premier League in 2016-17 with a goal difference of -2 more than made up for 1980-81, though.” Then again, teams have qualified for Europe before with negative goal differences … some have even won titles with them.
“Brentford finished third in the 2019-20 Championship with a goal difference of +42,” recalls John Curry. “They were not promoted. But in the old Third Division North, where only the winner was promoted to the Second Division, Stockport County finished runners-up in 1929-30 with a goal difference of +62.”
The National League also offers a few recent examples, including Wrexham (+52, 2011-12) and Luton (+44, 2009-10 and +48, 2010-11). Worst of all, Hereford United finished second in 2003-04 with 91 points and a +59 goal difference, finishing a point behind champions Chester and losing to Aldershot in the play-offs.
Rough, but not as rough as in the Highland League. “Got two belters for you,” begins Mick McMenemia. “Formartine United finished second in 2016 with a goal difference of +102 (32 better than the winners Cove Rangers), but only the champions got entry into the play-offs for a league place. The year before, Brora won the league with a goal difference of +121, but lost to Montrose in the play-off final. No promotion but at least they got a trophy. Formartine got nothing.”
One, Cou, three, four, five…
“In making his debut for Aston Villa, Philippe Coutinho has now played for five European Cup or Champions League winners,” tweets Jez Orbell. “Can anyone better that?”
Coutinho’s loan to Espanyol scuppers his perfect record, but in terms of teams the original Ronaldo can equal this, with his quintet of teams being PSV, Barcelona, Internazionale, Real Madrid and Milan (he also played at the South American champions Cruzeiro and Corinthians) . The former Barnet star Edgar Davids can match this European mark too, having turned out for Ajax, Milan, Inter, Juventus and Barcelona.
But several readers pointed to someone who has six. “Zlatan Ibrahimovic is an obvious candidate,” mails Paul Fenton, “having played for six European Cup winners (Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Milan and Manchester United) and two runners-up (Malmö and Paris Saint-Germain). All his European clubs have played in the final at some point, but he never has: his clubs have racked up almost 50 finals without him reaching one. Has any other player played for so many without actually playing in a final?”
Last week we looked at matches with TV score abbreviations within one character of the two teams playing. But there are more incidents of note…
Including this, from Michael Thomas: “When Dunfermline Athletic hosted Dundee a while back on TV, the BBC made us ‘DUN’ and Dundee, ‘DEE’. So it just said ‘DUN-DEE’.” And going back to the mention of Crystal Palace losing on penalties at home to Colchester in the 2019 League Cup, Robert notes that “they are also the UK military standard abbreviations for two different army ranks: Corporal and Colonel. In this context, it was no longer a giant-killing, as the far higher-ranking Colonel defeats the lowly corporal (10 ranks apart).” And then there is this.
“I have taunted my fellow workers in our ad hoc quiz, asking who the first-ever sub in Premier League history was,” wrote Dag Fjeldstad in 2016. “I thought the correct answer should be Erik Thorstvedt coming on for Ian Walker. My hunch was hard to prove, but it is to some extent corroborated by the Spurs Firsts website. How nice it would be if you look into this and put the record straight if necessary.”
We identified the first ever substitute in the English leagues back in 2001 here. When it comes to Premier League substitutions, sadly the taunting has to stop. The first season of the newly-rebranded Premier League was 1992-93, and Thorstvedt came on for Walker at half-time in Tottenham’s second game of that campaign, a 2-0 defeat at home to Coventry, thus missing out on the title of the new-look top-flight’s first sub by a considerable margin.
That honor instead belongs to Mike Phelan, who replaced the crocked Paul Ince seven minutes into Manchester United’s 2-1 defeat at Sheffield United on the season’s opening day. The Guardian’s reporter at this game raged that the Mancunians’ disappointing performance demonstrated, er, “Alex Ferguson’s propensity for dubious judgments”, the need “for Ferguson to learn the difference between a striker and a goalscorer” and “Ferguson’s suspect ability to make the best use of what he has”, after which United went on to win the league not only that season but in six of the following eight as well, while Paul Ince – “rarely fit” – was runner up in the PFA Player of the Year voting and Ryan Giggs – “he seems to have stopped taking on players” – wrapped up the Young Player of the Year award, as well as finishing third in voting for the Football Writers’ Association main gong. Anyway, this particular title was won by Phelan by a margin of 22 minutes, the next substitution coming at Crystal Palace, where Blackburn brought on Chris Price to replace Alan Wright in the 29th minute of a 2-2 draw.
can you help?
“As a Blackburn fan I put more stock in 19th century trophies than perhaps I should,” writes Simon Elliott. “However, are Rovers unique in winning major trophies in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries? Are there any equivalents from other countries? For the purposes of this, the 2002 League Cup is a major trophy.”
“What are the oldest floodlight pylons that are still in use at a football ground in the UK?” miracles Gordon Smith.
“When Morocco played against Comoros, it occurred to me that this might be the highest ever number of o’s in a first-class fixture (six, three each),” suggests Daniel Marcus. “Can anyone come up with more?”
“Has there even been, in a UK match, another pair of opposing captains whose surnames start with Z?” posed this commenter. “Katie Zelem (Manchester United) and Shelina Zadorsky (Tottenham) faced each other on Sunday.”
“I was unpacking some deliveries at our shop which arrived in an old copy of the Sun sport pages from about 2010,” begins Warwick Bassett. “In the results, there was a team by the name of ‘The South Coast Team’. Does anyone have any idea who they are or were?”