Ranked! The 30 most hated ever teams in British football: 20-11
This is part two of our series. To read entries 30-21, click here.
20. Cambridge, 1990-92
The visitors’ practice balls would be under-inflated or soaked in water, their dressing-room made either crypt-cold or sauna-hot, and sometimes flooded with water
Unassuming Cambridge were 14th in the Fourth Division when they hired John Beck in January 1990. By May 1992, they were a play-off win away from the inaugural Premier League. That might seem a pleasant story, but the methodology horrified many: Cambridge were long-ball incarnate.
Cash bonuses were given to players who hit the ball the farthest. Cutting up the centre of the Abbey Stadium pitch to deter the rolling ball, Beck insisted the grass toward the corners be left to grow long, in order to better hold up the hoofs from which wingers would either cross or win a set-piece.
Then there was the psychological warfare. The visitors’ practice balls would be under-inflated or soaked in water, their dressing-room made either crypt-cold or sauna-hot, and sometimes flooded with water for hours beforehand.
Beck was eventually undone by his rigidity. At Christmas 1991, Cambridge were top of the second tier but thereafter saw their increasingly entrenched tactics nullified. When Beck subbed Steve Claridge after 20 minutes for dribbling instead of laying the ball off, a dressing room brawl ensued and the manager was sacked in October 1992. By 1995, Cambridge were back in the basement.
Chief villain: John Beck. Few teams can have been so identified with their manager, and few leaders can have had managerial styles so different to their own playing career. Beck in boots was a skilful creator, but Beck the boss was a fearful Positions Of Maximum Opportunity dogmatist whose idea of motivation was to tack up a poster of Saddam Hussein. In 2013, he was appointed by the FA as a coach educator.
19. Rangers, 1990/91
By 1990, the English clubs were back in Europe and Souness had hung up his boots, but the titles kept rolling in
Before Graeme Souness arrived at Ibrox in 1986, Rangers hadn’t won the title in eight seasons; they then won 10 of the next 11. Bankrolled by David Holmes and David Murray, the player-manager took advantage of English clubs’ post-Heysel ban to attract big-shot Sassenachs like Terry Butcher, Chris Woods, Trevor Steven, Gary Stevens, Trevor Francis and Ray Wilkins. England’s Italia '90 squad had more players from Rangers than any other team.
By 1990, the English clubs were back in Europe and Souness had hung up his boots, but the titles kept rolling in. Souey recruited Millwall tough-nut Terry Hurlock as his replacement and Mark Hateley as a target man alongside Mo Johnston, whose shibboleth-shattering signing – not only an ex-Celtic player, but Gers’ first high-profile Catholic – was perhaps peak Souness vs The World (not bad for a man who planted a Galatasaray flag in Fenerbahce’s centre-circle).
By the time the 1991 title was secured – with a last-day win over rivals Aberdeen – Souness had flitted south to Anfield.
Chief villain: Graeme Souness. Described as “out of order”, “obnoxious” and “difficult to deal with” by none other than himself, as Rangers manager Souness personified how others came to perceive the Glasgow giants: aggressive, arrogant and annoyingly successful.
18. Stevenage, 2003-2006, 2008-2012, 2013-2015
Considered arrogant and outlandish by fans of rival clubs, Westley’s big, ugly side didn’t win many admirers either
Graham Westley has never cared about winning popularity contests. He had been in charge of Farnborough when their 2003 FA Cup tie with Arsenal was infamously switched to Highbury, but quit soon after to take the Stevenage job and took half of Farnborough’s players with him.
Considered arrogant and outlandish by fans of rival clubs, Westley’s big, ugly side didn’t win many admirers either – although it did produce results. A team combining the physicality of Dino Maamria, Jason Goodliffe and Anthony Elding with the flair of George Boyd reached the Conference play-off final in 2005, but a failure to follow that up 12 months later saw Westley depart.
He had spent almost a year out of football when Stevenage turned to him again – despite some dissent among the home faithful – in 2008. And having used his free time to study the lower leagues, Stevenage under Westley Mk. II thrived, with an FA Trophy triumph in 2009 preceding back-to-back promotions and a spot in the League One play-off places by the time he’d left, again, for Preston in January 2012.
Just 16 wins in 62 games meant Westley’s dalliance at Deepdale lasted little over a year, yet he’d only been out of work a month when Stevenage took him in for a third time. Still in the third tier but on a downward trajectory, Boro ended the campaign in 18th and were bottom a year later. A third sixth-placed finish in five seasons stopped the rot before Westley completed his hat-trick of farewells and the Hertfordshire side hired a safer pair of hands in, erm, Teddy Sheringham.
Chief villain: Dino Maamria. A key ally of Westley, who was later part of his coaching staff at Preston and Newport, the Tunisian forward was sent off four times and cautioned on more than 20 occasions during Westley’s first spell in charge at Broadhall Way.