30. Leeds, 1996/97
Following Howard Wilkinson’s dismissal after a 4-0 shellacking by Manchester United in September, Leeds became almost cartoonish for their awfulness on the eye. No top-flight team had ever scored fewer than the 28 goals they managed that season.
The appointment of George Graham, recently returned from a one-year ban for accepting illicit payments at Arsenal, meant even Leeds fans now hated their own side. Adopting the same mean machine approach he’d used at Highbury, Graham ensured United kept a staggering 20 clean sheets in the league. Yet the fact they failed to score in 21 league matches makes them the dullest and most unloved Premier League team ever.
29. Liverpool 2013/14
Liverpool came close to ending their long wait for a league title with a jaw-droppingly entertaining team packed with characters who were hard to warm to – from world judo champion Martin Skrtel in defence, two-club man Steven Gerrard in midfield, to bitey abuser Luis Suarez leading the line (quite brilliantly, admittedly).
Many loved this admittedly thrilling Liverpool run, but there was also a healthy dose of schadenfreude from rival fans at the 2-0 defeat by Chelsea and the throwing away of a 3-0 lead at Crystal Palace. Although that did open the door for Manchester City to take the title, which is arguably worse.
28. Scotland, 1978
Argentina ‘78 remains the only World Cup Scots talk about. Ally MacLeod’s squad, which featured Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen, Archie Gemmill and Joe Jordan, were confident of qualifying from a group containing Holland, Iran and Peru. Even so, MacLeod’s pronouncement that “You can mark 25 June 1978 as the day Scotland conquers the world” struck many as overconfidence bordering on arrogance.
A 3-1 loss to Peru preceded an even worse 1-1 draw with Iran, which MacLeod blamed on a lack of water in the hotel swimming pool. Honour was partially redeemed with a glorious, albeit irrelevant, 3-2 win over the Dutch.
27. Cardiff, 2000/01
A pervading sense of capital city arrogance has always made it easy for Welsh fans to loathe Cardiff. But the arrival of Sam ‘Crazy Gang’ Hammam as chairman in 2000 upped the hatred a notch or six.
If the self-publicising, self-aggrandising Hammam wasn’t promising to make the entire Welsh nation support the Bluebirds, he was pretentiously describing his new club as the ‘Barcelona of Wales’. He impressed Cardiff fans by joining in their ‘Do the Ayatollah’ celebration and remains a cult hero to some, even though he later sold the club to Peter Ridsdale.
26. West Ham, 1966/67
Alf Ramsey didn’t win the World Cup, West Ham did. All four England goals in the final were scored by Hammers, while skipper Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy.
So why are England fans often so begrudging in their thanks? Largely because Hammers fans have been so ceaseless in carping on about their World Cup triumph for over 50 years that a latent dislike has built up over time.
Pleasingly, West Ham didn’t get to bask in their glory for long at the time. On the first day of the 1966/67 season, Chelsea beat them 2-1, with a Scot (Charlie Cooke) scoring the winner.
25. Notts County, 2009/10
Sol Campbell’s time at Notts County lasted about as long as his foray into politics. The defender was one of a number of acquisitions made after the club was taken over by mysterious Middle Eastern backers Munto Finance before the 2009/10 League Two season.
Sven-Goran Eriksson – never one to turn down a lucrative offer – was hired as director of football, while targetman Lee Hughes arrived on the same day (he’d been a Premier League player until spending three years in jail for causing death by dangerous driving).
Campbell lasted one game and Sven seven months - but Hughes scored 33 goals as the Magpies won League Two.
24. Chelsea, 2008/09
“It’s a f**king disgrace,” whined Didier Drogba at the end of Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final defeat by Barcelona in 2009, a game in which Danish referee Tom Henning Ovrebo turned down six penalty shouts from the Blues.
The likeable Guus Hiddink and Big Phil Scolari aside, there was plenty about this physical, vulgar, nouveau riche Chelsea side to turn the stomach – from Jose Bosingwa’s monobrow to Drogba’s flip-flop rage. Just look at the defenders – Bosingwa, Alex, John Terry and Ashley Cole were the regular starters, with the dastardly Ricardo Carvalho waiting on the bench alongside an increasingly dejected Wayne Bridge.
23. Arsenal, 1994/95
The unravelling of ‘boring, boring’ Arsenal was more entertaining than anything that had happened under George Graham since he outwitted Kenny Dalglish to win the title at Anfield in 1989. Paul Merson wrestled with his addictions for months, Graham was sacked for taking bungs and David Seaman was lobbed – in an eerie prequel of England vs Brazil in 2002 – from the halfway line by Nayim in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final.
Gooners still shiver at the memory of that 1994/95 squad, studded with such greats as Carter, Flatts, Hillier, Lydersen, Marshall, Morrow, Selley and Shaw.
22. Sheffield United, 2006/07
The Blades’ dressing room was a pretty crazy place in 2006/07: Paddy Kenny had his eyebrow bitten off in a brawl and Claude Davis reportedly threatened team-mate Ade Akinbiyi with a cut-throat razor after a row.
Overseeing the madness was Neil Warnock, the man who looks like your great aunt sucking on a lemon. He raged against his own players, against West Ham for the Carlos Tevez affair and against Alex Ferguson and Rafa Benitez, who he accused of playing weakened sides against relegation rivals.
"What goes around comes around and maybe Chelsea will win the FA Cup and Milan the Champions League,” Warnock said. Let’s hope he switched off at half-time.
21. Crawley Town, 2010/11
An anonymous Hong Kong benefactor gave the Red Devils’ squad a power boost in 2010, as they recruited more than 20 players in six months. Matt Tubbs’ 37 goals duly saw Crawley steamroller the fifth tier, while they also reached the fifth round of the FA Cup and only narrowly lost to Manchester United.
Manager Steve Evans was no stranger to controversy: found guilty of conspiring to evade tax at Boston, he was sent from the dugout so often in 2007/08 that he was banned for 10 games. With typical modesty, Evans celebrated Crawley’s success by saying his team should rise from League Two at the first attempt.
20. Cambridge, 1990-92
Cambridge were 14th in the Fourth Division when they hired John Beck in 1990. By May 1992, they were a win away from the Premier League. That might seem a pleasant story, but the methodology horrified many: Cambridge were long-ball incarnate.
A fearful Positions Of Maximum Opportunity dogmatist whose idea of motivation was to pin up a poster of Saddam Hussein, Beck gave bonuses to players who hit the ball the farthest and insisted the grass toward the corners of the pitch be left to grow long, in order to better hold up the hoofs from which wingers would either cross or win a set-piece.
19. Rangers, 1990/91
Before Graeme Souness’s arrival in 1986, Rangers hadn’t won the title in eight seasons; they then claimed 10 of the next 11. The player-manager, described as “out of order”, “obnoxious” and “difficult to deal with” by none other than himself, took advantage of English clubs’ post-Heysel ban to attract Terry Butcher, Chris Woods, Trevor Steven, Gary Stevens, Trevor Francis and Ray Wilkins to Ibrox.
By 1990, English clubs were back in Europe and Souness had hung up his boots, but the titles kept rolling in. Souey recruited Terry Hurlock as his replacement and Mark Hateley as a targetman alongside Mo Johnston, whose shibboleth-shattering signing – he was Gers’ first high-profile Catholic – was perhaps peak Souness vs The World.
18. Stevenage, 2003-2006, 2008-2012, 2013-2015
"My kids don't call me dad – they call me medal winner".
Graham Westley has never cared about winning popularity contests. Considered arrogant and outlandish by rival fans, his big, ugly side didn’t win many admirers either – although they did get results.
Combining the physicality of Dino Maamria, Jason Goodliffe and Anthony Elding with the flair of George Boyd saw Stevenage reach the Conference play-off final in 2005. Westley’s second spell brought the FA Trophy, back-to-back promotions and a spot in the League One play-off places.
Boro turned to him for a third time after a failed spell at Preston, and Westley successfully stopped the rot with a third sixth-place finish in five seasons. It wasn’t pretty, though.
17. Leicester, 2002/03
Crippled by their move to a new stadium the previous August, plus the collapse of ITV Digital which left them bereft of previously-promised millions, Leicester were rescued by a Gary Lineker-led consortium in March 2003 having sunk into administration with debts of £30m six months earlier. Yet with no rules to punish them in existence, the Foxes – working under a transfer embargo – stormed to automatic promotion.
That all changed soon enough. All 72 Football League clubs met in April to vote on implementing rules that would sanction clubs in administration, which led to the introduction of points deductions.
16. England, 2010
England’s campaign at the World Cup in South Africa would make a great disaster movie. Tactics so stale they’d grown mouldy, dissent in the ranks, allegedly world-class players forgetting they had to pass to someone wearing the same shirt; England were, as an unusually enraged Alan Shearer put it, “a team in name only”.
The ancient Greeks believed that hubris was inevitably followed by nemesis (which literally meant ‘folly, ruin, delusion’). This England debacle, which featured Robert Green throwing one in against the USA and Wayne Rooney slamming his own fans after a draw with Algeria, proved them tragically, hilariously right.
15. Arsenal, 1937/38
With just 52 points from 42 games, Arsenal’s haul was the joint-lowest total for league champions. Despite starting the season well, and scoring 12 goals in their first three games, just two wins in 12 followed.
“I didn’t hold out any chance for us, not without Alex James in midfield. To my mind, the quality of player just wasn’t there,” striker Ted Drake admitted.
Media darlings Preston were installed as favourites, but the dogged – and some claimed ‘lucky’ – Arsenal clawed themselves back into the race, winning 3-1 at a muddy Deepdale in the season’s defining encounter. The reaction to the news was grudging at best.
14. Blackburn, 1994/95
Perhaps it was due to the fact they were bankrolled to the title by steel tycoon Jack Walker, but not many neutrals revelled in Rovers’ 1995 Premier League triumph.
Kenny Dalglish’s team was devastating, direct and effective, perfectly illustrated by their hard-nosed front pairing of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton. Newly moneyed Blackburn lacked flair and artistry, favouring good old Lancashire (well, Boreham Wood to be precise) grit.
Dalglish, keen on signing emerging French midfielder Zinedine Zidane, was famously rebuffed by Jack Walker who – legend has it – responded: “Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?”
13. Chelsea, 2004/05
The world’s greatest coach, a war chest amassed by a murky Russian billionaire and a squad of brilliant mercenaries recruited from across the globe. What's not to like?
There were many reasons to abhor Chelsea in the mid-2000s, as ref-bothering Jose Mourinho turned a club who’d previously taken a Bart Simpson-esque pride in flashy underachievement into the most chillingly efficient outfit since the Daleks.
Mourinho’s Blues won the title with a record 95 points (12 clear of runners-up Arsenal) and just 15 – fifteen! – goals conceded. They’ve only recently, thanks to even-more-minted Manchester City, been able to shake off some of the ‘Chelski’ stigma.
12. Manchester United, 2009/10
A survey of 1,000 Brits around this time found that Manchester United were more unpopular than Ryanair. The explanations given included: United’s wealth; Gary Neville; myths about elastic injury-time and the dearth of penalties conceded at Old Trafford; Sir Alex Ferguson’s power; Gary Neville; monotonous, monopolistic success; the club’s apparent belief that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean the FA isn’t plotting against you; and Gary Neville. Must we go on?
Then came the takeover by the Glazer family and, in 2009/10, even United’s own fans turned on the club (or at least the way it was being run).
11. Arsenal, 2003/04
The Invincibles weren’t all that. It’s not just that we’re jealous of their success. Honest.
Of course there were moments of brilliance from the likes of Thierry Henry. Yet although they went the league season unbeaten, they did it with 12 draws – and their total of 90 points was bettered by Mourinho’s Chelsea in each of the next two seasons.
They rode their luck at times too - most notably against Portsmouth in September, when Robert Pires dived to win a penalty in a 1-1 draw. They were also fortunate to escape unscathed from the infamous ‘Battle of Old Trafford’ 10 days later, which led to seven players being fined.
10. Wolves, 1937/38
“If you didn’t like his style you’d very soon be on your bicycle to another club,” future Wolves manager Stan Cullis later said of Molineux supremo Major Frank Buckley. The Somme veteran ensured that Wolves adopted a far more aggressive approach – so much so that they were banned from a 1937 pre-season tour due to their ‘over-vigorous’ play the previous year.
Buckley also enjoyed garnering attention in the press and, following a meeting with chemist Menzies Sharp, allowed his players to undergo a four-month course of 12 injections taken from monkey glands. By fair means or foul, Wolves emerged as a rising force during the late 1930s.
9. Stoke, 2009/10
This was Stoke’s second season in the Premier League, and probably marked peak Pulis – before he got delusions of grandeur and started mixing football in with the Potters’ unadulterated violence. Their most potent weapon was Rory Delap’s long throw, hated not only because of the ugly goals it created, but also because of the ball towelling rigmarole before each one.
The effectiveness of Stoke’s rugged approach won them few admirers – especially after Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey had his leg broken by Ryan Shawcross who is, of course, not that kind of player. At Stoke, they were all that kind of player.
8. Preston, 1888/89
The Lilywhites were a great team – they won the league in 1888/89 undefeated – but their greatness was tarnished by corruption. Ten of that side were Scots, lured south by promises of money and jobs at a cotton mill managed by Preston’s secretary/manager William Sudell.
Four years earlier, when football was still officially an amateur game, the FA had kicked Preston out of the FA Cup for paying players. When they, Aston Villa and Sunderland threatened a breakaway league over the issue, a compromise was struck, allowing clubs to employ professional footballers who were born – or lived – locally.
7. Arsenal, 1919
The legend of ‘lucky Arsenal’ was born with a dubious deal struck when league football returned at the end of the First World War. The Gunners were elected to a new 22-team First Division, despite finishing fifth in Division Two in 1914/15.
Arsenal chairman Sir Henry Norris, who was later banned for life for embezzlement, secretly negotiated with (and, it has been alleged, bribed) members of the FA committee to ensure Arsenal won the vote ahead of Tottenham, who’d finished bottom of Division One in 1914/15. The shock of the relegation is said to have killed the parrot that had become a Spurs mascot.
6. Liverpool, 1974-89
Although Liverpool were rarely short of attacking talent, the creators were protected by a procession of unforgiving hard men: Ron Yeats, Tommy Smith, Joey Jones, Jimmy Case, Graeme Souness, Steve McMahon.
On the other hand, any tackle at the Kop end would result in a Liverpool penalty. And once ahead in a game in the days before the backpass rule, they would happily kill a close game with an endless recycling of possession between Bruce Grobbelaar and his defenders.
Nor were the fans popular, with the hatred reaching a controversial peak after the Heysel disaster caused all English clubs to be banned from Europe for half a decade.
5. Millwall, 1885-present
The obvious explanation is that Millwall supporters have a rap sheet as long as Al Capone’s. The offences to be taken into consideration include major riots at home (vs Birmingham in 2002 and Ipswich in 1978) and away (against Luton in 1985, QPR in 1966, plus West Ham in 1906 and 2009), ambushing officials outside the ground, breaking a visiting goalkeeper’s jaw after he tried to stop them chucking missiles, and lobbing a dummy hand grenade onto the pitch.
As long ago as the 1930s, directors tried to improve the club’s image, with uniformed pageboys acting as commissionaires at the ground. Nothing’s really worked.
4. Wimbledon, 1987/88
With a cast of pantomime villains including John Fashanu and Vinnie Jones, Wimbledon terrorised opposition defences in the late 1980s. Purveyors of the long-ball game at their cramped Plough Lane ground, the Crazy Gang’s approach represented football at its most agricultural.
They set fire to one another’s clothes, cut the heating in the visitors’ dressing room and knocked seven bells out of one another to settle internal scores.
As Bobby Gould, manager for the Dons’ famous FA Cup triumph in 1988, explained: “A lot of the boys had personal issues which manifested itself in the ways they behaved and performed on the pitch.” No kidding.
3. Manchester United, 1998/99
This was the season that encapsulated the concept of ‘Fergie Time’. His side left it late on so many occasions, but there was an inevitability to United - a relentlessness which wore their opponents down so much that it almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy: they scored eight equalisers or winners in the last five minutes of games en route to a famous treble.
There was a time when most of the country would get behind the last English team left in Europe. That era ended on May 26, 1999, when United beat Bayern Munich (with two late goals, surprise, surprise) to win the Champions League.
2. MK Dons, 2004/05
With the gall of a tribute band claiming to be the original, MK Dons controversially seized Wimbledon’s history and league position. How fitting that this synthetic club moved to Milton Keynes, a new town where concrete cows were once erected to create atmosphere.
MK Dons won over some neutrals by being relegated in 2006 and handing the trophies back to AFC Wimbledon in 2007, but they’re still reviled. After all, such a move was merely an admission that MK Dons knew they weren’t really a continuation of the original Wimbledon all along.
1. Leeds, 1973/74
The second league title for Don Revie’s Leeds reminded many how much they had despised ‘Super Leeds’. They were, George Best said, a shin-kicking “bloody nightmare”. The club’s famous family spirit was, Brian Clough snapped, more mafia than Mothercare.
Then there were the allegations of bribery – from Leeds keeper Gary Sprake, Wolves centre-half Frank Munro and manager Bob Stokoe. The revisionist case for Revie lauds him as a pioneer of tactics and dossiers, but he was equally innovative when it came to squad rotation (fielding second-string teams when it suited) and lofty moral lectures. Fair or not, the ‘Dirty Leeds’ tag has stuck.
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