Rochdale’s long-suffering fans ‘win’ a league

ANTON RIPPON has been following, and reporting on, Derby County for many years. But statistics show things could be worse, much worse

Rochdale's fans are officially the longest suffering long-suffering fans
Rochdale’s fans are officially the longest suffering long-suffering fans

Times are good times for Liverpool fans. Top of the Premier League – it really doesn’t get any better than that.

Of course, while Liverpool supporters have felt themselves going through lean times until very recently – ditto Arsenal fans – it is all relative.

What would those few hardy souls who follow the misfortunes of Rochdale through thinner and thinner give for even one season of the Reds, or the Gunners’, history?

Because Rochdale fans, subjected to seeing their team lose at Spotland to Southend on Friday, their second 3-0 defeat in the space of a week, have been named by statisticians as the most long-suffering supporters in English league football history.

Meanwhile, a study of 220,000 results since the Football League was born 125 seasons ago shows that Manchester United fans don’t know what “suffering” means.

United supporters may not be enjoying this season as much as most but they are historically the least long-suffering in the English game, reveals the same study – commissioned by the makers of Warren United, a new animated sitcom about a long-suffering fan of a chronically struggling football club.

The show’s producers commissioned statisticians at the English National Football Archive to compile a “Long-Suffering Fan Index”. ENFA’s top “stattos” crunched data from 220,000 match results since the first Football League season in 1888-1889 to rank the current 92 Football League clubs by their lack of success, weighted by extra factors including the size of their average home crowds.

“Football is supposed to be the ‘glory game’,” said Simon Nye, Warren United’s lead writer. Supporting Brainsford, the fictional team in Warren United, brings its hero Warren more grief than glory: “But that’s what makes him a true fan,” Nye said, “because for most fans it’s more about grief, pain and chronic disappointment.”

Actually, Rochdale have been suffering only since 1921, when they joined the Third Division North. But they still top ENFA’s suffering table with a “Long-Suffering Fan Index” of 66.12, ahead of Hartlepool United in second with 64.72, and Exeter City in third, with 64.08. Manchester United, by comparison, prop up the table with just 21.31.

The Dale has spent more seasons in the bottom flight of English football (78 including this season) than any other team. It is even claimed that during their 36-year unbroken residence in the football’s basement – from 1974-2010 – fans of other clubs began to refer to League Two as “the Rochdale division”. Even their attempt to escape League Two this season look to be coming unstuck, with those two most recent defeats jeopardising their automatic promotion place.

Rochdale also have the lowest average placing of any club in the Football League – 76th. While the fictional Brainsford United have at least won one trophy in their time – the lesser-known Co-operative Tarpaulins Cup – Rochdale have not won anything since joining the Football League 93 years ago. Although, as a Fourth Division club, they did reach a Football League Cup Final, losing to Second Division Norwich City 4-0 on aggregate over two legs in 1962.

In compiling their index of fan suffering, ENFA’s statisticians factored in data on everything from domestic league and cup honours won (giving different weightings according to the importance of the competition) to average league position, promotion and relegation, and progress each season in the FA Cup.

Warren United: a new take on football fan-dom
Warren United: a new take on football fan-dom

They also weighted the results according to average home attendances, so that the index was not merely a measure of on-field success or lack of it.

European competitions, however, were not included – some comfort perhaps for Rochdale fans, who still await the day.

At the other end of the table, Manchester United’s bulging trophy cabinet means that its fans have the smallest suffering score, narrowly ahead of Liverpool. Then comes a trio of London clubs: Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham.

Ironically, Rochdale fans are, at least for now, probably far happier with their season than those of mighty Manchester United. This provides proof, if needed, that even the longest-suffering football fans can still dream of better days to come, when the wilderness years will finally be over.

The 10 Clubs With The Longest Suffering Fans

(Rank/ Club /Fan Suffering Index score)

  1. Rochdale AFC 66.12
  2. Hartlepool United 64.72
  3. Exeter City 64.08
  4. Newport County 65.53
  5. Colchester United (top in League One) 63.39
  6. Southend United 63.12
  7. Torquay United 62.96
  8. Mansfield Town 62.90
  9. Leyton Orient 62.83
  10. AFC Wimbledon 62.45

Clubs With The Lowest Suffering Index

  1. Manchester United 21.31
  2. Liverpool 21.97
  3. Arsenal 30.22
  4. Chelsea 31.46
  5. Tottenham Hotspur 32.44
  6. Aston Villa 37.11
  7. Leeds United 37.75
  8. Everton 39.28
  9. Manchester City 40.57
  10. Newcastle United 41.27

The first episode of Warren United kicks off on Tuesday at 10pm on ITV4. Co-written by Simon Nye, the writer of Men Behaving Badly, David Quantick and Dominic Holland, the show features the voices of BATFA award-winner Darren Boyd (as Warren), Morgana Robinson, Nitin Ganatra and Johnny Vegas (as Fat Baz, the manager of Brainsford United).


Thu May 15: SJA members’ Race Day at York