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My least favourite game: our writers pick out their worst football matches | Soccer


Hull 0-0 Blackburn, Premier League (Dec 2009)

The last train back from Hull to London leaves at about 6.20pm. Sitting in the KC Stadium media lounge on a chilly night, I was unaware of this. And so, despite a headlong dash to the station, I missed it. This was an age before hotels had been invented, and in any case I was new to this business and unwilling to test the company expense account. So I took a train to Doncaster, marched straight to the bus station, and waited. And waited some more. Until 4am in fact, when a National Express coach to London finally rolled in. I finally arrived home at 9am. The game? Hull 0-0 Blackburn. Phil Brown moaned about the referee. Sam Allardyce chastised one of his players for not going down in the area. I wrote 300 words. It’s a ridiculous job, really. Jonathan Liew

Sweden 0-0 Turkey, Euro 2000 (Jun 2000)

While working in my first UK football journalism job, I managed to convince the editor I was the right man to send to Euro 2000. It was my first (and, as it turned out, last) major tournament and my excitement levels were high. One of the games I had been given was Sweden v Turkey in Eindhoven. Both sides had lost their opening games (to Belgium and Italy) so it felt like a must-win game for both –but what followed was nothing short of abysmal. I wasn’t the only one left bemused by the terrible fare on offer. “Sweden v Turkey has finished 0-0 in a game that wasn’t even worth that,” Lasse Granqvist said on Swedish radio. “This game was not worthy of being in a European Championship, with such low entertainment value … Did I say entertainment? I apologise for using that word here, because that is abusing the meaning of that word.” Marcus Christenson

Czech Republic 1-0 Scotland, Euro 2012 qualifier (Oct 2010)

Craig Levein maintains his problem stemmed from the leaking of team information by disgruntled players. That, had it not been apparent in the lead-up to Scotland’s clash with the Czech Republic that the manager would deploy a now-infamous 4-6-0 formation, the backlash would have been nowhere near as fierce. Levein has a point – and plenty of leading clubs and national sides have played without an out-and-out striker in the years since. Still, this was a morale-sapping night for Scotland followers. Against an average team, Scotland basically advertised their lack of ambition. Midfielders with attacking instinct looked forward and could see no focal point. This was during a period when qualifying for a major tournament looked an unattainable dream, but we all wanted Scotland to go down swinging, to at least challenge limited opposition. Levein can laugh about the episode now; nobody was smiling at the time. Ewan Murray

Czech players celebrate their winner in Prague as Scotland fans reflect on their decision to travel.
Czech players celebrate their winner in Prague as Scotland fans reflect on their decision to travel. Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

Argentina 0-1 Portugal, friendly (Nov 2014)

You want to know why the Nations League was welcomed? Step back in time to a chilly night at Old Trafford. We arrived at Manchester Piccadilly at lunchtime to be greeted by a man selling Lionel Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo half-and-half scarves out of a sports bag, which encapsulated the grubbiness of the occasion perfectly. This was the most meaningless of meaningless friendlies which looked as if neither team wanted to be at. A match which would have short-changed spectators had it been a training session, with the star pair who people paid through the nose to see both subbed at half-time. Raphaël Guerreiro’s last-minute winner was Portugal’s first shot on target and did little to thaw the frozen and bored fans. International friendlies mainly suck, and this was a particularly bad one, pumped up with fake meaning. Andy Brassell

Racing Santander 0-1 Valladolid, La Liga (Aug 2002)

As a sullen teenage football hipster, I agreed to attend a family holiday to northern Spain on the condition we went to a match somewhere. It just so happened that we were in town for Racing’s season opener at El Sardinero. After a stressful taxi ride through rush hour traffic, we settled into our €20 seats in time to watch the newly-promoted hosts stroke the ball around with little purpose. Half-time came and went. The drumming from the home ultras slowly petered out, as a local in front of us puffed relentlessly on his cigar. Nothing else happened until the visitors scored with the last kick, to the delight of the 50 away fans in attendance. Everyone else just shuffled out, beating us comfortably to the taxi rank. It was a 45-minute walk back to our hotel. Sorry, Mum and Dad. Niall McVeigh

England 0-0 Argentina, friendly (Feb 2000)

As a Plymouth Argyle supporter, this feels like a particularly taxing request. The 4-1 at Macclesfield in April 2000 was a real low … the first home games under Peter Shilton in 1994 … every match against Wycombe, ever. But they still pale in comparison with travelling down from Leeds to watch this dour excuse for an international at Wembley. David Lacey’s account feels far more upbeat, but then his experience probably wasn’t bookended by a pre-match pub near Baker Street being overrun by brawls and stormed by police, and the delayed journey back from Wembley resulting in a missed last train home, a slow post-midnight crawl to Peterborough, sleeping (with one eye open – didn’t fully trust the other person lingering at 3am) on a freezing platform, hopping on the first train north and then crawling into bed for a brief doze before work. James Dart

Kevin Keegan with Dennis Wise
Kevin Keegan with Dennis Wise, who at least got a nice memento from a very dull friendly. Photograph: Offside/Getty Images

GB and Ire 3-1 Rest of World, charity match (Nov 2015)

Yes, this “Match for Children” raised money for Unicef, but if charity records can get slated, then so can self-indulgent charity football matches. At Old Trafford, Becks, Giggsy, Scholesey, Butty and Phil Neville beat opponents including Ronaldinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjær in a match so back-slapping it made Soccer Aid look like an Old Firm title decider. The timing was unfortunate, too – the previous night had seen the horror of the terrorist attack in Paris, and Zinedine Zidane had decided not to play. “Being French, that hit him very hard,” said Beckham. Still, the show must go on, but as Andrea Bocelli and Rita Ora sang, and Brand Beckham was rinsed hard, it all felt distinctly inappropriate. All the players wore tracksuits bearing Beckham’s name and his No 7 motif. Even Brooklyn got a runout, subbed on for daddy, who then subbed himself back on to those guffaws of insincere laughter only otherwise heard during Wimbledon fortnight. John Brewin

Liverpool 0-1 Leicester, Premier League (Apr 1999)

Anfield under the lights is a special place, isn’t it? Not on this night. This was a grim spectacle, played out in near silence while Liverpool fans watched their team reach a new low. Not only were they outplayed by Martin O’Neill’s Leicester, but there was nothing remotely positive to hold on to, and no clear sense of where the club was going under Gérard Houllier. Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler were out injured and Liverpool’s only hope was Steve McManaman, whose head was already in Madrid. It seemed almost comedic when Ian Marshall, a former Everton defender in his mid-30s, trundled through a porous defence to lash home the winner in the dying seconds. The worst of it was that this was also the night Manchester United beat Juventus in Turin to keep their Treble hopes intact. Context is everything. Gregg Bakowski

Brentford 5-0 Preston, Championship (Sep 2016)

There have been plenty of quips made about the old Griffin Park, given the unique proximity of fan-friendly watering holes to the venue. I was feeling in need of a drink or two after witnessing what the then-Preston manager, Simon Grayson, labelled a “kamikaze” performance. The acute frustration was compounded by missed chances and a late injury which left the visitors with 10 men. Comical defending saw four goals conceded in the final 15 minutes, including an own goal by Chris Humphrey who was given his cards by the club within months. The long walk back to the Tube wasn’t made any easier when my colleague, Barry Glendenning, texted me. “You’ll need a few pints in each corner to forget this one.” Ouch. Tony Paley

Preston’s Tom Clarke seeks answers after Brentford score their fifth at Griffin Park.
Preston’s Tom Clarke seeks answers after Brentford score their fifth at Griffin Park. Photograph: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

England 1-1 Romania, friendly (Oct 1994)

Like everyone who goes to football, I’ve seen some absolute dross. But at 43, I can safely conclude that the buzz I feel each time I do – however bad the match is – will never leave me, so my worst game has nothing to do with the actual game. Not long after the USA World Cup, Romania visited Wembley – I was 15 and had never been to a match without my Dad; nor had I ever, despite growing up within walking distance of the Twin Towers, been to see England. This wasn’t by chance: I was monomaniacal about Manchester United and, being Jewish, the national team didn’t feel like my thing. I did, though, want to enjoy Gheorghe Hagi, Ilie Dumitrescu and my cigarettes, so a mate and I bought tickets. When God Save the Queen struck up, several fans around us unfurled Nazi salutes and sieg heils like it was the most natural thing going. We laughed – what else could we do? – but it stuck with me. In the 28 years since, I’ve seen England twice – both times from the away end. Daniel Harris

Kidderminster 2-1 Bradford, LDV Vans Trophy (Dec 2005)

Following Bradford City up and down the country as a teenager often felt more like a chore than a pleasure, but one night in particular sticks out. I originally left school at 16 to become an accountant, but lasted just a few months. In the end, I actually quit so I could jump on a mid-afternoon coach trip to Kidderminster. The only problem? The coach broke down on the way and by the time we got to the ground, the second half had started, Bradford were down to 10 men and losing 2-0. Still, we did get to see us score a consolation before exiting the competition with a whimper. On the plus side, the coach operator offered to refund our pre-purchased tickets as an apology. As we were all under-18s and it was a Football League Trophy game, it added up to a hefty £2 each. It was almost worth becoming unemployed for. Aaron Bower

Iraq 1-0 Australia, Olympic quarter-final (Aug 2004)

Sepp Blatter, the blazing heat of Crete, and a press room in the bowels of Pankritio Stadium before Iraq played Australia. The Gulf nation was in the grip of war, US forces having captured its brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein, in December 2003. Before dying in a firefight Uday, his son, controlled Iraq’s Olympic and football organisations, embezzling money and administering beatings to athletes. Iraq’s football president, Hussein Saeed, a former star player, was alleged to have selected players for Uday’s punishments. When Iraq knocked Portugal out in the previous round, Blatter’s raising of Saeed’s hand was as unsavoury as the pre-game media conference he graced here to milk Iraq’s supposed Cinderella status. I asked him: “Was he embarrassed at having raised the hand of a man [Saeed] who played a direct part in Iraq’s atrocities?” Cue Blatter wrinkling his nose. “We trust him. We are going forward and working not only for football but for peace.” Later, on the pitch, Iraq triumphed via a Mohammed Emad overhead volley to reach the semi-finals. But the presence of Blatter and Saeed makes this match the most discordant in my two decades reporting on football for The Observer and Guardian. Jamie Jackson

Iraq’s Haidar Amir takes the ball away from Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Iraq’s Haidar Amir takes the ball away from Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. The war-torn nation made a run to the Olympic semi-finals in 2004, but this was no Cinderella story. Photograph: Manuel araujo/EPA

England 0-0 Saudi Arabia, friendly (May 1998)

They say your teenage years are your best years, but it’s also a period in your life when you make mistakes. I was 17 when I attended England’s most boring game. I honestly cannot remember a single moment from what was England’s last home fixture before the 1998 World Cup, despite definitely being there. A Saturday afternoon of nothingness. An utterly pointless trip to Wembley to see Andy Hinchcliffe play left-back. According to the BBC’s report, it wasn’t actually that bad. Saudi Arabia strikers Sami Al-Jaber and Sayeed Al-Owairan had chances, while Teddy Sheringham went close for the hosts following a move started by David Beckham. But none of this rings a bell. Instead all that comes to mind when I think about this game is how bored I was. I had nothing else to do and lived nearby, so I went. I’ve regretted it ever since. Sachin Nakrani

Nottingham Forest 0-0 Oldham (League One, Oct 2007)

While at university, I exchanged a pound for many things: bottles of low-quality lager at Ocean, a kilo of pasta, unused prophylactics – all far better value for money than my ticket for this game. Forest, struggling in the third tier, lowered ticket prices in order to get younger fans on board. The Latics, meanwhile, had Michael Ricketts on their books – it had to be worth a quid to watch a former England international. Sadly, the former Bolton goal machine stayed seated and bored like the spectators. The future Premier League-winning captain, Wes Morgan, was an unused Forest sub. Despite the quality present on both benches, it was a truly woeful midweek game. I doubt there was a shot on target and it was a rip-off. Will Unwin

Liverpool 2-2 Manchester City, Premier League (Apr 2022)

Being a Liverpool fan in the Fergie-Wenger years wasn’t much fun, but it did teach me what a proper title rivalry should look like: vicious, bitter and fuelled by unbridled hate. So when my own club struck up their ongoing title struggle with Manchester City, I expected both clubs to act accordingly. It’s fair to say they failed: hostility was out, bonhomie and good humour were in. The rivalry reached its supposed apex towards the end of last season in a pulsating game featuring four goals, zero red cards and lots of warm hugs afterwards. The managers high-fived cheerfully before using their press conferences to speak adoringly of each other’s abilities. Kevin De Bruyne went one worse. “My kids go to school with lots of theirs and are friends with them,” he said. “On the pitch everyone gives their all for the team – but you don’t have to fight all the time.” Pass the sick bag. Alex Hess

‘How’s the family?’ – Kevin De Bruyne and Virgil van Dijk are great players but bad rivals.
‘How’s the family?’ – Kevin De Bruyne and Virgil van Dijk are great players but bad rivals. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Reuters

Wolves 0-2 Bolton, Division Three (Feb 1986)

The cry of “Wanderers” rang out, inspiring hope as this student rushed from his delayed train towards a dilapidated Molineux, where the match had already begun. It lasted until I met my Dad on the steps of the South Bank and realised Bolton were the Wanderers being regaled, having made the game safe. There were more weeds on the terraces than supporters by this stage, and the majority of the 3,110 fans present were from Lancashire. Wolves had Tim Flowers in goal, and Geoff Palmer, a survivor of the double League Cup winners from 1974 and 1980. But they also had Roger Eli, David Edwards, New Zealander Ricki Herbert and Peter Zelem, a centre-half so bad he could trip over his own boots. I returned for another home game a month later on a Tuesday night, joining Dad in swelling the 2,367 attendance as Plymouth picked Wolves’ pockets and sent us tumbling into the fourth division. Six months later, though, Steve Bull joined the promising Jon Purdie and Andy Mutch, and a rise from the ashes was ignited. Pete Lansley

Fulham P-P Blackburn, Premier League (Jan 2009)

There are plenty of Blackburn contenders here, but my worst game was one that never was. The 2008-09 season had started badly: Paul Ince had replaced Mark Hughes but was sacked before Christmas after seven straight defeats. Still, I arrived in Fulham on a sub-zero Saturday with a reluctant mate, optimistic that Sam Allardyce could get us out of the relegation zone. However, after my long journey south (from north London, not Lancashire) the game was called off owing to a frozen pitch. I spent the afternoon in a nearby pub, leaving abruptly after telling another Rovers fan his racism wasn’t really on. My mood was improved by the sight of Chris Samba getting on the tube at Putney Bridge, decked in questionable denim, for what must have been a fittingly huge night out on the town. So, not all bad, I guess. Michael Butler



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