Rochdale fans top suffering league; Man Utd rank last:

by Mystical Mike

Monday, April 14th, 2014

“Fan Suffering Index” names football’s most & least long-suffering

Rochdale fans have followed their club through… thin and thinner, shows study of 220,000 results since 1888 birth of Football League … But Man Utd fans don’t know what “suffering” means

 Rochdale fans include comic Tommy Cannon, singer Lisa Stansfield

While fans of Chelsea and Manchester City watch their teams vie for glory again this year, the fans of lowly Rochdale, who watched their team lose 3-0 on Saturday, are today named by statisticians the most long-suffering in English football history.

Manchester United fans, meanwhile, 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, starting April 22nd on ITV4, about a long-suffering fan of a chronically struggling football club.

The show’s producers commissioned statisticians at the English National Football Archive (ENFA) 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 1888-9 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.

ENSA’S “Suffering Index” therefore also marks 125 seasons since the Football League’s birth – and 150 since the launch of The FA and the birth of modern football.

“Football is supposed to be the ‘glory game’”, says Simon Nye, lead writer of Warren United, whose many past credits include Men Behaving Badly. “But for most fans it’s more about grief, pain and chronic disappointment.”  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.”

Rochdale is a large market town in Greater Manchester, on the doorstep of both Manchester United and City. The fans of Rochdale AFC – who include the comic Tommy Cannon and the singer Lisa Stansfield – may feel themselves long-suffering but they have, in fact, only been suffering since 1907, when the club was founded.

Nonetheless, 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, as the club is nicknamed, has spent more seasons in the bottom flight of English football (78 including this season) than any other team. Indeed, during its 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’.

It also has the lowest average league placing of any in the Football League – 76th. While the fictional Brainsford United has at least won one trophy in its time – the lesser-known Cooperative Tarpaulins Cup – Rochdale has not won a football competition since joining the Football League in 1921.

“Rochdale fans have followed their club through… thin and thinner”, says Nye.

Even Bill Shankly, the legendary manager of Liverpool, took a dig at Rochdale when he exclaimed, “Of course, I didn’t take my wife to see Rochdale as an anniversary present. It was her birthday. Would I have got married in the football season?

… Anyway, it was Rochdale reserves.”

The mockers were briefly silenced when the Dale gained promotion to League One four years ago, but sadly for the club’s fans the club’s stay at such heights was short-lived, lasting just two seasons.

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.

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 when their club takes the field against the elite of Europe.

Meanwhile, 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 come a trio of London clubs: Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham.

Ironically, Rochdale fans are, at least for now, far happier than those of mighty Manchester United. While United toil this season under new manager David Moyes, Dale are looking good for promotion from League Two.

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.

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