“If Nottingham Forest are promoted to the Premier League and Notts County remain in the National League, would this create the biggest difference in league positions between two local rivals who had played in the same league before?” muses Makoto.
Nottingham’s finest last played each other in the league in 1993-94, in what is now the Championship. If Forest are promoted and County stay in the National League, there will be four tiers between the sides. But there is a much quicker example, albeit involving a local rivalry that isn’t quite as intense.
“Sheffield United and Chesterfield played in League One in 2016-17,” writes David Taylor. “By the end of 2019-20 United were ninth in the Premier League, Chesterfield 20th in the National League.”
Bernd Wilms can see those four tiers and raise them. “There is at least one six-tier difference in Germany: Freiburg,” he writes. “From 1978 to 1982, Freiburger FC (the historically larger club) and SC Freiburg both played in the 2 Bundesliga. By 2009, FFC had fallen to the seventh-tier Landesliga and SCF had reached the Bundesliga.”
There are plenty of other five-tier differences in Germany, which Bernd has also highlighted. FC Köln and Fortuna Köln; Hertha Berlin and Tennis Borussia; and VfL Bochum and Wattenscheid 09. “However, this is just counting rivals that were in the Bundesliga or 2 Bundesliga together,” he adds. “If you look at some of the teams that Hertha BSC, 1860 München or MSV Duisburg played during their 1980s stints in the (then third tier) Oberliga, you could probably get even bigger swings today.”
Speaking of Duisburg and the Oberliga. “I can offer local rivals MSV Duisburg and Sportfreunde Hamborn 07,” offers Bernd Jatzwauk. “They played each other in the Oberliga Nordrhein at the end of the 1980s. MSV went on to get promotion to the Bundesliga, and played there, for example, in 1997-98, while Hamborn plied their trade as low as the Landesliga Niederrhein, then the seventh tier of German football.”
There has also been a six-tier gulf in English football, involving one of the more evocatively named rivalries. “Can I present the Wool City derby?” presents James Mackenzie. “Bradford City and Bradford (Park Avenue) first played in the top flight in 1914. By the time City were in the Premier League, BPA were in the Northern Premier League, or tier seven.”
But all of these pale in comparison to the chasm that once existed in the BB1 postcode area. “Local rivals Darwen and Blackburn Rovers were both in the old First Division in the 1893-94 season,” explains Alun Thomas. “Darwen folded at the end of the 2008-09 season when they were in the North West Counties League Division 1 (level 10) and Blackburn were in the Premier League.”
An early finish
“Due to the odd number of teams in the National League this year, King’s Lynn Town finished their season a week before everyone else, on 7 May. At that point, Stockport County still had three matches left. Has any other team finished their league season when another team in the same division still had three or more games to play?” asks Ian Waterhouse.
They have indeed, and it involves one of the greater escapes of the pre-Premier League era. “In 1984-85, Coventry played four games after the scheduled final day, and needed to win the last three to escape relegation from the old First Division,” mails Richard Askham. “They did so, relegating Norwich, who’d completed their fixtures when Coventry still had three to play. It was events like this – and an infamous game between Coventry and Bristol City in 1976-77 – that eventually prompted the leagues to play the final matches of the season at the same time.”
Fixture congestion comes from postponements, which makes certain parts of the world more susceptible than others. “The Scottish winter tends to play havoc with Highland League fixtures, leaving a lot of mopping up to do at the end of the season,” writes Jen Turner. “An extreme example came in 2017-18, when Buckie Thistle, Clauchnacuddin and Inverurie Loco Works were the only clubs to finish their campaigns on schedule, at which point Brora Rangers and Fort William each had five games in hand.”
Finally, this is a belting bit of trivia from John Shirley. “In 1978-79 (Division 3) Mansfield played five home games after the season-end date of 5 May,” writes John. “The games were on the 7, 11, 14, 19 and 21 May. Four clubs finished their fixtures on 5 May.”
Extreme ground discrepancies (2)
In last week’s Knowledge, we looked at extreme examples of lower-league teams in huge stadiums and vice versa. And there are plenty more …
“Wakefield AFC play at the 7,000-capacity Millennium Stadium, home of Featherstone Rovers,” writes Kevin Storey. “They are at level 11 in the Sheffield and Hallamshire League, but look like they’ll be promoted.”
As with this week’s first question, Bernd Wilms is on the case. “Germany’s 3 Liga was a treasure trove for these (and has been for some time) as relatively strict ground licensing regulations meet with relatively poor promoted clubs. This season gave us:
Türkgücü München playing home fixtures at the Olympic Stadium (capacity 60,000), average gate 1,376, lowest gate 388 v Zwickau
TSV Havelse playing home fixtures at the HDI Arena in Hannover (capacity 49,000), average gate 1,136, lowest gate 210 v Freiburg II
Freiburg II playing at the Dreisamstadion (capacity 24,000) – they generally drew over 1,000 when not capacity-restricted due to Covid
Christian Schmidt highlights 1 FC Nürnberg, currently in the 2 Bundesliga, who play in the Max-Morlock-Stadium – which has a capacity of 50,000. “In fact, out of the 16 biggest German football stadiums, five have teams in the second tier and two in the third,” writes Christian. “And the 17th biggest is Vestische in Gladbeck, capacity 37,000. That’s bigger than half the current Bundesliga stadiums. Yet it has never had a professional team. The home team (SV Zweckel) are currently in the eighth tier, and in acute danger of dropping into the ninth.”
From Germany to Italy, and one of David Platt’s old haunts. “Bari’s San Nicola stadium was built for Italia 90,” writes Jake Barnes, “and with a capacity of over 58,000 is the third-biggest football stadium in Italy – behind only San Siro in Milan and the Olimpico in Rome. In 2018 Bari were demoted from Serie B to Serie D, Group I for ‘financial problems’. That meant they were often playing regional teams, some from towns with a population that is five times smaller than the capacity of San Nicola. Attendances averaged 10,000, meaning there were regularly around 50,000 empty seats. It’s been a painful ride, and I know from first-hand experience – I am a Bari season-ticket holder.”
Ian King wasn’t a season-ticket holder for Thames AFC in the 1930s, but he knows a lot about them. “Briefly league members in the early 1930s, they played at the West Ham Stadium in Custom House, which held 120,000 people,” he writes. “In December 1930, they set a record-low league attendance of 469 for a game against Luton Town.” Good luck beating that.
“According to my records, in June 1951, Fluminense beat Arsenal 2-0 and Portsmouth 2-1 in Rio de Janeiro,” wrote Jose Sette in 2004. “Can anyone tell me more details about what these clubs were doing here in Brazil?”
Both Arsenal and Portsmouth visited Brazil for a series of friendlies in 1951 and between them managed no more than a couple of victories in about 10 games. As well as Fluminense, they faced Botafogo, Sao Paulo, Palmeiras and Vasco de Gama. Apparently, on returning to England, Arsenal sent a letter to Fluminense paying homage to “the team who plays the best football in Brazil”.
Can you help?
“Fulham and Norwich last played each other in the league in 2017-18, and have avoided each other by swapping divisions at the end of each of the four seasons since. What is the longest such continuous sequence?” asks Iain Mew.
“Aleksandar Mitrovic’s goal tally in the Championship this season is 43 but I wonder which player has scored most goals overall in football’s second tiers?” wonders Bogdan Kotarlic.
“I’ve just seen that Scott Arfield of Rangers has made 100 league appearances for four different clubs (Falkirk, Huddersfield, Burnley, Rangers). Is this a record, or has someone done this with five?” ponders Jesse Pajwani.
“Burnley v Aston Villa had two English managers facing one another, which is relatively rare in the Premier League these days. But more interesting, they were two scouse managers. When did that last happen?” writes Dom Parry.