Why football is a miserable game for true fans of sport

York City players celebrate return to the league in 2012 after eight years in football's no man's land.
York City players celebrate return to the league in 2012 after eight years in football's no man's land.
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Forget the battle for the top of the Premiership, it’s the club with the most long-suffering fans which really counts. Sarah Freeman reports.

Football fans love a league table. Rundown of the best grounds for pies? Tick. Top 10 historic stadiums cruelly demolished by short-sighted locally authorities? It’s been done. Now there’s a new one. This one ranks each of England’s 92 clubs according to which has the most long-suffering fans.

Using the English National Football Archive, data was crunched from the 222,000 matches played since the very first season in 1888-9 and in Yorkshire the winner (or loser depending how you look at it) is York City.

It’s perhaps no surprise. The club recently spent eight years in football’s no man’s land only returning to the league in 2012 and Bootham Crescent has rarely rivalled an Old Trafford or a Stamford Bridge. However, when as a fan you’ve spent most Saturday afternoons watching nil all draws, topping any table is something to celebrate.

“The funny thing is the club was only founded in 1922,” says life-long York City fan Simon Hood, who during the 2009-10 season cycled to every away game, writing a book about his travels called Bicycle Kicks. “So we have packed an awful lot of misery into a relatively short space of time.

“I can’t remember the very first match I saw them play. I’m pretty sure it was against Lincoln and it probably ended 0-0 because that’s how so many of their matches do, but there have been good times. Great times even.

“York was a brilliant side in the mid-90s when I was a teenager. I’ll never forget going to Wembley for the play-offs in 1993 when we were promoted to the Second Division. When you experience days like that, a club pretty much has your support forever.

“Admittedly that lost decade when we were bumping around the conference was pretty grim and yes, there were times when you watch your side being comprehensively beaten by a club like Canvey Island that you do wonder what the point of it all is.

“However, when you have experienced so many awful matches and when you’ve had your hopes dashed so often, the feeling of success when it eventually does come is so much more intense. I think that’s what they call looking on the bright side.”

Despite recent events at Elland Road, which have at times been more ludicrous than any soap opera, Leeds United is home to Yorkshire’s least suffering fans. Yes, the club may be some way from the heady heights of 1991-92, but with three league titles, one FA Cup and League Cup they have stolen a march on the Minstermen who have never won anything more prestigious than the Division Four title back in 1984. In fact, according to the long-suffering league table, which was commissioned by the makers of Warren United, a new animated sitcom about a diehard fan of a perennially struggling club, York supporters have historically seen their side win just 34.2 per cent of their matches.

“Football is meant to be the ‘glory game’,” says Simon Nye, lead writer of Warren United, who also worked on Men Behaving Badly. “However, York fans have followed their club through, thin and thinner. For them football is more about grief, pain and chronic disappointment. However, that’s what makes a true fan.”

Only 12 clubs in the Football League, among them Rochdale AFC and Hartlepool Utd, have gone through more pain than York followers, who have at least enjoyed as many promotions as they have suffered relegations. However, in the unlikely scenario that some Russian billionaire is currently eyeing up Bootham Crescent, would Simon and others like him be willing the sale to go through?

“Absolutely not. Of course I would still support York, but after all these years I’m not sure that I could easily adapt to a club with untold riches.

“It just wouldn’t feel right.”

To see how your club ranked go to www.warrenunited.net