4 of the most famous droughts in world soccer

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Soccer fans love belting out jaunty and uplifting tunes, like “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at Anfield and Parkhead, “Glory Glory Man United” at Old Trafford, “Delilah” at the Britannia, “No One Likes Us We Don’t Care” at the New Den, and “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” at West Ham’s new Olympic home. But unless you’re fortunate enough to support a trophy-gobbling upper crust club then the truest song to sing is Tom Petty’s “The Waiting.” Nothing defines the fan experience more – the near-misses the standing in the rain, the heartbreaks, the eons of drudgery, the fleeting bits of glory, the abject failures, the misery, the vain fleeting hopes that this could be the year – than the words “the waiting is the hardest part.”

Of course, some fans wait a lot longer than others. The Chicago Cubs just won their first World Series since 1908, a time so ancient that men with titles like Tsar, Sultan, and Kaiser still ruled in Europe, it could still be said that “sun never set” on the British Empire, and Manchester United had only just won their very first league title. The Cubs’ victory leaves Cleveland woebegone and waiting for its World Series win since 1948, a time so distant that it was the first Series to be broadcast nationally and modern titans Brazil and Germany had yet to win a World Cup.

This has been a year for historic breakthroughs though. The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals as the LeBron James’ Cavs, founded in 1970, won their first title. Kris Jenkins dramatically drained a three from waaay downtown at the buzzer to give Villanova its first NCAA title in years. Further afield the Irish rugby team, which has been playing New Zealand for 111 years, finally beat the Kiwis for the very first time this past weekend. Coincidentally, Ireland’s historic win came in the city still nursing its World Series parade hangover – Chicago. Earlier this year in Australia the National Rugby League’s Cronulla Sharks, in their 49th year of play, withstood a late Melbourne charge to become the last of the nine Sydney-area based clubs to win it all. In Aussie rules football the Western Bulldogs snagged their first crown since 1954, which was an era when players were still wearing long-sleeved jumpers. In Ireland County Mayo almost won its first Gaelic Football Championship since 1951 as they dramatically drew against Dublin in the final only to lose the replay. The English County Cricket Championship, one of the world’s oldest sporting competitions, came down to the very last day this season. Owing to the competition’s vagaries and peculiarities, Somerset needed a draw between Middlesex and Yorkshire in order to win its first ever championship. It’s been a long wait. Somerset has been playing in the county championship since 1891, a drought that makes the Cubs’ seem as short as Sam Allardyce’s stint as England manager. Alas, it was not to be as Middlesex put down Yorkshire on the fourth and final day with only four overs to spare. At least Somerset doesn’t have it as bad as Gloucestershire, which remains titleless since its 1870 debut.

In soccer, Neymar shed the weight of a nation’s expectations by stutter-stepping and slicing home the decisive penalty kick to give Brazil its first, yes first, Olympic gold medal in the sport it has long dominated. And of course, there was Jamie “…Get Banged” Vardy leading once-lowly Leicester City, founded in 1884 as Leicester (not Bob) Fosse, to their very first top flight league title in the most unlikely underdog story of them all.

Broadly speaking, it’s difficult to compare title droughts in other sports to those in soccer because in the world’s greatest game league memberships are constantly changing as clubs move up and down the ladder. Moreover soccer clubs chase three, and sometimes as many as six, trophies in a single season. Different trophies mean different things to different supporters. Lifting the FA Cup would be far more meaningful for a club like Hull than for Arsenal fans lusting after the league.

Nonetheless, here are some of the prominent droughts in English football, with an added MLS bonus for good measure since it’s playoff time.

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1. Liverpool in the League

In England there are 92 professional clubs spread across the Premier League, Football League Championship, League One and League Two. Of these, only 24 clubs have ever won a top flight title. So most clubs don’t have much sympathy for Liverpool’s 26 years of anguished waiting since their last league title in 1990.

But for Liverpool supporters it’s like the World War I classic ditty goes, “How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm After They’ve Seen Paree?” It hurts more when you’ve tasted success and lived the high life only to slide down from the penthouse to the outhouse. Sure, 26 years is nothing compared to Leicester City’s 124-year wait since joining the Football League in 1891. But ignorance is bliss. Last year was an out-of-nowhere joyride for the Fox faithful. Whereas Liverpool enter each season with crushing expectations and the remembrance of bountiful glories past. Worse, the 18-time English champions have had to endure seeing Manchester United “knock them off their f’ing perch” as Sir Alex Ferguson elevated Man United from 7 titles to 20 in the Premier League era.

Even an English-record fifth Champions League/European Cup title won in miraculous fashion in 2005 didn’t satiate the ravenous hunger to recapture domestic domination. The Reds have come as close as second in 2009 and 2014, but each of those finishes was followed up by swift tumbles out of the all-important Top 4. With Jürgen Klopp setting a blistering pace and no European distraction, this could be the year Liverpool finally kicks down the door to resume its rightful place amongst England’s elite.

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2. Arsenal in Europe

Arsenal first played in the European Cup in the 1971-72 season, bowing out to eventual champions Ajax in the quarterfinals. They wouldn’t play in Europe’s premier competition again until 1991 after the Heysel ban denied Arsenal a spot in 1989. Their first Premier League title under Arsène Wenger in 1997-98 got them into the following season’s Champions League and they’ve never looked back from there having qualified in every subsequent year. That’s nineteen consecutive seasons of Champions League football. It’s an unparalleled streak.

Yet the club has never lifted Ol’ Big Ears. Arsenal’s one lonely appearance in the Final was a bitter 2-1 defeat to a pre-tiki taka but still star-studded Barcelona squad that was lowlighted by keeper Jens Lehmann’s 18th minute red card. Meanwhile they’ve had to watch peers Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool conquer the continent.

Arsenal’s consecutive Champions League qualification streak and 21 overall appearances are the best, by far, of all the European sides never win club football’s grandest prize. That, combined with the fact that Arsenal hasn’t won the Prem since Tony Blair was still held in good esteem in 2004, is why Wenger’s grasp on his job is so tenuous

99% of other club supporters would maim and kill to qualify for the Champions League every year and pick up the odd FA Cup along the way. But that’s why Arsenal are the perfect example of how a fanbase can be both spoiled and starved all at the same time.

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3. The Bridesmaids

Stoke City, of all the clubs in this year’s Premier League, has waited the longest to win its first ever top flight title. The Potters were one of the twelve founding clubs of the Football League in 1888-89. This is their 61st season of first division football and despite the difficulty of playing, as Andy Gray said, “on a cold, rainy night in Stoke” they’ve still never tasted domestic supremacy. Worse, Stoke hasn’t even won an FA Cup. Their best finish was losing 1-0 to Manchester City in the 2011 final. Middlesbrough, West Ham United, and Southampton are three other Premier League sides that have spent at least 40 seasons in England’s highest division without winning it all. Middlesbrough has never won the FA Cup either, while West Ham and Southampton’s last wins came in 1980 and 1976, respectively.

Of the 24 clubs that have won a top flight title, the longest droughts belong to Preston North End, winners of the first two League titles in 1889 and 1890, Sheffield United (1898), West Bromwich Albion (1920), Huddersfield Town (1926) and Newcastle United (1927).

Newcastle’s plight has been particularly painful. In the late 1990s they made a memorable charge to end their drought under the manager Kevin Keegan’s charismatic care. In January 1996 they were 12 points clear at the top of the table before Manchester United surged to pip them to the Prem by only 4 points. The title race’s pressure led to Keegan’s infamous “I WOULD LOVE IT” rant. Newcastle added Alan Shearer for the next season but cruelly finished runners-up to Man United again. The Magpies have spent more than 80 seasons in the top flight and finished 5th in the Prem as recently as four years ago but now find themselves in the 2nd Division. Moreover, the club’s last FA Cup came in 1955. Their only solace may be seeing neighbors Sunderland replace them in the Championship next year.

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