Football Clubs’ Worst Ever Streaks Against Their Derby Rivals
With Atletico Madrid suffering yet more pain in Europe at the hands of intra-city rivals Real, we take a look at the worst derby streaks of all time.
When Cristiano Ronaldo completed his latest hat-trick against Atletico Madrid, sweeping home a simple finish from five yards in front of a rippling ocean of white shirts at the Bernabeu, the continuation of an excruciating streak for Los Rojiblancos was all but assured. Disregarding whatever smidgen of optimism they may still have entertained for the second leg at the Vicente Calderon, Atletico fans must have known in that moment that Real had snuffed out their European hopes once again. Having lost to Ronaldo and co. in both the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals, Atletico have now failed to beat their derby rivals in continental competition on six consecutive occasions, a run which goes back to the 1959 European Cup. Losing two Champions League finals to one club would be heart-rending enough at the best of times, but when that club is an intra-city nemesis the pain of defeat must be even harder to bear.
While Atletico's European run against Real is certainly one of the most dramatic winless spells for one rival against another, they are not the only team to go on a nightmarish streak against their fiercest foes. Spain's most famous derby, El Clasico, has been a fairly even affair down the years, with Real just ahead in the all-time standings with 93 wins to Barcelona's 91 since the fixture was first contested competitively in 1929. That said, both Barca and Real have gone on horrendous runs against each other in the meantime, not least when the Blaugrana failed to beat Los Blancos in seven matches between January 1932 and February 1935, this to the backdrop of a brewing conflict that would come to define their mutual enmity. Though Barca managed to halt their barren run with a famous 5-0 victory at the Camp de Les Corts, they went on to lose the final of the 1936 Copa del Presidente de la República to Madrid. Soon afterwards, all competitive football was suspended owing to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
Barcelona went on another gut-wrenching run against Real between September 1962 and December 1965, losing six league games in a row to a legendary side featuring Ferenc Puskás and Alfredo Di Stéfano. This was at a time when Real were the favourites of dictator and Civil War victor Francisco Franco, adding a sinister edge to their dominance in the eyes of many contemporary Barca fans. Now, fans of the Blaugrana can at least take solace in the fact that there are few of them old enough to remember those matches, which is more than Real fans can say of their own barren stretch between December 2008 and April 2012. Despite spending enormous sums of money in pursuit of their Galácticos policy, Real lost five league matches in a row and failed to win in seven over that period, parting ways with two managers – Juande Ramos and Manuel Pellegrini – in the process. They were also knocked out of the Supercopa de España over two legs and dumped out of the Champions League in May 2011 by their Catalan rivals, though a couple of weeks before they had at least managed to triumph over Pep Guardiola's men in the final of the Copa del Rey.
As for Europe's other great rivalries, there are several similar winless streaks that stand out as especially grievous to derby day pride. In Der Klassiker, contested between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, the latter failed to win in 11 games between March 1998 and April 2003, conceding 23 goals in all competitions and watching their Bavarian adversaries collect three Bundesliga titles and win the Champions League along the way. Over the German border with Holland, where De Klassieker is contested between Feyenoord and Ajax, the former failed to win an Eredivisie game against their rivals for a full five years before the turn of the millennium. That 12-game run came to an end with an aggregate score of 35-9 in Ajax's favour, which most football fans would agree represents ritual humiliation on a truly heinous scale.
In Italy's infamous Derby della Capitale, a single defeat for either Roma or Lazio can often mean violence, demonstrations and running clashes outside the Stadio Olimpico. As such, it's hard to imagine the pitch of hysteria among Lazio fans come January 2005, by which time their side had failed to beat the Giallorossi in 10 games. Lazio's winless run went back five years to 2000, not long before which they had also gone on a 10-match unbeaten run in the derby. Having knocked each other out of the Coppa Italia in that time, as well as winning one Serie A title apiece, there was a pleasing symmetry to the two clubs' successive winless streaks, at least in the eyes of an outside observer.
When it comes to football on these shores, disastrous derby streaks are commonplace. In the lower echelons of the English game, Burnley, Wolves and Crystal Palace have gone on 11-match winless runs against Blackburn, West Brom and Brighton & Hove Albion respectively, while Oxford United went 12 games without a win against rivals Swindon Town between October 1973 and April 1982. An even more impressive derby dry patch belongs to Sheffield United, who failed to beat Sheffield Wednesday in 13 games between 1910 and early 1916. Given that thousands of young men from South Yorkshire were about to become embroiled in the hell of the Battle of the Somme, supporters may have had bigger things to worry about, or perhaps the horrors of World War I paled into comparison for fans at Bramall Lane.
Moving on to more recent times and the most illustrious of rivalries, there are few streaks more devastating than Everton's against Liverpool in the eighties. The Toffees only won seven of 32 Merseyside derbies that decade, regardless of the glories of the Howard Kendall era and their title wins in 1984-85 and 1986-87. The rarity of their victories against Liverpool wasn't even the worst of it as far as Everton fans were concerned, with the significance of a select few defeats far more galling than the overall disparity. Everton made of the domestic cups in the eighties what Atletico Madrid have made of the Champions League in recent times, losing the FA Cup finals of '86 and '89 and the League Cup final of '84 to their old foes.
Everton fans were at least used to disastrous results against Liverpool, having gone a soul-sapping 15 games without a win between March 1972 and October 1978. Manchester City went one better in the nineties and early noughties, resolutely refusing to beat Manchester United in 16 games between February 1990 and April 2001. That gave the Sky Blues the dubious honour of having failed to win a derby in over a decade, a fact of which they are still reminded by their local antagonists. City could at least take some comfort in a dual winless run for Tottenham Hotspur, who failed to beat Chelsea in a whopping 26 matches between 1990 and 2002, and then Arsenal in a further 21 matches between 2000 and 2008.
Nobody can beat the Spurs teams of the nineties and noughties for accumulative failure against their most hated opponents, with their 26 winless matches against Chelsea seemingly unrivalled in a numerical sense. Nonetheless, we must spare a final thought for one club north of the English border, for whom wins on derby day were once comparably rare. Between April 1989 and April 1994, Hibernian failed to defeat Hearts in 22 matches, losing by a single goal on seven occasions and often snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Unlike Hibs, the Tottenham side of the nineties at least had the good grace to concede several goals against Chelsea as quickly as possible, a tactic that mercifully extinguished all hope among fans rather than allow them to indulge in the cruel fantasy of a win.