From Clevelands collapse to Ferraris lowest ebb and Doncaster Rovers destruction amid flame and frenzy, we look back on six calamitous campaigns
1) Cleveland Browns( 1995)
Ten years before he made his name as the inscrutable, hooded overlord of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick was handed his first opportunity as an NFL head coach by the Cleveland Browns, an historical franchise wounded by years of failure.
A giant in the sport’s formative years, the Browns had never built the Super Bowl, and a run of spectacular near-misses in the 1980 s had shattered morale. After a 3-13 season in 1990, the owner, Art Modell, seduced Belichick from the New York Giants, where he had just won the Super Bowl as defensive coach-and-four with a game plan so good that it’s now in the Hall of Fame.
Belichick set out to build a rugged team built for the hard wintertimes on the shore of Lake Erie, where the team shared a rundown municipal stadium with the Cleveland Indian. Progress was slow- the Browns posted narrow lose records in his first three seasons- but the wily head coach engineered a run to the play-offs in 1994.
Despite frequent clashes with Modell over fund, Belichick had the Browns primed for a Super Bowl run. Virtually 75,000 fans poured into the Cleveland Stadium to consider the win over Kansas City, which sealed a 3-1 start. Off the field, Modell was watching revenues fall after the Indians’ departure. Rumblings began that the owner was about to take a hammer to the sturdy foundations Belichick had built.
On 6 November, Modell announced his intention to relocate the Browns to Baltimore. From dreaming of a Super Bowl, ever-faithful Browns fans were facing the death of their team. Cleveland lost nine of their next 10 games, falling apart on the field as fans turned to revolt. The final home game of the season against Cincinnati became a riot. Spectators tore the stands to pieces, raw grief giving way to rage.
Somewhere in the NFL’s corridors of power, the anguish poured out that day struck a nerve. The fans won their battle to keep the team in Cleveland( Modell’s Baltimore team became a new franchise ), though they had to wait until 1999 for their return. The Browns avoided a death penalty but for the expansion side, the ghosts of what might have been are everywhere.
The relocated, rebranded Baltimore Ravens have won two Super Bowls. Belichick, fired by Modell over the phone, learned from the chaos in Cleveland to build a dynasty at New England. He slipped on a fifth Super Bowl ring this year; the Browns have won one of their last 24 games.
2) Doncaster Rovers( 1997 -9 8)
The free market rules in English football, which entails pretty much anyone with a little bit of spare cash can buy themselves a club. Some squads find their perfect match, a steady hand on the tiller that unleashes a club’s true potential. Doncaster got Ken Richardson. Under his ownership, Rovers lost their league status, their main stand to a suspicious fire, and their dignity.
Richardson had a curious hands-on/ off approach, rarely investing in or even visiting the club’s run-down Belle Vue home but regularly interfering with team affairs. He would fax in squad talks from the Isle of Man with missives like” depict the motherfuckers” scrawled on them. After a string of administrators walked out, he installed a “general manager”, Mark Weaver, to do his bidding.
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