The Joy of Six: seasons from hell | Niall McVeigh

From Clevelands collapse to Ferraris lowest ebb and 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 , 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 , 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.

By 1998, Doncaster’s Belle Vue ground had seen better days. Photo: John Giles/ PA

With Richardson’s cash cut off and home gates dwindling to below 1,000, Doncaster descended into little more than a Sunday league side. A Channel 5 documentary followed the farcical final acts of the 1997 -9 8 season, from angry supporters’ sessions to players training in the park, and getting trapped in the dressing room by a faulty doorway. On the pitching things were no better.

As the owner focused on selling off their ground, Doncaster’s motley crew of loanees and youth players were left to sink slowly, finishing the 46 -game season with a record 34 defeats. They lost 7-1 to Cardiff City, and 8-0 at Leyton Orient. In the League Cup, Nottingham Forest beat them 10 -1 on aggregate. Coach Danny Bergara tried swapping players’ numbers in a tactical move, outfoxing merely himself.

With Richardson absent, fans turned on Weaver, a yes-man installed above his station to do the owner’s bid. At the final home game, fans staged a taunt funeral for a club they expected to fold. Weaver turned up having vowed to stay away. The police advised him to leave for his own safety.

As the club fell apart, police were shutting in on Richardson over his participation in a fire in the summer of 1995 that had almost gutted the main stand at Belle Vue. He was eventually charged with offering a former soldier PS10, 000 to start the fire, part of a hare-brained scheme to get his hands on lucrative land. Detectives labelled him” the type that would trample a two-year-old to pick up a 2p piece “.

From the ashes, Doncaster at least found the owner they deserved. As Richardson was sent to jail, the local industrialist John Ryan stepped in, and set about resurrecting the club. Ten years after their season in hell, with a new ground built and Belle Vue left with, Rovers beat Leeds United at Wembley to seal promotion to the Championship.

3) Vince Spadea( 2000)

Some tennis players are driven by rivalry, or a quest for sport immortality. Vince Spadea’s motivating was more practical.” No one wants to travel the world to lose fund ,” he wrote in 2006.” Tennis players are paid to win .”

The year 2000 was a lean one for Spadea, a journeyman pro who had just enjoyed a breakthrough season. He had reached No19 in the world, and upset Andre Agassi on his route to the 1999 Australian Open quarter-finals. Spadea flew out to Melbourne attempting a recur run to kick-start flagging sort, but lost in the first round to the world No95, Adrian Voinea.

That early exit proved the catalyst for an historical running of defeats. Winter turned to spring, the hard courts devoted style to clay, and Spadea lost, lost and lost again. By the time he reached Wimbledon, he had lost 21 straight matches. In the first round, he drew the British No2, Greg Rusedski. His parents decided to stay in Florida.

What happened next was predictable in its own style. Spadea overcame two lost tie-breaks and a two-hour rainfall delay to win the choose set 9-7. The shame shifted to Rusedski and for the watching world, that’s where the tale objective.” I can lose to anyone, but I can combat ,” a jubilant Spadea told the crowd.” Because I get game .”

Vince Spadea, left, eventually walks to the net a win after shocking Greg Rusedski at Wimbledon. Photo: Getty Images

How much game? As it turned out , not much. Spadea lost his next match at Wimbledon, crashed out of the US Open and Olympics at the first obstacle, and lost in Tokyo to a player ranked outside the top 300. Dropping down to the Challenger circuit in autumn to regain his form, he lost his first match 6-1, 6-0.

Spadea objective the year with three wins and 28 losses at ATP Tour level, and a world ranking of No237. He would fight his route back up the rankings in tenacious style, but his losing operate still hit him where it hurt – his pocket. Spadea has claimed that his season was so bad, he actually lost money on the tour. For him, that was the true cost of failure.

4) Ferrari( 1980)

Dominance in Formula One can be a fragile thing. With automobiles constantly tweaked and tuned up to stay ahead of the field, a incorrect turn in the garage can wipe out years of progress. McLaren found that out in 2015, when a switch to Honda engines insured the historic squad, with Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button on board, reduced to a laughing stock.

In 1980 Ferrari made a more subtle change, updating the 312 T car that had won them four of the previous six constructors’ titles. The upgrade proved to be an unmitigated calamity in a tumultuous season blighted by safety concerns. The first two races, in Argentina and Brazil, insured drivers including Ferrari’s defending world champ, Jody Scheckter, threaten a boycott over track conditions.

1980 proved a turning point for the sport, with Bernie Ecclestone winning a power struggle with the F1 chief, Jean-Marie Balestre. It also demonstrated a watershed for the Scuderia, who were outclassed in the early races as Williams and Brabham emerged as title contenders. Ferrari suffered reliability issues with their retooled engine, and did not pick up a point until Scheckter came fifth at Long Beach.

While his team-mate Gilles Villeneuve at least combated for the odd rostrum place in a chronically underpowered car, Scheckter took only two points all year, failed to even qualify for one race, and promptly retired at the end of the season. Scheckter’s sharp exit was, however, more than an indictment of his car.

He had once been the bad boy of F1, causing crashes and winding up challengers with his daredevil antics. Then, in 1973, he was first on the scene at team-mate Francois Cevert’s fatal crash at Watkins Glen. What he saw changed him profoundly and, after winning the world title ahead of Villeneuve in 1979, he saw no reason to set himself at risk any longer.

Villeneuve was not so fortunate. The Canadian was killed in a qualifying crash in Belgium two years later, perhaps the highest-profile victim of F1′ s most unsafe era. Scheckter spoke at his funeral in a rare, fleeting return to the spotlight. The South African retired to Hampshire, where he now runs an organic farm.

Ferrari switched to a brand new auto in 1981, and promptly returned to the pulpit places in the constructors’ championship. The previous season still left its mark- they did not create another world champion driver until Michael Schumacher, some 20 years later.

Jody Scheckter in action at the Austrian Grand Prix, where he finished in 13 th place. Photo: Bernard Cahier/ Getty Images

5) Milan( 1981 -8 2)

Under the leadership of Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello, Milan’s 1987 -9 4 vintage won 14 trophies in seven seasons, mixing Italian defensive nous with Dutch attacking flair to formidable effect. That golden age was forged in response to the club’s greatest shame, only five years earlier.

For Serie A’s upper-clas clubs , not winning the Scudetto is failure enough; they rarely have cause to consider the other objective of the table. Internazionale have never been relegated, and Juventus’s only demotion came after the calciopoli investigation. Milan were also relegated” off the field” once, in 1980, after the Totonero match-fixing scandal.

Milan ricochetted straight back and expected to breeze up the table, with a defense built around Franco Baresi and their new striker Joe Jordan banging in the goals. But Baresi missed four months with an injury, and in his absence Milan picked up eight phases in 12 games. Jordan was the first Milan player to score that season- in their eighth game.

Milan had returned to a league that was no longer afraid of them, and a operate of one point from games against Catanzaro, Ascoli and Como appeared to confirm the unthinkable- relegation” on the field “. The youth coach-and-four Italo Galbiati replaced Gigi Radice and the club still had a chance of survival on the final day at Cesena.

After going 2-0 down early on, the team with 18 league objectives all season observed three in 15 minutes to grab victory. With Genoa behind at Napoli, Milan appeared to have avoided eternal shame, and their fans raced onto the pitch to celebrate. Then Genoa won a last-gasp corner, and scored.

Milan fans maintain that the Napoli goalkeeper, Luciano Castellini, intentionally hurled the ball out to hand Genoa that corner. You can judge for yourself here. Either way, this was not an experience the rossoneri ever schemed on repeating. After securing an immediate return, Silvio Berlusconi bought the club, brought in Sacchi and signed Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten. The remainder is history.

6) Derbyshire( 1920)

County cricket’s meticulous record-keeping means no landmark season of any description will be forgotten. Which, for Derbyshire in particular, is a disgrace. After regaining first-class status in 1894, they failed to win a County Championship match in three separate seasons: 1897, 1901 and the historically abysmal 1920 campaign.

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