Anatomy Of A Blowout
It’s a given that on any given day in sports, just about anything can happen. But there’s a generally accepted range of things people can normally expect might happen. There’s a range of plausible scorelines someone might expect to see in, say, a game of baseball. The score might end 1-0. It might end 11-9. It might end 11-0. There’s even the odd score of 15 or 16. But at least in MLB, you wouldn’t think things would get too much beyond that.
Likewise, in soccer, any scoreline of 5 goals or fewer per side could happen at any moment. 5-5 might not be particularly likely, but one could buy that scoreline coming up once in a while. Once in a while a team opens up the floodgates and drops a 10-spot on some poor opponent’s head. But to get very far past that begins to strain general plausibility. RSSSF’s list of teams recording double-digit scorelines in domestic competitions sees the probability curve drop off fairly dramatically after the 14th or 15th goal.
For things to go past a certain point on the scoreboard, it’s going to take an explanation of some sort. Past a certain threshold, some scorelines don’t simply happen. Arsenal isn’t just going to paste Chelsea 20-0 one day out of the blue in what would otherwise be a normal-looking day on the pitch. (In fact, England’s top flight hasn’t gotten past the 12-goal mark.) There’d have to be a reason Chelsea was able to get whooped that hard, and when the goals reach 20, usually there is.
Meet Micronesia. Currently rated 222nd in the Elo ratings, trailing such luminaries as Monaco and St. Pierre and Miquelon, Micronesia is not a member of FIFA, and their senior team last played in 2003, losing 10-0 to Papua New Guinea. This year, the Four Stars made an attempt at restarting their national program, creating a U-23 squad. This all by itself was a difficult task, as the difficulty to simply travel between the islands, which number 607 and are spread over the better part of 1,700 miles, made the simple act of getting a team all in one place nearly impossible.
This squad’s first assignment was the 2015 Pacific Games in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, which doubled as Olympic qualifying for some of the teams in the field. Not everybody. Affiliation in Oceania can be a patchwork sometimes. For much of the team, it was the first time they had ever played a regulation 11-on-11 match. Whatever the goal for this young program was, though, it can’t possibly have been met by what transpired. The group stage pitted Micronesia first against Tahiti, then Fiji, and then finally Vanuatu.
The official record for an international match in FIFA is Australia’s 31-0 drubbing of American Samoa, then ranked bottom in the world, in 2001 as a qualifier for the World Cup in Korea/Japan. The match, in which the Socceroos sent out their B-team, served as final proof to many that Australia was simply too dominant a team in the region to have to waste their time against clearly inferior opposition, only to have to playoff against a non-continental foe afterwards because Oceania only had half a spot in the World Cup. The point was further driven home by the fact that the record Australia had beaten was their own, set two days earlier when they beat Tonga 22-0. The eventual result was Australia joining Asia in 2006.
Micronesia’s matches officially will not go into the books, as they are not part of FIFA, and also, as it was a U-23 squad. But they’ll be remembered almost as if they were. In the opener, nine different Tahitians made the scoring log to record a 30-0 victory. Performing a haka dance afterwards was probably unnecessary. Perhaps Fiji or Vanuatu might have taken it a little easier on Micronesia had that not occurred…
…but this was a group stage. And Tahiti had just gotten themselves a +30 goal differential. Tahiti needed to be chased down if Fiji or Vanuatu were going to advance to the knockouts. Fiji was next, and they ran 21 goals past Micronesia by halftime, eventually winning 38-0. Fiji coach Juan Carlos Buzzetti apologized for humiliating Micronesia so much, but they were facing Tahiti in their final game and needed to have the tiebreaker in hand.
Vanuatu was last, having drawn Fiji 1-1 and lost to Tahiti 2-1, in scorelines reminiscent of normal soccer games. Their third would be anything but; having only the one point, they needed not only to win and hope Tahiti and Fiji didn’t end in a draw; they also needed to beat Micronesia by at least 30 goals. They had no choice. Either Micronesia gets absolutely creamed for a third time, or Vanuatu goes out of the Pacific Games. (Olympic advancement was never at risk, as Vanuatu and Fiji were the only two Olympic-eligible teams in the group. The two competitions were given separate knockout rounds according to who was eligible for what.)
Vanuatu put 48 past Micronesia, 26 of them in the first half. Fiji and Tahiti took to the same field right afterward… and played to a scoreless draw. It wasn’t exactly the Disgrace of Gijon all over again, as Fiji and Tahiti had sufficient honor to actually go for the win. It just worked out that way.
In the club game, the gold standard for dominance that’s generally held up is what happened in the first day of the Scottish Cup on September 12, 1885. In the 1880’s, the natural order of things was still trying to work itself out, but at the time it might have seemed as if it already had to a degree. The league format was still a few years away, but Vale of Leven and Queen’s Park had entrenched themselves as dominant forces in the early years of the cup. In this, the 1885-86 season, Rangers would lose 1-0 in the first round to Clyde, and Celtic hadn’t even been founded yet. But we’re interested in Arbroath, who in the first round was given Bon Accord as their opponent. Now, the record is a bit muddy, as they tend to be from those days, as to whether Bon Accord was truly Bon Accord, or whether their invite to the cup was actually supposed to be given to Orion FC and Bon Accord was actually a cricket team using Aberdeen’s town motto of Bon Accord as a pseudonym, or perhaps they were a croquet team, or whether an Orion FC was even around by Round 1 (the dispute centers on Orion maybe being founded in October, after round 1). Failing anything concrete, the consensus has gone with either the ‘Orion was a cricket club and posed as Bon Accord’ explanation, or ‘does it really matter; they were terrible’. Whichever way it goes, the records agree that Bon Accord couldn’t even turn up in matching uniforms.
The barrier to entry for Scottish Cup participation was not particularly high in 1885 is the point here.
Arbroath, who would go on to fall 5-3 to Hibernian in round 4, laid 36 goals into the Bon Accord net. Meanwhile, Dundee Harp, which would also make round 4 before running into a 6-0 Vale of Leven buzzsaw, was busy demolishing the now-utterly-anonymous Aberdeen Rovers 35-0. Maybe the reason these two teams aren’t as storied- and why Aberdeen Rovers doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page- is that the referee counted 37, but Dundee Harp’s secretary had counted 35. With instant replay laughably far in the future, the referee decided, eh, sure, I probably miscounted, 35 it is. No matter. 35 was still a ridiculous number even in those fly-by-night days, and ex-Arbroath defenseman Tom O’Kane wasted no time firing off a telegram to his former side bragging about Harp’s 35-0 scoreline… and then got a good laugh when a themselves-disbelieving Arbroath replied, ha ha, you kidder, that’s nice, they’d scored 36… and then went ashen upon the realization that Arbroath wasn’t kidding.
So, okay. Scorelines this outrageous require uniquely outrageous gulfs in talent, perhaps requiring the presence of people who have barely played organized soccer, right? Well, not necessarily. You could also have a team trying to lose.
The gold standard in this universe of blowout came in 2002, when SO l’Emyrne of Madagascar had just lost out on a chance at the national title. In the current form of the Madagascar league, 24 clubs pre-qualify out of 22 regional competitions every year, and those clubs are then sorted into three rounds of knockout group stages: in Round 1, the top three each out of four groups of six advance; then in Round 2, the top two out of two groups of six advance; then in Round 3, the final four play one final group stage together. In 2002, it was two groups of eight feeding into one group of four, and that final four is where we found SO l’Emyrne, who in the fifth matchday of six was eliminated following a 2-2 draw with DSA Anatananarivo featuring a disputed late penalty that pulled DSA even. The draw clinched the title for AS Adema. SO l’Emyrne coach Ratsimandresy Ratsarazaka decided that, as they were already out, and as their last match was against AS Adema, there was going to be a protest.
The protest was scoring 149 own goals. Theoretically, there isn’t an upper limit as to how many goals one can possibly score in a 90-minute game of soccer. But as 149 goals would dictate one goal every 36.2 seconds, and seeing as the clock does not stop after a goal, it’s difficult to imagine that the practical limit to goals in a match is all that much higher than this, as not only would one team have to be utterly removed from active involvement in the match, as Adema essentially was, the team scoring the goals would have to be organized enough to score, reset, and score again at a faster pace than 36.2 seconds per repetition, sustained over an hour and a half. It would not be simple, especially because it would also require the referee to not unilaterally put a stop to the charade and abandon the match early.
Fans demanding refunds? That you can take or leave. (The coach was banned for three years.)
In March 13, 1954 in the Netherlands Antilles, another contentious goal protest took place between SUBT and Jong Curacao. Things were shaping up to be a run-of-the-mill blowout until goal number three, sometime in the first half. The Netherlands Antilles is the kind of league where in the 1950’s one can’t always expect such luxuries as players’ full names to be recorded, but an SUBT player named “Heiliger” scored a goal that Jong Curacao had expected to be disallowed. It wasn’t. Jong Curacao coach Van Utrecht made the decision right then and there not to try anymore, and gave orders to his squad not to put up any more resistance. If they were going to lose, they were going to lose. By the 39th minute, at 5-0, the referee had had enough and stopped the contest… only to later permit it to resume, leading to a 32-0 final.
Now, when blowouts happen because a team has brazenly thrown the match, you would expect the wrath to fall on the team that threw the match, and for there to be quite a lot of wrath. The wrath here, though, ended up being centered on the referee, for the crime of un-abandoning the match.
In the sixth tier of Nigeria, however, everyone knew where to look. It was the close of the 2013 season, with four teams contesting the promotion phase. After the first two matchdays of the round-robin, Plateau United Feeders and Police Machine were totally tied: three points each, +4 goal differential, they had earned a scoreless draw with each other. The other two teams, Bubayaro and Akurba, were technically alive, but in all realistic respects it would come down to who of Plateau Feeders and Police Machine outscored the other in the last matchday. Plateau Feeder had Akurba and Police Machine had Bubayaro.
At halftime, Police Machine was winning 7-0 and Plateau Feeder was winning 6-0. By full time, Plateau Feeders had won 79-0, and Police Machine had won 67-0.
There may be a lot of corruption in sub-Saharan Africa, but nobody was about to let this go unchallenged. It was simply too blatant to bring anything but the heaviest of hammers. Everybody on all four clubs was banned for life. Not just the players, either. Everybody. The managers, the administrative staff, the technical staff, everyone connected with any of the four clubs was shown the door. The clubs themselves, as entities, were forcibly disbanded for ten years, which might as well be for life.
It can only be assumed that nobody was promoted.
One notable case, though, falls into both categories, match-fixing and talent disparity, and had a far wider effect than merely punishing one team. It essentially brought down soccer in Uganda. The 1990’s, while a period of relative calm in Uganda’s often-tumultuous history, were a rough time to be a soccer fan there. The beginning of hostilities seems to have been in 1993, when Express Red Eagles and Kampala City Council match-fixed to give Express the title over SC Villa, who had won six of the last seven titles. The next year, Villa and Express met on the last day of the season to determine the championship, with Villa winning 1-0. This sparked a full-on citywide riot between fans of the two clubs. The following season, Villa figured it would be a good idea to grab Express’ manager for themselves, who then ran off to Rwanda only two weeks later in fear for his life… you know what, just assume that this kind of behavior went uninterrupted in numerous episodes for the next decade, because it did. Hassan Badru Zziwa of Uganda’s Observer has a full recap in the link earlier in this paragraph.
The blowout in this story came in 2003, with Villa, this time nursing a five-title win streak in pursuit of six, scheduled to play Akol FC on the second-last matchday of the season. Akol was awful that year, long since bound for relegation. Express came to the conclusion that if the match went forward, Akol was going to get trounced so severely that Villa was going to acquire an insurmountable lead in goal differential. The solution, clearly, was to assault Akol’s team bus headed to the game and gently suggest in the polite tone commensurate with forcing a bus to stop in the middle of the road that maybe Akol shouldn’t go play this match, thereby only losing by the forfeit score of 2-0 instead of whatever rambunctious number Villa would actually put up on you.
Some Akol players got off the bus. After all, they had played Express the previous week (losing 2-1), and the head of the national federation had had to draw a gun on people in order to get the match to finish as scheduled. They’d had quite enough Express Red Eagles for one lifetime.
Nine players, some of whom were even registered, proceeded anyway. Some of THEM, after all, had been bribed by Villa to turn up. Nine was enough to conduct a match with, apparently, and Villa duly romped to a 22-1 victory.
Which was quickly annulled, as were all of Akol’s results for the second half of the season. A probe was launched as to what in the world was going on (not that it was hard to tell), only for Akol goalkeeper Peter Agong to die minutes before he was to testify. Uganda’s National Council of Sports launched a probe of their own, suggesting that in addition to the numerous advised bans, the entire 1993 season be annulled with no champion. The national federation promptly put the results into the round file. And that was basically the end of fan interest in the Ugandan soccer league, with attendances plummeting in the seasons to follow. If this was soccer, they didn’t want it.
Postscript: Villa won the 2004 title as well… and they haven’t won one since.