Following a football team can bring great joy, but also a lot of frustrations.
Ask supporters of any side, and they’ll be able to rant to you about the sapping effect that clueless owners, inconsiderate scheduling and depressing runs of bad form can have on their love of the beautiful game.
Sometimes, though, it’s important to put these concerns into perspective by remembering it could be a lot worse - and, indeed, if you look through the history of football across the world, you’ll find plenty of examples of teams that have had it much, much, much worse.
With this in mind, TOFFS are taking a look at some of the football teams that have truly been the hardest to support over the years - whether due to bizarrely-located stadiums, deeply dodgy owners, or historically terrible performances on the pitch.
Suddenly, a three-hour round trip to watch your team lose to your bitterest rivals won’t seem so bad...
The Bolivian national team
Of all the teams featured on this list, one-time Copa América champions Bolivia are certainly the most prestigious - but they’re also the only ones to have ignited an international row over the extreme conditions at their home ground, the Estadio Hernando Siles.
To attend Bolivian national games at the 41,143-seater stadium in La Paz, fans must journey to an altitude of 3,637 metres above sea level, making it one of the highest stadiums in the world.
The thinness of the air and relative lack of oxygen makes it a daunting venue for away sides, which explains some of the eye-catching results achieved by Bolivia at home, including a 6-1 thrashing of Argentina in 2009 and a 2-1 win over Brazil the following year.
Indeed, it’s become a common complaint among visiting teams that the Bolivian side’s acclimatisation to the high altitude represents an unfair advantage - so much so that FIFA agreed to ban World Cup qualifying matches from being played in stadiums above 2,500 metres in 2007, leading to protests from Bolivian president Evo Morales.
This ban was subsequently lifted in 2008, meaning the Estadio Hernando Siles gets to keep its reputation as a quite literally breathtaking venue for players and fans alike.
Even the Estadio Hernando Siles looks like a model of accessibility compared to the Ottmar Hitzfeld Stadium, home of the Swiss amateur football club FC Gspon.
The highest stadium in Europe, this tiny Alpine venue is less elevated that its Bolivian counterpart at around 2,000 metres above sea level, but its comparatively tiny stature brings all sorts of challenges.
With the village of Gspon consisting of only around 70 wooden chalets and being entirely inaccessible by road, journey to the stadium requires two cable car rides, up to a height where the air is hard to breathe.
What’s more, the artificial pitch tends to be buried in a half-metre layer of snow during the winter months, making it a tough place to train!
Still, it’s not all bad for the handful of followers of the plucky Swiss Mountain League side, who have made a habit of outlasting opponents unused to the rarefied air of the Ottmar Hitzfeld Stadium.
The side’s main worry is losing their balls over the netting and into the mountains - it’s estimated that around 1,000 have been lost over four decades!
Fans of Panyee FC, one of the most successful youth soccer clubs in Southern Thailand, will always face challenges in attending the team’s games - but they’re unlikely to complain, given the inspirational nature of the club’s origins.
Panyee FC came into being after a group of children from the tiny stilt-based fishing village of Ko Panyi were inspired by the 1986 World Cup to form their own team, building a floating pitch out of discarded fishing rafts and scraps of wood.
They subsequently entered a mainland tournament called the Pangha Cup and wowed the crowds with their unexpected skills, clinching a third-place finish after a semi-final match where they played the second half barefoot.
Since then, the old floating pitch has been retired and replaced with a much higher-quality venue, helping Panyee FC stay established as a genuinely successful side for many years - even if their remote location means that attending their matches in person will always be a challenge!
You can learn more about Panyee FC’s story in this short film created by the Thai bank TMB back in 2011:
Doncaster Rovers (1990s)
If Panyee FC’s story is an inspiring example of everything that’s pure and inspiring about sport, the story of Doncaster Rovers in the 1990s illustrates the dark side of the beautiful game, and the ways in which fan loyalty can be tested by truly dodgy ownership.
One of England’s oldest clubs, Donny’s very existence was thrown into disarray by Ken Richardson, a millionaire chancer with a history of horseracing scams, who came into the club in 1993 and became its majority shareholder.
For a marker of Richardson’s character, bear in mind he was later described by police detectives as “the type that would trample a two-year-old child to pick up a 2p bit”.
His aim in financing Rovers was to upgrade the club to a lucrative new stadium - but when permission was denied by the local council, Richardson decided to take matters into his own hands, hiring three men to set fire to Doncaster’s home stadium of Belle Vue in the hope of paying off his debts with the insurance money.
The fire burned a hole in the roof, causing £100,000 worth of damage, but Richardson was caught after one of his bungling accomplices left his mobile phone at the crime scene, and the crooked owner was eventually jailed for four years.
Alas, the mismanaged Rovers were unable to escape the effects of Richardson’s disastrous leadership, being relegated from the Football League with a goal difference of -83.
Happily, Donny fans have a lot more to smile about these days, having rallied under new owners in the 2000s at their new home at the Keepmoat Stadium.
As tough as the cut-and-thrust of League One life can be, fans of the club can always console themselves with the thought that matches played with Arsenal are always preferable to matches lit by arsonists.
At very least, Doncaster fans can rest assured that they emerged from their run-in with a shifty owner better than poor Darlington FC, who were essentially run into the ground by the infamous businessman George Reynolds.
A flamboyant multi-millionaire with a criminal background in safe-cracking, handling explosives, burglary and theft, Reynolds breezed into Darlington in 1999 with a declared ambition to take the fourth-tier side into the Premier League, making high-profile (and failed) bids to sign players like Paul Gascoigne and Faustino Asprilla.
He also relocated the side to a 25,000-seat stadium, one of the largest outside the Premier League, which was ostentatiously named the “Reynolds Arena” and paid for with high-interest loans.
Sadly for Darlington, this ill-advised move proved fatal for a club with no ability to fill a stadium of this size, driving the club into administration.
Darlington were eventually forced out of the Football League and reformed as the supporter-owned Darlington 1883 in 2012, only regaining the Darlington FC name in 2017.
As for Reynolds, the one-time tycoon - who hobnobbed with the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Donald Trump in his pomp - was jailed for tax evasion in 2005, and now runs an e-cigarette shop in Chester-le-Street, while continuing to have occasional run-ins with the law.
It’s likely that most Darlington fans won’t be shedding many tears over his fall from grace!
Just to prove that insanely crooked owners aren’t just a British thing, spare a thought for supporters of AC Perugia, who for two decades were owned by Luciano Gaucci - a tempestuous and eccentric character even by “Italian football club owner” standards.
During his tenure in charge of the then-Serie A club, Gaucci had a tendency of dragging the club into bizarre and lurid controversies, including the decision to sign Al-Saadi Gaddafi, son of Libyan military despot Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, as a player in 2003.
Gaddafi Jr made only one substitute appearance for Perugia before failing a drug test, though he was able to strike up an unlikely friendship with English striker Jay Bothroyd (???), who was signed by Perugia at the same time.
Gaucci also ignited a high-profile row with Ahn Jung-Hwan, then on loan to Perugia, after the South Korean midfielder scored the golden goal that eliminated Italy from the 2002 World Cup.
The Perugia owner immediately threatened to cancel Ahn’s contract, saying he had “no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian football”, before later attempting to take the comments back and offer Ahn a permanent contract - which the South Korean furiously rejected, leaving Perugia immediately.
Inevitably, Gaucci’s ownership skills were just as reliable as his diplomacy, and the club fell bankrupt in 2005, eventually reforming as AC Perugia Calcio.
Gaucci fled the subsequent inquiry to the Dominican Republic, hiding there for four years before receiving a three-year suspended jail sentence.
This ensured an unhappy ending for all involved, though at least fans of Perugia - who now play in Serie B - have some truly strange stories to tell for their troubles.
The flat-out terrible
Happy memories of rousing victories are what keep most football supporters loyal to their clubs, even through the worst times.
Spare a thought, then, for fans of Berkshire’s AFC Aldermaston, a team whose biggest claim to fame is a record-breaking losing streak in 2009-10 that made the taste of victory feel like a very distant memory indeed.
Then playing in Division One of the Wessex League, Aldermaston were dubbed “the worst football team in Britain” after enduring a 40-match losing streak lasting for 11 months, the longest such run in British senior football history.
During this ill-fated spell, Aldermaston shipped more than 150 goals, ending the season with a goal difference of -134 and a points total of four.
A 1-1 draw with Warminster Town, followed by a long, long-awaited 2-1 victory over Petersfield Town, finally brought Aldermaston’s miserable run to an end in April 2010.
Manager Adie Heath attempted to be sanguine about the situation, calling it a “record no team would want, but I suppose it has given the club a bit of attention” - this was certainly true, as Aldmermaston were able to attract international coverage for their historic “achievement”.
Alas, this brief period of fame wasn’t enough to save the side from relegation to the Hampshire Premier League for the following season.
They now ply their trade in the Hellenic League Division One East, where they finished third in 2018-19, winning 14 games out of 24 - meaning that loyal fans have now been able to finally rediscover that winning feeling.
Federated States of Micronesia under-23s
Aldermaston fans will have felt aggrieved to watch their side rack up a -134 goal difference over 40 games - which is likely to have increased their sympathy for the Federated States of Micronesia under-23s, who managed to achieve a -114 goal difference in just three games in 2015.
To be fair, the Pacific Island side had a number of extenuating circumstances behind this somewhat sub-par performance.
The Federated States of Micronesia had never had any junior teams before the under-23s team was formed in 2014, and they entered the 2015 Pacific Games as their competitive international debut, with the squad never having played together until a training camp shortly before the Games.
What’s more, many of the young players were venturing outside their home villages for the first time, and had never even seen an escalator or elevator before, adding to the overall sense of culture shock.
What resulted was the worst ever performance by a team at an international tournament, with the Micronesians losing their first match 30-0 to Tahiti, followed by an even heftier 38-0 loss to Fiji.
This left Vanuatu, the Micronesians’ final opponents, with the challenge of having to score a minimum of 30 goals themselves to be in with a chance of progressing to the next round of the tournament - a challenge they met by strolling to a 46-0 win, including 16 goals for striker Jean Kaltack.
Despite having shipped 114 goals without reply, the Micronesian media were positive about the effort shown by the young side, looking on their participation as a good experience and an important move towards achieving FIFA membership.
If this can eventually be achieved, then Micronesian football enthusiasts may be able to look back at this series of one-sided drubbings as a necessary stepping stone...
Want to show your support for your chosen team - no matter how difficult it might feel sometimes to keep the faith? Browse our full selection of retro football shirts at TOFFS. From Premier League to non-league and the very best international sides, we’ve got you covered with stylish retro kits and merchandise from all eras of the game.