“With Liverpool potentially able to win the league this month, what is the earliest in the season a team has won a title?” asks Erin Raif.
In England the record is shared by Manchester United, Everton and Manchester City, who have all wrapped up the top-flight title with five games to spare. If we’re talking in terms of how early in the year the teams have won, then United had their 1908 league championship sewn up on 11 April, which is earlier than Everton and City. Liverpool, however, can set a new mark for winning the English top-flight in record time whichever way we rank it. They could be champions of England for the 19th time as early as next Monday if Manchester City lose to Burnley on Saturday, meaning they could win the title on 16 March with eight games to spare. Even if it takes Liverpool until the Crystal Palace home match on 21 March or at Manchester City 0n 5 April, this will still be an English record.
If we take a look around Europe we can unearth a few teams who have raced to a league title quicker. Dirk Maas has done the hard yards for us here. “On 28 February 2016, with six games to play, Olympiakos became Greek champions. In 2012-13 (10 March 2013) and 2013-14 (15 March 2014) Olympiakos secured the league title at an early stage (five games to play) as well.” Lyon won the 2007 Ligue 1 title on 21 April with six games to play.
Other champions confirmed in March, courtesy of Dirk, were:
• Real Madrid (1960-61: 12 March 1961)
• PSG (2015-16: 13 March 2016)
• Anderlecht (1961-62: 19 March 1962)
• Austria Vienna (1977-78, 19 March 1978)
• RB Salzburg: (2013-14: 23 March 2014)
• Bayern Munich (2013-14: 25 March 2014)
• Milan (1967-68: 31 March 1968)
Celebrating the almost-invincibles
“Many were predicting Liverpool would win the league unbeaten before they lost to Watford,” writes Colm Kearns. “But who are the other ‘almost invincibles’, ie who has gone furthest into a league season before experiencing their first defeat?”
Porto went precisely one better than Klopp’s side, laser-points Alan Gomes. “Liverpool fell to Watford on the 28th round; Porto in 1987-88 went unbeaten for their first 28 games but lost 2-0 at Sporting on the 29th. Liverpool fans might take heart in knowing this would be Porto’s only loss en route to winning that season’s Portuguese title.”
Justin Horton notes that Leeds in 1973-74 went one better still: “They were unbeaten until the 30th game of their Division One campaign, a 3-2 defeat at Stoke.” They would, however, lose three more of their remaining 12.
Still plenty of wiggle room, and in that gap Wouter van Dael and Derek Robertson both point towards Barcelona’s 2017-18 side, unbeaten for 36 games but who, in the penultimate league fixture, stumbled to a shock 5-4 defeat to Levante – the side lying fifth-bottom. Levante improbably roared into a 5-1 lead by the 56th minute, but after Emmanuel Boateng’s hat-trick, Philippe Coutinho scored a 26-minute treble of his own and Luis Suárez added a 71st-minute penalty to take it to 5-4. Yet Barça were unable to find an equaliser. A 1-0 home victory over Real Sociedad completed the champions’ campaign of 37 wins and one loss.
Kristian Enstrøm reckons the heartbreaking end to Brøndby’s 1987 run can beat that. After going 24 games of a 26-match season without defeat, a team boasting Peter Schmeichel and Brian Laudrup played away at B1903, and going into the closing stages the match was level at 1-1. But then … “B1903, who had nothing to play for, actually scored the winning goal in the 90th minute. Brøndby had already won the title, and ended with 22 victories, three draws and that one defeat.”
And for a real sickener, there was this.
More mid-match kit changes
After last week’s tales of Bosnich woe, more tales of keepers having to abandon the jerseys they took to the pitch in …
Things got unexpectedly interactive during an early-60s Isthmian League showdown between Clapton and Hendon at The Old Spotted Dog in east London. “As the game was about to kick off the referee realised Clapton’s goalie, Terry Moore, was wearing a green top, which clashed with Hendon’s kit,” writes Ian Simpson.
“My dad was standing behind the goal, took off his pale blue jumper and – quite genuinely – offered it to Terry as a solution. The ref was happy, and so the keeper played the whole match in my dad’s jumper. My mum wasn’t too pleased – she had to wash it.”
Kevin Gilvary brings news back from the 1980s: “I bravely attended Ashton Gate in about 1985 to see Bristol City play Doncaster Rovers in a downpour. Donny were wearing their away strip of green. During an early break in play, I shouted: ‘Linesman! The Bristol City goalie is wearing green, the same colour as the opposition!’ The referee came over and soon the City coach was sent to find a new shirt, this time blue, for John Shaw. The ref consulted the managers, Terry Cooper and Billy Bremner, the match carried on and City won 1-0.”
It’s not just the players who have fallen foul either, as Lee Wall recalls: “During the first half of Leeds United v Newcastle United on 18 October 1997, David Elleray’s green referee shirt was clashing with Newcastle away strip. He wore a blue Leeds United jumper for the rest of the match.”
Back in 2003, Mark Meadowcroft asked: “In This Is Spinal Tap, bass player Derek Smalls wears an early-80s Umbro football shirt in several scenes. Who did he support? It looks a bit like Bradford City to me, but I thought he was from the west Midlands.”
It was in fact a Shrewsbury Town replica shirt.
“Speaking of Derek Smalls in his Shrewsbury shirt, only a true Tap obsessive will have spotted David St Hubbins’s favourite team: Wolverhampton Wanderers,” wrote Stephen Buckland. “As the band arrive in New York for their very first gig, the guitarist and vocalist can be seen sporting the familiar gold and black scarf behind manager Ian Faith. It’s only a few frames, but it’s there. Buy the video, folks.”
Meanwhile Andy Barnes pointed out that: “Watching again, I noticed Derek Smalls sporting a claret-and-blue baseball cap a lot through the first half of the film. The writing is difficult to make out, but at one point you can make out the words ‘West Ham’ across the front. A pretty good reference to their supposed East End roots, but a bit odd considering he’s got his Shrewsbury shirt on at the same time.”
Can you help?
“What are the highest fees paid by clubs for other teams’ managers?” asks Alan Gomes.
“An anomaly of Liverpool’s superb season is that Roberto Firmino is yet to score at Anfield,” writes Evan Thornton. “Are there any examples of a team winning the league without their No 9 scoring at home?”
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