Stoke City have spent just 85 minutes of their long history in the English Football League out of negative goal difference – and they all came 132 years ago.
Duncan Alexander, one of the statisticians behind Opta, has been plucking out “impossibly niche football facts” to help fill the void during lockdown.
That includes this corker about the Potters: “Stoke lost 2-0 in their opening game in September 1888 and that -2 remains their best ever cumulative goal difference, 4,591 games later.”
It was fellow pioneers West Bromwich Albion who were the visitors to the Victoria Ground that very first day of league football.
There were 4,500 in the crowd as Joe Wilson finally broke the deadlock to put FA Cup holders Albion ahead with five minutes remaining. George Woodhall double the lead three minutes later and Stoke went on to finish bottom.
Alexander went further to analyse the cumulative goal difference season after season.
“Not the best start,” he annotated a graph for Twitter around September 1894, “Stoke reach -100 before the radio and HP Sauce are invented.”
It got worse before it got better.
“The first great nadir is reached in April 1926 as a 3-1 defeat to Chelsea takes Stoke to -242,” he wrote, adding: “’Positive goal difference, we’ll never sing that,’ chant fans as they riot for 12 days.”
Then, however, came the era of Stanley Matthews and Freddie Steele, Frank Soo and Neil Franklin and Stoke became one of the best teams in the land.
They were within a game of becoming league champions in 1947 and that year saw a goal difference landmark.
“August 1947,” wrote Alexander, “and Stoke celebrate the birth of Roy Hodgson by climbing to -47, the closest they’ll ever get back to 0.”
The cumulative goal difference had dropped to -165, however, by 1952/53 as Stoke fell from that great height into the second division.
It would recover a big chunk thanks to a decade mostly bobbing in the right half of that tier and recovered to a height of -59 during the reign of Tony Waddington – that came at Christmas time in 1966.
But it plummeted again during the 1980s, going from -103 at the start of the decade to -264 by the time it was over, with Stoke under Alan Ball and nosediving into the third tier.
The highest it has been since then came during the promotion season, with a peak of -171 in January 2008 under Tony Pulis.
But a decade taking on the big boys bruised that tally.
In fact, since promotion Stoke have only been in positive goal difference in that season after 28 of 463 games.
Cumulative goal difference has been even worse and reached a new nadir this season. It shot past -300 under the watch of Paul Lambert in April 2018, the relegation season, and reached -322 in November 2018. It has never been lower than -322 (after West Brom, again) and then again after a defeat to Hull.
Thankfully, Michael O’Neill has steered it back up to -315.
A positive cumulative goal difference might be out of reach for a decade or two – but being in positive goal difference for a season is hopefully on the agenda when football returns.