Stanford Arms struggle to beat last season's tally of minus two points

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The Independent Online
A word of warning to those Premiership sides who think an open cheque book is the passport to success. Before forking out the price of a Canaletto for some foreigner with an unpronounceable name, they should heed the lesson of Nomads FC from the Norwich Lads and Minors League. In an effort to bring a run of poor results to an end, Nomads forked out 25p for a new goalie. It didn't work. They lost every game and finished the 1972 season with 11 goals for and 431 against, an impressive tally from just 20 matches.

Nomads, not surprisingly, finished the season with no points. And for more than 20 years, their performance has allowed the most inept club to draw some comfort - "Well, at least we didn't do as badly as Nomads." But another East Anglian club has surpassed this legendary achievement, finishing last season in the Lowestoft Sunday League with minus two points.

In the circumstances, it might have been reasonable for Stanford Arms FC to change their name, sack their manager, pull in a few ringers or simply disband. The side did none of these. Battered but unbowed, they took a positive view of their ignominious relegation. It would give the side a chance to consolidate, to rebuild and to compete in less competitive waters.

Now it would be unfair to judge their progress so early in the season. But sadly, the side officially recognised by the Football Association as Britain's worst club are on course to maintain the title. Seven league games and a couple of cup ties along the road, and Stanford Arms have lost every match.

Even their sponsor, Brian Cook, who faithfully turns up for every match - "athough not too early or they have me running the line" - is somewhat critical of their form. "How would I describe them? Well, crap is the word that immediately comes to mind," he said.

Cook took over the small Lowestoft pub three years ago. "When I started, we had quite a good team, and a couple of seasons ago they were runners- up in the Second Division." Then it all went wrong.

In such circumstances, the boss is the obvious scapegoat. Since 42-year- old Graham Buckenham took over as Stanford Arms manager, their record has been almost as bad as the memorable Stockport United squad, who lost 39 successive league and cup matches in the Stockport League between September 1976 and February 1978.

"Our worst defeat last season was 14-0 in a cup match, while it was 9- 0 in a league match," Buckenham recalls. "But we weren't as bad as all that. We ran a couple of the top teams close, and only lost 2-1 to AFC Railway, who are one of the best teams in our league.

"The trouble was that our ex-manager said at the start of last season that we wouldn't be putting in a team, so many of the players drifted away.

"I just sort of inherited the job and had to put a team together at short notice. I knew we were going to struggle because the standard is high in the First Division. A lot of players turn out for sides like Lowestoft and Yarmouth."

Amazingly, Stanford Arms drew their first match last season. But, from then, it was a head-long plunge downhill. "We always had problems raising a team, because we only had 15 to choose from. Our goalie didn't always turn up, and we often had only nine or 10 players. Even I played almost every match.

"On one occasion, we lost three points because we were penalised for calling-off a match at too short notice." Hence their points tally.

Their supporters never wavered in their loyalty, despite having precious little to applaud. "As well as Brian, there's Robbie, Billy, Ken and Suzanne who turn up for all our matches. We usually have at least half a dozen," Buckenham says proudly. And the side won a couple of cup matches, including an 11-1 victory against Dukes Hotel FC, "though they only had seven men" Buckenham admits.

The league was a different matter. Defeat followed defeat. But it never occurred to the players that they had done so badly until the FA officially announced that Stanford Arms FC had the worst record of all the 42,000 teams under its jurisdiction. "Then we got more publicity than the team that won the league," said Liam Holmes, one of the regular players.

Amazingly, their dismal form has done them no harm at all. "At the start of this season, a lot of youngsters asked if they could play for us," Buckenham said. "We've now got 28 players, a regular goalie and I can even have subs."

However, it hasn't put them back to winning ways. To make things worse, they have lost their star scorer, Jonathan Thompson, who got seven of their 11 league goals last season.

Buckenham says that bad luck has been a factor - "We even lost our centre- forward when he pulled a muscle in the warm-up" - but he is unwilling to change a losing formula. "We don't have extra training or anything like that. We just go out and enjoy it."

Holmes is miffed at the very suggestion. "Some people take their football a lot too seriously. They think it is more important to get their name in the paper."

He is fiercely supportive of the manager, and bridles at any suggestion that new leadership might halt their losing sequence. "It's not his fault. Graham tells us what we're doing wrong and I nearly always agree with him. We have to learn to play as a team. The trouble is, a lot of heads go down when we're losing 3-0 or 4-0 at half-time.

"But it will come. We have good players. It is just a matter of confidence. If we win a match, I think that could turn the corner. It could even be the next game. Then again, it might take three or four seasons."