Which capital city has had the longest wait for European football?

<span>Photograph: Calin Stan/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Calin Stan/Alamy

“There surely can’t be many nations whose capitals have had as long a European drought as Moldova with Chisinau,” tweets Richard Wilson.

It’s certainly been a while since the denizens of Chisinau have had anything to look out for on the European stage – you have to go back to 2017-18 for the city’s last appearance of any kind in European competition, Dacia Chisinau crashing out of the Europa League in the first qualifying round with a 7-0 aggregate defeat to North Macedonia’s Shkendija Tetovo.

Related: Who are the highest-scoring non-top-scorers in a football season? | The Knowledge

Chisinauhosted Manchester United’s Europa League group game against Sheriff Tiraspol last season, but for a city team’s last appearance in European competition proper you have to go all the way back to 2003-04 and Zimbru Chisinau’s first-round defeat to Aris Thessaloniki. Fear not, though – next season Zimbru are back. Well, they’re in the Europa Conference League qualifiers at any rate.

There are a couple of capital cities who can claim to have had a longer wait, including one much closer to Knowledge HQ. “Look to Cardiff for a 20-year drought between Cardiff Metropolitan University (then Inter Cardiff) participating in the 1999-2000 Uefa Cup and the 2019-20 Europa League,” writes Matthew Watson.

Eddie Eyers attempts to stretch that a little further in France: “From the inception of Uefa competition in 1955-56 until Paris Saint-Germain’s debut in the 1982-83 Cup Winners’ Cup, the City of Lights had no representation in European football for 27 seasons.” Which is true as far as Uefa competitions go, though Racing Club de Paris’s 1963-64 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (total sum of which: a first-round exit to Rapid Vienna) surely counts as European football, bringing the streak down to 19 years.

A long wait, nevertheless. But Stephen Toal offers an even longer one from cold war West Germany: “With West German clubs first competing in 1955-56, the birthplace of Beethoven and footballing hotbed of Bonn never had a side contest a European tie during its further 36 years as capital of West Germany.”

In terms of active droughts, The Knowledge suggests Ankara, which, while technically in Asia, has teams who play in European competition – just not very often. The Turkish capital’s two biggest teams are Genclerbirligi (who last played in the 2004-05 Europa League) and Ankaragucu (the 2002-03 Europa League).

Winning the league but missing out on promotion

“Currently harbouring the disappointment of watching Nottingham Forest Women lose the FAWNL playoff 1-0 to Watford,” mopes Sam Williams-Duncan. “The playoff was between winners of the FAWNL Premier North (Forest) and South (Watford) to decide which team will take the one promotion spot to the Championship. A deeply unfair system that is finally being scrapped for the 2023-24 season. Are there any other examples of clubs winning their league but not being allowed promotion through a similarly unfair playoff system?”

“Sure there are,” cheers Stig Wallerman. “Swedes have lived with this for decades. From 1932-1947 and 1955-1971, the second division was divided into four groups. However, only two of the winners would get promoted to Allsvenskan. Initially, the winners from the north and the east division played each other for one spot, the west and the south winners for the other. From 1960 onward, all four winners played each other (one home, one away, and the last on neutral ground) with the two best getting promoted.”

This carried on into the 21st century. “From 1999-2005 there was no automatic promotion from Division Two, the Swedish third tier,” writes David Ekstrand. “The winners from the six Division Two series met in play-offs to select three promoted teams. From 2002-2004, Väsby IK won their league three consecutive times but lost the playoffs every time.”

It’s a fairly common occurrence lower down the pyramids throughout Europe. “In the German fourth tier there are four promotion places across five regional leagues: three champions go up automatically while the other two play off for the remaining slot,” writes Tony Richardson. “Which leagues get the automatic places is decided on a rotation. To add salt to the wounds, one league (Nord) was won by Hamburg’s second team, meaning the automatic slot went to Lübeck, while the champions of the Bayern and Nordost leagues will have to play off for promotion.”

Between 2016 and 2020, the Belgian FA tinkered with the second tier. “For 2016-17, it was rebranded as First Division B,” begins Stijn. “The season was cut in half and the winners of the two halves would meet in a playoff final. In the aggregate table, Lierse were runaway winners, five points ahead of Roeselare and six points ahead of Antwerp. But Lierse came second in both the opening and the closing tournament, missing out on a deserved promotion (or at least a chance at it). Eventually, Antwerp beat Roeselare to move up to the First Division, where they are now close to being champions for the first time since 1957.”

Antwerp’s players face the fans after the draw with Union Saint Gilloise
Antwerp’s players face their fans after the draw with Union Saint-Gilloise on Sunday that means the title race goes down to the final day. Photograph: Shutterstock

Finally, a couple of examples from Scotland. Kirk Burton writes: “The winners of the Lowland League and Highland League compete, not just for one promotion place, but to play Scottish League Two’s bottom side in a playoff. In 2019-20, after 27 games, Brechin were seven points from safety when the season was scrapped, meaning neither Kelty Hearts or Brora Rangers had the opportunity to get promoted after being winners of their respective divisions. The following season, though, Kelty beat Brora and Brechin to achieve promotion to League Two.”

“Cowdenbeath FC have been denied promotion after winning league titles three times,” writes an apoplectic Rhuaraidh Fleming. “The years of those victories may explain why – 1913-14, 1914-15 and 1938-39. Yes, Cowdenbeath winning the league seemed to be a precursor for global war (which may have caused some concerns in more superstitious circles when they won their next title in 2005-06).”

Rapid relegations

Ciarán Norris and Anu Mitra both ask: “Is Leicester’s relegation the shortest time to elapse between winning the league and being relegated from the top flight, or are there any shorter examples?”

It’s a decent effort but not the quickest by a long shot. That dubious honour belongs to Manchester City, who having won the title in 1936-37 were relegated in 1937-38.

Knowledge archive

“Is it true that Falkirk (or another Scottish side) were once shipwrecked on the way to a game?” wondered Dan Palmer back in 2012.

It is indeed, Dan, but the side who took a dip in the briny deep came from further down the Firth of Forth. Kirkcaldy’s Raith Rovers can justifiably claim to be pioneers of the Scottish game – they had enjoyed a successful trip to Copenhagen in the summer of 1922 and fancied repeating the trick at the end of the following season, this time taking in the sunnier climes of the Canary Islands. So in the summer of 1923 they boarded the Highland Loch, which was calling in at the Canaries en route to Buenos Aires with its cargo of passengers and, apparently, chilled meat.

The Stark’s Park party had reached northern Spain and were off the coast of Galicia, negotiating Cape Finisterre, in violent weather when the ship ran aground. The players and other passengers were roused from their beds, lifeboats were used and the group were towed to the village of Vilagarcía by local fishermen.

The following day a passing liner bound for the Canaries picked up the 20-strong Rovers squad and were, according to their player Tom Jennings, invited to eat at the captain’s table because of their chivalrous behaviour during the rain-swept abandoning of the Highland Loch. A few days later they were safely deposited at their destination – and the traumatic journey did not seem to adversely effect the players. They won all four games on the tour, although history does not report another European adventure in 1924 …


Can you help?

“In Southampton’s 4-4 draw with Liverpool on the final day of the season both teams came back from two-goal deficits within the same game,” writes Matt Fox. “Has this happened before? Have there been any cases of bigger double comebacks?”

“Sheffield Wednesday went 330 (over with injury-time) minutes without being ahead (in normal play) in the playoffs, but managed to get promoted,” writes Colin Richardson. “Has any other team not had a lead in normal play for longer and still won a competition?”

“Both Reading’s first-team men and women’s team have been relegated this season,” writes Ciaran S. “Has this ever happened to a team before?”

“The 25-goal gap between Dixie Dean’s 60 and George Pell’s 35 in last week’s column, raises an obvious question,” begins John Burton. “Has there been a bigger gap between the top two strikers in a season?”