The league table doesn’t lie. Or so the saying goes. But the final tallies of wins, draws and losses doesn’t always tell the entire story.
Once the English scholars of the 19th century had the bright idea of forming a national league championship, points deductions for teams stepping out of line were quick to follow. The first recorded incident of a club being stripped of points came in 1890, two years before goals had crossbars or nets.
In the century-plus since, clubs have continued to colour outside the lines, losing more than the two points Wrexham had scrubbed off back in the day. Here are some of the heftiest deductions the game has ever seen.
Juventus are no strangers to scandal. Regrettably, they are hardly the only club from the European peninsula that has been caught bending the rules, as Gianni Brera once remarked: “In Italy, we have never heard of fair play.”
The Bianconeri’s latest indiscretion centres around the inflation of transfer fees and in 2006 there were at the heart of the Calciopoli scandal which rocked the whole of Italy. Juve were relegated from Serie A and initially docked 30 points but that was reduced to nine, leaving that iteration outside the scope of this list.
Fiorentina’s role in the Calciopoli scandal often gets glossed over. However, La Viola played their part – even if the way the club’s owner Diego Della Valle conducted himself lacked the nefarious edge of Juve’s fixer Luciano Moggi.
Nevertheless, as punishment for the undue influence Fiorentina’s hierarchy applied to referees, the club were not only docked points in the 2005/06 campaign (scroll down) but had another 15 taken off for the following campaign.
Just six years after battling out a Champions League semi-final with Valencia, Leeds began their first-ever season of League One football with -15 points beside their name in the league table.
There was the possibility of the club suffering expulsion from the Football League entirely as they failed to agree on a debt agreement with their various creditors during the summer. However, a vote between the Football League clubs decided that one of the biggest points deductions in football history would suffice.
When Eddie Howe heard the words “manager’s job, do you want it?” over a crackling phone line at a New Year’s Eve party at the end of 2008, Bournemouth were mired in the relegation zone on ten points. At the start of the League Two season, that tally stood at -17 after the club failed to climb out of administration ahead of the new campaign.
As has often been retold since, Howe steered his boyhood club to safety despite the handicap before hauling the Cherries up the football pyramid, all the way to the Premier League within a decade of their hefty deduction.
Though they don’t receive the same fanfare as Howe’s Bournemouth, Rotherham began the 2008/09 League Two campaign with the same 17-point deficit – again for failing to exit administration – yet still avoided the drop.
Mark Robins steered Rotherham to a hugely impressive 14th-place finish, closer to the promotion spots than the relegation zone despite the head-start (most of) their opponents had been given.
According to the former Genoa striker Carlo Petrini, whose autobiography, Down in the mud with the football god, gives an insight into the murky world, match-fixing was commonplace in Italian football in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Genoa got ahead of the game when they had a whopping 18 points lopped off for bribery in 1960, with another ten (later reduced to seven) reserved for the 1960/61 campaign.
The weight of this punishment is even bigger when you consider that a win only earned two points at the time. Thus an 18-point penalty was worth nine wins, i.e. 27 points in new money.
The Bundesliga wasn’t even a decade old when it was rocked by the bribery scandal of 1971. More than 50 players were punished in a scandal blown open at a garden party for a 50-year-old’s birthday. That celebrating individual was Kickers Offenbach president Horst-Gregorio Canellas who played a tape to some of his guests that revealed that multiple German players would accept a bribe.
Arminia Bielefeld bore the brunt of the backlash for their central role in the fixing, playing out the 1971/72 season even though they knew that every point they earned would be just as swiftly deducted. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the lack of motivation, Arminia’s tally of 19 points would have left them bottom of the league anyway.
In the space of three weeks in autumn 2021, Derby managed to lose 21 points – 12 for entering administration and another nine for breaching the EFL’s accounting rules. During the time it took for the various governing bodies to agree upon Derby’s final punishment, Wayne Rooney had steered the chaotic club to nine more Championship points earned on the pitch.
With ten games to play, Rooney’s Derby were just eight points behind Reading on the cusp of the relegation zone. Ultimately the Rams couldn’t bully their way out of the drop but without the handicap they would have finished in 17th.
The Roman-born former Perugia owner Luciano Gaucci once opined: “80% of the games in Italy are fixed.” During the 2005/06 Serie A season – and the years leading up to it if not beyond – that figure may not have been quite as hyperbolic as it seems.
Lazio were one of three teams – stay tuned – to be docked a whopping 30 points for their involvement in the Calciopoli scandal.
“I didn’t even realise that someone could pick up the phone and call you,” Diego Della Valle was heard telling referee boss Paolo Bergamo.
Fiorentina had fallen foul of some suspicious refereeing decisions during the 2004/05 campaign, orchestrated by other clubs supposedly as punishment for Della Valle’s interest in the league’s TV rights deal. Della Valle was urged to follow the same murky routes to steer La Viola away from the drop and earned the club a 30-point penalty for, reluctantly and politely, doing so.
One of the few elite teams which escaped any form of punishment from the Calciopoli debacle was Milan’s arch-rivals Inter. In a classic form of rivalry-induced paranoia, Milan fans are all too quick to point out that the various wiretaps which led to the indictment of the clubs involved were done with the assistance of the telecommunications company Gruppo TIM, who just so happened to have sponsorship links with Inter.
Regardless of the Nerazzurri’s supposed protection, Milan didn’t escape any scrutiny, losing 30 points which would have made them champions ahead of Inter following Juve’s relegation. The following season they had another eight points taken off to complete their punishment.
The miraculous relegation evasions of Bournemouth and Rotherham in 2008/09 were undoubtedly aided by Luton Town’s demise that same season. The Hatters began the campaign with an ugly -30 beside their name.
Alongside the ten that the Football Association took for irregular player transfers, Luton had another 20 points removed by the Football League for failing to exit administration. In the previous season, Luton had finished bottom of League One after a ten-point deduction for entering administration.
Mick Harford’s side propped up the professional pyramid in 2009, collecting 56 points – which would have been enough for safety – before their punishment sent them into the National League.