Glory and Misery: The Longest Winning and Losing Streaks in Football

Confidence, or the lack of it, can play a huge part in success or failure. That is true in many walks of life, be it a driving test, approaching a potential date at the bar (OK, that probably only happens in films these days!) or the 10,000m at the Olympics. But it is certainly very true of football and confidence is largely built by achieving positive results.

A side that has won several games in a row is likely to kick off with the strong belief they will chalk up another three points. Conversely, an outfit that has lost five or six games in a row can very easily begin to wonder where their next point is coming from. A run of half a dozen matches or so is one thing, but what are the longest winning and losing streaks in football?

Al-Hilal Win 28th Game in a Row

Al Hilal SFC
Al Hilal SFC

Let’s start with the glory before we delve into the misery and consider the longest run of wins ever achieved by a football team. On Tuesday the 12th of March 2024, Saudi Pro League team Al-Hilal recorded their 28th victory in a row. By the time you read this, they may have extended that mark or, just maybe, someone will have found a way to beat them – or at least scrape a draw.

The all-important 28th win came against fellow Saudi outfit Al-Ittihad in the Asian Champions League. They beat the Jeddah-based outfit (who boast Karin Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Fabinho among their squad) 2-0, to book their spot in the semis of the tournament.

Their amazing run began all the way back in September 2023 when they beat Al-Jabalain 1-0 in the King Cup of Champions. Prior to that, they had drawn with Damac 1-1 on the 21st of September, the last time they failed to win. Since then they have won 28 games in a row, with 16 of those coming in the league to leave them well clear at the top of the table. They are currently 12 points in front of Al-Nassr, whose star, Cristiano Ronaldo, is no doubt sulking furiously.

Their run also features nine wins in the Asian Champions League and a further three domestic cup victories and the Riyadh team could be in for a stunning season in which they land multiple trophies. In the absence of the injured Neymar, ex-Fulham forward Aleksandar Mitrovic has been their go-to man for the goals and he has bagged 26 during this incredible streak. Manager Jorge Jesus has been doing an incredible job with a squad that, on paper at least, is not a match for some of their rivals, especially with Neymar having been out since October.

The previous record for consecutive wins was held jointly by the Saudis and Welsh outfit the New Saints. The then-Welsh Premier League champions landed a 27th win in a row to break the benchmark previously held by Dutch giants Ajax. That record had stood for 44 years, since 1971/72, and whilst the level of both the Welsh and Saudi leagues are well below that of the football in Netherlands, both are still incredible runs of wins.

The New Saints would draw their 28th game, a 3-3 thriller with Newtown, so it will be interesting to see how Mitrovic and co get on in trying to extend their record. East Kilbride actually managed to win 30 games in a row back in 2016 before losing 1-0 to Spartans. However, as they played in Scotland’s Lowland League, well below pro/elite level, this run does not count as an official world record.

San Marino Run Unlikely to be “Bettered”

San Marino footballThere are fewer detailed records of losing streaks in all pro leagues around the world. However, we can be pretty sure that the run of 61 straight defeats recorded by the San Marino national side is the worst losing streak at professional club or international level.

San Marino is a tiny country and is entirely surrounded by Italy. The fifth-smallest nation in the world, the population is just 34,000, which is hardly a wide pool from which to pick players to compete against the likes of England. San Marino and the Three Lions have met a number of times in both European Championship and World Cup qualifying. At the time of the writing, the record stands at eight wins out of eight for England, with an aggregate score of 52-1!

San Marino have often been ranked as the worst football team in the world, or certainly among those propping up the FIFA rankings. They are yet to win a competitive game, although have managed two draws in World Cup qualifying and one in Euros qualification matches. Their only ever win came in a friendly against fellow minnows Liechtenstein, back in 2004, and so it is safe to say they are no strangers to poor results.

That said, even by their truly dismal standards, losing a massive 61 games in a row is a poor run! That terrible streak came between 2004 (their one win) and 2014 when they managed to nick a 1-1 home draw against Estonia in qualifying for Euro 2016. They went around 10 and a half years losing every single game they played, a losing run that any downhearted fans should probably bear in mind should their team lose a few games in a row!

Worst Premier League Streak

Sunderland footballFor comparison, the worst-ever run of consecutive defeats in the history of the Premier League (post the rebrand in 1992) is “just” 20 games. Sunderland lost the final 15 matches of a disastrous 2002/03 campaign, which saw them finish bottom and suffer relegation. Their return to the top flight would not come until 2005/06 but the Black Cats carried on right where they left off by losing the opening five matches of that season.

The North East outfit again finished bottom of the pile, this time amassing just 15 points, the lowest total in Premier League history. But, to make all this even worse, as well as their 20-match losing streak being a Premier League record, it is also the worst run of defeats in the entire history of the English top flight! Oh well, at least they stopped short of San Marino!