When fandom goes bad: Australia/NZ Sports Misery Index

Being a sports fan is supposed to be fun, right? For many supporters (hello, Richmond Tigers, Melbourne Storm and Crusaders followers, to name a few), that's exactly what following their teams brings - expectations, excitement, joy, pride and all those other positive emotions.

But what about those poor souls who follow teams that continually deliver anguish and heartbreak?

Welcome to the Australia/NZ Sports Misery Index.

Borrowing from our esteemed colleagues in the U.S., we've decided to delve into the misery of sports fans to come up with the top 10 most painful teams to follow in major domestic sports Down Under.

The four primary factors used in our rankings are:

1. Titles: The more (and more recently) you win a title, the less you have to complain about.

2. Finals wins: Great - your team made the finals, but what's the point if you don't do anything once you're there? If you win finals games regularly, again, you have less reason to complain.

3. Finals berths: It's painful enough to miss out on the main trophy at the end of the year, but not even putting yourself in the finals is much worse.

4. Heartbreaks: It's one thing to suffer a loss (or series of losses) but it's another to get your heart ripped out of your chest. Whether it's blowing a big lead, losing at the last second, choking in a big game or suffering some form of off-field controversy, some teams just know how to make you suffer.

Note - these factors are weighed towards (but not exclusively focused on) recent seasons - we consider stuff that happened last season to be more painful than stuff that happened two to five years ago, which in turn mean more than stuff six to 10 years ago, which means more than stuff 11 to 20 years ago, which means more than ... you get the picture.

So, without further ado, here's the most miserable 10 teams to follow in mainstream Australia/New Zealand sport.

1. St Kilda Saints (AFL)

When it comes to misery in Australian sport, St Kilda sits head and shoulders above the rest. The Saints are one of the VFL's eight foundation clubs but have endured some staggeringly lean periods during their 123-year history. St Kilda have claimed the unwanted wooden spoon on a record 27 occasions - more than double the tally of second-ranked North Melbourne (13). The club also holds the second-longest current premiership drought of 54 years.

Incidentally, the 1966 flag is the Saints' only premiership triumph, meaning they land a cup, on average, once every 123 years. Ouch!

St Kilda have contested seven other Grand Finals over the years, losing six and drawing the other to Collingwood in 2010. The drawn match featured a moment of utter despair which eloquently sums up the club's wretched luck - if the Sherrin didn't take such a wild bounce, the Saints probably wouldn't even be on this list.

The two sides returned to the MCG the following Saturday but the Saints had run out of gas and were trounced by 56 points in the Grand Final rematch. The previous season, they were the dominant team all year but lost to Geelong in a thrilling decider. Sadly, even when the Saints are good, it all ends in tears. And they have won just one final since then.

The Saints have also had to move home several times in recent decades, and at times have struggled to stay afloat financially. Being a St Kilda fan has been tough, to say the least, but things are looking up with a number of key signings making them a club to keep an eye on in 2021.

2. Parramatta Eels (NRL)

With the longest active premiership drought (34 years) and the most wooden spoons of all current NRL clubs (14), the Parramatta Eels must reluctantly accept the title of 'most miserable NRL franchise'. They may have dominated the 80's with premiership seasons in 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1984, but have played in just two Grand Finals since, losing to Newcastle in 2001 when heavily favoured to win and to the salary cap-cheating Melbourne Storm in 2009.

Coaches Daniel Anderson, Stephen Kearney and Ricky Stuart have all been unceremoniously sacked, while halves Chris Sandow, Corey Norman and Keiran Foran have each arrived as the Eels' saving grace and departed as NRL also-rans. Rock bottom, however, was their 2016 salary cap breach scandal that resulted in a $1 million fine, the stripping of 12 competition points and their lone Auckland Nines title and the forced removal of the football and leagues club board.

To their credit, the Eels managed to quickly recover to reach the elusive top four in 2017 ... before promptly returning to the bottom of the ladder the following year and collecting their third wooden spoon in seven years.

With top-four finishes in 2019 and 2020, however, things are at least finally trending up.

3. Melbourne Demons (AFL)

Any Melbourne fan under the age of about 60 has largely only experienced pain and heartbreak following the red and blue. A former powerhouse of the VFL (winning 12 premierships from 1900 to 1964), the Demons have pretty much lurched between desolation and incompetence from the moment they sacked legendary coach Norm Smith in 1965 - some blame the club's horrific record since then on the 'Norm Smith curse'.

After 1965, the club endured a 23-year finals drought before enjoying some moderate success in the late 80s through to the mid 2000s. Another massive finals drought followed (12 seasons) until a preliminary final appearance in 2018, which many believed signalled the Demons were set for a sustained period of finals footy. They plummeted to second-last the following season.

Off the field, the club has been rocked by tragic recent deaths of legendary club figures such as Jimmy Stynes, Robbie Flower and Dean Bailey, while the Dees have also endured financial crises', merger threats, myriad wasted draft picks, tanking investigations and more. Along with 12 wooden spoons, Melbourne also boast the two biggest losses in VFL/AFL history - 190 points to Fitzroy in 1979 and 186 points against Geelong in 2011.

Only their premiership-laden halcyon days saves them from being No. 1 on this list.

4. Wellington Phoenix (A-League)

Central Coast may be the misery pick for most A-League fans, but the Mariners' slide only really began in 2013. The Wellington Phoenix on the other hand? Darkness is their ally; they were born in it, moulded by it.

Rising from the ashes of the ill-fated New Zealand Knights -- who in turn had been built on the remains of the Auckland Kingz -- the Nix's history is one of false dawns, sparse crowds and, as the late Mike Cockerill once put it, "a general lack of enthusiasm towards the team on both sides of the Tasman."

Having missed the finals more times than they have made it -- a difficult feat in itself in such a small competition -- the few times Wellington have shown some promise, Asia's bigger clubs inevitably come calling to strip the Kiwis of their best assets and trigger yet another rebuild. Indeed, the Johnny Warren Medal, given to the best player in the competition each season, has been awarded to three Phoenix players in the A-League's 15-year history -- not a bad record at all. But what happened to Shane Smeltz, Nathan Burns and Roy Krishna upon becoming MVP? All three promptly left the club (pretty much) the very next day.

It's a tale all too familiar for long-suffering Nix fans. The past two seasons have offered more hope: In 2018-19, under rookie coach Mark Rudan, Wellington made their first-ever elimination final before Rudan -- of course -- defected to Western United with three of the Phoenix's best players.

New coach Ufuk Talay, however, has come in and done even better than his predecessor by guiding the Nix to their best-ever regular season finish in 2019-20.

All of which means that -- with two genuine prospects in Reno Piscopo and Cameron Devlin to call on, former Chelsea product Ulises Davila pulling the strings, and the savvy Talay still at the helm -- Wellington have genuine hope of winning their first piece of silverware this season. What could possibly go wrong?

5. Gold Coast Suns (AFL)

You could just about have the Gold Coast at No. 1 if it was a misery index of sporting cities in the world, but given we're going with teams, the Suns are still up there. Since their debut season in the AFL in 2011, they've never finished above 12th on the AFL ladder (out of 18 teams), have had countless players (including stars Tom Lynch, Dion Prestia, Jaeger O'Meara and more) leave, and have an overall winning record of just 24.6 percent from their 215 games.

Some low points include having 15 goals kicked on them in the first quarter against Essendon in 2011, the footy Gods cruelling them of a finals berth in 2014 when Gary Ablett went down with a shoulder injury, and a 19-game losing streak which lasted from Round 4, 2019 until Round 2 of this year. What's hard to believe is that isn't the longest losing streak in the club's short history - they lost 21 straight between Round 18 of 2011 and Round 15 2012.

Add in the fact they have a terrible song and a low-effort moniker and jersey, and it's a pretty miserable existence so far for the Suns.

Admittedly, they have a bright future, but only because they were given a bevy of priority and supplemental draft picks last season which landed them some of the best young names in the game. Though as we mentioned, Gold Coast is a black hole for Aussie sporting teams, so take any promise of future success with a grain of salt...

6. Gold Coast Titans (NRL)

The appearance of another Gold Coast franchise on this list will come as a surprise to ... precisely nobody. The glamour strip is notorious for becoming the burial ground of many professional sport franchises, and rugby league is certainly no exception.

Even since the establishment of the Titans in 2006, the trend has continued. With just two finals appearances and two dreaded wooden spoons the only prizes in their trophy cabinet, the club has unsurprisingly struggled to stay afloat. In 2012, it was found the club was $35 million in debt and just weeks away from folding, while in 2015 the NRL took over its financial administration.

Things looked to be improving with the prized signature of star halfback Daly Cherry-Evans in 2015. Just a few months later, however, Cherry-Evans reneged on the deal leaving the club directionless. It did allow them to sign Jarryd Hayne in 2016, fresh from his NFL adventure, though he never reached the heights of his Eels career and was the catalyst for coach Neil Henry's demise.

Garth Brennan would take over in 2018, but further poor performances, underlined by a wooden spoon in 2019, would see Justin Holbrook take his place for the 2020 season. Like the Eels, a strong finish to the season and a handful of exciting signings has the Titans well placed to finally experience some success.

7. Western Force (Super Rugby)

Fans of the Western Force have had to endure more than most ... and the team has only been around for 15 years.

Originally a surprise addition to Australia's Super Rugby stocks -- when they were awarded Australia's fourth professional license ahead of Melbourne Rebels -- the Force debuted to much fanfare in 2006. While their first season was particularly tough, the Force soon put together a roster full of Wallabies talent, leading to a rise up the ladder but one short of finals football.

The Firepower -- a club sponsor whose fuel pill business was a complete sham -- debacle began to affect the team and many of those same players headed for the exit door, either to other clubs in Australia or overseas. The start of Super Rugby's conference era brought some tough years for the Force as they finished no higher than 12th between 2011 and 2013; a slight uptick to ninth in 2014 suggested rosier times lay upon the horizon, but it proved a false dawn as they finished last in 2015.

But worse was to come in SANZAAR's failed expansion of 2016. Eighteen months later, the Force were deemed surplus to requirements by an Australian Rugby Union fast running out of money; scenes of club stalwart Matt Hodgson in tears upon hearing of the team's fate rattling every Australian rugby fan.

But thanks to the arrival of billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest and a band of loyal club supporters, the Force lived on and, in 2020, came to the rescue of Rugby Australia [RA] and its Super Rugby AU competition amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While the relationship is still no love affair, the Force are committed to Super Rugby AU again in 2021 and have already set about a strong recruitment drive.

8. Fremantle Dockers (AFL)

The Dockers haven't been that awful since being founded in 1995 compared to many on their list. Yes, they've never won a flag, but they've only collected one wooden spoon (2001) and featured in seven finals series. You could probably summarise their history as mediocre, rather than miserable.

But Freo fans' pain more stems from a series of trading blunders which hamstrung their on-field efforts for decades.

Before the 1995 season began, Fremantle traded the rights to Andrew McLeod to Adelaide for Chris Groom. McLeod went on to become one of the AFL's all-time greats. Who is Chris Groom? Exactly. Their other infamous howler was trading away the rights to Essendon legends Matthew Lloyd and Scott Lucas for Tony Delaney, Todd Ridley, Dale Kickett and Russell Williams.

Then in 2001, the Dockers gave up pick No. 1 for Hawthorn's Trent Croad. The Hawks went on to select Luke Hodge with that pick before the Dockers then bizarrely traded Croad back to Hawthorn for pick 10 (using it on Ryley Dunn). Who is Ryley Dunn? Exactly.

In recent years, they've also been left red-faced after spectacular trade fails featuring the likes of Harley Bennell, Colin Sylvia, and Jesse Hogan.

The cherry on top of the self-inflicted pain since Fremantle's formation is the fact Dockers' fans have had to witness their fierce cross-town rivals West Coast win three premierships, and continually play finals, while the Dockers have generally struggled.

9. West Coast Fever (Super Netball)

Zero from two in Grand Finals, almost triple as many losses as wins ... it's been a long 23 years for West Coast Fever fans.

Originally taking part in the Commonwealth Bank Trophy as the Perth Orioles from 1997 to 2007, they never finished higher than sixth in the eight-team competition and collected the wooden spoon a record four times. To make matters worse for Fever/Oriole supporters, they lost all 14 of their matches in 2002, while in 1998 and 2003 they claimed just one win and 13 losses in each year. In all they lost 122 matches as the Orioles and won just 32.

Rebranding as the West Coast Fever for the ANZ Championship in 2008, it was meant to be a new era for the side. Chock full of talent, including current Australian Diamonds captain Caitlin Bassett, fans were excited to see where this new side would go; instead in their opening season they won just two matches and lost 10, finishing the season at ninth. They would finish the season ninth three times, with their best result in 2015 when they won nine games and finished third.

Fever returned for the launch of Super Netball in 2017 again full of young talent ready to make a statement. Their inaugural season added more pain to their followers, finishing seventh with just two wins from 14 matches. But things turned around in 2018, reaching the Grand Final for the very first time and tipped to bring the trophy out west. Instead, they watched the Lightning lift the trophy in their home arena. Two years later they'd return to the Grand Final, this time as the underdogs taking on the Vixens. Despite swapping the lead throughout the match, they eventually fell by two goals and so their 23-year long drought continues.

10. South Australia Redbacks (Sheffield Shield)

It has been 25 years since South Australia were last crowned Sheffield Shield champions -- during the 1995-96 season -- when their last pair of Peter McIntyre and Shane George defied Western Australia to earn a draw that secured the title.

The following season they slumped to the bottom of the table and it's a position they have filled with regularity since: 13 wooden spoons, including four in a row between 2009-10 and 2012-13 and a current run of three, although there was a recovery with back-to-back finals appearances between 2015 and 2017.

Former South Australia legend Jason Gillespie has returned to the state to take change after a review of the game following last season's latest dismal campaign -- although the two victories were two more than they managed in 2018-19 when they went winless -- but the early signs have shown there is a long way to go. During the first part of this season, they have conceded first innings totals of 5 for 481, 8 for 493, 3 for 564 and 5 for 496.

The fact they managed to salvage draws from two of those matches overs some hope -- and shows some fight in the team -- but it does not feel like there will be a quick return to the summit for the Redbacks.