5 Most Boring Events in Sports History
So, you thought that match last night was boring, did you? Dream on. There’s dull, there’s lifeless—and then there’s tedious, unrelenting boredom.
Everybody will have their "favourite" boring sports contest, probably because they paid good money to watch something dreadful. But just be thankful that you weren’t at any of these (and if you were, hard luck).
Here are the contenders for the most boring sports events of all time. Yes, there is a certain amount of skill involved in producing these gems, and a novelty value to some of the records, but can anybody say they actually would have liked to be there to watch it?
You might like to argue about the order of the first four, or add some of your own. But nothing, ever, will beat the magnificent, mind-numbing, sleep-inducing tedium of No. 1.
5. Cycling Pursuit Final, Italian Track Championships (1968)
Vanni Pettenella was known as "the flying poultryman" because he used to sell chickens before he moved to Milan and became a great track cyclist.
The Italian’s speciality was doing nothing, which was a great skill in itself, on a bike with no gears and no brakes. In tactical head-to-head sprint races, where first across the line wins, he would balance on the pedals at a track stand, or sur place, waiting for his rival to take the initiative.
In the semifinals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, he held steady, without moving, for 21 minutes (see the above clip). That was nothing compared to the Italian national championships in Varese in 1968, which were televised live—unfortunately for the viewers.
The commentator had to go off air and return later when he ran out of people to interview. He had nothing left to say as Pettenella and his rival, Sergio Banchetto, held firm, going nowhere, for more than an hour.
People started turning up at the velodrome when they saw what wasn’t happening on TV, in the hope of seeing a world record. They got it before Banchetto cracked. It was fiercely hot and he had burned up all his energy. He collapsed off his bike, and Pettenella slowly pedalled to victory and into the record books after one hour, three minutes at a standstill.
The rules were later changed to limit the sur place to a maximum of three minutes.
4. College Football, Georgia Tech 222-0 Cumberland College (1916)
People who dismiss any world football match that finishes 0-0 as boring just don’t get it.
Yes, there have been some stinkers (most notably Red Star Belgrade vs. Marseille in the 1991 European Cup final, and PSV Eindhoven vs. Benfica in the same competition three years earlier), but there have been some memorable goalless games, such as Italy vs. England in World Cup qualifying in 1997, and the classic Euro 2000 semifinal when Holland missed two penalties and Italy, down to 10 men for most of the game, held on to win in a shootout.
No, what’s really boring is a one-sided no-contest. There was Arbroath 36, Bon Accord 0 in 1885 (Bon Accord were a cricket team who were mistakenly accepted as entrants to the Scottish Cup), and more recently, in 2001, Australia beat American Samoa 31-0 in a World Cup qualifier.
Surely the most boring game of all, though, was in American college football in 1916. John Heisman, the famous coach who gave his name to the trophy that is still awarded every year to the season’s most outstanding player, was the "mastermind" of the scoreline.
He wanted revenge for a 22-0 rout of Georgia Tech’s baseball team by Cumberland College, from Tennessee, which had fielded professionals in their lineup in 1915. Cumberland had stopped playing football but failed to notify Georgia Tech and had to fulfill the fixture under threat of paying thousands of dollars in compensation to Georgia.
A random group of students were rounded up, and they were hopeless from start to finish in Atlanta. All they were good at was fumbling. It was 126-0 at halftime, at which point Heisman told his team, "We’re ahead, but you just can’t tell what those Cumberland players have up their sleeves. They may spring a surprise. Be alert, men."
At least he agreed to shorten the second half to 15 minutes.
3. Cricket, Geoff Allott’s 77-Ball Duck (1999)
The great Viv Richards blasted a Test century off 56 balls against England in the famous "blackwash" series in 1986.
He batted for 81 minutes. Geoff Allott batted 20 minutes longer, faced 21 more balls than Richards and scored 0.
The world record for the longest innings without scoring had stood for more than 50 years when Allott walked out to bat for New Zealand against South Africa in Auckland 15 years ago.
The Guardian summed it up neatly the following day:
Geoff Allott, a left-handed swing bowler with a Test average of 2.57 batting right-handed, batted for 101 minutes to record the longest nought in Test and first-class history. As news of Allott's impending achievement spread around the ground, the crowd of several thousand cheered loudly and the modest 26-year-old, who has a career total of 86 first class wickets compared to a total of 83 runs, raised his bat and acknowledged the applause.
Allott’s stoic effort helped New Zealand to rescue a draw after South Africa had scored more than 600.
Boring innings, boring days and boring matches are commonplace in cricket. One of the biggest bores of all was the "timeless Test" played in 1939, when South Africa set England a target of nearly 700 to win. They were a mere 42 short after nine days of play, with five wickets in hand. But they had to call it a draw or they’d have missed the boat home.
2. Motor Racing, US Grand Prix (2005)
"Without question, it was the strangest race I commentated on in F1," said Maurice Hamilton, the BBC commentator and former Observer motor racing correspondent, after the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis.
When a row over tires and safety went unresolved, 14 of the cars that took part in the parade lap—all of them with Michelin tires—then withdrew, leaving only six to "race."
The two Ferraris, driven by Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, went off in front and stayed there. There was no overtaking, and nothing interesting happened, apart from angry fans throwing bottles and beer cans onto the track. The fiasco did more damage than any other to the credibility of Formula One in America.
1. Billiards, Tom Reece’s Half-Million Break (1907)
Let’s face it: Those other examples are mere pretenders. Nothing can ever, or will ever, match the most boring event in the history of sports. It was off to a flyer when the challenge was made: first player to half a million points. And one of them, poor soul, had to sit there doing nothing for more than five weeks.
This was 1907, a few years after a new technique had been introduced to the popular game of billiards (so popular that eight million tuned in to a BBC radio broadcast of Tom Reece explaining a new shot).
Reece, a great player of the time, was up against Joe Chapman in the big match, which was staged in Soho with the specific aim of setting a world record before the rules changed.
The method for scoring all these points was the "cradle cannon," in which a player manoeuvres the balls until two of them are "locked" at the entrance to a pocket, and thus never move when the object ball delicately kisses them for a scoring cannon.
Chapman had the better of the exciting early play, building a lead of 878-483, before Reece got what he wanted, playing the balls into the "cradle" position (the move was banned a few months later).
He then set about scoring at a rate of 10,000 a day, took a day off and carried on scoring even more quickly as time went by.
Spectators drifted in and out, and off to sleep. One of them went into such a deep sleep the players left him there overnight, to be found the following morning by the cleaners.
There were frequent breaks in play to move to another table, where snooker challenges took place, just to give Chapman something to do. Some sessions were played overnight, and when the players took a break, the balls were covered with a hat box so they’d be in position for a restart.
The match went on for more than five weeks, and Reece—who later became a favourite of King George V—won with a break of 499,135. The match was publicised throughout the British Empire, thanks largely to the unsung hero of the match.
As Reece wrote in Cannons & Big Guns in 1928, George Reed of the Sporting Life sat through every minute of the break. "His job was harder than my own," said Reece. "He stuck it out like a Briton."