The good news is, your deeds live on

There are a lot of ways to be famous. Not all are good. You can be incredibly brave, incredibly successful in a good cause, or even incredibly successful in a bad cause. We know Hitler’s name as well as Churchill’s. You can be famous like Napoleon for sheer audacity that wins many battles before ultimately you lose decisively. You can also be famous for daring to go big without anything necessary to back it up. Like, say, Mussolini. A dangerous buffoon who caused much misery and death. But totally out of his depth the whole way.

Then there’s this other category of ignominy, where you fail so badly at something lacking in cosmic importance that you achieve pie-in-the-face-style immortality.

Which brings me to the classic football game on September 12, 1885, in which Arbroath beat Bon Accord by a record 36-0.

Now it might not seem that dramatic, let alone a record. Until you realize that it happened in the Scottish Cup and that therefore by “football” I do indeed mean what we North Americans insist on calling “soccer,” logically reserving the name “football” for a game in which most players not only do not kick the ball but are not allowed to.

In what we call football you get as many as 6 points at once, before a guy with no mud on his uniform trots in and kicks one wimpy point before trotting out again to sit down, which makes it fairly easy to get into double digits. So I repeat, this was in soccer. The game in which top matches routinely end in shootouts because nobody can score.

To be sure, the referee did later express some doubts about the outcome. He felt that he had called offside on Arbroath too often and that the real score might well have been 43-0.

How do you do that? I don’t even know how you can score that many goals in soccer without collapsing in exhaustion. I know the players are remarkably fit but still. However my real question is how you lose by that big a score?

I’m afraid one answer is to throw a game, which happened in Madagascar in 2002 when a team utterly incensed at a referee’s call in their previous match decided to protest by kicking the ball into their own net 149 times. (Guys, I’m all for incoherent rage, but that was ridiculous.) But how else? How can you be keen enough to form a team and enter a tournament, and good enough to play a game, and then get shellacked by the equivalent of losing a “football” game by about 200-0? Which actually did happen in 1916, when Georgia Tech beat Cumberland College 222-0.

Famed sports writer Grantland Rice reported that “Cumberland's greatest individual play of the game occurred when fullback Allen circled right end for a 6-yard loss.” And Georgia Tech’s coach John Heisman, yes the guy the Heisman Trophy is named for, took pity and agreed to play 12 rather than 15 minute quarters in the 2nd half. It didn’t help. (In 1927 a high school football game in Kansas ended 256-0. Is it worse or does it matter?)

Oh, and by the way, there was once a high school girls’ basketball game in Texas in 2009 that ended up 100 to nothing. But there’s a touching postscript. Evidently the victorious Christian school was so embarrassed at thus humiliating a tiny school for girls with learning disabilities that its administration fired their own coach and called for their victory to be forfeited for such poor sportspersonship.

Now, legend persists that the Arbroath result was due to their opponents being a cricket club invited to a soccer tournament by mistake. But evidently they weren’t. And even if they had been you’d think they’d have managed, I don’t know, a shot on goal which Bon Accord apparently did not. Or would that be weirder, like the 2003 Michigan high school basketball game that ended 115-2, the losing squad being good enough to score two points but not good enough to get two more, or even some colossal figure like six, by scoring one in three quarters of the quarters?

Still, it’s one way to become famous. At least, we know the Bon Accord goalkeeper was Andrew Lornie. Though, to steal a phrase from the classic adventure novel Captain Blood that became a classic Errol Flynn film, I describe the purpose for which he was placed there rather than the duty he fulfilled.