Wooden spoon (award)

Wooden spoon (award)

A 'wooden spoon' is a mock or real award, usually given to an individual or team which has come last in a competition, but sometimes also to runners-up. Examples range from the academic to sporting and more frivolous events.

Wooden spoon at the University of Cambridge

The wooden spoon was associated with the Mathematical Tripos at the University of Cambridge, and was a kind of booby prize awarded by the students to the person who achieved the lowest exam marks, but still earned a third-class degree. In contrast, the highest-scoring student was named the "senior wrangler".

The custom dates back at least to the early 19th century, if not before, and continued until 1909. From 1910 onwards the results have been given in alphabetical rather than score order, and so it is now impossible to tell who has come last, unless there is only one person in the lowest class.

There were actual wooden spoons which became increasingly large, and in latter years measured up to 1.5 metres long. By tradition they were dangled in a teasing way from the upstairs balcony in the Senate House in front of the lowest-ranked recipient when he came before the Vice Chancellor to receive his degree.

The last wooden spoon

The last wooden spoon was awarded to Cuthbert Lempriere Holthouse, an oarsman of the [http://www.srcf.ucam.org/lmbc/ Lady Margaret Boat Club] of St. John's College, Cambridge in 1909 at the graduation ceremony in the University's Senate House. The handle is shaped like an oar and inscribed with an epigram in Greek which may be translated as follows:

::"In Honours Mathematical::"This is the very last of all"::"The Wooden Spoons which you see here"::"O you who see it, shed a tear"

Alternatively: "This wooden object is the last souvenir of the competitive examinations in mathematics. Look upon it, and weep."

One spoon is now in the possession of St. John's College, and another is kept at the Selwyn College, Cambridge library.

The wooden spoon in sport


"Spoons" are awarded to Oxbridge college rowing crews who go down four (or more) places in a Bumps race, or to the boat finishing bottom of the river, something usually to be avoided. In theory, such a crew is allowed to paint a wooden spoon in their club colours and write their names on it as a trophy of their "achievement": this is rarely done but occasionally done by the less serious "beer boats" in the May (summer) Races.

Rugby Union

How the Cambridge wooden spoon idea came to be used in rugby union is not exactly known, but in the early years of what is now the Six Nations Championship there were many Cambridge graduates playing, so they may have attempted to preserve the concept after the last one was awarded in 1909. It is certain, in any case, that the tradition first arose in Cambridge and rugby adopted and perpetuated the tradition.

The Wooden Spoon is awarded to the team who finishes at the bottom of the table in the RBS 6 Nations held every year between Wales, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and England. No physical wooden spoon exists or has ever existed in the case of rugby, however.

Such is the stigma of the award that the 'winners' will sometimes claim that the Wooden Spoon should only be held by those who win no games at all, but this achievement is properly known as a whitewash.

In 1983, a group of English rugby union supporters, while drinking in a Dublin bar and commiserating over England's award of the Wooden Spoon in the then Five nations championship for that year, decided to form a charity. It was named the "Wooden Spoon Society" and raises funds for disadvantaged children in the UK and Ireland. Today (2007) it is recognised as the official charity of British and Irish rugby. It has a small central office, over 40 voluntary regional committees, 11,000 social members, and has distributed over £12m.

Australian and New Zealand sports

The term is commonly used in Australian and New Zealand sporting competitions, most notably in the major football leagues (such as the NRL, Air New Zealand Cup, the AFL and the A-league) and the to refer to the club positioned last on the league table at the end of a season.

Australian Rules Football

1916 Wooden Spoon

In the war-time VFL season of 1916, only four teams competed. Fitzroy finished last after the home-and-away season with a record of two wins, nine losses and one draw (2-9-1), and Richmond finished third with a record of 5-7-0. Fitzroy then won three consecutive finals games to claim the premiership, with Richmond shifting into overall last place as the lowest placed semi-final loser. There is hence some uncertainty regarding which team won the wooden spoon in that season.

One side of the debate says that since Fitzroy performed most poorly during the bulk of the season, they deserved the ignominy of the spoon. Conversely, official AFL rankings today will order teams according to their finals finishing order when considering the allocation of draft picks - had a draft existed in 1916, Richmond would have been officially recorded as the overall bottom team, and received the first pick as consolation.

The other consideration is the final winning records. After the finals had finished, Fitzroy's final record was 5-9-1 from fifteen games, with a winning percentage of 36.7%, and Richmond's final record was 5-8-0 from thirteen games, with a winning percentage of 38.4%. So, Fitzroy won more games, and Richmond had a better winning percentage.

The VFL/AFL has never sanctioned a wooden spoon award, so there is no way to categorically state which team "officially" won it. There is an argument to state that both teams lay claim to the 1916 spoon, and this is reflected in the table below. The entire confusing situation is now a regular Melburnian trivia night question.

Joffa's Wooden Spoon (from 2005)

In a 2005 AFL game, Collingwood cheer squad leader Jeff Corfe - "Joffa" - brought in an oversized wooden spoon into the ground at a game between his side Collingwood, and fellow wooden spoon contenders Carlton [http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/07/23/1058853139580.html] . Joffa planned to bring this spoon out when it looked like Carlton were going to lose the match. Unfortunately, this plan backfired, and Carlton were comfortable winners (although they still did win the wooden spoon in 2005). In a 2006 AFL game against Carlton, Joffa again brought the oversized wooden spoon. This time Collingwood triumphed and walked out 44 point winners against the Blues, who won the wooden spoon for the second time in a row. The spoon was confiscated as Joffa took it out two minutes early.

Molly Meldrum at the 1979 Grand Final

On the 1979 Grand Final day, a group of stars from the ABC's Countdown took to the field to entertain the crowd with a frivolous exhibition of football. Each star ran out in the Guernsey of the team he supported, and keen Saints fan Ian "Molly" Meldrum carried with him a large wooden spoon, as the Saints had finished last by a clear three games that year. The incident was recentlywhen shown on music/comedy show Spicks and Specks.

Records and Trivia

* Of the original VFL teams, who began in 1897, Carlton managed to avoid the wooden spoon the longest, finally claiming the spoon in 2002 after 106 seasons. Collingwood took the second-longest, claiming it in 1976. Prior to that, the question of who would receive it first was one of the factors that contributed to the traditional Carlton-Collingwood rivalry.
*Essendon (1907-1908, six position improvement) and Collingwood (1976-1977, ten positions) are the only teams to have received the wooden spoon in one season and proceeded to the grand final the next season.
* Brisbane hold the record for the best recovery from a wooden spoon, 12 positions; they finished 16th in 1998, and rose to 4th in 1999 under Leigh Matthews.
* Carlton is the only team to have won the pre-season series and gone on to receive the wooden spoon in the season proper, in 2005. However, it must also be noted that in 1967, Footscray won the end-of-season night competition (which became the pre-season competition in 1988) after finishing last at the completion of the home and away season.

AFL Wooden Spoons

Current AFL clubs are shown in bold.(*) See explanation of 1916 wooden spoon above.

Australian rugby league

*The Bulldogs finished last in 2002 because the NRL stripped them of their competition points for salary-cap breaches, sending them to last place; South Sydney would have received the wooden spoon if not for the breaches. The Bulldogs picked up the 2008 wooden spoon, their first deliberate wooden spoon since 1964.
*Manly-Warringah have never won the wooden spoon since their inception in 1947. The closest they have come was in 2003 when they finished 14th. However, Balmain had a longer wooden spoon drought (63 years), from 1911-74. St George had played 61 seasons without finishing last, the joint venture between St George and Illawarra have had a further nine seasons without a last placing.
*The closest Wests Tigers came to winning the spoon was in 2002, when it finished 13th because of the Bulldogs' salary cap scandal. They would've finished 14th, their worst ever finish after a regular season, if not for the breaches.
*After a 2005 game between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Newcastle Knights, Newcastle captain Andrew Johns was "presented" with the wooden spoon by an Oki Jubilee Stadium spectator. The following day Reg Reagan (a.k.a. Matthew Johns) presented him with the spoon on his way to a successful brief stint with the Warrington Wolves.
*A picture in a "The Daily Telegraph" article in 2005 depicts then-Rabbitohs captain Ashley Harrison holding the spoon. The spoon was inserted thanks to some digital media magic.

The tallies of wooden spoon winning teams at the top level of rugby league in Australia.

The wooden spoon in British ice hockey

The wooden spoon has also become a tradition amongst the supporters of British ice hockey.

The tradition began in 1999 after a less than successful inaugural season for the London Knights, who had collected just ten wins and finished comfortably bottom of the Superleague. A group of London fans subsequently purchased a large wooden spoon in order to mark this fact which was proudly displayed amongst their supporters at the Play-Off Finals weekend in Manchester.

Twelve months later the spoon returned to the Finals weekend, when it was given to a supporter of the Newcastle Riverkings, who had won just eleven times in forty-two games and had finished bottom of the Superleague by sixteen points. The tradition was born, each year at the Finals weekend the spoon is presented by the previous recipient to a supporter of the club which finished bottom of the league. That supporter is then entrusted with its safe keeping for the following twelve months and must bring it to the following Finals weekend in order to pass it on to a fan of the next club to have the 'honour' of receiving the reward. The tradition continued after the Superleague disbanded and was replaced by the Elite Ice Hockey League in 2003.

The Wooden Spoon is almost entirely a tradition amongst fans, though in 2005, Basingstoke Bison head coach Mark Bernard accepted it on behalf of his team. The Spoon has had engraved onto it the name of each of its recipient clubs and remarkably has never been lost or misplaced and found its way back to the Finals weekend every year.

Rather ominously, only three of the eight recipient clubs so far continue to exist and only the two most recent 'winners' continue to play ice hockey in the country's highest league.

*1998-99 - London Knights - The Knights won the play-off final the following season, but ceased operations in 2003 following the sale and closure of their London Arena home.
*1999-00 - Newcastle Riverkings - The Riverkings franchise was sold and the new owners renamed the club the Jesters.
*2000-01 - Newcastle Jesters - The Jester played only a single season. After the 2000-01 season, it was revealed that the club had large debts and were barred from signing players until these were settled. The club folded midway through the 2001-02 season having not been able to fulfil a single fixture.
*2001-02 - Manchester Storm - Despite holding the attendance record for an ice hockey game in the United Kingdom at 17,245, falling crowds left the club unable to pay the costs of hiring their MEN Arena home. The club folded shortly after the 2002-03 season began.
*2002-03 - Bracknell Bees - The Bees transferred into the British National League following the collapse of the Superleague, transferring again to the English Premier Ice Hockey League in 2005.
*2003-04 - London Racers - Played for only two full seasons before ceasing operations in 2005 due to safety concerns surrounding their Lee Valley Ice Centre home.
*2004-05 - Basingstoke Bison - Founder members of the EIHL, have struggled to compete with bigger clubs but are committed to remaining part of the EIHL.
*2005-06 - Edinburgh Capitals - Transferred to the EIHL from the British National League following its collapse in 2005. The club had a difficult start to their first EIHL, picking up only a small number of wins. Despite an excellent second half of the season, the Capitals' early season form saw them finish bottom.

The Ready Steady Cook wooden spoon

The BBC's cookery gameshow Ready Steady Cook gives a decorated wooden spoon to its losing participants (there are two contestants on each show).

See also

* Lanterne rouge - The cycling equivalent
* Toilet Bowl (game) - Similar concept in American football

External links

*A photograph of [http://www.cms.cam.ac.uk/news14/spoon.jpgthe last wooden spoon] to be awarded, now held at St John's College, Cambridge

* [http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/sjc1/selwyn/mathematics/spoon.html Cambridge Mathematical Tripos: Wooden Spoons]

* "Japanese Students at Cambridge University in the Meiji Era, 1868-1912: Pioneers for the Modernization of Japan" [http://www.dhs.kyutech.ac.jp/~ruxton/hatenkou.html] , by Noboru Koyama, translated by Ian Ruxton, (Lulu Press, September 2004, ISBN 1-4116-1256-6). This book contains detailed information regarding the Cambridge wooden spoon.

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