A wooden spoon is an award that is given to an individual or team that has come last in a competition. Examples range from the academic to sporting and more frivolous events. The term is of British origin and has spread to other English-speaking countries. In most cases it is simply a colloquial term for coming last – there is no actual award given.

Wooden spoon at the University of Cambridge

The wooden spoon was presented originally at the University of Cambridge as 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 (a junior optime) in the Mathematical Tripos.[1][2] The term "wooden spoon" or simply "the spoon" was also applied to the recipient,[3] and the prize became quite notorious:

Wooden spoon at Selwyn College, Cambridge

And while he lives, he wields the boasted prize
Whose value all can feel, the weak, the wise;
Displays in triumph his distinguish'd boon,
The solid honours of the Wooden Spoon[4]: 98 

The spoons themselves, actually made of wood, grew larger, and in latter years measured up to five feet long. By tradition, they were dangled in a teasing way from the upstairs balcony in the Senate House, in front of the recipient as he came before the Vice-Chancellor to receive his degree, at least until 1875 when the practice was specifically banned by the university.[5][6]

The lowest placed students earning a second-class (senior optime) or first-class degree (wrangler) were sometimes known as the "silver spoon" and "golden spoon" respectively.[3] In contrast, the highest-scoring male student was named the "senior wrangler". Students unfortunate enough to place below the wooden spoon, by achieving only an Ordinary degree, were given a variety of names depending on their number.[4]: 284  In the 1860s about three-quarters of the roughly 400 candidates did not score enough to be awarded honours, and were known as poll men.[7]

The custom dates back at least to the late 18th century, being recorded in 1803,[6] and continued until 1909.[8] 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.[6]

Last award

The last wooden spoon

The last wooden spoon was awarded to Cuthbert Lempriere Holthouse, an oarsman of the 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:[citation needed]

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:[citation needed]

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

The last spoon to be awarded is now in the possession of St. John's College, with an earlier version being kept at the Selwyn College Library. From 8 June 2009 to 26 June 2009, St. John's College held an exhibition of the five surviving wooden spoons in College hands, from St. John's (the last one, dating from 1909), Selwyn's (1906),[5] Emmanuel's (1889) and Corpus Christi's (1895 and 1907) in its library to mark the centenary of the "awarding" of the last spoon of all.[9] There are five known wooden spoons in private hands.[6]

In sport

Rugby union

In rugby union's Six Nations Championship, the wooden spoon is a metaphorical award won by the team finishing in last place. In addition, if a team loses all its matches it is also said to have been "whitewashed".[10] In 1892, Rugby Football, by Rev. F. Marshall[11] explains,[12] "all three matches being lost, Wales thus earned the “wooden spoon” of International football for this season". In 1894, the South Wales Daily Post remarked that within the Home Nations Championships the Ireland-Wales match has been to decide which team should be recipient of the ignominious Wooden Spoon.[13]

Australian and New Zealand sports

The term is commonly used in Australian and New Zealand sporting competitions, most notably in the major Australian rules, soccer, rugby league and rugby union leagues (such as the AFL, the A-League, NRL, Super Rugby and ITM Cup) and refers to the club positioned last on the league table at the end of the season.

VFL/AFL wooden spoons

Main article: List of Australian Football League wooden spoons

National Rugby League

Main article: Australian rugby league wooden spooners

Big Bash League (cricket)

Main article: List of Big Bash League wooden spoons

Suncorp Super Netball

In the 2017 and 2018 Suncorp Super Netball seasons, the Adelaide Thunderbirds claimed the wooden spoon. In the latter year, they lost all fourteen of their regular season matches, resulting in Dan Ryan being sacked as the club's coach.[14]

The Queensland Firebirds,[15] Collingwood Magpies[16] and Melbourne Vixens have won the past three wooden spoons, with the Vixens the most recent recipient of the award.[17]

Major League Soccer

In Canada and the United States' men's Major League Soccer, the last place team in the overall standings is generally considered as the "wooden spoon champion".[18] However, unlike other Wooden Spoon awards, there is a physical "trophy" for the award. Before the start of the 2016 MLS season, the Independent Supporters Council decided to create an actual official "trophy" for the lowest place team in the league, as a complement to the Supporters' Shield which the ISC also manages.[19] The trophy is passed to the "winning" team at the annual ISC Conference, and the holders of the Spoon must possess the spoon for the entire following season. At the end of the year, every group awarded the Wooden Spoon are allowed to do what they will with the trophy.[19] The Chicago Fire were the "winner" of the inaugural 2015 wooden spoon trophy and their supporters had the responsibility of creating the first spoon. The award was christened the Andrew Hauptman Memorial Wooden Spoon by Chicago Fire supporters as a dig against the team's owner, Andrew Hauptman (2007–2019).

Beginning with the 2017 MLS season, the wooden spoon was renamed the Anthony Precourt Memorial Wooden Spoon, after the then-owner of the Columbus Crew,[20] who at the time was attempting to move the franchise to Austin.

Both D.C. United and the San Jose Earthquakes hold the league record for most spoon "wins" overall (2002, 2010, 2013 and 2022 for the former; 1997, 2000, 2008 and 2018 for the latter). In the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the wooden spoon was not officially awarded following the 2020 MLS season, as the ISC board "felt it was inappropriate to offer such a distinction for shortened and geographically-limited seasons".[21] The current spoon holders are Toronto FC (2023).

Canadian Premier League

The Canadian Premier League has an unofficial trophy, awarded to the team that finishes with the fewest points at the end of the regular season. The most recent recipient are Valour FC as of the 2023 season.[22]

Oxford and Cambridge rowing

In the Cambridge and Oxford bumps races, a crew who get bumped each day (thus moving down four places) are awarded spoons. This is probably[speculation?] related to the use of wooden spoons as a booby prize in the University of Cambridge Mathematical Tripos.


A wooden spoon, also known as the "anti-slam", is sometimes spoken about in tennis. It is described as the worst possible outcome in a tournament, won by the player who is defeated in the first round by a player who is defeated in the second round, who is defeated in the third round and so forth, until the final of the tournament.

Some notable Grand Slam "wooden spooners" include, among others, John McEnroe (1978 Wimbledon Championships), Katerina Maleeva (1985 US Open), Nathalie Tauziat (1989 French Open), Manuela Maleeva-Fragnière (1990 Wimbledon Championships), Richard Krajicek (1994 Wimbledon Championships), Goran Ivanišević (1995 Australian Open), Mary Pierce (2002 Australian Open), Marat Safin (2004 US Open), Caroline Wozniacki (2007 French Open), Ana Ivanovic (2010 Wimbledon Championships), Karolína Plíšková (2015 US Open), Rafael Nadal (2016 Australian Open), Jelena Janković (2016 French Open), Naomi Osaka (2017 French Open), Stefanos Tsitsipas (2018 Australian Open), and Jeļena Ostapenko (2018 French Open - she was the defending champion, having won in 2017). Recently, Felix Auger Aliassime achieved it at the (2022 Wimbledon Championships) and Simona Halep at the 2022 US Open (tennis) and again at the 2024 Miami Open.

Greg Rusedski (1994 and 1995 US Open, 2006 Wimbledon Championships), Nicolás Lapentti (1996 French Open, 1997 and 2009 Wimbledon Championships) and Julien Benneteau (2014 and 2016 US Open, 2016 French Open) have claimed three wooden spoons throughout their career.

See also


  1. ^ Grose, Francis (1811). Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Entry: "Wranglers". Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  2. ^ Stray, Christopher (2012). "The Wooden Spoon: Rank (dis)order in Cambridge 1753–1909". In Feingold, Mordecai (ed.). The History of Universities XXVI/1. Retrieved 6 August 2015.
  3. ^ a b A Brace of Cantabs. (pseudonym) (1824). Gradus ad Cantabrigiam. J. Hearne.
  4. ^ a b Socius (1823). The Cambridge Tart. London: Smith. p. 98.
  5. ^ a b Stephen J. Cowley. "Cambridge Mathematical Tripos: Wooden Spoons". Retrieved 27 July 2009.
  6. ^ a b c d Jonathan Holmes (1998). "Queens' College Cambridge: 'A Queens' Wooden Spoon'". Retrieved 27 July 2009.[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ Galton, Francis (1869). Hereditary Genius-An Enquiry into its Laws and Consequences. p. 17.
  8. ^ "University of Cambridge Exhibitions: "In honours mathematical, the very last of all: Cambridge Wooden Spoons"". 27 May 2009. Retrieved 27 July 2009.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ http://www.joh.cam.ac.uk/cms_misc/media/library/spoonsbooklet.pdf[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ "Six Nations: Wales look to avoid the Wooden Spoon - but what is it?". BBC. 16 March 2024.
  11. ^ Rugby Football (Football, the rugby union game), by Rev. F. Marshall with special chapters by A. G. Guillemard, G. Rowland Hill, H. Vassall, Arthur Budd, H. H. Almond, LL.D., C. B. H. Marriott, and W. Cail, etc. Cassell & Company, Limited. Londres, Paris and Melbourne.
  12. ^ page 258 of the book
  13. ^ Godwin, Terry (1984). The International Rugby Championship 1883–1893. Willow Books. ISBN 0-00-218060-X.
  14. ^ Partland, Warren (26 June 2018). "Dan Ryan loses coaching job at Adelaide Thunderbirds". Adelaide Now. Retrieved 1 September 2021.
  15. ^ Monteverde, Marco (8 October 2020). "Super Netball: Roselee Jencke walks away from Queensland Firebirds after 11 years as coach". news.com.au. Retrieved 1 September 2021.
  16. ^ Leonard, Owen (1 May 2021). "Lightning strike down Pies in classy start to season". The Australian.
  17. ^ "Thunderbirds avoid wooden spoon". Super Netball. 2 August 2021. Retrieved 1 September 2021.
  18. ^ "Jobs, playoffs, wooden spoons and a Shield: What's at stake in MLS Week 30". 1 October 2016. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  19. ^ a b "ISC Creates Wooden Spoon Award - Independent Supporters Council". independentsupporterscouncil.com. Archived from the original on 23 August 2017. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  20. ^ @Finn_aka_Jeremy (28 January 2018). "the @ISCspoon has been renamed" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  21. ^ @ISCSupporters (16 October 2020). "ISC doesn't intend on 'awarding' any Wooden Spoons to teams/groups from any leagues for the 2020 season" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  22. ^ "CPL Wooden Spoon". www.twitter.com/CPLWoodenSpoon. Retrieved 4 October 2023.