In every league, there are so-called “elevator” teams that constantly go up and down, winning promotions and getting relegated. In England, teams like Norwich and Watford have recently established themselves as such, but there have been others in the past. The financial injections that promotion guarantees them provide the necessary quality to achieve a high ranking in the Championship, but not enough to maintain their place in the elite.
However, we will focus here on another type of clubs – those who have not returned to the Premier League after their relegation, at least not yet. The fate of some is ruthless and cruel, but as we know, in football, nothing is certain. It is an endless rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, and no one is insured against falling into the abyss.
Some of these teams are quite well-known and have even achieved legendary status with their performances in English football, while others have been a fleeting part of the game’s history and have not distinguished themselves particularly during their time in the elite.
In the mid-1980s, Wimbledon FC became a phenomenon in English football. The team, known for its brutal playing style, won the hearts of some and the hatred of others, but remained iconic, led by legends like Vinnie Jones and John Fashanu. After the creation of the Premier League, Wimbledon became a mid-table team, finishing between 6th and 14th. In the late 1990s, the team began to decline, frequently changing managers, and ultimately, in 2000, was relegated to the First Division. Instead of being pleased with the quick return to the top flight, fans were outraged by the news that owner Pete Winkelman planned to move the club to Milton Keynes. Despite protests and threats from the Football League, Wimbledon ceased to exist in 2004 and was replaced by Milton Keynes Dons. However, supporters of “the Dons” formed their own club called AFC Wimbledon. Currently, MK Dons compete in League One, while AFC Wimbledon is in League Two. Neither team has played in the Premier League.
The Yorkshire team, had the privilege of playing in the prestigious English Premier League only once during the 1997/98 season. Despite winning 10 games and drawing 5, they finished 19th in the final standings and were relegated. The team’s most notable moment was a 1-0 victory over Liverpool at Anfield, but it wasn’t enough to avoid relegation. Over the years, the team faced financial troubles, and even the city’s mayor had to step in and purchase the club to prevent it from going bankrupt. They fell to League 2 but slowly rebuilt their way up. In 2016, Barnsley was involved in a corruption scandal, and a year later, the club changed ownership to a Chinese media mogul. Currently, the team frequently goes back and forth between the Championship and League 1.
They have only played one season in the English Premier League, during the 1993/94 season. Unfortunately, that year was a complete disaster for the “Robins“, with only 5 wins out of 42 games played, finishing in last place in the league table, and conceding 100 goals – an anti-record that still stands. Swindon‘s fall from grace was shocking. The team suffered two consecutive relegations and quickly found itself in the third tier of English football. Swindon has become a team that moves up and down the Football League’s divisions, going from the Championship to League 2 and back again. Although the club is not plagued by financial problems like some of the more famous teams, it has been unable to make it to the Premier League. Unfortunately, the pandemic has brought problems, and in 2021 Swindon was penalized for late payments. Currently, the team is in League 2 and is one of the contenders for promotion.
Bradford City is a football club based in the city of Bradford, West Yorkshire, England. The team last played in the English top flight in the 1920s, and had to wait 77 years before experiencing success again, which came under the management of Paul Jewell. In January 1998, Jewell took over the team and led them to second place in the First Division a year later, securing promotion to the Premier League. Bradford City managed to survive their debut season in the Premier League, finishing in 17th place and beating Liverpool 1-0 on the last day of the season. However, the team’s second season in the top flight was disastrous, finishing bottom of the league and suffering relegation. Soon after, the club went into administration due to debts of around £13 million. The team has since suffered another relegation and currently competes in League One, which is the highest level they have played in since their relegation from the Premier League.
Stoke City is a traditional club in English football, but for the first 15 years of the Premier League‘s existence, they struggled in the lower divisions. However, when Welsh manager Tony Pulis took over, he transformed Stoke‘s stadium into a fortress and the team into a physically dominant force that many solid and established Premier League sides struggled to beat. Stoke even reached the FA Cup final in 2011, but lost to Manchester City. Stoke became a regular presence in the Premier League, finishing between 9th and 14th positions, but in 2018, the team finally succumbed to relegation and dropped into the Championship. Since then, the club has struggled to mount a solid campaign and return to the Premier League.
Despite being one of the elite teams during the 1950s and 1960s with Sir Stanley Matthews among its ranks, Blackpool didn’t make it back to the English Premier League until 2010 under the guidance of Ian Holloway. The “Tangerines” finished 6th in the Championship and won the playoffs, but ultimately fell to relegation after a weak final series. Though the team had some interesting names, captain Charlie Adam was their standout player and his transfer to Liverpool proved to be a huge loss. Blackpool failed to earn a new promotion and Holloway‘s departure was a key factor in their future instability. Over the next 5 years, the team was relegated twice and found themselves in League 2. A change in ownership in 2019 brought new hope to the team, and while they are currently in the Championship, they are struggling to move up from the bottom of the standings.
We all remember the “Pompey” phenomenon. Portsmouth has been a champion team of England, although that was back in 1939. At the start of the new century, the club went through a period of turmoil, and no one expected them to win promotion to the Premier League at the end of the 2002/03 season. However, they did, and Svetoslav Todorov became the top scorer in the entire First Division. The legendary Harry Redknapp led Portsmouth to establish themselves in the top flight and even win the FA Cup in 2008. Unfortunately, the club’s ownership changed frequently, leading to severe financial problems. Portsmouth went into administration following their relegation from the Premier League in 2010. This marked the beginning of the end for the once-beloved team, as they plummeted to League 2 and were repeatedly deducted points due to financial irregularities. Currently, they are anchored in League 1 and have yet to return to the Championship.
Wigan Athletic’s major achievements are associated with the name of Paul Jewell, who successfully promoted them to the top flight for the first time in the club’s 73-year history during the 2004/05 season. Despite Jewell‘s departure in 2007, Wigan stayed in the top flight until 2013 and even won the FA Cup the same year they were relegated to the Championship. However, the team failed to return to the Premier League immediately and even dropped to League One a year later before bouncing back and forth between the Championship and the lower leagues. In 2020, Wigan faced administration due to the owners’ failure to invest as promised, and were later hit with a penalty of -12 points on the last day of the season, leading to relegation to League One. Currently, Wigan is at the bottom of the second tier of English football.
Swansea City’s history in English football is fascinating to observe, particularly when they compete at the highest level. One of their smartest moves was appointing an unknown Northern Irishman, Brendan Rodgers, as manager, leading them to their first-ever Premier League season. Prior to that, the team was struggling even in League Two! Despite having a modest squad, Rodgers managed to secure victories over some of the top teams in the league, including Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester City, ultimately finishing 11th in the league. Following his departure to Liverpool, Brian Laudrup took over as manager, leading Swansea to victory in the League Cup and earning them a spot in European competitions. The star of the team during that period was a little-known Spaniard named Michu, who scored an impressive 22 goals in all competitions that season. Over the years, several talented players joined Swansea, many of whom later went on to big transfers. However, the quality gradually declined, leading to the team’s relegation to the Championship in 2018. Despite participating in the playoffs twice, Swansea has yet to return to the Premier League.
“The Terriers” have a legendary status in English football, having won three consecutive titles almost a century ago. However, in modern times, Huddersfield‘s appearance in the Premier League came in 2017 when manager David Wagner led the team to qualify through the Championship playoffs. Despite a successful debut season, the following year saw their relegation and a poor performance of only three wins, seven draws, and 28 losses. In 2021/22, the team was close to promotion but lost in a controversial playoff match. Currently, Huddersfield is performing poorly and is only in 22nd place in the standings, making it unlikely for them to compete for a Premier League spot again.
Another club with a tough fate. When Coventry City was relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2000/01 season, the team had spent a whopping 34 years in the English top flight. At that time, only three teams could boast a longer tenure among the elites – Liverpool, Everton, and Arsenal. On the final day of the campaign, fans raised banners with the inscription “We will be back soon.” However, this is incredibly far from the truth. The next 20 years only bring sadness and disappointment to the “sky blue” supporters. The club’s old home ground, Highfield Road, was demolished, and the team moved to the new and modern Ricoh Arena. Soon after, Coventry narrowly avoided entering administration, but the financial crisis was serious. The team left its new stadium and began playing its home games back and forth across the country. It first dropped to League 1, and then to League 2. The president of the FA, Greg Clarke, described the situation at the club as “a very sad case.” After 2018, the clouds over Coventry began to slowly break up. The team won promotion to League 1, and in 2021, returned to the Championship. An agreement was reached for the team to start playing its matches at its own stadium again, now named the Coventry Building Society Arena. However, promotion to the Premier League has not yet been achieved.
It’s possible that you’ve forgotten, but Oldham Athletic is one of the clubs that played in the first season of the formation of the Premier League in 1992. The club was founded in the late 19th century and experienced its most successful period between 1982 and 1992, when legendary manager Joe Royle led them to the final of the League Cup and two semi-finals in the FA Cup. However, after a difficult run at the end of the 1993/94 season, Oldham were relegated and have not returned to the Premier League since. The club gradually declined and spent 20 years in the third tier of English football. In 2018, Moroccan businessman Abdallah Lemsagam acquired a controlling stake in the club, but they still struggled and fell into League 2. After another relegation at the end of the 2021/22 season, they left the Football League and are currently competing in the National League North.
Sheffield Wednesday is sadly known for the tragedy that took place at their stadium, Hillsborough, in 1989. However, the Owls are one of the teams that are missing from the Premier League. In the 1991/92 season, they finished third in the championship and even played at the European level after the championship changed its name. A year later, Sheffield reached the finals of both the FA Cup and the League Cup, but lost both matches to Arsenal. In the league, they finished in seventh place, guaranteeing the club’s status as one of the stable ones in the league, and their midfielder Chris Waddle was named Player of the Season. Despite this, the Owls gradually relinquished their positions and in 2000 found themselves in the relegation zone, which threw them out of the top flight. The club struggled with financial difficulties and not only failed to return quickly but also continued to fail. Sheffield Wednesday has passed into the hands of several dubious businessmen, including Milan Mandaric and Dejphon Chansiri. In 2020, it was declared the worst financially managed club out of 185 surveyed teams. Currently, the Owls are in League One and have two whole steps to climb to return to the top flight.