The Biggest Football Clubs In England – Rankings
We hear a lot of banter these days about who is a ‘big club’ and who is a ‘small club’. Many ignorant Arsenal / Liverpool / Man Utd / Chelsea fans insist that only those four can be considered ‘big’ and all others are, to one degree or another, ‘small’, a notion which is frankly nonsense. Nonetheless, the question of how one can rank football clubs in terms of size, influence or success is an interesting one, and I have decided to have a go at ranking England’s current Premier League teams in terms of their ‘bigness’. I have used a number of factors to determine the respective ‘size’ of clubs, including:
Recent success, in all competitions // Length of time in the ‘top-flight’ // Number of trophies won during club’s entire history // Stadium size and perceived fan base // Financial power
I have also divided the respective teams into ‘groups’, as you can see below. The order of clubs within each of the groups is somewhat equivocal and up for debate; however, I am quite convinced that the groups themselves are sound. I have included a short explanation after each team, as well.
The Top 20 Clubs In England, Ranked In Order Of Bigness
Group 1: The ‘Big Four’
1. Manchester United
Without doubt the most successful British club of recent times, with numerous top flight league (17), FA Cup (11), and European (5 [3 Champions League]) titles to their credit. They have had only one season outside the top flight since 1938, and have consistently had the highest average attendances in the land on all but six occasions since 1964. Although that doesn’t stop their manager being a bit of a wally.
Remarkably, Arsenal have been in the top-flight of English football since 1919, which is a record. Although the last few seasons have seen a slight downturn in their form, probably due to financial constraints caused by the building of the Emirates Stadium, they have still had substantial recent success. Of their 18 league titles, four have come since 1990, and of their 10 FA Cups, five have come since 1992. In spite of this, they have had relatively little European success, winning only the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994, though they did make the Champions League final in 2006. Their manager, though, does have a leather face.
Statistically the most successful club in British history, I have put them third in this list because they have not had the success in recent times to rival either Man Utd or Arsenal. They have not won a domestic league title since 1989/90, though they did win the Champions League in 2005. They have won 18 top flight league titles, 7 FA Cups, and 11 European titles in their history. They currently have only the fifth highest average attendance in England, but have been in the top-flight since 1962. Financially, they are not on a level with Man Utd or Chelsea, however, and their captain (Steven Gerrard) has recently been shown to be a hooligan.
In terms of heritage and overall success, Chelsea are clearly the smallest of the current ‘Big Four’, having won only three league titles, four FA Cups and two European Cup Winners’ Cups. They also have a relatively small capacity stadium, at just under 43,000, but they have spent most of their history in the top flight (75 seasons). The last decade, however, has been the most successful in their history – they have taken two league titles, two FA Cups, two League Cups, and reached the Champions League final in that time. Though this has all been bought with dirty Russian money.
Group 2: Three historic clubs, vying for the top four
5. Tottenham Hotspur
I have put Spurs at the top of this group of three clubs for a couple of reasons. First, they are the only club of the three to have won silverware in the last ten years, winning the League Cup twice; second, they have finished fifth in the league in two of the last three seasons; third, they seem to have more financial clout than the others, having the fourth richest owner of a football club in the UK; fourth, they have competed in European competition for each of the last three seasons. In most other respects, however, Tottenham are very similar to Everton and Aston Villa. They have won the league twice (though not for nearly fifty years), the FA Cup eight times, the League Cup four times and have three European cups to their name. Spurs have been relegated from the top flight only once since the 1940s. Largely, this season has not gone to plan for them in the league, although they are doing well in the cup competitions.
Though they have not had the recent success they would have wanted, Everton remain one of the biggest clubs in the land, with a rich heritage. They have 9 league titles to their name, 5 FA Cups and one European cup – most recently they won the FA Cup in 1995. They have been in the top flight since 1954, second only to Arsenal in this respect. Under the management of David Moyes, Everton have qualified for the Uefa Cup twice through the league in the last six years, which is better than Aston Villa (below). To their discredit, their nickname is ‘The Toffees’ … which is a bit odd.
7. Aston Villa
Though they have a rich heritage, Aston Villa have only this season begun to perform in the way they would have wanted (sitting at present comfortably in the top four). Their most recent accolade was the League Cup in 1996. They have won 7 top league titles (most recently 1981), 7 FA Cups (most recently 1957), 5 League Cups and two European titles (most recently the 1982 European Cup). They had substantial success prior to the 1960s, but then entered a period of turmoil and were even relegated to the third tier in 1969-70. They returned to the top-flight in 1977 and have been there ever since. Villa have not qualified for European competition through the league or a domestic cup for some time, however.
Group 3: They All Have Big Stadiums
8. Manchester City
Man City have spent 78 years of their history in the top-flight, winning two league titles, four FA Cups and two League Cups. In spite of this, they were relegated from the top division twice in the 1990s and even spent one season in the third tier of English football. They have not won a major honour since 1976. I have put them top of this group of three clubs because of their current financial power (the richest club in the world, apparently). They also have a pretty big stadium. I’m not sure Mark Hughes will be around for too long, however – why did they sack Sven?
9. Newcastle United
The ‘Magpies’ have spent 83 years of their history in the top-flight of English football, and have competed in the Premiership since their promotion in 1993. They have won four league titles (though not since 1927), and the FA Cup six times (though not since 1955). They did have a period of relative success in the late 1990s, finishing Premiership runners-up twice and FA Cup runners-up twice. Since then they have promised much and delivered little, and at present seem to be in a period of some turmoil. Nonetheless, they have a big stadium and a substantial fan base (the ‘Toon Army’).
Sunderland have competed in the top-flight for 77 years of their history, and have won six league titles (none since 1936) and two FA Cups (none since 1973). In spite of this past success, Sunderland have been in and out of the top-flight of late, and appear to be somewhat fragile at present under new manager Ricky Sbragia (who the heck is he?). In their favour, they do have a big stadium and fan base, and seem to be richer than a lot of clubs, given how much money they spent in the summer.
Group 4: An uncertain future?
11. Blackburn Rovers
Rovers have spent 68 years of their history in the top-flight, and are one of a select few clubs to have won the FA Premier League, which they did under the management of Kenny Dalglish in 1995. They also won top-flight league titles twice in the 1920s, and have won the FA Cup six times (though not since 1928). They have only been out of the Premier League for two seasons since it’s inception in 1992, and have now competed in the competition for eight straight seasons. Ewood Park’s a pretty big ground, and now they have Big Sam at the helm too!!
Historically, Portsmouth are a relatively small club, spending only 31 years in the top-flight, but last season they won the FA Cup (for the second time in their history), so they go in at 13th here. They also won the league title twice in 1949 and 1950. It remains to be seen, however, whether the club will be in trouble this year after Harry Redknapp left to manage Tottenham. Two of the clubs best players, Jermain Defoe and Lassana Diarra have also been sold in the last few weeks, suggesting Portsmouth’s fortunes may be heading downhill. And let’s face it, Fratton Park isn’t the nicest ground – they don’t even have under-soil heating (leading to the postponement of today’s game against Man City).
Middlesbrough have spent 59 years of their history in the top-flight of English football. They have never won a top-flight league, or the FA Cup, but did win the League Cup in 2004, and reached the Uefa Cup final in 2005. They have been regulars in the Premier League, being relegated only once, and are now in their eleventh consecutive season in the top-flight. The Riverside Stadium is a nice ground too, and the club seems to be pretty stable at present.
14. Bolton Wanderers
Bolton have spent 69 years of their history in the top-flight, but have never won the title. They have won the FA Cup four times, most recently in 1958, and were League Cup runners-up in 2004. They have regularly competed in the Premier League since its inception, but have not had an easy time, often escaping relegation by the skin of their teeth. They had a very successful season under Sam Allardyce in 2005, however, finishing sixth and qualifying for the UEFA Cup, and qualified again the next season under Sammy Lee. They finished only 16th in the 2007-08 season, though, and have a pretty small stadium that is rarely full. I think its fair to say they are a somewhat unfashionable club as well, at least since Jay Jay Okocha left.
15. West Ham Utd
West Ham have only been in the top-flight since 2005, having been relegated in 2003, but remain a staple of English football. They have spent 51 years of their history in the top-flight, and have won the FA Cup three times, most recently in 1980. Upton Park is a bit dingy, however, even since it was expanded, and their owners are currently trying to sell the club. They have never won a top-flight league title.
While Fulham are the oldest professional club in London, founded in 1879, they have had comparatively little major success in their history. They have spent only 31 years of their history in the top-flight, and have won no major honours. Indeed, in the mid 1990s they sunk to the depths of the Third Division (fourth tier) before they were taken over by Mohammad Al Fayed. Since then they have experienced a substantial revival, and were promoted to the Premiership in 2001, where they have remained ever since. Last season, Fulham came perilously close to relegation, but were saved on the last day of the season with a dramatic win against Portsmouth. They have been performing well so far this season, however, under manager Roy Hodgson.
Group 5: The minnows
17. West Bromwich Albion
Although they are very likely to get relegated from the Premier League this season, out of the four clubs at the bottom of this table, West Brom have the most prestigious history, having spent 71 of their years in the top-flight of English football (two less than Chelsea). They won the league title in 1920, and have won five FA Cups, most recently in 1968. They also won the League cup in 1966. Since the early 1980s the club has been less successful. From 1986 to 2002 they spent their longest ever period out of the top division. Nonetheless, 2008-09 will be the club’s fourth season in the Premier League since 2002.
18. Stoke City
Though Stoke City are likely candidates for relegation this year, they too have been a staple of English football in the past. They’ve spent 52 of their years in the top-flight, and have won the league twice, most recently in 1963. They also won the League Cup once, in 1972. Before their 2008 promotion, however, the club hadn’t been in the top tier since they were relegated in 1985. But they do have Rory Delap.
19. Wigan Athletic
Wigan are the youngest club in the Premiership, founded in 1932. Until they were promoted in 2005, they had never participated in the top tier of English football, although they are now in their fourth consecutive season. They have never won a major trophy, but were runners-up in the League Cup in 2006. Under the management of Steve Bruce, and playing at the lovely JJB Stadium, Wigan seem somewhat stable, and may be in the top-flight for some time. But then, maybe not.
20. Hull City
This is Hull City’s first ever season in the top-flight of English football since their formation in 1904. They have never won a major trophy. However, despite a recent dip in form, they have a very good chance of surviving relegation this year after a fantastic start to the season when they beat several of the top clubs in the country. Manager Phil Brown recently made the headlines when he carried out his half-time team talk on the pitch in front of the team’s fans, when Hull were losing 4-0 after 45 minutes to Man. City. Legend!
So there we go, feel free to offer your thoughts.
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