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.

2. Arsenal

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.

3. Liverpool

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.

4. Chelsea

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.

6. Everton

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’).

10. Sunderland

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!!

12. Portsmouth

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).

13.  Middlesbrough

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.

16. Fulham

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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31 Comments on “The Biggest Football Clubs In England – Rankings”

  1. Tim Says:

    Simon, I thorougly enjoyed your piece, particularly the little quirks at the end of each club!

    I would have to agree with you on your standings, however I think I would have put West Ham above Portsmouth and Middlesbrough, purely because I think they have been marginally more successful and have larger fan base.

  2. Hmm, you could be right Tim!

  3. Dave Tonks Says:

    Simon, I will have to disagree in a number of area’s with this bad boy I am sorry. Firstly, as a Liverpool fan (so slightly biased) i would maybe put Arsenal and Liverpool on a par at no2, agreed Arsenal have won a few league titles and FA Cups over the last 10 yrs, but on the trophy count since 2000 which I would call recent, Arsenal have only amassed 5 pieces to Liverpool’s 8 (not including Charity Shields on either count). Liverpool’s history is far greater than Arsenal’s, especially in Europe which does count for a lot these days it would seem. Granted Arsenal have the bigger stadium (hopefully at the moment) and maybe the edge in the financial battle, although I am not sure there. As for fan base, I think Liverpool’s fan base is far greater than the Arsenal’s and is probably only second to the scum bags down the M62. For these reasons, I feel Liverpool deserve a slot in equal second place at least. Also, according to their website Arsenal have only won 13 league titles not 18. And Steven Gerrard is innocent until proved otherwise sir!!

    Secondly, I feel maybe that Everton should be sitting above your beloved Spurs. Granted Spurs have won a couple of Carling Cups, we all know how big a trophy that is!! And are far supeirior in the money stakes, But the Everton history and fan base which people don’t realise the size I feel are factors for a higher spot on this table. Also over the last few years or so Everton have qualified for the Champions League, although they got knocked out in the prelims, they are the only team to break in to the top 4 in recent times. Spurs have finished 5 twice but of the last 2 seasons have not been able to get out of the bottom half of the table, despite spending like a ‘big 4’ team.

    Sunderland being 10th based on a big stadium, not sure how that works, surely the likes of Bolton, Wigan, Middlesborough shouls be above them, they have broken into the premier league and have been able to establish themselves over a sustined period Sunderland despite the stadium have yo yo’d back and too from the championship.

    Anyway just a few thoughts chief !!

  4. Yes, the Liverpool / Arsenal decision was hard. I made the final call based on recent Premier League titles (in the last ten or so years), as I see that as a key factor. You’re right on the 13 league titles too – I may have misread it (and Wikipedia is not the best source in any case). So, I think your points are valid, but I maintain my position for now.

    Your points re. Everton are also good – it is a close call (and even closer now Villa are in the mix). Re. the Carling Cup, the only clubs who are really disinterested are the top four (even though they seem to be competing better these days). Everton would be happy with a Carling Cup win, and so would Villa, so I think my point stands.

    Re. Sunderland – that decision was based on fan base and overall years in the top flight in there history. Wigan have only had three in the top flight in their history, Bolton are closer, admittedly, but have a very small fan base. You have a fair point re. Middlesbrough.

    With all these thoughts David, sounds like you should start a blog! Or maybe you should join this one…

  5. queenmothersbiggestfan Says:

    Interesting list and a fine piece of work. I would agree with West Ham needing to be higher up and sunderland lower down.

  6. Simon Moores Says:

    This whole argument about who’s club is the biggest should really just come down totally to trophies, championship titles etc. with a bias towards the last couple of decades or so. I mean who cares if a club won back to back championships before the war. This debate has been had on Talksport several times and you get Leeds fans ringing up arguing that they’re a big club due to their large stadium and support, but i can’t personally equate that with success. Obviously it doesn’t do Spurs many favours taking this approach, but it seems the fairest moderator.

  7. I would agree with you Simon, except that there are clubs who have won a number of trophies in their history, Nottingham Forest for example, or Derby, who have not been in the top flight for ages. Are they therefore a big club today? And there are also clubs who haven’t won many trophies, but have competed in the top flight for most of their history. Are they small just because they haven’t won as many trophies? So I don’t think it comes down just to trophies, or even recent trophies, but also time spent in the top flight of English football. I agree that the stadium / fan support thing is a secondary issue. It is hard to see how any club not in the top flight can be considered big, regardless of their fan base. I think one has to balance the main things like trophies, time in the top flight etc. with the more minor issues of finances, stadium size, fan base etc.

  8. Dave Tonks Says:

    We will have to agree to disagree Mr Ravenscroft, but I enjoyed this piece, and enjoyed the debate. I will go for a draw.

  9. queenmothersbiggestfan Says:

    I think as well you have to take into account, how well they play on a conssitent basis, what teams they play against and beat (e.g. are they playing consistent Champions League football?) and what type of players they attract.

  10. Yes, it is the Champions League qualification which obviously separates the ‘Big Four’ from everyone else right now.

  11. root Says:

    There are much bigger teams in lower divisions than several Premiership teams though. I’d say the likes of Notts Forest, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield Utd, Leeds, Norwich, Leicester and Wolves are all bigger than the likes of Portsmouth, Stoke, Hull, WBA, Blackburn and Fulham or even the likes of Bolton, West Ham and Middlesbrough

    And i dont think biggest club comes down to trophies really, id say that attendences and fanbase are what defines how big a club is primarily, surely that defines how “big” a club is, id say trophies was more in defining how successful a club was

  12. Thanks root. I think if you follow the conversation through several people in the thread would probably disagree with you. Teams such as Notts Forest have a fine heritage, but while they are not in the Premier League (and they have not been for a while) one cannot really class them as one of the biggest clubs in the country. In terms of heritage, Notts Forest are far bigger than Hull, but (even though they have a big fan base), right now as a top-flight team, Hull are bigger (or more influential – see below).

    By using the term ‘big’, I am really referring to ‘influence’, rather than literal size which, as you say, would have more to do with fan base than trophies. ‘Influence’, however, can include success/trophies, as well as other factors such as fan base, financial size etc. I am trying to balance all the factors, while giving more importance to some than others.

    Plus, to be honest, it’s all very subjective in any case.

  13. Kopite Phil Says:

    Liverpool FC are the greatest team in England you stupid t**t! 5 European Cups + 18 Leagues = more than ANYONE else! Below Arsenal the shittest fans in Britain because they’ve got a bigger stadium than us, are you a f****n moron or what? Liverpool fans are the greatest in the world. In future keep your bulls**t opinions to yourself you soft c**t!

  14. Dave Tonks Says:

    I would just like to say, well done to Phil for letting us all know his feelings on this subject. Like Phil I am a red also, and I also feel that Liverpool are the greatest team in the land. This being said, however, I am able to open my mind a little to allow some sort of sense to enter my head on this subject. Yes Liverpool have won 18 league titles and Yes we have won 5 European Cups, but come on Phil, History is one thing but no league titles in 18 years does suggest that maybe just maybe there are other teams that are on a par with us at present !!!!

    Maybe thats just me though, maybe I should have kept my opinion to myself, hey Phil ??? 😉

  15. Staveros Says:

    Interesting reading and the top 3(Chelsea are a joke club) name themselves.

    Unfortunately you have lost it with the Spurs bias though.

    Two league cups mean jack in the real world, certainly not enough to elevate you above the likes of ourselves and Villa. On any points ranking system domestic league titles will always take top billing because, as everyone knows, that is the ‘bread and butter’ and its the toughest to win.

    You cannot seriously consider yourselves the 5th biggest club in the country with just 2 league titles…can you??


    After that they are also rans.

  16. Will Says:

    I really dont get what this list is based on? To name but a few who should not be named. Portsmouth? Hull? Middlesborough? Stoke? West Brom? and Wigan? This must be some kind of joke. You’ve just listed teams who r in the prem this season. Derby, Forest and Leeds are much much bigger clubs than blackburn or newcastle. Even ipswich have a league title and a uefa cup to there name. Prem fans seem to have short memories

  17. No joke, if you’d read the piece properly, you would have noticed it was an exercise in ranking teams who are IN THE PREM THIS SEASON – that was all it was, and that was deliberate. It would have been too wide, and way too subjective, to have included teams who used to be in the top flight.

    The fact is though, today, with the financial gap there is between Prem and the lower divisions, sides like Forest, Derby and Leeds, while having great histories (and being a Spurs fan, I know history is important), cannot be considered to exert that much influence in the world of football. It is up to those sides to get back to the top of the game. And trust me, I would love to see the likes of Forest and Derby back in the Prem – they would bring more than some of those who are there at the moment, especially in terms of fan base.

  18. xristol Says:

    i still love Arsenal, because of their outstanding entertainment, we are still the best when it comes to entertainment-football. is not that we dont want trophy, football is not about only trophy, is all about fun and entertainment…and i will still continue to be an Arsenal fan, so far the entertainment is still there.

  19. Arsenal are a good team to watch, agreed.

  20. Shaun EFC Says:

    I dont agree that spurs are a bigger club than everton or villa based on league titles, also now everton have been 5th in the league the past 2 seasons. Chelsea? you cant go from a small club to 4th biggest in the country in just 5 years!

  21. paul harrison Says:

    its good to see a spud praise the Gunners, even giving extra league titles. Thanks. For the Liverpool fans you have not won a premiership yet! You won European Cups because you were not even completing for the premiership. Four teams (biggest) have won thew premiership Manu, Arsenal, Chelsea and Blackburn. If you have not won one you are a cup team only!!!!

    Biggest clubs by Premiership are Manu,Arsenal,Chelsea,Blackburn

    Biggest worldwide Fan base Manu,Arsenal,Liverpool

    Gate size Manu,Arsenal,Newcastle

    Biggest by turnover are Manu,Chelsea ,Arsenal, Liverpool

    Number of Fa cups, Manu,Arsenal,Spurs,Villa,Liverpool

    Biggest clubs by value Manu,Arsenal,Liverpool, Chelsea

    The only stat that Liverpool are good in is the old First division and European Cups. Pool fans wake up and smell the coffee. Please note all above are independently verified.

    Love your witty observations about each club.

  22. rita Says:

    i’m proud of my great club arsenal no matter their downfall but the greatness of their heart lies in the fans.i’d hope to see them be on their feet this season to knock out those ugly ‘shit-tuds'(manchester utd).I love you!!!

  23. greg perry Says:

    Chelsea have 5 fa cups now (just for the record)

    Just out of interest, how is it that Chelsea are said to have a relatively small ground and Man city a relatively large one (there’s only 4000 seats in it)?


  24. Simon Says:

    Greg, cheers. The article was written before Chelsea won their last FA Cup. Chelsea have a relatively small ground compared to other top Champions League clubs of similar calibre (hence ‘relatively’). Man City have a relatively big ground compared to other clubs of their ‘size’ and success (in recent years).

  25. weoLUFC Says:

    is this a f***ing joke???????????????? How the fuck can you not have Leeds united there??????????????? I am not going to say anything else because if u knew anything about football you would have one of the most historic football clubs in the whole of the world in your shitty list.

  26. Simon Says:

    Geez some of you people are stupid… read the introduction. IT IS A RANKING OF (last season’s – this is an old post) PREMIER LEAGUE TEAMS … NOT every team in the frigging country. Not being in the Premiership, Leeds are obviously not on the list. (I’m sure you don’t need reminding that they are in League One).

  27. Dave Tonks Says:

    Just having a look over the list again and I feel as Mr Gerrard was cleared of all wrong doing, you need to edit the post as he can no longer be called a hooligan!!

  28. Simon Says:

    Ha! Perhaps ‘hooligan’ is a bit strong. But I think, if you look at the details of the verdict, he still acted like a bit of an idiot, even if he was technically innocent… would you be happier with the term ‘ruffian’?

  29. Andy -AVFC Says:

    The reason Leeds are not in the list is that they have no real trophy winning history. Dirty Leeds had a few good years in the 60’s and 70’s and then a couple of good years under wilkinson and o’query, no european cup success and no volume of league title wins equals no interest.

  30. francis osei Says:

    is chelsea is the best

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