We have briefly touched on the structure of English football, and how the teams of all levels are always fighting against relegation, if only to enjoy the resources that come from that level of football. We’ve also talked about the in-season competitions that occur with English football – the FA Cup and EFL Cup – and the bragging rights and UEFA League qualifications that come with them.
As I’ve decided to take on English football as a fan this year, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to learn how things work, and how thing differ from the United States’ sports leagues. Relegation is very foreign to American sport fans; our teams enter a league and stay there, regardless of their performance, whereas English football teams (and others across the rest of association football) are always subject to relegation, usually for performance, though there are plenty of examples of teams being relegated because of financial performance.
I wanted to take a look at this at the 10,000 foot level, and just share some of the interesting things that I have found while learning about English football. My focus here will be on the top four tiers of English football, because those 92 teams will often be the ones that are spoken about. Here are some interesting facts about each of those tiers:
The top tier began in 1889, and have played uninterrupted since 1946. There have been two breaks for the top tier because of the World Wars – from 1915-1919 and 1939-1946. In 1992, 20 teams formed the Premier League, which in turn became the top tier of the English football pyramid.
- There have been a total of 65 teams to play at the top tier of English football since it was established. Everton (116 seasons) leads the way in total seasons at the top tier, and there have been six teams – Barnsley, Carlisle United, Glossop, Leyton Orient, Northampton Town, and Swindon Town – that have spent only one season in the top tier.
- There have been six teams – Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur – that have been in the Premier League since it began in 1992 and have never been relegated, though all the teams have spent some time at Tier 2 in seasons prior to the Premier League.
- 24 different clubs have won titles in Tier 1. Manchester United has won the most titles (20), followed by Liverpool (18), Arsenal (13), Everton (9), and Aston Villa (7). Ipswich Town has the fewest seasons at Tier 1 (26) with at least one title, which they won in 1961-1962.
The second tier began play in 1893, and took the same breaks for the World Wars. Tier 2 is known as the Championship, and has 24 teams.
- 104 teams have played at Tier 2. Barnsley (75 seasons) has played the most seasons at Tier 2, and there have been eight teams – Bootle, Hereford United, Mansfield Town, Middlesbrough Ironopolis, Milton Keynes Dons, Nelson FC, Newport County, and Yeovil Town – that have spent only one season at Tier 2. None of these teams finished above 11th place.
- 48 different clubs have won a league title at Tier 2. Two Premier League mainstays – Leicester City and Manchester City – lead the way with seven titles each. Barnsley has never won a title despite having the most seasons at Tier 2, finishing as high as second, which it’s done twice.
The third tier began play in 1921, and took a break for World War 2 from 1939-1946. It is currently known as League One, and has 24 teams.
- 113 teams have played at Tier 3. Walsall (75 seasons) leads the way in seasons at Tier 3, and there have been six teams – Barnet, Dagenham & Redbridge, Leicester City, Macclesfield Town, Manchester City, and Rushden & Diamonds – that have been spent only one season at Tier 3.
- 66 different clubs have won a league title at Tier 3. Bristol City, Doncaster Rovers, and Plymouth Argyle lead the way with four titles each. Like Barnsley in Tier 2, season-leader Walsall has never won a title in Tier 3, though they have finished 2nd twice.
The fourth tier began play in 1958, and has played 61 consecutive seasons. It is currently known as League Two, and also has 24 teams.
- 92 teams have played at Tier 4. Rochdale (48 seasons), Darlington (47), and Hartlepool United (46) have all spent more than 75% of Tier 4 seasons at that level. There are only two clubs – Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United – that have spent only one season at Tier 4, and it was after being relegated and going right back up from Tier 3 in one season.
- 44 different teams have won the 61 titles awarded in Tier 4, with Chesterfield leading the way with 4 titles. Five teams that are playing in the Premier League this season – Brighton & Hove Albion, Burnley, Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, and Wolverhampton Wanderers – have won titles at Tier 4.
There have been a total of 140 teams that have played at least one season in the top 4 tiers of English football. Ten teams have played 120 seasons total; two teams have played only one. Notts County, currently in League Two, probably has the most diverse experience across the four tiers, with 120 seasons total – 30 at Tier 1, 37 at Tier 2, 34 at Tier 3, and 19 at Tier 4.
I hope you enjoyed these tidbits. Enjoy the season of your favorite team as things play out, especially with the Premier League kicking off soon!
Until next time…