A little while back, we did a video looking at the first 7 teams relegated from the Premier League and where those clubs are now. The video did a lot better than I’d expected, and one of the suggestions for a follow-up video was the one we are doing today.
Since the First Division became known as the Premier League in 1992, 49 clubs have played top flight football in England. Naturally, 20 of them are still in the Premier League, one technically no longer exists and the rest are scattered between the third and fourth tiers of English football.
Today, we wanted to take a look at some of the biggest clubs not to have tasted top tier football in England since 1992. The teams are included and ranked based on factors such as historical league ranking, success, attendances, the size of the location they are based in and their current predicament. The argument over what does or doesn’t make a big club is one I personally find remarkably tedious, so if you disagree with the order of the teams included – fair enough, it’s not really worth getting upset about – and there will be some honourable mentions between first and second place.
Here are the 7 biggest clubs to have never played in the Premier League:
We kick off this seven in west London with Brentford FC, who I have always found to be a fairly likeable club from a neutral point of view. I’ve no doubt that’s going to cost me a few QPR supporting subscribers…
From Les Smith to Tommy Lawton and Stan Bowles, some fantastic players have turned out at Griffin Park over the years, but the club haven’t played top flight football since the first post-war season of 1946-47.
The closest the club has come to either returning to the top flight and indeed getting their first taste of Premier League football was in the 2015-16 campaign. Fresh off the back of promotion from League One and inspired by the goals of Andre Gray, the Bees finished 5th in the Championship, but were beaten by Middlesbrough in the play-off semi-finals.
As well as their 70 year top flight hiatus, Brentford have never got beyond the Quarter-Final stage of either the FA Cup or the League Cup, but the fact they’re currently plying their trade in the Championship is enough for them to take seventh place.
6. Luton Town
Moving out of London but only just, in sixth place we’ve gone for Luton Town, who’s ‘big club’ credentials are hard to measure. The club have spent much of their history in the First and Second Divisions, and were relegated from the top flight the season before the First Division became the Premier League, but they have had a torrid last 10 years, half of which has been spent in the non-leagues.
Now enjoying something of a renaissance, thanks to some impressive business in the transfer market, the Hatters won promotion to League One last season, and are currently fighting for a place in the Championship.
Historically, Luton reached two League Cup finals in the late 1980’s, winning one, and they were losing FA Cup finalists in the late 1950’s. Combine that with the decent support that they enjoy for a club of their size, and they are worthy entrants in sixth place.
5. Plymouth Argyle
The only team in this seven to have never experienced top flight football, either before or after the creation of the Premier League, along with Wakefield, Plymouth are one of the two biggest cities in England to hold that somewhat unwelcome distinction.
The closest the club has come to winning promotion and the right to go toe-to-toe with English football’s elite was in the 1952-53 season, when they finished fourth in the old Second Division, 9 points off second place Huddersfield Town.
Having won promotion from League Two in 2017, the Pilgrims are currently in a relegation scrap towards the foot of the League One table, but they still average close to 10,000 fans at their home games.
4. Notts County
A fantastic club in a pretty desperate situation right now, Notts County are the oldest professional football club in the world. They spent the vast majority of their early years in the First Division, and even featured in the final First Division season, suffering relegation along with Luton in the 1991-92 campaign.
Since then, they’ve basically fluttered between the third and fourth tiers of English football, although this season threatens to bring a new low. The club have gone through a couple of high-profile former players in Kevin Nolan and Harry Kewell as managers in recent years, and now find themselves right in the mire down towards the bottom of the League Two table, in real danger of dropping into non-league football for the first time in their history.
Clearly, the Magpies don’t fare too well in terms of their current predicament, but they are former FA Cup winners playing out of a sizeable ground which they could probably fill if the good times were to return at Meadow Lane. That, twinned with the fact that their kit was the inspiration for Juventus’ colours, is enough to put Notts County in fourth place.
I started this seven by saying that Brentford were a club I’ve always found likeable as a neutral, and in third we come to a club that aren’t always as welcoming to visiting supporters. Millwall have only spent two seasons in the top flight in their entire history, both coming at the end of the 1980’s as Teddy Sheringham made a name for himself as a prolific goal scorer.
They have, however, spent a fair amount of time in the second tier, and have also reached the finals of both the League Cup and the FA Cup. What’s more, they currently have the second highest average attendance of any team in this seven, despite their lowly league position.
Having achieved a mightily impressive 8th placed finish in the Championship last season, Neil Harris’ men are currently embroiled in a relegation scrap, and – at the time of this recording – their form isn’t looking too good.
2. Bristol City
It was a tough call regarding top spot in this seven, and if you were looking purely at future prospects, you’d have to say Bristol City are the biggest club in here. Bristol is one of the biggest cities in England, and the Robins have a recently-renovated 27,000 seater stadium along with a local billionaire as an owner.
They finished mid-table in the Championship last season, a performance they’ll most likely replicate this term, and an average attendance of over 20,000 is the highest in this seven.
Historically, however, the club have been perennial underachievers. The closest they have ever come to winning a major trophy was when they reached an FA Cup final, and that was way back in 1909. In the league, the club last played top flight football in 1980, and their highest ever finish came in 1907 when they were runners-up to Newcastle United for the First Division title.
Since the birth of the Premier League, the closest Bristol City have come to reaching the top table of the English game was in the 2008 Championship play-off final, where a Dean Windass strike saw them lose 1-0 to Hull City.
0. Honourable Mentions
There are many teams that we could mention here, and I’ve no doubt that I may upset and offend a few people by failing to mention their clubs, and for that I apologise.
To keep things terse, I’ll only give extended honourable mentions to the four clubs who made my shortlist but ultimately failed to rank above Brentford and make our final seven.
We start with Port Vale, the second biggest club in the Potteries. The Staffordshire-based outfit spent most of the 1990’s plying their trade in what is now known as the Championship, finishing 8th – above the likes of Stoke, West Brom and Man City – in their best campaign. Sadly, however, the club have struggled in recent years, and are now a fairly middling club down in League Two.
Then we come to Fleetwood Town, formerly Fleetwood FC, who have historically been a non-league club but are now a very competitive side in the third tier of English football. Having been promoted to League Two in 2012, the club won promotion to League One in 2014, and made the play-offs for a place in the Championship in 2017. Now managed by Joey Barton, the club find themselves mid-table in the third tier.
Next up on our shortlist was Tranmere Rovers, who are one of the best supported sides in the fourth tier of English football. Tranmere won promotion from the National League last season, following three seasons out of the Football League, and the former League Cup finalists are now fighting for a play-off spot in League Two.
Lastly, we’ll give an honourable mention to Rotherham United, who made our shortlist and almost our final seven thanks in no small part to the fact that they are currently a Championship club. Punching well above their weight in the Championship, the club have previously spent a lot of time in the second tier, particularly in the 1950’s and 60’s, when they also reached a League Cup final.
Other teams we could have mentioned include the likes of AFC Wimbledon, Burton Albion, Bury, Carlisle United, Colchester United, Doncaster Rovers, Grimsby Town, MK Dons, Peterborough United, Scunthorpe United and Yeovil Town.
Let us know your thoughts on any teams we may have missed and any future video ideas you may have in the comments, but before that, here’s our top spot…
1. Preston North End
There is an argument to be made for Bristol City being a better placed club than Preston North End right now, although there’s not much to split them in the league table, but historically, there’s no question that it has to be Preston North End.
A club synonymous with one man, the great Sir Tom Finney, Preston were regulars in the First Division up until Finney’s retirement in 1960. The Lilywhites were relegated the following season in ‘61, and in the almost 60 years that have passed since then, they have never returned to the top table of English football.
Two-time First Division title winners and two-time FA Cup winners, Preston are the only top flight title winners not to have featured in the Premier League since its inception in 1992. What’s more, the Lancashire-based outfit are one of only two clubs – along with Arsenal – to have gone an entire top flight campaign unbeaten, and unlike the Gunners, Preston didn’t just go unbeaten in the league.
Since their relegation in ‘61, Preston have finished third once and fourth twice in the second tier, most recently qualifying for the Championship play-off’s in the 2008-09 season under Alan Irvine. At the time of this recording, the club are in the bottom half of the Championship table, and don’t look like threatening either the relegation zone nor the play-off places.
For our money, Preston are the biggest club not to have played in the Premier League.