Premier League–Football League gulf

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In English football, a gulf has arisen between the finances of clubs from the Premier League and the Football League since the First Division clubs broke away to form the Premier League in 1992. Some have argued that this disparity is wider than in other European leagues where the top flight is combined with at least one division below in a league, such as Germany's Bundesliga, Italy's Serie A and Spain's La Liga. However, England has five tiers of single national divisions, compared to only two in Spain and Italy and three in Germany.


Since the Premier League began at the start of the 1992–93 season, its member teams have received larger amounts of money in TV rights than their Football League colleagues. Prior to the formation of the Premier League, television revenues from top flight matches were shared between the 92 Football League clubs across four unified national professional divisions. The breakaway of 22 clubs to form the Premier League resulted in top flight revenues being shared exclusively between Premier League clubs.[1] The Premier League agreed to maintain the promotion and relegation of three clubs with the Football League, but the Football League was now in a far weaker position – without its best clubs and without the clout to negotiate high revenue TV deals. This problem was exacerbated in 2002 when ITV Digital, the holder of the TV rights for the Football League, went into administration. Many League clubs had invested in ground improvements and the player transfer market with anticipated television funds that never materialized, causing several clubs to enter receivership – most notably Bradford City, who were faced with debts of £36 million and almost lost their Football League status as a result.

As a result, financial disparity has been cited as a reason for newly-promoted teams finding it increasingly harder to establish themselves in the Premier League, thus worrying more about avoiding relegation than winning the title. The three Premier League relegation places have been filled by at least one newly promoted club in all but two of the 21 seasons since its introduction, and in the 1997–98 season all three clubs (Bolton Wanderers, Barnsley and Crystal Palace) were relegated. The only exceptions, in which all three teams survived, were the 2001–02 and 2011–12 seasons. In the former season, the teams were Fulham, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers; Blackburn and Bolton were eventually relegated in 2011–12, and Fulham in 2013–14. The teams in the latter season were Queens Park Rangers, Norwich City and Swansea City; QPR was relegated the following season and Norwich in 2013–14, while Swansea is still competing in the Premier League.

The Premier League distributes a small portion of its television revenue to clubs that are relegated from the league in the form of "parachute payments". Starting with the 2013–14 season, these payments are in excess of £60 million over four seasons.[2] Though designed to help teams adjust to the loss of television revenues (the average Premier League team receives £55 million[3] while the average Football League Championship club receives £2 million[4]), critics maintain that the payments actually widen the gap between teams that have reached the Premier League and those that have not,[5] leading to the common occurrence of teams returning soon after their relegation. This, however, does not take into account former Premier League mainstays which currently are in the Football League, such as the former Wimbledon (who were replaced by Milton Keynes Dons in 2004 following their relocation from South London to Milton Keynes), Sheffield Wednesday, Coventry City and Leeds United, who were founding members of the Premier League and stayed there for between nine and 12 years before going down, and have yet to return. Queens Park Rangers (also a founding Premier League club) saw a 15-year absence from the Premier League, before finally returning for the 2011–2012 season.

The payments have been also criticised as causing Premier League teams to play more cautiously — playing not to lose instead of playing to win — because the threat of relegation means the loss of payments from the television rights. In fact, as of December 2006, the goals-per-game average is only 2.14, the lowest it has ever been in Premier League history and lower than any other professional league in Europe. Steve Bruce, at the time manager of Birmingham City, stated that,

It's a results business... The Championship is very entertaining at the moment because about 12 clubs think they can win it. In the Premiership you've got 12 clubs shit-scared of relegation, and that's the difference.[6]

Curse of Christmas

The Curse of Christmas refers to a trend where the team at the bottom of the Premier League table at Christmas has been relegated at the end of the season.[7] Since the league began, this has happened in every season except three: 2004–05, when West Bromwich Albion finished 17th, Sunderland, who avoided the drop in 2013–14 and Leicester City who survived in the 2014–15 season after having also been bottom of the table at Christmas. West Brom were, in fact, still bottom of the table on the morning of the last day of the season (and even at half time in the final match), but a win over Portsmouth, coupled with defeats for Norwich City and Southampton and a draw for Crystal Palace, enabled them to move up three places and thus survive, an achievement since dubbed 'The Great Escape'. West Brom remain the only team to be bottom of the Premier League both at Christmas and on the last day and still survive.

The last time a top-division team had achieved this feat was in the penultimate season of the pre-Premier League First Division, in 1990–91. The team in question was Sheffield United, who after 16 matches had no wins and less than 10 points, before their form improved dramatically in the second half of the season and a run of seven successive wins helped them to finish in 13th place out of 20.

Certain teams are notable for extremely poor seasons as a result of inability to come to terms with the gulf:

  • Swindon Town were the first such example in the 1993–94 season, when they won a mere five games out of 42 and conceded 100 goals (still a Premier League record) in their first and, to date, only season in the top flight. One of the few bright spots of the season came when they held Manchester United (who went on to win the league title and FA Cup) to a 2–2 draw at home in March, and having lost 4–2 away to them earlier in the season they scored more goals against the title-winning side than any other club in the league that season (bar Oldham Athletic, who were also relegated).
  • In 2002–03, Sunderland were relegated having achieved record lows of four wins, 19 points and 21 goals. They returned to the top flight in 2005–06, only to break two of these records - managing just three wins and 15 points - and also equal the record for most losses in a season, 29, which had previously been achieved by Ipswich Town in 1994–95. As some consolation, they scored more goals (26) than they had the previous time.
  • In 2007–08 Derby County, appearing in the top flight for the first time since 2001–02, won just one game out of 38 (beating Newcastle United 1–0 at home on 17 September 2007 thanks to a Kenny Miller strike), finished with 11 points and scored just 20 goals, thus breaking all three of Sunderland's records. They also set new records for the most consecutive matches without a win (32) and the worst goal difference (−69), and equalled the record jointly held by Ipswich and Sunderland in achieving 29 losses. Finally, they became the first team to be officially relegated from the Premier League in March, and only the second team ever to achieve just one win in an entire season of an English professional league (the other being Loughborough in 1899–1900).
Season Team Points at Christmas Final Position Points at End of Season
1992-93 Nottingham Forest 15 (W3-D6-L11) 22nd of 22 40 (W10-D10-L22)
1993-94 Swindon Town 14 (W2-D8-L11) 22nd of 22 30 (W5-D15-L22)
1994-95 Ipswich Town 12 (W3-D3-L13) 22nd of 22 27 (W7-D6-L29)
1995-96 Bolton Wanderers 10 (W2-D4-L13) 20th of 20 29 (W8-D5-L25)
1996-97 Nottingham Forest 13 (W2-D7-L9) 20th of 20 34 (W6-D16-L16)
1997-98 Barnsley 14 (W4-D2-L13) 19th of 20 35 (W10-D5-L23)
1998-99 Nottingham Forest 13 (W2-D7-L11) 20th of 20 30 (W7-D9-L22)
1999-00 Sheffield Wednesday 06 (W1-D3-L13) 19th of 20 31 (W8-D7-L23)
2000-01 Bradford City 12 (W2-D6-L11) 20th of 20 26 (W5-D11-L22)
2001-02 Ipswich Town 12 (W2-D6-L10) 18th of 20 36 (W9-D9-L20)
2002-03 West Ham United 14 (W3-D5-L11) 18th of 20 42 (W10-D12-L16)
2003-04 Wolverhampton Wanderers 11 (W2-D5-L9) 20th of 20 33 (W7-D12-L19)
2004-05 West Bromwich Albion 10 (W1-D7-L10) 17th of 201 34 (W6-D16-L16)
2005-06 Sunderland 05 (W1-D2-L14) 20th of 20 15 (W3-D6-L29)
2006-07 Watford 11 (W1-D8-L9) 20th of 20 28 (W5-D13-L20)
2007-08 Derby County 07 (W1-D4-L13) 20th of 20 11 (W1-D8-L29)
2008-09 West Bromwich Albion 18 (W5-D3-L12) 20th of 20 32 (W8-D8-L22)
2009-10 Portsmouth 14 (W4-D2-L12) 20th of 20 192 (W7-D7-L24)
2010-11 West Ham United 13 (W2-D7-L9) 20th of 20 33 (W7-D12-L19)
2011-12 Blackburn Rovers 10 (W2-D4-L11) 19th of 20 31 (W8-D7-L23)
2012-13 Reading 09 (W1-D6-L11) 19th of 20 28 (W6-D10-L22)
2013-14 Sunderland 10 (W2-D4-L11) 14th of 201 38 (W10-D8-L20)
2014-15 Leicester City 10 (W2-D4-L11) 14th of 201 41 (W11-D8-L19)
2015-16 Aston Villa 07 (W1-D4-L12)

^1 Avoided relegation.
^2 Portsmouth were deducted nine points for entering administration. With those nine points, they would have still finished 20th.

Surprise packages

There have been some strong performances by newly promoted clubs in the Premier League – particularly in its first few seasons. Blackburn Rovers were among the three teams who won promotion to the Premier League upon its formation, and bankrolled by owner Jack Walker's millions they were able to attract some of the best players in English football – most notably £3.6 million national record signing Alan Shearer. They finished fourth in their first Premier League season. Ipswich Town, one of the other promoted teams that season, were among the top five clubs as late as February 1993 and were being tipped as surprise title contenders, but a late slump in form dragged them down to 16th place.


In the second season of the Premier League, newly promoted Newcastle United finished third – the same position which was occupied by another newly promoted side, Nottingham Forest, the following year. With the exception of Ipswich Town in 2001, this was the last time a newly promoted club finished in the top five.

Middlesbrough finished 12th in the 1995–96 season after promotion, but 10 games into the season they occupied fourth place – high enough for UEFA Cup qualification -[8] – and were being touted as outsiders for the Premier League title.

In 1996–97, newly promoted Leicester City achieved top-flight survival for the first time since 1986 by finishing ninth and also winning the Football League Cup to end their 33-year trophy drought.[9] Middlesbrough had been relegated from the Premier League in 1997 two years after promotion (though only through a points deduction) and were promoted back at the first attempt, and in their first Premier League campaign following relegation they finished ninth in the Premier League and only narrowly missed out on UEFA Cup qualification.[10]

Sunderland were promoted to the Premier League as Division One champions with a new record of 105 league points in 1999, and marked their return to the top flight by finishing seventh and only missing out on UEFA Cup qualification on goal difference.[11]


Charlton Athletic's return to the Premier League as Division One champions for the 2000–01 season was marked with a ninth-place finish – their highest for some 50 years.[12]

In 2001–02, Blackburn Rovers returned to the Premier League two years after relegation and marked it with their first League Cup triumph, and a late surge in form following the trophy win took them clear of the relegation zone to a tenth-place finish.[13] Manchester City returned to the Premier League in 2002 a year after relegation by securing the Division One title, and marked their return to the top flight with a ninth-place finish – their highest in a decade.[14] After two seasons of newly promoted clubs either being relegated or narrowly scraping survival, West Ham United finished ninth in the Premier League in 2005–06 and almost won the FA Cup (only missing out due to a late Liverpool equaliser and a penalty shoot-out defeat),[15] while fellow promoted side Wigan Athletic enjoyed an even more remarkable season. They were rarely outside the top five in the first half of the season, and then reached their first major cup final – the League Cup final – which they lost to Manchester United. They eventually finished 10th in the final table.[16]

Reading reached the top flight for the first time in their history for the 2006–07 season and finished eighth – narrowly missing out on UEFA Cup qualification.[17] Hull City reached the Premier League for the 2008–09, the first time they had ever appeared in the top flight and all the more remarkable considering they had begun the decade almost bankrupt in the league's basement division. An excellent start to the season saw them level on points in third place with the leading pack of Liverpool and Arsenal in mid-October, though their season gradually fell away from December onwards and they ended up surviving by just one point.[18]

Stoke City returned to the top flight at the same time as Hull's promotion, having been in exile for 23 years, and returned in reasonable style with a 12th-place finish.[19] Birmingham City, who had two spells in the Premier League between 2002 and 2008, returned to the elite for the 2009–10 campaign one season after relegation and secured a ninth-place finish, the club's best in decades and one of their highest ever.[20]

Norwich City returned to the top flight for the first time in seven years, a season when the team needed a result against Fulham at Craven Cottage in order to survive, but were relegated straight back to The Championship after a 6-0 defeat. After the 2007-08 season, the team were relegated to League One, only to win this league at the first time of asking despite an opening day 7-1 record league loss to Colchester United. The season after in 2010-11 Norwich were back amongst the elite gaining the second automatic promotion spot, with many pundits tipping the team for immediate relegation. However, they were consistent for most of the season, never being in any real danger of relegation, before finishing the season in 12th position.

Swansea City also returned to the top flight at the same time as Norwich's promotion, having been playing below the top division since their relegation in 1983, and were also in danger of leaving The Football League itself in 2003, only for a 4-2 win over Hull City on the final day at The Vetch to confirm their survival. Two seasons later in 2004-05 the team won League Two, under the guidance of Kenny Jackett, before following this up three seasons later, by winning League One under Roberto Martínez gaining a club record 92 points in the process. In the 2010-11 season Swansea finally won promotion to the Premier League being the first Welsh team to do so, under Brendan Rodgers, after beating his former team Reading 4-2 in the play-off final at Wembley Stadium.

The season proved successful for the Welsh team, despite being heavily tipped by many pundits to be relegated. They returned in reasonable style finishing in 11th position, only one goal away to being in 10th position. Their season saw surprise wins over Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool. The team also despite being newly promoted, scored the fastest goal of the 2011-12 season, when Andrea Orlandi scored within 24 seconds against Wolverhampton Wanderers in a 4-4 draw at the Liberty Stadium, a match that also confirmed Swansea's place in the 2012-13 Premier League season. In the 2012-13 season, Swansea qualified for the 2013-14 UEFA Europa League by winning the 2012-13 Football League Cup and finishing 9th in the Premier League.

Second season syndrome

Second season syndrome is a downturn in form suffered by a team in their second season after promotion, having performed relatively well in their first season. In the Football League, Swansea City were a notable example of this so-called syndrome. Once they got promoted to old Division One in 1981-82 and led the league before finishing 6th, but they were relegated following season and in the next three years they crashed into Division Four and narrowly avoided relegation to the Conference. Swansea City were able to return to top flight only 28 years later, now competing in the Premier League. Another notable example was Ipswich Town, who were promoted to the Premier League after a five-year exile and finished fifth in 2000–01, qualifying for the UEFA Cup, but were relegated a year later. In 2005–06, for instance, newly promoted West Ham United and Wigan Athletic finished ninth and tenth in the Premier League (it was Wigan's first season as a top division club) and were runners-up in the FA Cup and Football League Cup respectively. The following season, however, they narrowly avoided relegation with respective 15th and 17th-place finishes. In 2006–07, Reading were playing top division football for the first time in their history and finished eighth in the Premier League, with only a defeat on the final day of the season preventing them from qualifying for the UEFA Cup. A year later, however, a drastic loss of form in the second half of the season saw them dragged from mid table to occupy the final relegation place, and they were relegated on the last day of the season. Another example is Birmingham City, who after securing ninth position with over 50 points, were then relegated in 2010–11 after suffering a horrific downturn in form despite claiming the League Cup. Indeed, that season saw a surprisingly high number of points sending clubs down, with West Ham United finishing bottom with 33 points, which would have secured 17th place the previous year, and Birmingham and shock 'new-boys' Blackpool both going down on 39 points. This could in part be attributed to burn out, newly promoted or under resourced clubs lack the strength in depth of larger established teams leaving them more vulnerable to injuries of key players and exhaustion from lack of rotation allowing players to rest.

See also


  1. "Football goes to market". Retrieved 21 November 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Premier League's relegated clubs to receive £60m boost".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Collins, Paul (26 April 2013). "Hull set for £120m cash windfall if they win promotion to Premier League". Daily Mail. London.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Richard Scudamore takes big stick to Championship over parachute money".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. James, Stuart (5 August 2006). "Why clubs may risk millions for riches at the end of the rainbow". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 13 August 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Wilson, Paul (3 December 2006). "Where have all the goals gone?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 6 December 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "BBC SPORT | IPSWICH TOWN | The curse of Christmas past". BBC News. 23 December 2001. Retrieved 20 December 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Footymad Limited (21 October 1995). "Middlesbrough FC News – Boro MAD". Retrieved 20 December 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Leicester City 1996–1997 Home". Retrieved 20 December 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Middlesbrough 1998–1999 Home". Retrieved 20 December 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. [1] Archived 18 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  12. Ipswich Town were also promoted to the Premier League having won the Division One Play Offs at their fourth attempt in 1999-2000, finishing 5th overall in 2000-01, qualified for the UEFA Cup with manager George Burley being named Premier League Manager of the season while their striker Marcus Stewart was the highest |English goalscorer of that season, narrowly missing out on the Golden Boot to Thierry Henry. [2][dead link]
  13. [3] Archived 19 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  14. [4] Archived 10 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  15. [5] Archived 30 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  16. [6][dead link]
  17. [7][dead link]
  18. "Hull City 2008–2009 Home". Retrieved 20 December 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Stoke City 2008–2009 Home". Retrieved 20 December 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Birmingham City 2009–2010 Home". Retrieved 20 December 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>