Leicester next? Six relegated sides that were ‘too good to go down’
Leicester City have one more game to save their Premier League status – meaning the 2016 champions of England face the very real possibility of being relegated to the second tier.
The Foxes did the unthinkable in 2015-16, narrowly avoiding relegation the season before to go on and win the Premier League in stunning fashion. 5000/1 odds, but they did it, producing one of the greatest stories in the history of football.
It put the club on a much-needed upward path. What followed was Champions League football, shrewd recruiting and the possibility of permanently breaking up the traditional top six as they continually finished in European positions.
Things haven’t quite been so smooth in the last few seasons, though. Failure to make it stick by finishing in the top four, the tragic loss of their owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and the COVID-19 pandemic all weighed heavily on the club. Despite them managing to lift the 2021 FA Cup, Leicester have been unable to stop themselves from spiralling.
Following their historic rise, nobody would’ve predicted that Leicester would find themselves playing Championship football once again, so soon after winning the Premier League. They firmly belong in the category of “too good to go down” – but that hasn’t saved several other big clubs from the drop in years gone by.
Here are six sides of the biggest shock relegations in English football history.
Newcastle weren’t one of the clubs in the Premier League when it was rebranded in 1992, but they were a mainstay for a decade and a half after Kevin Keegan led them to promotion in 1992-93.
In that time they finished in the top half more often than not, with a few memorable European campaigns and unforgettable back-to-back 2nd place finishes in 1995-96 and 1996-97.
They’d fallen since those lofty heights by the mid-noughties, especially after the retirement of all-time top scorer Alan Shearer, but come 2008 there was renewed hope that Keegan was to bring the good times back.
King Kev steadied the ship and led the Magpies to a strong finish in 2007-08, and, eventually, a respectable 12th-place finish – a placing it was hoped could be built upon.
But back then few foresaw what kind of owner Mike Ashley would turn out to be. Keegan resigned a few weeks into the campaign after a major falling out with the board.
Then came Joe Kinnear. Then came Shearer in his first and only job as manager – and the legendary striker was unable to save them from the drop.
READ: The story of Keegan’s second spell at Newcastle: ‘We were a laughing stock’
Still the standard-bearers, to the extent that “doing a Leeds” is now a synonym for “falling into the abyss” in football terminology. The term even has a Wikipedia page.
From Champions League semi-finalists to relegated basketcase in the space of three years. Implosions don’t come much more spectacular than that.
Back in 2019, we spoke to Dominic Matteo, who was there right through from the highest highs to the lowest lows.
READ: Dominic Matteo: I still feel responsible for Leeds United’s relegation
West Ham United
Only one side in Premier League history has been relegated with more than 40 points – the West Ham side of 2002-03.
The Hammers squad that season boasted David James, Glen Johnson, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Trevor Sinclair, Frederic Kanoute, Jermain Defoe and Paolo Di Canio. That’s the very essence of “too good to go down”.
It was a particularly gut-wrenching way to go down, as well, given they looked doomed for the drop in Winter before a late run of form came miraculously close to achieving the greatest of great escapes.
Glenn Roeder’s side picked up just 20 points and four wins from the first 27 games of the season. They then picked up 22 points from their final 11 games, winning six and losing just one – which ultimately proved costly away to the side that stayed up at their expense, Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers.
The forerunners to Leeds, Blackburn went from Premier League champions to a second-tier club in the space of just four years, and they finished as high as sixth the season before they went down in 1998-99.
Roy Hodgson was sacked in November and successor Brian Kidd failed to turn Rovers’ form around. The days of Alan Shearer banging in the goals were long gone, while his former strike partner Chris Sutton’s form fell off a cliff.
Kevin Gallacher and Ashley Ward finished as Blackburn’s top scorers with just five goals apiece. Collectively they mustered just 38 goals in 38 games. Shearer managed 34 when they won the title in 1994-95. A miserable fall from grace.
Arguably the biggest club to ever suffer relegation, United’s 21st-place finish back in 1973-74 is the stuff of footballing infamy.
The club lifted their seventh league title at the end in the 1966-67 season but suffered a sharp decline from there – and hit rock bottom seven years later.
Fittingly enough, the brilliant BT Sport documentary that chronicles that unforgettable era at Old Trafford is entitled ‘Too Good To Go Down‘.
Don’t believe the story that it was Denis Law’s backheel that relegated the Red Devils, though. It was just the final nail in the coffin.
READ: Celebrating the Denis Law backheel that *didn’t* relegate Man Utd
The Smoggies aren’t exactly one of English football’s glamour clubs but they’ve been in the top flight more seasons than they’ve been out of it – which goes for the Premier League era as well as historically.
The 1996-97 campaign was only their second successive back in the top flight, but they’d built a quite ridiculous squad that featured Fabrizio Ravanelli and Juninho under player-manager Bryan Robson.
Ravanelli scored 31 goals in all competitions that year, 15 of which came in the FA Cup and League Cup – where Boro finished runners-up in each.
The club were also docked three points for postponing a fixture against Blackburn Rovers at short notice without FA approval amid an injury and illness crisis – which proved pivotal in them finishing 19th on 39 points.
READ NEXT: The last time each of the Big Six – and Everton – suffered relegation
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