Six Arrowed Wooden Blocks

Have Any of the Big Six Even Been Relegated From the Premier League?

The Premier League is the holy grail, the promised land… well, that might be over-egging it but it is certainly the place to be if you want to see the best players in the world, the fiercest competition and, if you are a player, the fattest paycheques. As an owner, it also guarantees you a huge income from broadcasting and global reach, so it is easy to see why, for all concerned, relegation is regarded as a disaster.

Whilst many smaller clubs come and go from the English Premier League (EPL), and in the case of sides such as Norwich, Fulham and West Brom, do so on an all too regular basis, for some, the English top flight is very much home sweet home. There are six sides who have been in the Premier League since its inception for the 1992/93 season. Those are Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Man United and Spurs, but those are not our focus in this piece.

Who constitutes the top sides tends to vary over time and had you asked your great-grandad, or simply someone around in the 1920s or 1930s, who the “Big Six” football clubs were you might have got a rather surprising (to contemporary ears) answer of Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle, Huddersfield, Sunderland and Everton. Moving forward to the 1980s we had a Big Five that included the six ever-presents listed above, minus Chelsea. That morphed into a Big Four over time, with Everton and Spurs dropping out and Chelsea coming in as they, along with Man United, Arsenal and Liverpool dominated the Champions League places.

Man City’s Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008 catapulted them into the big time and with Spurs’ results (if not corresponding haul of silverware) improving, in recent times we have come to know a Big Six of those two, plus Arsenal, Chelsea, Man United and Liverpool. So, now we know exactly who the Big Six are, let us get to the question at hand: have any of them been relegated from the Premier League?

Manchester City – 1995/96 & 2000/01

Manchester City Flag

Given we know that the two north London giants, fellow capital club Chelsea, and the North West pair of Liverpool and Man United, have played in every single Premier League campaign to date, Man City is the obvious starting point. And indeed, strange as it may seem to younger readers, City certainly have been demoted from the EPL. In fact, the now-all-conquering Citizens have been relegated from the Premier League twice.

City were promoted from the old Second Division following the 1988/89 season and stayed in the top flight long enough to be founding members of the Premier League in 1992/93. They finished ninth that year but a steady decline followed as they finished 16th the following season, then 17th, then, in 1995/96, were relegated when they finish 18th position. A total of 38 points was not enough to see them safe and they dropped down into the second tier.

In the 1998/99 season they played in the third tier but in what was a phase of near-constant relegation and promotion, by August 2000 they were kicking off in the Premier League once again. It would be a short-lived reprieve, lasting just 38 games, of which they won only eight. They recorded 34 points this time around, again finishing 18th and again being relegated from the EPL.

They bounced straight back, and in fine style too, winning the old (new-old?) Division 1, accruing 99 points and scoring 108 goals in the process. Who needs Pep, eh? Since returning to the Premier League in 2002/03 they have been pretty comfortable. They finished 16th in the 2003/04 season but since the new owners came in they have finished in the top half of the table every season, and have done no worse than fifth since the 2009/10 campaign.

Any Near Misses?

Red and White Ball in Corner of Pitch

So, City are the only member of the Big Six, as we know the aforementioned clubs now, to have been relegated from the Premier League, going down twice, in 1995/96 and again in 2000/01. City themselves were involved in the odd relegation scrap aside from those two occasions but have of the other five come close to the drop?

The short answer is no, not really. Chelsea had a bit of a wobble in 2015/16 but ultimately finished 10th, whilst their worse Premier League finish came in 1993/94 when they ended 14th. Arsenal have only finished in the bottom half of the table once, coming 12th back in 1994/95, whilst Man United’s worst Premier League performance saw them finish seventh in 2013/14, though there is an outside chance they could match or “better” that in the 2021/22 season.

Liverpool have finished inside the top 10 in every Premier League season to date. The Reds have never flirted with relegation and their worst seasons came in 1993/94, 2011/12 and 2015/16 when they finished eighth. Anyone with a decent knowledge of the Premier League would rightly suspect that Spurs would have come closest to relegation of the five ever-presents.

Whilst the north London outfit have never really been in a full-on relegation battle, they have certainly had the odd season where going down was a concern for longer than fans – or the club – would have wanted. They finished 15th (of 22 sides) in 1993/94 and have twice finished 14th. That said, their worse finish since coming 11th in 2007/08 was when they came eighth the following year.

Pre-Premier League Relegations

Of course, football was not invented in the 1990s and whilst only City among the Big Six have been relegated from the Premier League, all of the other five have been relegated from the top flight of English football, in most cases a number of times.

Chart That Shows the Number of Top Flight Relegations the Premier League's Big 6 Teams Have Had uo to and Including the 2021/2022 Season

Let’s look at each of them in turn.

Arsenal

  • Top flight relegations: 1 (0 in the Premier League)
  • Total seasons in the Premier League: 30
  • Total seasons in the top tier: 105
  • Consecutive top tier seasons: 96

Arsenal have by far the longest current run of seasons in the top tier of English football. You have to go all the way back to 1913 for the last time when they were relegated. In the 1912/13 season they finished plum last in the top flight, competing back then as Woolwich Arsenal. They won just three games and managed a mere 18 points, though it was just two for a win back then. Incidentally, that year Chelsea were 18th and Spurs 17th in a very bad year for the London clubs, but only Arsenal were relegated.

The following year they just missed out on promotion, finishing third, but 12 months on (sort of!) they returned to the top flight, albeit in rather controversial circumstances. The outbreak of war meant that football did not fully return until the 1919/20 season and Arsenal, despite finishing fifth (or sixth depending on who you believe!) in 1914/15, were voted into the top division.

Their chairman, Sir Henry Norris, was a Conservative MP and whilst the idea of politicians in blue doing anything even vaguely dodgy or corrupt is unimaginable today, back then, as the Mayor of Fulham, Norris had a lot of power. Whether Arsenal deserved it or not, they were back in the top flight and have remained there ever since. That poor season in 1912/13 represents their sole relegation.

Chelsea

  • Top flight relegations: 6 (0 in the Premier League)
  • Total seasons in the Premier League: 30
  • Total seasons in the top tier: 87
  • Consecutive top tier seasons: 33

Chelsea’s history is far less storied than Arsenal’s and they have participated in the top tier on far fewer occasions. The Pensioners suffered demotion most recently in 1988 but came straight back up the following year as champions of the second tier. They were not quite a yo-yo club in the 1970s and 1980s but were also relegated from Division One following the 1978/79 season and also the 1974/75 campaign.

Then we go back to May 1962 when they finished last of the 22 top flight teams to drop into the second strata of English football, though again they spent just a season there, finishing second to make an instant return. They have also suffered the drop going back further, this time spending six seasons in Division Two following demotion in 1923/24. They faced the same fate in 1910 when they went down, this time bouncing back at the second attempt in 1911/12.

Liverpool

  • Top flight relegations: 3 (0 in the Premier League)
  • Total seasons in the Premier League: 30
  • Total seasons in the top tier: 107
  • Consecutive top tier seasons: 60

Liverpool are one of the most successful sides in the world but much of their success has come since Bill Shankly turned the club around in the 1960s. It may surprise some, but the Reds are no strangers to relegation. Shankly took them from the second to the first division in 1962 after they finished as second tier champions in 1961/62.

Prior to that, they had spent eight seasons out of the top flight following their dismal 1953/54 campaign when they finished last of the 22 teams in Division 1. They also endured relegation at the end of the 1903/04 season when they earned just 26 points and finished 17th (of 18). Admittedly they bounced back in stupendous style, claiming back-to-back titles, winning the second tier trophy in 1904/05 and then the Division 1 crown on their return a season later.

Before that, Liverpool also suffered the ignominy of relegation in their third full season, in 1894/95. They had won promotion into the top flight the season before and returned the season after. So, aside from one elongated spell out of the top tier in the 1950s and the start of the 1960s, Liverpool have generally plied their trade at the highest level. Nonetheless, they have been relegated from the top tier of English football three times.

Manchester City

  • Top flight relegations: 10 (2 in the Premier League)
  • Total seasons in the Premier League: 25
  • Total seasons in the top tier: 93
  • Consecutive top tier seasons: 20

As we have already noted, City have been demoted out of the EPL on two occasions, but what about in the era before that? Well, if we take recent trophies out of the equation, City are perhaps the least successful team in the Big Six, strange as that may seem. And indeed, they have fallen foul of relegation several times. As mentioned, they have played in the third tier in their history, but here we will consider only relegations from the top (to the second) level of English football.

Way back in 1898/99 City won the title in the second tier but their first spell at the top table was brief as they were relegated in 1902. Promoted as champions the following season in 1903, they spent just six campaigns in Division 1, finishing 19th of 20 teams in 1908/09 to drop back down. Once again though, they bounced straight back as table-toppers and then stayed in the first tier until picking up just 35 points in 1925/26. They finished 21st of 22 teams and once again were relegated.

Their first attempt at promotion saw them narrowly miss out but a season after that they yet again won the second tier title, staying in the first division for a decade. They finished 21st in May 1938, losing 20 times. Rather surprisingly, that came on the back of a fine campaign the year before when they won the title!

After a break for the Second World War and a few false starts City were back among the nation’s elite for the 1947/48 season but did not last long, going down in 1950. Once again they bounced straight back, this time finishing second, before enjoying over a decade in the top flight. Sadly in 1963 they were relegated.

Of course, 1966 was a great year for English football and so too for City. They were promoted, winning the second-tier crown again and two years later would repeat the trick but this time in the top flight. By their standards, a long spell among the very best of English football followed but they went down once more in 1983, returning for the start of the 1985/86 campaign… before dropping down again in 1987.

It was another brief stint away from the elite though as City were promoted in second position after the 1988/89 season. They stayed there until their first PL demotion came in 1996. Calculators at the ready: we make that a whopping 10 relegations from the highest level (including the two from the Premier League).

Manchester United

  • Top flight relegations: 5 (0 in the Premier League)
  • Total seasons in the Premier League: 30
  • Total seasons in the top tier: 97
  • Consecutive top tier seasons: 47

City’s rivals in red challenge Liverpool for the crown as the most successful side in English football but how do they compare with both when it comes to being relegated from the first tier? Well, United’s most recent experience of such pain came in living memory for many fans, in 1974. They finished 21st of the 22 teams in the then First Division, picking up just one point from their last four games to go down with Norwich and Southampton.

Famously, former Red Denis Law scored an 81st-minute back-heeled goal against United in their penultimate game. It proved to be the winner. It was a game United needed to win and following a string of pitch invasions the game was abandoned in the 85th minute, though the result stood.

The Red Devils’ spell in the second tier was short, just one season, as they won the second-tier title in 1975. Their previous spell in the division had also been short as, following relegation from the top flight in 1936/37, they finished second in 1937/38 to go straight back up. As much as United have had one, this was a yo-yo spell for them as the 1936/37 top-flight campaign was a solitary one at that level, coming on the back of them winning the Division Two title the season before following their relegation in 1931.

That demotion was the third in their history, the previous one coming in 1922 and the first in 1893/94 after they finished last in a 16-team top flight. Playing as Newton Heath back then, they had finished 16th the year before as well but escaped relegation thanks to a so-called Test Match play-off against the top second tier team.

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Top flight relegations: 4 (0 in the Premier League)
  • Total seasons in the Premier League: 30
  • Total seasons in the top tier: 87
  • Consecutive top tier seasons: 44

Tottenham were originally known as Hotspur Football Club and grew out of a cricket club, being formed in 1882. They soon changed their name, in 1884, after their mail was, apparently, delivered to another London side called Hotspur. Postal issues aside, the Lilywhites’ first relegation from the highest level of English football came in the final campaign before the cessation of football because of the First World War.

Tottenham finished 20th, last, in 1914/15 and so played in the second tier in 1919/20, winning the title to make an instant return. In 1928 they dropped back down a division but were promoted in 1933. Despite finishing third on their return to the top table, they were relegated the season after, finishing last again.

They won the Division 2 title in 1950 and, in a feat that would seem impossible in the monied era of the Premier League, won the top-flight title too on their return, the 1950/51 campaign. Since then they have spent just one season outside of the elite, that coming when they were relegated in 1977 and promoted in 1978. So, overall, Spurs have been relegated from the top flight on four separate occasions.