Leicester’s title win of 2015/16 seemed to affirm that the romance of football is not completely stone dead. There is no doubt that over the past quarter-century, we have loved seeing a provincial club occasionally dine with the big boys – even if just for a single season!
Cases in hand include Swindon and Barnsley. Who can possibly forget the two that simply came and went?
The latter club broke no particular records, but enjoyed a famous (and since repeated!) win at Anfield in November 1997. The Tykes also knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup, that season.
For their part, John Gorman’s brave Swindon Town team showed no fear when faced with the elite. They seldom wanted for goals…but, sadly for Gorman and his long-suffering charges, neither did the opposition.
For Swindon, a 5-0 home defeat to Leeds on the final day of 1993/94 resulted in an unwanted achievement:
Then there was Bradford, a side seemingly doomed to relegation as the endgame of 1999/2000 approached. A favourable run of results, culminating in a 1-0 win over Liverpool, saw the Bantams beat the odds. The club from West Yorkshire duly went down the following season with a meagre 26 points.
And now, thanks to some excellent home form, Burnley will finally be an established top flight club, after promotions in 2009 and 2014 both led to instant relegation.
In a perverse twist, we look at smaller clubs that have come agonisingly close to Premier League membership and never attained it.
Notts County (1992)
Neil Warnock couldn’t quite keep the Magpies of Nottingham in the top flight. A strong start saw the club occupy a podium berth by the end of August 1991. Weak pre and post-Christmas runs of form rendered them helpless against relegation. Picture Source: Pinterest
Luton Town (1992)
Winless away from home but formidable at Kenilworth Road, the Hatters finished just two points behind the lowest-ranked survivors Coventry. While Coventry enjoyed a good run in the Premier League thereafter, the two clubs look primed to swap divisions this coming May. Picture Source: Youtube
A fantastic run in the spring of 1993 saw the White faction of Merseyside face Swindon in the playoff semis. However, Glenn Hoddle’s side prevailed on penalties. Tranmere were relegated in 2001 after several further playoff appearances, and haven’t been in the second tier since. Picture Source: Shoot! Magazine
In his second season at The Den, Mick McCarthy guided his team to a third-placed finish, but the Lions finished a whole nine points behind runners up Nottingham Forest. Millwall lost to Derby in the playoff semi finals. Picture Source: Twitter
In the early to mid 2000s, Preston made a number of losing play-off final appearances, but this one stands out as particularly galling. Having prevailed on penalties against Birmingham, the Lilywhites were full of confidence ahead of the final. They duly lost 3-0 to Bolton in a one-sided affair. Picture Source: Gary M. Prior/Getty Images
Bristol City (2008)
Now facing another relegation from the second tier, the 24th May 2008 will go down as the club’s most disappointing day. Dean Windass’ incredible volley for Hull propelled the Tigers into the big time. Bristol City haven’t been this close since. Picture Source: Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Having slogged through 46 taxing games, the Bees faced playoff heavyweights Middlesbrough. They went down to the Teesiders 5-1 over two legs. Source: Pinterest