26 May 2013

Championship play-off to the Promised Land – and back?

It’s the last big game of the 2012-13 football season – no, not the Champions League final. Malcolm Boughen looks at the successes and failures among teams who have made it to the Premier League.

It has been calculated that victory for Crystal Palace or Watford in Monday’s Championship play-off final will be worth £120m in terms of revenue from television and other deals in next season’s Premier League and parachute payments should they be relegated, making it the most lucrative game in world football.

But how likely are the winners to survive in the top flight? Channel 4 News has been crunching the numbers on promotion and relegation since the Premier League was formed in 1992-93 – and come up with some intriguing figures.

Promised Land

The first thing to note is that the least successful way of ensuring a future in the Premier League is by winning the play-offs – as both of this year’s finalists know to their cost.

Watford have only twice been promoted to the Promised Land – both times via the play-offs and both times they were relegated in their first season. Palace have experienced the agonies and ecstasies of relegation and promotion even more than Watford.

They suffered relegation from the PL in its inaugural season, only to win the Championship the following year… and be relegated again the season after that. Since then, they have twice won promotion again – each time via the play-offs and each time they have suffered immediate relegation.

Of the 20 teams promoted to the Premier League via the play-offs, only eight have survived their first season.

In fact, of the 20 teams promoted to the Premier League via the play-offs since its formation, only eight have survived their first season – and two of those succumbed to “second season syndrome” and were relegated then – a success rate of only 30 per cent.

But as Crystal Palace found, even winning the Championship is no guarantee of success. Eight of the 20 Championship champions were relegated in their first season in the top flight – and another three in their second season.

Strangely enough, the runners-up have had the most success – 13 of them surviving their first season, although three of those went down at the second time of asking. So even here, the chances of surviving more than two seasons in the Premier League were only 50-50.*

Yo-yo teams

There is deep in the folklore of English football the concept of the “yo-yo teams” who spend their time going up and down between the first and second tiers of the game, and on the face of it the figures seem to bear this out.

But a close study of the 39 teams who have been involved in promotion or relegation since the PL was formed suggest a more varied pattern.

Along with Crystal Palace, the two teams with the top claim to yo-yo status – having changed divisions seven times over the 21 seasons – are Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion. West Brom, in fact changed divisions seven times across just 12 seasons, but now appear to have established their place at the top table – at least for now. And despite their troubles this season, Sunderland have now been in the Premier League for the last six years.

Both could claim membership of that most charmed of groups…

The Settlers

Fulham and Stoke are the biggest exponents of this trend. Each were promoted to the Premier League – Fulham in 2001 and Stoke in 2008 – and have never looked back. Swansea, who came up in 2011 for the first time, and Cardiff, promoted this year, are looking to follow their example.

West Ham, who were promoted via the play-offs last season and survived, really ought to be added, having spent 17 of the 21 seasons in the PL, despite having suffered two relegations.

And, having survived their first season back, Southampton will be hoping to repeat their feat of staying in the PL throughout its first 13 seasons – rather than their subsequent experience of being out for the next seven.

Accidental tourists

Two of the Premier League’s biggest clubs – Manchester City and Newcastle – have both suffered relegations (City on two occasions), but each are generally regarded as being part of the furniture in the top flight and are far from the yo-yo concept.

But if those two groups are on the positive side of the equation, there are three other sets that are less favoured.

Casual acquaintances

Two of this season’s relegated teams perhaps fit most comfortably into this section. QPR were in at the start of the Premier League, for the first four seasons, but were then missing for the next 15 before returning for just two. Reading’s record is even less illustrious, having been promoted twice – once for just two seasons and this time for just one.

Newly promoted Hull City will hope they can do better than last time they went up, being relegated after just two seasons. And Norwich City are another member of the group, having spent only 6 of the 21 seasons in the PL.

But Norwich have aspirations to something better, having been inaugural members – indeed finishing third in the PL and qualifying for Europe in 1993 – and now having survived into a third season since their latest promotion, finishing a respectable 11th.

Absent friends

The biggest group of all: those clubs who have made an impression on the Premiership but have more recently been noticeable by their absence.

Blackburn have spent 18 of the 21 seasons in the PL, while Bolton stayed 11 seasons on the trot, but both face another term in the second tier.

Birmingham, Nottingham Forest, Leicester and Derby have all struggled to get back out of the Championship.

Similarly, the Midlands features strongly in this section. Birmingham, Nottingham Forest, Leicester and Derby have all struggled to get back out of the Championship, while Wolverhampton Wanderers and Coventry have done so – but in the wrong direction.

Add in Leeds, Middlesbrough, Ipswich, Charlton and the two Sheffield clubs. And then there are Portsmouth and Wimbledon, who each spent several seasons in the top flight but have since suffered traumatic times.

And then there were those who were…

Just visiting

The one- and two-season wonders who made it into the Premier League, but look unlikely to get another chance in the near future. Blackpool and Burnley – famous names from the past – have the best chance of repeating their one-off success, but it could be a while before we see Barnsley, Bradford, Oldham or Swindon back in the top flight again.

And finally…

Missing you already

Spare a thought for Wigan. Promoted in 2005, they looked like they had survived everything the Premier clubs could throw at them for eight successive seasons, only to fall again days after their greatest triumph, beating Manchester City to win the FA Cup. Theirs was anything but a yo-yo experience.

*Bolton’s experience in the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons appears in the figures for both the runners-up and play-off clubs, as only two teams were promoted from the Championship in 1995 due to a reduction in the number of teams in the PL the following season. Bolton won the play-off to finish as runners-up…and were relegated again in the following season.