Measuring the Greater Championship

Posted by on Nov 23, 2010 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

A few months ago, we introduced the notion of a Greater Championship: an argument that there exists a group of clubs whose natural habitat is the second tier, which are never seriously going to challenge for a Champions League spot but are also unlikely to spend too much time in Leagues One or Two.

In all honesty, the concept arose from a conversation in Didcot’s Prince of Wales pub and was fuelled largely by a desire to goad friends who support other clubs: Birmingham City would provoke particular contempt in this regard if we knew anyone who did “keep right on to the end of the road”. If you were very kind, you would state that our analysis had some evidence-basis due to observation and experience, but typically, and quite wonderfully, Bill Turianski of the incomparable Bill’s Sports Maps decided to inject some proper credibility into the debate by conducting a statistical analysis

…and here is the link to Bill’s project. Aside from the non-surprise that Leicester City Football Club is a dyed in the wool second level unit with 59 seasons behind them, there are some eyebrow lifting names among them. There is a lot to take in, and I urge you to pore over it for hours, but immediately one is drawn to those poor souls that are currently woefully underachieving. Of those, I’d single out these three (with respect to Grimsby who are currently taking a break entirely) whom we certainly did not take into account in our original theory:

Lincoln CityPersonally, I cannot remember the Imps ever troubling the top 44 in England and a quick skim through the evidence confirms as much. Their 34 seasons were half a century ago now and, in the past couple of decades, the turmoil has heightened with a spell outside the league altogether supplemented by the malign influence of messrs Beck, Sutton and others and alleviated only by the achievements of Keith Alexander. As a proud regional centre and county town, Lincoln is without doubt isolated from the modern world, but it’s all the better for it and who wouldn’t love to see them return to the glory days?

BurySuffering from classic small fish syndrome, Bury’s 39 years at Level Two show how smaller clubs from metropolitan areas can sometimes tag along remora-like to a city’s football boom. Hence, elsewhere in Greater Manchester, we are currently witnessing the prolonged salad days of Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic, with Fulham, Charlton and QPR all enjoying similar benefits in regard to the capital. As for those Shakers, I remember visiting Gigg Lane for a season opener back in 1997-8; a dreadful 1-1 draw with Reading in a season that saw both plummet downwards nine months later.

Bury were the first to clock in a thousand goals in each of the top 4 divisions of English football but the collapse of ITV Digital hurt them more than anyone and even the Championship looks a long way away now. Still, they won the FA Cup by the biggest margin ever with that 6-0 over Derby 107 years ago, as well as a play-off victory over Liverpool that saw them achieve the top flight in the days of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley.

Oldham Athletic
Another set of proto-Mancunians, Latics’ 36 years of significance occurred practically en bloc in the modern age. Indeed, Oldham’s spell grazing in the second division was interrupted only by the emergence of Joe Royle’s brilliant side of the late eighties and early nineties. But, Wembley appearances and that Frankie Bunn night seem ever distant and if the “Premiership Years” were memorable for the buzzing of Andy Ritchie, poise of Earl Barrett and wing play of Rick Holden, as well as Wembley appearances, their years spent a notch down have been almost uncannily inconsequential.

Hence, Oldham slipped down to level three almost unnoticed and it was perhaps inevitable that the sparky (don’t mention that word to them) spell upstairs would be followed by a deep recession taking them down the leagues.

Thanks again to Bill for a terrific post.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 50 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.


  1. Bill Turianski
    November 23, 2010

    Thanks, Lanterne Rouge,
    Thanks for the kind words.
    Talking about those 3 clubs works out good, because I had info on all the clubs on the list that are currently below the 2nd Level. I decided not to put it into my post because it was already so statistics-laden…

    Below are the football clubs on the All-time 2nd Level list that are currently in a lower level…

    The following are the 4 clubs who most recently fell from the 2nd Level (relegated to League One in the last 3 seasons).
    Charlton Athletic – 41 seasons in the 2nd Level (last in 2008-09).
    Plymouth Argyle – 40 seasons in the 2nd Level (last in 2009-10).
    Southampton – 38 seasons in the 2nd Level (last in the 2nd Level in 2007-08).
    Sheffield Wednesday – 34 seasons in the 2nd level (last in 2009-10).
    [Note – 3 of these clubs could win promotion back to the 2nd Level this season (once Sheffield Wednesday get their ownership issues sorted out), while Plymouth Argyle are in the zone just above the relegation-threatened.]

    The next category is the 8 clubs on the All-time 2nd Level list, who have been out of the 2nd Level for more than 4 seasons. Clubs are listed from the most recently, to the longest, out of and below the 2nd Level…
    Luton Town – 34 seasons in the 2nd Level, last in the 2nd Level (League Championship) in 2006-07. Currently out of the Football League, in the 5th Level (the Conference).
    Grimsby Town – 52 seasons in the 2nd Level, last in the 2nd Level (Division One) in 2002-03. Currently out of the League, in the 5th Level (the Conference).
    Oldham Athletic – 36 seasons in the 2nd Level, last in the 2nd Level (Division One) in 2000-01. Currently in the 3rd Level (League One).
    Port Vale – 41 seasons in the 2nd Level, last in the 2nd Level (Division One) in 1999-2000. Currently in the 4th Level (League Two).
    Bury – 39 seasons in the 2nd Level, last in the 2nd Level (Divison One) in 1998-99. Currently in the 4th Level (League Two).
    Notts County – 37 seasons in the 2nd Level , last in the 2nd Level (Division One) in 1993-94. Currently in the 3rd Level (League One).
    Leyton Orient – 41 seasons in the 3nd Level, last in the 2nd Level (the Second Division) in 1981-82. Currently in the 3rd Level (League One).
    Lincoln City – 34 seasons in the 2nd Level, last in the 2nd Level (the Second Division) in 1960-61. Currently in the 4th Level (League Two).
    [Port Vale is the one club in this category that has thr strongest chance of promotion (to the 3rd Level) this season. Luton Town has a reasonable chance of promotion to the 4th Level this season. Lincoln City is in danger of being dragged into the relegation battle and could find themselves in the wilderness of Non-League football for the fourth time in their history.]

  2. Lanterne Rouge
    November 24, 2010

    Thanks Bill. My fellow blogger Lloyd won't like to be reminded of Plymouth's position but the Pilgrims did enjoy a victory over Dagenham and Redbridge earlier tonight.

    Optimistically, I would say that the 8 on your second list should all have a chance to return at some stage. I'm old enough to remember Leyton Orient's days in the old second division plus an FA Cup semi final appearance.

  3. Ben
    November 24, 2010

    A few more 5-0 away wins and Bury could be back in the second tier before long. Perhaps not the case for Lincoln, though, who were their victims…

  4. Bill Turianski
    November 24, 2010

    Yeah, Ben, I forgot to mention that Bury is a solid promotion candidate.

  5. Stanley
    November 24, 2010

    Sobering, but fascinating reading for a follower of a club whose fans regularly claim the 2nd tier to be its natural level.

    On a cursory glance, I would suggest that the list in Bill's comment reflects the march of history: the effects on clubs of a sustained wilderness period, of deindustrialization and demographic change, and the transformation of certain top-flight clubs into consumer brands. Unfortunately, I suspect that a few of those listed have had their time. Can anyone really imagine the likes of Orient, Lincoln or Grimsby climbing back to those giddy heights?

  6. Lanterne Rouge
    November 24, 2010

    Sobering for me too Stanley and prior to 1987, Reading had only played two seasons in the top two flights.


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