Ten for 2010: The best Football League teams of the year

Christmas swiftly approaches. It seems like a fitting time to reflect on the calendar year in the Football League and take a look at the teams that have excelled over the last twelve months. Some of those listed have suffered dips in form at some stage or another, but nearly all have managed notable achievements.


10. Rochdale

Rochdale have struggled to adapt to life in League One following promotion, but the fact they were promoted at all is enough to merit a place on this list. Keith Hill’s challenge now is to make sure Dale can compete in the second half of a gruelling campaign. Time to keep the faith at Spotland.

9. Newcastle United

It’s back to the intense media spotlight of the top flight for Carroll, Nolan et al. They slummed it for a few long months back at the start of the year and, for that, they squeeze into the top ten here.

I am one of those that believe Chris Hughton did a superb job in leading the Magpies to the Championship title at the first attempt and that not just anyone could have achieved what he did with the club. Mike Ashley may beg to differ.

8. Reading

Reading had managed just five league wins in the opening five months of the 2009/10 season. It all turned around for the Royals with a victorious FA Cup third round replay at Liverpool and the appointment of Brian McDermott in place of Brendan Rodgers.

From New Year’s Day onwards, Reading won 15 of their 28 games to stage an unlikely late bid for the play-offs, ending in a similar position to their current status – four points off the top six with a game in hand. The difference this time being that McDermott’s men can build on their start rather than being forced to play catch-up.

7. Millwall

After going so close in 2009, Kenny Jackett’s Millwall returned to Wembley this year to gain a place in the Championship by seeing off Swindon Town in north London.

Without millions to spend, Jackett has quietly made the most of a restrictive budget to mould an extremely hard-working side that often make for decent viewing. Steve Morison gets most of the plaudits but most members of a threadbare squad are deserving of praise for their strong start to this season.

6. Cardiff City

Ooh, controversial. Where on earth do Cardiff City fit in the jigsaw of praise for Football League teams in 2010? I don’t think even their own fanbase can truly decide. Is Dave Jones doing a good job? Or is he constantly one defeat away from some harsh abuse?

A bit of both, perhaps. Even on these very pages, the jury is still out. Infuriatingly inconsistent but irresistible when the mood takes them, Cardiff have unquestionably been entertaining for the duration of this calendar year. Promotion in May 2011 appears to rely heavily on either the fitness of Jay Bothroyd or the arrival of a fitting auxiliary.

5. Leeds United

Most teams in this list have achieved their spot through promotion. Leeds United seemed to attempt to do all in their power not to regain their place in the Championship after a terrible start to 2010. Well, a glorious start at Old Trafford followed by an alarming slump on league duty anyway.

It is clear that the Leeds limp over the League One finishing line is now well and truly behind Simon Grayson’s side. They have even managed to discard a series of disappointing setbacks already this season to sit second in the league table on Christmas Day.

There were plenty of neutrals and opposition supporters queueing up to laugh at Leeds during their hiatus in the third tier. Well, they’re not laughing any more. Despite a lack of investment, Leeds are well positioned to make a long-awaited return to the top flight.

4. Norwich City

Rarely has a single defeat been mentioned so much in the context of such an otherwise successful league campaign. But this was no ordinary defeat. Norwich City were meant to be the big cheeses in League One. The generals. The big fish in a small pond. And then Colchester United turned up on the opening day at Carrow Road and trounced them 7-1.

Norwich were written off by some. Bryan Gunn was certainly given no hope of turning things around. While the former was a far too reactionary response, the latter was almost indisputable. More established managers than Gunn have been dismissed on the back of that kind of humiliation.

Instead, it was then Colchester manager Paul Lambert who stepped in and put the Canaries on the right track. Worthy champions and a Championship top six tilt later, Norwich are unlucky not to be higher in this list. Their relative wealth of resources mean they will have to settle for fourth. The ongoing feelgood factor at Carrow Road will be more than ample comfort.

3. Exeter City

In the summer of 2008, Exeter City were looking forward to re-establishing themselves as a League Two club. With Christmas 2010 fast arriving, the other St James’s Park side are well and truly in the play-off picture in the third tier instead.

Paul Tisdale is another manager who could be said to have performed miracles on a shoestring budget. League One is packed full of clubs with far more illustrious recent histories than anything Exeter can boast but no matter.

Staying up last season was an accomplishment to be proud of. To be where they are at the moment in the league table is nothing short of superb. Let it not be forgotten that Exeter City’s staff and supporters had to cope with the sad passing of their striker Adam Stansfield in August. Their performances so far this season have been a fitting tribute.

2. AFC Bournemouth

Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth actually began 2010 with three straight defeats. I was present for their first game of the calendar year, a 2-0 home reverse at the hands of Northampton Town. Howe’s side were flat, uninspiring and any other adjective you may care to use to describe a team that really didn’t look like League Two promotion contenders.

That the Cherries end the year as League One promotion contenders tells you everything you need to know about the job that Howe is carrying out on the south coast. In fact, Bournemouth go into Christmas two points ahead of much-lauded Southampton despite a relative paucity of funding.

Fellow newly-promoted outfits Rochdale (18th), Notts County (19th) and Dagenham and Redbridge (22nd) are currently demonstrating that not every side rides onwards on a wave of optimism to even greater heights in the division above. Bournemouth deserve a hell of a lot of credit.

1. Blackpool

The most impressive Football League achievement this year is an accolade that must go to a Premier League club. They are Football League in all but status, you could argue, but that would be to denigrate their success. Blackpool are living the dream and long may it continue.

Ian Holloway constantly belies his reputation as merely a bit of a character. Holloway is an incredibly astute football manager, learning from his mistakes and giving Tangerines supporters something that would have been beyond their wildest dreams before his arrival at Bloomfield Road.

I’ve written about Holloway and Blackpool already this season for In Bed With Maradona, an article that sums up both my disbelief and respect for what they have done – and what they are still, somehow, doing.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.


  1. Damon
    December 22, 2010

    While not taking anything away from Rochdale’s achievement, their promotion was largely down to their form in 2009, it tailed off alarmingly in 2010 and they haven’t started this season particularly well. If anything, 2010 has been a right struggle even if the 2009/10 season was ultimately a success.

    Compare that to Brighton who started 2009/10 appallingly and then really picked up from February 2010 and on to the end of the season, then started the season superbly. If the ‘gong’ is for 2010 then I think Brighton should at least be in the 10, if not high up it.

    And I’m not even a Brighton fan.

    Aside from that cant really argue with it, even if I would love to disclaim the budgies being in there.

    And Happy Christmas the72, happy blogging for next year and keep up the sterling work.

    • theseventytwo
      December 22, 2010

      Cheers Damon, Merry Christmas to you too and all at Real FA Cup (Twin?) Towers!

      Brighton had a strong case and if I’d researched their end-of-season form last year then they probably would have made it. I wanted to weight it slightly in favour of teams who had achieved something, if possible.

      That’s why Rochdale snuck in there despite their poor year in terms of results. They wouldn’t have made it if they’d had any money to spend or had been promoted at any point in the previous 30-odd years!!

      Happy to admit that Brighton have probably been royally robbed, though. All I would say is that they will definitely get in next year if they get promoted, whatever their start to 2011/12 is like!

      • Damon
        December 22, 2010

        Quite right too, it would be churlish to dismiss the Dale’s achievements, most neutrals were willing them over the finish line last season. It’s not like they had Notts County’s wedge or players and, oh look, they are above Notts County this season too [just] [insert smiley face]

  2. Lowfields
    December 22, 2010

    Leeds have actually had a very strange 2010 so far… Of course, any year that contains a promotion, a Christmas placing of second in the new division and, when a third tier side, a win at Old Trafford and a draw at White Hart Lane in the FA Cup must go down as remarkable.

    But it was also a year in which we only won twice in 12 matches in the spring, crept over the finish line by a single point, then sold our top goalscorer and, in September, conceded six goals at home for the first time our 91-year history. (In 2009, however, we amassed an incredible 104 points from a possible 138.)

    All in all, I guess, 2010 will probably go down as a year when the good made history and the bad quickly forgiven or forgotten.

    • theseventytwo
      December 22, 2010

      Very neatly summarised. Leeds would have struggled to make this list at all were they any lower than the top 8 or so in the Championship at the moment, but they fully deserve to be on there.

  3. Duncan
    December 22, 2010

    Very nice. Can’t argue with much there, happy to see Rochdale included, even if it does have a bit of a “lifetime achievement” kind of feel to it. Blackpool and Bournemouth very deserving of top spots.

  4. paul
    December 23, 2010

    as a bournemouth fan i think the only team who does deserve to be above us is blackpool althou eddie howe won us promotion without signing any player except rhoys wiggins on loan,

  5. Lanterne Rouge
    December 24, 2010

    Pleased to see Reading in there for partisan reasons but the scintillating form of February and March were propelled largely by the extraordinary talents of Mr. Glylfi Sigurðsson, although the 2-1 win at Anfield in the FA Cup must be as heroic a performance as any football league side has put in over the past 12 months.

    Newcastle fans who complain that their achievements go under-recognised would get my sympathy if it were not for the disdain that many of them showed towards the rest of us during their brief sojourn below decks.

  6. Stanley
    December 31, 2010

    Praise for Millwall is rare indeed, so I have to thank you for it. 2010 has been an extraordinary year – the run to Wembley having begun not long before the last edition of Jools Holland’s Hootenanny (20 points behind Leeds on Boxing Day 2009). The second half of the year hasn’t been bad, either, give or take a six-goal drubbing at home. It should be noted also that this represents the third year of progress under Kenny Jackett, who deserves the bulk (I couldn’t bring myself to write ‘lion’s share’) of the credit for our achievements.

    Blackpool are obvious chart-toppers, but I was pleased to see Bournemouth and Exeter get a hat-tip as well. Hopefully 2011 won’t be a case of ring in the changes, but same-old same-old.


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