Success and failure are both relative. Arsenal, for example, haven’t won anything since 2005 and they are reminded of it virtually every day in the media. But since winning one of the worst ever FA Cup finals against Manchester United, the Gunners have reached a Champions League final and qualified year-by-year for that competition. No silverware, but plenty of money sloshing through the Emirates’ coffers. Virtually any other club would consider that considerable success. At the other end of the scale, York City have won promotion back to the Football League and reached Wembley twice, three times if you include the play-offs. Some might say York have experienced a lot of success as tumbleweed has rolled through the Arsenal trophy cabinet.
Success is relative. And shouldn’t be taken for granted. It is, though, at the highest level. In the 1980s, the “big five” were Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham and Arsenal. Today, that group comprises: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and (hanging onto it by the shirt-tail), Liverpool. Tottenham and Everton also have designs on a place in this elite set. These clubs are expected to win trophies on a regular basis.
Most clubs cannot realistically expect to win trophies year-in, year-out. But managers have lost their jobs because they cannot meet the astronomical expectations of even the most modest clubs. Success is a trophy win or promotion. Finishing runners-up in a final can be considered success, but it comes with the tag “nearly men”. For example, would Bradford City have considered finishing runners-up in the Football League Cup a success if they hadn’t won promotion in 2013?
Football has become a very transient game. Promotions and relegations affect an increasing number of teams. Each year, maybe 13 clubs can claim domestic success: Premier Champions, FA Cup, FL Cup, 10 promoted sides – that’s 12% of the 92. Add another three or four who could gain entry to Europe and it could reach 16 teams or 15%. That’s not a bad ratio.
Most clubs in the current 92 have enjoyed success of some sort over the past decade. Find that hard to believe? Well, just consider this – the current Premier League’s last bout of triumph:
Arsenal – 2004-05 FA Cup; Aston Villa – 1995-96 FL Cup; Cardiff City – Promotion 2012-13 (Last silverware – 1926-27 FA Cup); Chelsea – Europa League 2012-13; Crystal Palace – Promotion 2012-13; Everton – 1994-95 FA Cup; Fulham – Promotion 2000-01*; Hull City – Promotion 2012-13; Liverpool – 2005-06 FA Cup; Manchester City – 2011-12 Premier; Manchester United – 2012-13 Premier; Newcastle United – Promotion 2009-10 (Last silverware – 1968-69 ICFC); Norwich City – Promotion 2010-11 (Last silverware – 1984-85 FL Cup); Southampton – Promotion; 2011-12 (Last silverware – 1975-76 FA Cup); Stoke City – Promotion 2007-08** (Last silverware 1971-72 FL Cup);
Sunderland – Promotion 2006-07 (Last silverware 1972-73 FA Cup); Swansea City – 2012-13 FL Cup; Tottenham H – 2007-08 FL Cup; WBA – Promotion 2009-10 (Last silverware 1967-68 FA Cup); West Ham – Promotion 2011-12 (Last silverware 1979-80 FA Cup)
*Europa League finalists
** FA Cup runners-up 2010-11
Of the current top 20, Everton and Aston Villa have gone the longest without any tangible success, 1994-95 and 1995-96 respectively. The fans that have suffered the longest – i.e. no cups, no promotions – across the 92, are as follows:
Tranmere – Since 1990-91; Oldham – 1991-92; Everton – 1994-95; Aston Villa – 1995-96; Preston – 1999-00; Fulham – 2000-01; Bolton – 2000-01; Coventry City – 2003-04; Middlesbrough – 2003-04; Plymouth – 2003-04
And what about genuine silverware? Barnsley’s last pot was in 1911-12, the FA Cup 101 years ago. Huddersfield Town have to go back to their heyday in the 1920s, some 87 years ago. But of the 92 clubs, only four have not been able to get drunk on the fumes of some success, however small.
It can all change so easily. Remember when Manchester United were torn with angst at going another year without the Football League title? – 26 years to be precise? Strangely, City fans never went on and on about the 44 years between 1968 and 2012, or Chelsea their 27-year barren period between 1971 and 1997. Liverpool won’t need reminding it is now 23 years since they last won the title. It is strange that Everton have now gone so long without a trophy, although Everton’s history has been spasmodic – they went from 1939 to 1963 (admittedly, the 2WW got in the way) without a cup and from 1970 to 1984 empty-pocketed. Even Arsenal have had their droughts, in 1970 when they won the Fairs Cup it broke an 18-year sequence, and this a club that dominated the 1930s, not going five minutes without a major win.
But it is good to see that even the most unfashionable clubs – sorry Rochdale, apologies Hartlepool – have enjoyed some level of success in the 21st century. That should provide hope to everyone…especially Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. Every dog has some sort of a day…