English Football

London cooling? Not quite yet

IT MAY not be the most successful city across Europe, or the most productive in terms of league titles in the UK, but if you want to see top division action in the European Union’s capitals, London has the highest percentage of clubs among the leading leagues.

There are six London clubs in the Premier League (Arsenal, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Tottenham and West Ham), that’s 30% of the division. Of the so-called “big five” leagues, nobody comes close: Spain 15% (Madrid 3), France 5% (Paris 1), Italy 10% (Rome 2) and Germany 5.6% (Berlin 1).

Elsewhere, Greece, with five of 16 clubs based in Athens (31.25%) and Hungary, four in Budapest (25%) exceed the English league in percentage terms, although Ireland has three of its 10 top-flight clubs in Dublin. Other countries, such Bulgaria (29%), Sweden (25%) and Czech Republic (25%) all have healthy representation in their capital cities.

London’s dominance (versus two in each of Manchester and Liverpool) is a symptom of its size as well as its financial clout as a metropolitan area. While Manchester City and United rarely, if ever, play at home on the same day or even weekend, London can host three or four Premier games between Saturday and Monday. For example, on matchday two this season, four teams were at home, drawing a combined audience of 181,000 people.

Attendances in London since the Premier was introduced (thousands)

  1992-93 2002-03 2012-13 2017-18
AFC Wimbledon[1] 4 4
Arsenal[2] 24 38 60 59
Brentford 8 6 6 10
Charlton Athletic 7 26 18 12
Chelsea 19 40 41 41
Crystal Palace 16 17 17 25
Fulham 5 17 25 20
Millwall 9 9 11 13
QPR 15 13 18 14
Tottenham H[3] 28 36 36 68
West Ham United[4] 16 34 35 57

Trophy magnets

Alex James and Cliff Bastin of Arsenal, 1930. Photo: PA

London has won more trophies in the Premier League era than any other area of England and Wales. The haul amounts to 34 domestic and European trophies, compared to 32 for Manchester and just nine for Liverpool. However, London’s success is based on multiple club presence, despite the fact that only three (Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham) have won silverware during the period, with Chelsea snaring 19 trophies, Arsenal 13 and Tottenham two. Tottenham, despite winning many plaudits, will have been without silverware for 11 years by the end of 2018-19 – their most barren spell since the early post-war years.

Manchester, with 32 trophies, may be second best, but half of those have been Premier League titles, with Manchester United securing 13 and City three. However, if the post Sir Alex Ferguson period is considered, City have won two league titles and a Football League Cup versus United’s FA Cup, FL Cup and Europa League. Chelsea’s record is better, two titles and two domestic cups.

The deterioration of the city of Liverpool, despite the Reds’ resurgence under Jürgen Klopp and an appearance in the UEFA Champions League last season, is notable. In the Premier era, the city has won nine trophies, with Everton’s last triumph coming in 1995. Liverpool are currently in a relatively lean spell – if they fail to win something tangible in 2018-19, it will be seven years since their last achievement, the worst run since the Shankly days.

The Midlands, which 50 years ago provided six of the top division’s 22 clubs, has also declined, with just two at the highest level in 2018-19, Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers. The three Birmingham clubs, Villa, Birmingham and WBA, are now in the Championship, a division that is very much Midlands territory, with 25% of its 24 constituent clubs coming from the region.

Tragedies

One of London’s finest – Tottenham 1961 Photo: PA

What is also very noticeable is the fall of Yorkshire, a county that last won anything significant in 1992 when Leeds United were the last pre-Premier champions. Since then, as writer Anthony Clavane pointed out in his elegant book on the fall of his home county as a sporting hub, it has been a case of A Yorkshire Tragedy. Clavane believes Yorkshire sport slumped in the aftermath of the deindustrialisation of the county during the harsh Margaret Thatcher era, a claim that could similarly be aimed at other parts of the UK, including the Midlands and the North-East. Certainly Leeds and the two Sheffield clubs have seen better days and have struggled to live with the elitist Premier League era that has created an upper class of club whose financial structure dwarfs the income of football names that were once household. Leeds were last in the top bracket in 2004, the Sheffield duo lost their status in 2000 (Wednesday) and 2007 (United). Let’s not forget that other Yorkshire clubs such as Barnsley and Bradford City, to their cost, had brief flirtations with the Premier.

If Yorkshire has fallen from its perch, then the North-East continues to baffle. Clubs of the people they may be, and capable of drawing very big crowds, but frustration prevails for the region’s big names, whose golden age stretches as far back to pre-WW1 days. The only trophy won in the Premier era has been the Football League Cup lifted by Middlesbrough in 2004. Newcastle have not won anything since 1969 and Sunderland last [famously] tasted champagne out of a trophy in 1973.

Academics and economists have their theories about why English football has evolved into a “clique” that is, essentially, dominated by London and Manchester, along with the occasional triumphs from Liverpool. The UK is highly capital-centric, more so than most European countries. From a football perspective, Munich is Germany’s capital, Turin is now Italy’s and Paris has struggled, over decades, to become France’s seat of power.

Arsenal were London’s first champions in 1931, the Football League’s 43rdseason. That proved to be a shift in the powerbase of the game in England that extended into the 1950s, possibly a result of the great depression and a more robust economy in the south of the country, as much as it was the prowess of Herbert Chapman and his successors.

The period between 1961 when Tottenham won the “double” and 1971 when Arsenal repeated the feat, saw the North take control once more, with the league championship going to Everton (1963 & 1970), Liverpool (1963-64 & 1965-66), Manchester United (1964-65 & 1966-67), Manchester City (1968) and Leeds United (1968-69).

Arsenal’s “double” was achieved in combat with Leeds (in the league) and Liverpool (cup final). In addition, Tottenham won the Football League Cup and Chelsea the European Cup-Winners’ Cup. It was heralded as London’s greatest season and the precursor of more glory for the capital. However, the age of Liverpool was about to begin and from 1973 through to 1990, they won the title 11 times. It was not until Arsenal dramatically snatched the title in 1989 that an 18-year stretch without the championship ended.

A new era

Since the Premier League was introduced in 1992-93, the football world has changed. Arsenal and Chelsea were the first clubs to seriously exploit the import of foreign talent on a grand scale in England and by 2004, when the Gunners went through an entire league season unbeaten, the first team in the top division to do so since Preston North End in 1899, they had just two regular Englishmen in their line-up, Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole. A year later, Chelsea won their first title since 1955 with a team that included only three English players on a frequent basis – John Terry, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole.

The ability to buy talent from anywhere in the world, along with the growing wealth of London as a city and as a football attraction, contributed to moving the emphasis in English football. Chelsea’s massive cash injection worked in taking an under-achieving club into the very highest bracket, joining London rivals Arsenal, who had largely built their success through sound financial management and innovation. Both clubs became magnets for a new type of supporter, one that had bought into SKY, the Premier and football as a commodity.

London’s multiple trophy seasons

Two trophies Three trophies Four trophies
1960-61 (LGE – Tottenham, FA – Tottenham)
1964-65 (LC – Chelsea, ECWC – West Ham)
1966-67 (FA – Tottenham, LC – QPR)
1969-70 (FA – Chelsea, ICFC – Arsenal)
1970-71 (LGE – Arsenal, FA – Arsenal, LC – Tottenham, ECWC – Chelsea)
1990-91 (LGE – Arsenal, FA – Tottenham)
1992-93 (FA – Arsenal, LC – Arsenal)
1997-98 (LGE – Arsenal, FA – Arsenal, LC – Chelsea, ECWC – Chelsea)
2004-05 (LGE – Chelsea, FA – Arsenal, LC – Chelsea)
2006-07 (FA – Chelsea, LC – Chelsea)
2009-10 (LGE – Chelsea, FA – Chelsea)
2011-12 (FA – Chelsea, UCL – Chelsea)
2016-17 (LGE – Chelsea, FA – Arsenal) 2014-15 (LGE – Chelsea, FA – Arsenal, LC – Chelsea
England’s heroes, but not a single league title between them – Hurst, Moore and Peters of West Ham. Photo: PA

Other clubs in the UK could not keep pace, notably Liverpool and Everton, who had fallen from their 1980s pedestals. How much of this shift was down to the continuing over-emphasis on London has never truly been addressed, but the gentrification and globalisation of the game, creating a product appealing to a cosmopolitan, tech-savvy and mobile clientbase clearly drew fans and business towards London-based success stories.

But the shape of English football at the Premier level depends on who owns the clubs and how much money they are able to generate and invest. Chelsea and Manchester City represent the new type of club, not necessarily the ideal scenario, but two sets of supporters enjoying a trophy-laden era at their respective clubs will care little for that. The opponents that moaned the most and demonstrated the greatest level of resentment to “new money” derived from wealthy benefactors were those that had enjoyed a cosy period of long-term and historic superiority  – Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United. Their supremacy was challenged and they didn’t like it, yet these clubs benefitted from the advantage of size compared to their opponents for many years.

In London itself, the resentment towards Chelsea remains part of the narrative. Just consider that in 1988-89, just 30 years ago, there were seven teams from the capital in the old first division and Chelsea were not among them – but QPR, Millwall, Wimbledon and Charlton were. That underlines the magnitude of change that has taken place in London over 30 years.

League titles won down the decades:

  88-15 19-39 46-66 66-92 92-18 Total 88-39 46-18
London 0 5[5] 5 3 8 21 5 16
Manchester 2 1 4 2 16[6] 25 3 22
Liverpool 4 5 4 14[7] 0 27 9 18
North-West 4 1 1 0 1 7 5 2
North-East 8 [8] 2 0 0 0 10 10 0
East Anglia 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 1
South-East 0 0 2 0 0 2 0 2
Midlands 6[9] 1 3 4 1 15 7 8
Yorkshire 3 5 0 3 0 11 8 3

Golden age?

Before we can consider London football as the UK’s leading football city, it is important to acknowledge the public appeal of clubs in Manchester and Liverpool. The population of Manchester is 510,000 and the combined average gates of United and City total 129,000. Liverpool is another comparable city, with 552,000 people with the aggregate across Liverpool and Everton some 92,000. London has more than eight million people and the average gates of the five Premier clubs from the capital was 250,000 in 2017-18. Of course, today the big clubs draw on much broader catchment areas than in the past, extending to global audiences, but these figures demonstrate Manchester and Liverpool’s historic success and the passion the local population has for its clubs.

London football is certainly more confident that it was in the 1960s-1980s, hence the soundtrack has changed with almost every club adopting the Clash’s London Callingas part of its matchday. However, within the city itself, the gap between the top clubs and those further down the food chain, is quite vast.

London football’s financial clout[10]

Pos.   Revenues
£ m
Profit/Loss
£ m
1 Manchester Utd 581 57
5 Manchester City 454 1.1
6 Arsenal 419 45
8 Chelsea 368 (14)
9 Liverpool 365 40
11 Tottenham H 306 58
14 Leicester City 233 92
17 West Ham United 183 43
18 Southampton 182 42
20 Everton 171 31

London’s size, culture and regional differences mean that unlike Liverpool and Manchester it is impossible to identify a club that reflects the city as a whole. Therefore, comparisons between the three prime soccer cities in England is a difficult exercise. Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham do not represent London, whereas Manchester’s United and City and Liverpool and Everton certainly act as standard bearers for their respective cities.

What each of England’s major football locations do have in common is that they have two or three clubs apiece that rank among the richest in Europe. In the past 15 seasons, all three of Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham have finished in the top six as a triumvirate in 10 campaigns. If there is a trend it is that this does not make them title contenders – indeed, Chelsea and Arsenal are playing in the Europa League rather than the UEFA Champions League in 2018-19.

However, is difficult to see that changing and equally improbable that the trophy haul will completely dry-up at any time soon – this is, after all, still a purple period for London’s top clubs.

[1]AFC Wimbledon was founded in 2002 and entered the Football League in 2011

[2]Arsenal moved from Highbury (capacity 38,000) to the Emirates stadium (capacity 60,000) in 2006

[3]Tottenham temporarily relocated from White Hart Lane (capacity 36,000) to Wembley in 2017

[4]West Ham moved from the Boleyn Ground (capacity 35,000) to the London Stadium (60,000) in 2016

[5]Arsenal champions in 1931, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1938

[6]Manchester United champions in 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013; Manchester City in 2012, 2014, 2018

[7]Liverpool champions 1973, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990; Everton in 1970, 1985, 1987

[8]Sunderland champions in 1892, 1893, 1895, 1902, 1913; Newcastle United in 1904-05, 1906-07, 1908-09

[9]Aston Villa champions in 1894, 1896, 1897, 1899, 1900, 1910

[10]Deloitte Football Money League 2018 (figures based on 2016-17)

All photos: Press Association

One comment

  1. You’ve somewhat prophetically predicted that Tottenham will once again finish the season empty-handed. Ha.

    Interesting article, though. Intrigued what the population/attendance ratio is for the NE clubs. Newcastle have always classed themselves as a massive club which always tickled me given their lack of success. A one-club city with an enormous catchment guaranteed crowds but that doesn’t make them a ‘big club’ in my opinion.

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