EVERTON and Tottenham fought-out an exciting FA Cup fith round tie this week, with the Toffees winning by the odd goal in nine. It has been 26 years since Everton lifted a trophy, 33 since the league title last ended up at Goodison Park. Having made it to the last eight, the blue half of Liverpool must have fancied the chances of Carlo Ancelotti finally ending the most barren spell in Everton’s history. They now face Manchester City in the quarter-finals – a big ask.
Everton have had periods when success eluded them, such as between 1939 and 1963 and 1970 and 1984, but in 2020, the club created an unwanted record in making it a quarter of a century without a tin pot in the boardroom. Everton reached the FA Cup final in 2009, but they were beaten by Chelsea.
Of the last eight in the FA Cup, six have been past winners with just Bournemouth and Leicester City still to win the competition. Of course, there are Premier League clubs who have never secured a major prize: Brighton, Crystal Palace and Fulham, who have all been to a Wembley final but have never won important silverware. Equally, there are others whose finest moments are becoming rather sepia-tinted, such as Aston Villa (1996), Burnley (1960), Leeds United (1992), West Ham (1980), West Bromwich Albion (1968), Wolves (1980), Newcastle United (1969), Southampton (1976) and Sheffield United (1926). For all of these clubs, the definition of “success” has come in the form of a promotion winning campaign.
Garlands comes in all shapes and sizes, but for the elite band of clubs that have dominated football for the past two decades, success translates into titles and cup wins. Since 2000-01, the so-called “big six” clubs, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham have won 53 out of 60 domestic honours in English football. Of these, Tottenham have won just one, the Football League Cup in 2008, although they have a chance of winning the Football League Cup in 2020-21. The only club to win the Premier title from outside the top six was Leicester City in 2016.
In addition, the only English clubs to win European honours in that timeframe have come from the six, Chelsea (2012, 2013, 2019) and Liverpool (2001, 2005, 2019) lifting three apiece and Manchester United two (2008, 2017). Arsenal (2006) and Tottenham (2019) have both been beaten finalists in the Champions League, but Manchester City have yet to extend their era of success to Europe.
It is easy to presume that today’s successful clubs have always been regular visitors to the winners’ podium, but that’s not the case. Tottenham went 30 years after their 1921 FA Cup victory before they were triumphant once more, while Arsenal didn’t start winning until 1930. Chelsea didn’t win a thing until their 50th year and then went 26 years without silverware between 1971 and 1997. Before Manchester City were bought by Abu Dhabi investors, they hadn’t won a single trophy between 1976 and 2011. Manchester United’s leanest era was between 1911 and 1948 and as they were fond of reminding everyone, they didn’t win the league title for 26 years until they were champions in 1993. As for Liverpool, although they didn’t win the league for 30 years, they still managed to pick up trophies in the period between 1990 and 2020.
For the majority of the 92 clubs that make-up the Premier and English Football League, promotion and a cup run are the best they can realistically hope for. Interestingly, of the current Premier, the most recent success for 12 of the 20 clubs has been promotion, all of which has been achieved between 2012 and 2020.
In the Championship, only two clubs can count a trophy as their most recent triumph, Birmingham in 2011 and Swansea in 2013. Nineteen clubs have won promotion since 2012, with three former Premier clubs, Derby County, Stoke City and Nottingham Forest, last winning promotion of any sort in 2007 (Derby) and 2008 (Stoke and Forest).
League One, surprisingly, has two clubs who have won major prizes in the 21st century, Portsmouth (2008) and Wigan Athletic (2013). There are other clubs who have held silverware, but not recently: Swindon (1969), Charlton (1947), Blackpool (1953), Wimbledon (1988), Oxford United (1986), Sunderland (1973) and Ipswich Town (1981). All bar two members of the division have enjoyed promotion success since 2011, namely Ipswich (2000) and Sunderland (2007).
In League Two, the club that has waited the longest period of time without any form of success is Oldham Athletic, who last won promotion in 1990-91 from the old division two to the top flight. Oldham’s current situation has been well publicised, but the club’s decline over the past 27 years has seen them fall from the Premier League to the second tier (1994), second to third tier (1997) and finally, a slump to the bottom rung (2018).
Supporters of all clubs live in hope of an unforgettable season, which for most is moving up a division. Very few clubs have not experienced this over the past 15 years but some, such as the big six and Everton are unlikely to be in that bracket given the way the modern game has been shaped. It shows that hope is certainly not forlorn.
There are also clubs that have not had a glimpse of a trophy for decades, so when you hear fans complaining about 10 years without a bauble, you sympathise with the loyal followers of Newcastle and Sunderland and those that have never even tasted true glory. We all accept that football is a game of winners and losers and that nobody has the divine right to expect regular success. It is widely acknowledged that in the modern era, the rich are generally the winners and romantic fairy tales are rare. We also know that the margin between victory and defeat is precariously narrow. Yet even though we are aware of all these terms and conditions, there are still some clubs that have been losers for far too long.