FOR such a big and important club, Napoli’s list of major honours is very modest; their latest Serie A title was only their third and their first since 1990 and the days of Diego Maradona. But they are not the only sizeable football entity that has had a modest roll call of achievement over the years. Manchester City and Chelsea’s trophy cabinet was quite underwhelming until they came into money and those clubs that dominated pre-WW2 football, such as Sunderland and Newcastle United, have not brought out the silver polish in decades. In the age of industry, English football had its heartland, and it was in the north and the midlands. In the modern age, those that win have extraordinary financial resources, giving them a competitive edge that dwarfs the advantages of the so-called rich clubs of the past.
It is likely that many of the English football champions of ancient sporting history will never be the top dogs again. There’s only been 24 different champions and some, like Preston North End (1890), Portsmouth (1950), Ipswich Town (1962), Burnley (1960), Sunderland (1936) and Derby County (1975), may forever be in the shadows. It would take a miracle for them to become contenders once more. But miracles do happen, even if they happen be wrapped up in a substantial ownership package. Nobody would have predicted that Leicester City would be Premier League champions, but they did it, and then won the FA Cup five years later.
Newcastle United are the latest club to take the money of the Middle East and this, effectively, elevates them to “big six” status. In fact, they could even displace one of the existing half dozen that have conveniently been bracketed as the crème de la crème of English football. Newcastle United’s glory days were long ago and the club is approaching the centenary of their last league title victory, in 1926-27. They are edging closer to becoming a trophy-hunting team and if anyone other than Manchester City and co. is going to surprise us, then Newcastle will probably be that club. There is arguably not a person alive who remembers 1927’s success and there cannot be too many who even recall their last trophy, the Inter-Cities’ Fairs Cup in 1969.
Some clubs have been waiting for another title for well over 100 years: Preston North End last won the big prize in 1890 (133 years ago), while Sheffield United have been waiting 125 years. West Bromwich Albion were last champions in 1920.
The longest wait between actual championships won is 81 years, the period between Blackburn Rovers 194 triumph and the Jack Walker-inspired victory in 1995. Aston Villa, the team of the late Victorian and Edwardian years, had a 71-year gap filled when they won the title in 1981. And Chelsea, for all their Abramovich-era success, ended 50 years of frustration when they won their second championship in 2005. Manchester City, in 2012, closed a 44-year chasm.
Of the 2022-23 Premier League, 13 clubs have been English champions. The seven of the other 11 can be found in the Championship and four in League One. A total of 68 clubs have never won the title. It may seem a small number of clubs in the Premier but compared to many European countries, it almost smacks of democracy.
In Spain, there have only been nine champions in 91 seasons, but 61 of those have been won by Real Madrid (35) and Barcelona (26). Some clubs have punched below their weight, such as Sevilla, who have a solitary La Liga victory to their name, in 1946, so they have been waiting almost 80 years for their second championship. Real Betis, their neighbours, have been waiting almost 90 years, while Athletic Bilbao will celebrate the 40th anniversary of their last title in 2023-24. Only seven clubs in the current La Liga line-up have been champions.
In Germany, seven of the current 18 top flight teams have won the Bundesliga. Bayern Munich have secured 32 of the 59 championships. Schalke 04 are the most notable team not to have won the Bundesliga, but they did lift the old championship in 1958, some 65 years ago.
Similar to Bayern in Germany and Spain’s Real-Barca duopoly, Italian football has been bossed by a small group, namely the northern sides of Juventus, AC Milan and Inter. This trio has won 74 of 129 titles, with Juve leading the way with 36. Genoa, widely acknowledged as the first club in Italy, were last champions 99 years ago, while Torino have not been at the summit since 1976. Roma and Lazio, the capital city clubs, have won just five scudettos between them.
France has arguably been the most open of league championships over the years, but Paris Saint-Germain are currently standing astride Ligue 1. PSG and Saint-Étienne have won 10 titles in the professional era, but the latter has not hit the top since 1981. Clubs like Bordeaux, Marseille and Lyon have all had their moments of superiority, but since PSG became the property of Qatar Sports Investments, it has been difficult for any club to consistently keep pace with the Parisians.
By the end of 2022-23, the Premier League will have been won by either Arsenal or Manchester City. For Arsenal, if they emerge triumphant, it will end a 19-year barren spell in the league, the longest period without the holy grail since they started winning leagues in 1931. For City, it will complete a hat-trick of league successes, something Arsenal achieved in the 1930s.
When did you last see a title?
|First title||Last title||Years since last title (to 2023)|
|1||Preston North End||1889||1890||133|
|11||West Bromwich Albion||1920||1920||103|
+ Possible champions 2022-23