They might be giants: 10 would-be champions

ARSENAL’s defeat at the hands of Manchester City was emphatic and swung the pendulum away from the Gunners in the Premier League title race. People are starting to write-off Mikel Arteta’s side, but there can still be a twist or two in the last few weeks of the season. Like Liverpool a few seasons back, Arsenal have had the misfortune of going head-to-head with the well-oiled machine that is Pep Guardiola’s City. Should Arsenal finish runners-up, they will be in very good company; there have been some excellent teams that fell short at the final hurdle.

1912-13: Aston Villa

In 1913, Villa and Sunderland were the Manchester City and Liverpool of their day. Both teams were chasing the “double” and were pushed by teams like The Wednesday, who were not far behind. Sunderland edged the title by four points – they won three out of four points off of Villa – but Villa won the FA Cup final against Sunderland at the Crystal Palace in front of a record crowd of 121,000. Villa’s team was packed with big names of the era. They had legendary goalkeeper Sam Hardy who joined the club in the summer of 1912 from Liverpool. Harry Hampton was the star turn, however, netting 31 goals in 1912-13. He was nicknamed “the Wellington whirlwind” after the town of his  birth. Hampton, like Clem Stephenson, was an England player and one of the leading forwards in the years before WW1. Stephenson  would go on to play for Huddersfield, where he had a key role in the Yorkshire club’s hat-trick of league titles in the 1920s.

Villa’s league record:

    P W D L F A Pts
1 Sunderland 38 25 4 9 86 43 54
2 Aston Villa 38 19 12 7 86 52 50
3 The Wednesday 38 21 7 10 75 55 49

1923-24: Cardiff City

For the first time in the game’s history, the title was decided by goal average, and Cardiff were denied their first championship success. They went into the final game on top and needing a win to make sure of the top prize. Huddersfield were in second place but needed to win by three clear goals to have a chance of being champions. Cardiff were awarded a penalty in the 70thminute of their final game at Birmingham City. Top scorer Len Davies, who was not the team’s regular penalty-taker, but his effort was easily saved. Huddersfield were winning 1-0 against Nottingham Forest, so the title, at that point, was still bound for Ninian Park. But two more goals from Herbert Chapman’s side gave the Terriers a 3-0 win and with Cardiff drawing 0-0, Huddersfield won the title by 0.024 of a goal! Cardiff City’s team was captained by Fred Keenor, an uncompromising, hard-tackling player who won more than 40 caps for Wales. Keenor’s statue stands outside Cardiff City’s stadium, holding the FA Cup the Bluebirds won in 1927, the only time the cup has been lifted by a non-English club.

Cardiff’s league record:

    P W D L F A Pts
1 Huddersfield T 42 23 11 8 60 33 57
2 Cardiff City 42 22 13 7 61 34 57
3 Sunderland 42 22 9 11 71 54 53

1959-60: Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves were denied a hat-trick of league titles by Burnley, but the race was edge-of-the-seat stuff. With two games to go, Burnley were level on points with Wolves, who had just one fixture left. Wolves had hammered the young Burnley team 6-1 at Molineux at the end of March. On the final day of the campaign, Wolves won 5-1 at Chelsea, while Burnley drew with Fulham at home. That pushed Burnley down to third place, one point behind Wolves and level on points with Spurs, but they still had to visit Manchester City on May 2. A win would give them their first League Championship since 1921. Burnley won 2-1 to claim the title, leaving Wolves to console themselves with their FA Cup final triumph. The 1959-60 season was the club’s first without legendary skipper Billy Wright, who retired in 1959, but the team was still largely the one that had won the title in 1958 and 1959, though, with players like Eddie Clamp, Ron Flowers, Jimmy Murray and Peter Broadbent lining-up in the old gold shirts.

Wolves’ league record:

    P W D L F A Pts
1 Burnley 42 24 7 11 85 61 55
2 Wolves 42 24 6 12 106 67 54
3 Tottenham H 42 21 11 10 86 50 53

1967-68: Manchester United

United could well have won the title on the final day of the season, but their local rivals, Manchester City, won 4-3 at Newcastle United and the reigning champions slipped-up at home to Sunderland. They had been locked in combat with City all season, who had a vibrant young team managed by Joe Mercer. United were distracted by their pursuit of the European Cup, which included difficult ties against Gornik and Real Madrid. They eventually won the Cup at Wembley by beating Benfica 4-1. The result that really cost United the championship was on April 29 when they were beaten 6-3 at West Bromwich Albion, but they had shown signs of vulnerability, losing at home to Chelsea and Liverpool and away at Coventry in the run-in. Despite having George Best in his prime and the experience of Bobby Charlton and injury-prone Denis Law, United would have to wait until 1993 for their next title.

United’s league record:

    P W D L F A Pts
1 Manchester City 42 26 6 10 86 43 58
2 Manchester Utd 42 24 8 10 89 55 56
3 Liverpool 42 22 11 9 71 40 55

1970-71: Leeds United

The battle between Arsenal and Leeds United was attritional, a clash of the ultra-professionals that defined the early 1970s. Leeds, widely considered to be the better team, were eventually beaten-off by an Arsenal side that won the double. Leeds had suffered a heart-breaking season in 1969-70, but once more, they were fighting on all fronts: the Inter Cities Fairs Cup, the league and the FA Cup. Into 1971, they suffered some setbacks. First of all, they were beaten at home by Liverpool in the league and then a week later, they lost 3-2 at Colchester in the FA Cup. There was worse to come, although at the beginning of April, Leeds were six points ahead of Arsenal who had three games in hand. While the Gunners kept chipping away, Leeds drew at Newcastle and then on April 17 came the killer blow. West Bromwich Albion won 2-1 at Elland Road thanks to an “offside” goal from Jeff Astle that sparked a pitch invasion. Leeds’ defeat and an Arsenal win meant the two teams were level on 58 points, but the Londoners had a better goal average. Leeds regained some ground when they beat Arsenal at Elland Road on April 26, thanks to a disputed goal from Jack Charlton. Leeds were tiring and they played four games in eight days to end their domestic campaign. They had 64 points and Arsenal were one point behind on 63 with a game to go – the North London derby with Tottenham, which they won 1-0. Leeds were bridesmaids once more.

Leeds’ league record:

    P W D L F A Pts
1 Arsenal 42 29 7 6 71 29 65
2 Leeds United 42 27 10 5 72 30 64
3 Tottenham H 42 19 14 9 54 33 52

1975-76: Queens Park Rangers

QPR manager Sexton was one of the few English coaches who made the effort to attend the World Cup in Germany in 1974 and when he saw the the Dutch and German teams, he was keen to bring the concept of “total football” to England. In 1975-76, QPR were unbeaten until October 4 and from the end of January, QPR went on a superb run that included 11 wins and a draw in 12 games. On March 6, Rangers went top after beating Coventry 4-1 and after overcoming Manchester City 1-0, they were one point ahead of Manchester United and Derby and two in front of Liverpool. They barely put a foot wrong, but when they went to Norwich, they were beaten 3-2, despite outplaying their hosts. It was a costly defeat that sent a signal of hope to the other clear challenger for the title – Liverpool. Rangers ended the campaign with a 2-0 win against Leeds United at Loftus Road. It put them top of the table with 59 points, but Liverpool – one point behind – had one game to play, against struggling Wolves. It ended 3-1 to Liverpool and Rangers finished runners-up. This was a wonderful team to watch, with a solid keeper in Phil Parkes, experience in the form of John Hollins, Frank McClintock and David Webb, a cultured midfield that included Don Masson and Gerry Francis, and the sublime skill of Stan Bowles. But it was, essentially, a one-season side that was so unlucky not to be crowned champions.

QPR’s league record:

    P W D L F A Pts
1 Liverpool 42 23 14 5 66 31 60
2 QPR 42 24 11 7 67 33 59
3 Manchester United 42 23 10 9 68 42 56

1980-81: Ipswich Town

Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town never won a title, despite being contenders on a few occasions, almost always being denied by the size of their squad. In 1980-81, Ipswich were the best team around, but their playing resources were stretched by seeking success on three fronts: the league, the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup. Ipswich had a marvellous, continental-style team, inspired by two Dutchmen in Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijjsen and including England internationals Mick Mills, Terry Butcher, Eric Gates, Paul Mariner and Russell Osman. Added to that were Scots George Burley, Alan Brazil and John Wark. Ipswich had to battle it out with Aston Villa, whom they beat twice in the league and once in the FA Cup. After beating Villa for the third time on April 14, their title bid collapsed as they lost four of their last five games. In the FA Cup, they were beaten at the semi-final stage, going out to Manchester City by 1-0, ironically at Villa Park. But they did win the UEFA Cup, beating AZ Alkmaar 5-4 on aggregate over two games. Villa may have finished champions, but Ipswich won many friends for their commitment to flowing football. How their followers, who have seen the club slump to the third tier of English football, must hanker for the days when an unfashionable club from East Anglia delighted the football world.

Ipswich’s league record:

    P W D L F A Pts
1 Aston Villa 42 26 8 8 72 40 60
2 Ipswich Town 42 23 10 9 77 43 56
3 Arsenal 42 19 15 8 61 45 53

1985-86: Everton

Everton and Liverpool were neck-and-neck all season but it was the red half of the city that came out on top in both the league and FA Cup. Everton, defending champions in the first division, were arguably a stronger side than their title winning combination of 1985, thanks to the addition of England striker Gary Lineker, who scored 38 goals in 1985-86, his only season with the club. It was a close-run title race that also included West Ham United, Manchester United and Chelsea and on the final day, the championship could have gone to three clubs. While West Ham won at West Bromwich and Everton trounced Southampton 6-1, Liverpool won the day with a 1-0 victory at Chelsea, with Lineker scoring a hat-trick. Everton and West Ham still had one game to play, against each other, but Kenny Dalglish’s team could not be caught. A few days later, Everton’s agony was complete as they lost an all-Merseyside FA Cup final to Liverpool, despite going ahead through Lineker
The Everton side was largely the one that won the title in 1985, with Neville Southall in goal, a defence that included Gary Stevens, Kevin Ratcliffe, Derek Mountfield and Pat Van Den Hauwe, a midfield of Peter Reid, Kevin Sheedy, Paul Bracewell and Trevor Steven, and a front two of Lineker and Graeme Sharp.

Everton’s league record:

    P W D L F A Pts
1 Liverpool 42 26 10 6 89 37 88
2 Everton 42 26 8 8 87 41 86
3 West Ham Utd 42 26 6 10 74 40 84

1995-96: Newcastle United

Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle were the neutrals’ favourites, a team committed to attack and entertainment. But this flamboyant edge made them vulnerable, particularly to teams that would exploit their somewhat cavalier approach to defending or closing down a game. Keegan’s Newcastle led the Premier League at Christmas 1995 and had a 10-point lead at the top, which extended to 12 points into the new year. However, a run of five defeats in eight games enabled a determined Manchester United, who were rejuvenated by the turn of Eric Cantona from suspension, to overtake them and win the title by four points.The Newcastle approach was encapsulated in a game at Liverpool when the home side beat the Geordies 4-3 after they had led three times.
Newcastle’s team included flair players like David Ginola, Peter Beardsley and, latterly, Faustino Asprilla. Les Ferdinand, a big-money signing from QPR, scored 25 goals in his first season with the club. Other big signings included midfielder David Batty from Leeds and full-back Warren Barton. Newcastle are still waiting for thatfirst title win since 1927.

Newcastle’s league record:

    P W D L F A Pts
1 Manchester Utd 38 25 7 6 73 35 82
2 Newcastle Utd 38 24 6 8 66 37 78
3 Liverpool 38 20 11 7 70 34 71

2018-19: Liverpool

With 97 points, one defeat, 30 victories and a lethal forward line that netted 56 goals, Liverpool represent the most prolific of all runners-up. Their only league defeat, unsurprisingly, came at champions Manchester City in Liverpool’s 21stPremier League game. Jürgen Klopp’s team went top on January 8 (they had led the table early in the season, too) and stayed their until the end of January. Around this time, the Reds drew six times in eight games and this effectively cost them their first title since pre-Premier days. Despite winning their last nine, Liverpool were unable to prevent Manchester City from regaining their crown. Nevertheless, the general consensus was that this had been the most exciting Liverpool team since the club’s glory days. This was underlined by their goalscoring prowess, with Sadio Mané and Mohammed Salah both netting 22 goals and being joint winners of the Golden Boot (along with Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang). Roberto Firmino also grabbed 12 league goals. Liverpool’s team also included the outstanding central defender Virgil van Dijk.

Liverpool’s league record:

    P W D L F A Pts
1 Manchester City 38 32 2 4 95 23 98
2 Liverpool 38 30 7 1 89 22 97
3 Chelsea 38 21 9 8 63 39 72

Other teams worthy of honourable mention:
Sheffield United (1899-00), Aston Villa (1902-03), Manchester United (1946-47), Wolves (1949-50), Preston North End (1952-53), Leeds United (1964-65), Manchester City (1976-77), Liverpool (1988-89), Manchester United (1991-92) and Chelsea (2007-08).

Liverpool in profit again, but expenses are high

THE 2021-22 season was a remarkable campaign for Liverpool; two domestic trophies and two near-misses, including a third UEFA Champions League final in five years. It was arguably a year that took so much out of Liverpool’s squad – 63 games across all competitions – they have struggled to recover in 2022-23. It could also have signalled the beginning of the end of Jürgen Klopp’s great Liverpool side.

Given the success on the pitch, it was reasonable to suggest the club should avoid making a third-successive loss, albeit in the form of a modest £ 7.3 million pre-tax profit. Liverpool generated record revenues of £ 594 million, the highest since the pre-pandemic days of 2018-19 (£ 533 million). This figure was just £ 19 million lower than Manchester City’s £ 613 million and was a shade higher than Manchester United’s £ 583 million. The only other club to earn more was Real Madrid, whose income totalled £ 605 million. 

Liverpool’s expenses were high in 2021-22, however, totalling £ 545 million (92% of turnover). Within that, players’ wages went up by 17% to £ 366 million, which equates to 62% of income. The increase was largely attributable to the team’s success, which would have surely generated performance bonuses.

Total wages were, however, more than Manchester City’s £ 353 million, but lower than United’s £ 384 million. Since 2017, Liverpool’s wage bill has increased by 76% and operating costs for Anfield have risen by 40% in the past five years. As recently as 2019-20, expenses consumed 101% of income, partly due to the impact of the pandemic.

The biggest source of income in 2021-22 was broadcasting, which contributed £ 261 million (44%) and was slightly lower than 2020-21. Commercial income, at £ 247 million, was 14% higher than the previous year, boosted by a number of new partnerships and sponsorship deals. Matchday came in at £ 86 million, representing a return to normal conditions after the restrictions of covid-19 which almost wiped out the revenue stream.

While some Liverpool fans may be frustrated by a relatively tepid transfer policy in the past year, the club has spent heavily on infrastructure projects to the tune of £ 250 million over the past five years, including the £ 88 million expansion of the Anfield Road stand that will increase the capacity of the stadium to 61,000. In 2021-22, Liverpool’s average attendance was 53,027 – the fifth highest in the Premier League.

Liverpool spent £ 73.5 million on players in 2021-22 and raised £ 46.6 million from sales. The net outlay for the season, according to Transfermarkt, was € 57.45 million, the ninth highest in the Premier League. Gross outlay was € 95.90 million, compared to Arsenal’s € 167 million, Manchester United’s € 142 million and Manchester City’s € 138 million. 

Transfermarkt values Liverpool’s squad, which has an average age of 26.5 and comprises 70% foreign players, at € 931 million. By comparison, only two clubs have higher squad values: Manchester City and Chelsea, both valued at € 1.08bn.

Liverpool’s external net debt amounts to £ 74.6 million, while they still owe £ 71.4 million to the Fenway Group of the £ 110 million lent to the club for the building of the Anfield’s new main stand.

Liverpool’s owners have come in for criticism from the fans this season due to the lack of success, but Fenway announced in 2022 they were open to fresh investment from outside parties, but they recently said the club is not for sale at the moment. As we have seen at other clubs, when things are not going well, an owner can become unpopular very quickly after being praised for their approach when the trophies roll in. Careful what you wish for, they say…