Tottenham are still waiting, but which clubs have been in the queue longest for a trophy?

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.

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This Tottenham may have peaked

WE’VE been waiting for Tottenham to win something for quite some time, in fact, it’s been a decade or more. For all the praise, all the admiring glances and appreciation of Tottenham’s style, commitment to younger players and English swagger, Leicester City, Wigan Athletic and Swansea have won more since the Spurs last went marching on to their trophy cabinet. Some managers have been sacked for less, but we are talking about London N17, not SW6.

There’s no denying Tottenham, with their marvellous new ground and clutch of decent players, have a good future, probably more secure than many of their London rivals, but it could be that something needs to change before the club realises its new-age potential.

Most teams last for, at best, three years, unless a club establishes a strategy of refreshing its side on a gradual basis, either by transfer activity or youth progression. When Arsenal had some youngsters who, we were told, would provide a glittering and sustainable future for the club, we watched as they descended from promising to unfulfilled, with the players that were genuinely talented and marketable moving on. Tottenham’s team, in the past five years, has grown significantly, but they are still without affirmation in the form of silverware.

They’ve gone close, but they have arguably been usurped by time, the uber-status of Manchester City and the rise of Klopp’s Liverpool. While there was an opportunity to fill the berth vacated by Manchester United (definitely) and Chelsea (temporarily), that window may have been closed for the time being. Tottenham’s future – albeit immediate future – may be behind the current team.

Spurs die-hards may shout and scream about the injustice of such a viewpoint, but the word “potential” has a finite lifespan in football and there comes a time when players don’t get any better, their development stops and the product is the product. Spurs could have arrived at that point.

It is starting to look like Spurs reached their peak in 2017 with last season’s run to the Champions League proving to be the absolute climax of the current team. In fact, because Spurs have a relatively trim squad, the commitment to the Champions League may have been too much to keep burning on all fronts – hence, Spurs have gone from second in 2017 to third in 2018 and fourth in 2019.

Look at the league record and Spurs’ goalscoring record has declined in the past two seasons, from the 86 scored in 2016-17 to 67 in 2018-19. At the same time, Spurs have conceded more goals, from 26 in 2016-17 to 39 in 2018-19. In two years, they have also trebled the number of games lost in a campaign, from four in 2016-17 to 13 last season. They’ve lost 15 points over two seasons.

Part of this “decline” is possibly attributable to the move from White Hart Lane to Wembley, although in the (almost) two seasons at Wembley, Spurs won 25 of their 38 home games, compared to 27 in the last two at WHL.

The absence and fitness of Harry Kane obviously impacts Spurs’ goalscoring power. In 2018-19, he scored 17 league goals in 28 appearances, which represented 24% of the club’s 67 Premier League goals.  In the previous two campaigns, Kane netted 40% of Spurs’ output. Other players who might have weighed-in with goals were less proficient than they had been in 2016-17 and 2017-18. Dele Alli, for example, netted just five goals after scoring 37 in three seasons, while Christian Eriksen scored eight after twice getting into double figures in four seasons. Lucas Moura, with 10 goals, compensated.

Harry Kane of Tottenham

Kane is now 26 and at the peak of his powers. If Tottenham can keep him, he will be the bedrock on which the current and any future team is built. But it is possible that Kane will move, either domestically or abroad. He’s under contract until June 2024 and currently valued by CIES Football Observatory between € 150 and € 200 million. Inflation aside, he may never be more expensive and therefore, Tottenham may have to face the dilemma of not knowing when to cash in on their prize asset.

Kane hasn’t mentioned a move recently, but Mauricio Pochettino is fidgeting uncomfortably about the future and another key man, Christian Eriksen, is also looking to leave the club, although Pochettino has said a move will be “nearly impossible”. Dele Alli is in a similar position, although he’s 23 years old. He’s also on contract until 2024 and is valued over € 100 million.

Tottenham have been considered a “young” team for a few years, but their squad is no longer as youthful as it once was. Recent line-ups have averaged 27.2 and 28.2 – and generally, their teams have been heading towards 27. Compare that to the latest teams for Chelsea and Manchester United, which have averaged under 25 years of age.

While some commentators have suggested a cycle may have ended when Spurs were beaten in Madrid, they had in fact reached the pinnacle of their achievements, a look at recent signings does play to the philosophy of buying young, potential-rich talent. Ryan Sessegnon (19) was bought from Fulham for £ 25 million, while Tanguy Ndombele (22) arrived from Lyon in a deal that could head north of € 70 million. It could be that a new cycle is being kicked-off.

On the face of it, there’s not a lot wrong with Tottenham. They have kicked-off their 2019-20 campaign with roughly the same passing rate per match as in 2018-19 (561 per game), with an accuracy rate at 83% (2019 87%). Their on-target shooting rate is just 31.25% at present, which is down on the past five years. Their possession ratio, as compared to the last 10 games of 2018-19 is virtually unchanged at 59%.

Psychologically, though, Tottenham need to get over the hurdle of winning a major honour, which is important, regardless of the fact they have qualified for the UEFA Champions League. Their best chance with this particular team may have passed. Tottenham are not the team they were two years ago, but it won’t take much to recreate it.

Photo: PA

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When and where trophies are won

PRIOR to the 2018-19 season, the most successful Premier League team, in terms of domestic trophies won over the past decade, was Chelsea with eight wins. Just behind the Blues were the Manchester duo, City and United, with seven apiece. City have since drawn level with their League Cup victory earlier this season and in all probability, they will move ahead of Chelsea very soon.

Look at the winners of the three domestic prizes from 2008-09 to 2017-18 and the polarisation of English football becomes very clear – 26 of the 30 trophies were won by the top five of Chelsea (8), City (7), United (7), Arsenal (3) and Liverpool (1). The four “outsiders” were Wigan, Swansea, Birmingham and Leicester, all of whom won one trophy each. A notable absentee in the winners’ enclosure is Tottenham, whose last trophy was the Football League Cup in 2008.

Tottenham’s 10-year barren spell could become 11 in 2018-19 and that would be the worst post-WW2 run by Spurs, although since 1990, picking up major prizes has been a tough call for the north Londoners. Spurs have won 15 trophies since 1946, an average of a tin pot every 4.8 years, underlining the poor current sequence, despite all the plaudits the club receives. Spurs have, traditionally, won honours in clusters: the period between 1960-61 and 1962-63 when they won the Football League, two FA Cups and a European prize; the early 70s flourish of two FL Cups and the inaugural UEFA Cup; and the early 1980s when they won two FA Cups and another UEFA Cup.

Similarly, the past 10 years have not been too kind to Liverpool, although they’ve reached a number of cup finals, including the Champions League and Europa League. Liverpool had a glorious and unprecedented spell of success between 1972-73 and 1989-90 when they finished the season with a trophy in 15 of 18 campaigns. In the period from 1946-47, Liverpool have won 37 major trophies, an average of one every 1.95 years. However, it has been 28 years since the club won the league title and they are currently in their seventh season without a trophy. Their only major honour in the past decade was the Football League Cup, won in 2012.

Liverpool fans claim that the most successful clubs over the past 10 years, Chelsea and Manchester City, have no history, but they’ve been busy creating their heritage, winning 17 cups between them. There’s a certain irony that these two clubs were relative under-achievers before money from Russia and the Middle East was injected into them. Prior to Roman Abramovich arriving at Chelsea, they had won one league title, three FA Cups, two League Cups and the European Cup-Winners’ Cup twice. Chelsea’s overall total of major honours, including Europe, now totals 23 but, importantly, the past 10 years has seen them win 10, including three Premier titles, the Champions League and the Europa League. It’s a remarkable record considering that between 1971 and 1997, Chelsea did not lift a single prize.

Manchester City, prior to their current golden era, which could yet yield an incredible quadruple, was in the late 1960s/early 70s, when they won the Football League (1968), FA Cup (1969), Football League Cup (1970) and European Cup-Winners’ Cup (1970). Since 2010-11, City have won three league titles, four Football League Cups (including this season) and the FA Cup. In post-war football, City’s haul equates to a trophy every 5.53 years, but this figure should start to come down significantly if the club continues its current trajectory.

The rise of Chelsea and Manchester City has aso been resented by their local rivals and notably by clubs that previously formed part of the elite of English football – Arsenal and Manchester United. Chelsea’s rise certainly put Arsenal in the shade and it was no coincidence that as Abramovich’s Chelsea started to win trophies, Arsenal, under Arsene Wenger, discovered that the secret ingredient that had given the Gunners such an advantage was quickly eroded by the financial clout provided by Russian money.

In an eight-year period between 1997-98 and 2004-05, Arsenal won three Premier titles and four FA Cups. They won the “double” twice, in 1998 and 2002. This sequence also included the 2003-04 title win that saw the team go a whole season unbeaten in the league and earn the nickname, “the invincibles”. Since then, Arsenal endured a frustrating period of falling short of major honours, although UEFA Champions League qualification was achieved on a consistent basis. Wenger came under heavy criticism at the back end of his long reign, but Arsenal fans seemingly forgot that the club went through an even more difficult period between 1953 and 1970 when success constantly eluded the Gunners.

Manchester United were equally bent out of shape over the ascendancy of “new money” clubs like Chelsea and City. Their post-war haul of trophies amounts to 39, a prize every 1.85 years. Just as Liverpool dominated the mid-1970s through to 1990, United finally regained their winning ways under Sir Alex Ferguson and won 13 league titles between 1992-93 and 2012-13. But it is now overlooked that the club went from 1967 to 1993 without a league success.

Throughout football history, there have always been teams that have risen to the top and dominated for a given period. In the 1930s, it was Arsenal, in the 1950s, it was Busby’s ill-fated “Babes”, in the mid-1960s it was United and Liverpool and in the 1970s, Leeds United were the team everyone wanted to beat. Liverpool’s reign in the mid-1970s to late-1980s preceded another golden period for United, with interruptions from Arsenal and latterly Chelsea. The next era is, arguably, the time of Manchester City – heavily resourced, wealthy, in possession of top professionals on and off the pitch. If they do win four prizes, they will be the first British side to achieve that feat since Celtic scooped everything in 1967. Don’t bet against it.

Current Premier League 2018-19 and post-war domestic success (up to end of 2017-18)

  Lge titles (last won) FA Cup FL Cup Years since any trophy
Manchester Utd 18 (2013) 11 (2016) 5 (2017) 1
Liverpool 14 (1990) 7 (2006) 8 (2012) 6
Arsenal 8 (2004) 11 (2017) 2 (1993) 1
Chelsea 6 (2017) 8 (2018) 5 (2015) 0
Tottenham H 2 (1961) 6 (1991) 4 (2008) 10
Manchester City 4 (2018) 3 (2011) 5 (2018) 0
Everton 4 (1987) 3 (1995) 0 23
Wolverhampton W 3 (1959) 2 (1960) 2 (1980) 38
Leicester City 1 (2016) 0 3 (2000) 2
West Ham United 0 3 (1980) 0 38
Newcastle United 0 3 (1955) 0 49*
Burnley 1 (1960) 0 0 58
Southampton 0 1 (1976) 0 42
Huddersfield Town 0 0 0 92
Crystal Palace 0 0 0 n/a
Bournemouth 0 0 0 n/a
Brighton 0 0 0 n/a
Cardiff City 0 0 0 91
Fulham 0 0 0 n/a
Watford 0 0 0 n/a

*Newcastle last trophy the Inter-Cities Fairs’ Cup, won in 1968-69

Photo: PA