Which English football clubs have had the most promotions and relegations?

Which English football clubs have had the most promotions and relegations?

Hard pill to swallow

Relegation and promotion is key to the continued success of English football and it has been a feature of the Football League (and more recently the Premier League) since the early days of the game. Relegation, especially from the top flight, can be a hard pill to swallow although in many cases this is followed by a swift promotion straight back to the higher division. Other clubs drop down the divisions like a proverbial stone and in some cases drop out of the Football League altogether, a notable case being Luton Town who dropped into the Conference at the end of 2008/09 and then over the following 14 years hauled themselves up to the Premier League where they will ply their trade next season. The leading UK betting sites make the Hatters firm favourites to drop straight back down into the Championship and should this prove to be the case, they will join numerous other sides whose time in the top-tier has been restricted to just a single season.

Pinnacle of the English game

In the long history of the Football League, there have been many well-known clubs who have lifted themselves to the pinnacle of the English game while also floundering in depths of the lowest division. One such club is Carlisle United who have spent just a single season in the top tier after winning promotion to Division One for the 1974/75 campaign. After lifting themselves to the top of the league table after three games (and thus briefly becoming the best team in the country), they subsequently dropped rapidly down the table and suffered relegation back to the Second Division at the end of the season. Two seasons later the Cumbrians found themselves in the third tier and since then they have mainly conducted their business on the bottom two rungs of the Football League ladder. 

European champions

Many clubs have enjoyed spectacular runs to the top-flight of the English game and beyond, the most famous example being Nottingham Forest. The Tricky Trees, a relatively small provincial club at the time, won promotion to the First Division in 1976/77 and they were subsequently crowned English champions in 1977/78, however manager Brian Clough had bigger things in mind and the side became European champions in 1978/79 and 1979/80. This spectacular run is unlikely to be matched for many years to come, however some clubs have enjoyed notable promotions from lower divisions to claim silverware at the highest level.  

One of the biggest shocks

One of the most famous runs in recent years involved Leicester City who, after plying their trade in the third tier in 2008/09, hauled themselves into the Premier League in 2014/15. By the turn of the year they resided at the foot of the table with seven points separating them from safety, however they escaped the drop thanks to an excellent run of seven wins from their closing nine games. The following season, the leading betting sites had them priced as high as 5000/1 to win the Premier League and, in one of the biggest ever shocks in the English game, this is exactly what they did.

Club on the rise

One of the biggest rises through the divisions in recent years has been Salford City who enjoyed four promotions in just five seasons. At the turn of the Millennium, Salford plied their trade in the North West Counties league with some games attracting attendances as low as 50, however they are now a Football League side and only just missed out on the League Two play-offs by a single point at the close of 2022/23. With star names like David Beckham and other high profile ex Manchester United players involved with the club, the likelihood is that the club will be on the rise in the coming seasons and many leading bookmakers such as The Pools will regularly feature them amongst the favourites for promotion. 

Big falls from grace

In the early 1980s, Bristol City – then a regular player in the higher divisions – suffered three back-to-back relegations while Wolverhampton Wanderers, who finished 13th in the Premier League in 2022/23, suffered the same fate in the same decade. While these are undeniably big falls from grace, a handful of clubs have fallen even further. Swindon Town became the first ever former Premier League side to slide down to the fourth tier of the English game, while Oldham Athletic and Coventry City would also drop down to the bottom rung, thus becoming the only 3 out of 50 current and former Premier League sides to do so. Oldham would subsequently slide even further down the ladder and at the end of 2021/22 they found themselves out of the Football League altogether.  

European champions plying their trade in the third tier

Manchester City are currently the most highly regarded club in English football with five Premier League titles in six seasons (along with one runners-up prize during that time) as well as a European crown, however as recently as 1998/99 they were plying their trade in the third tier against the likes of Macclesfield Town, York City, Chesterfield and Oldham Athletic, four sides which now don’t even feature in the Football league line-up. 

Record holder

In terms of total number of promotions and relegations, Notts County take second place with a grand total of 30 since the formation of the Football League (including one relegation and promotion out of and back into the Football League). Nevertheless the record holder is Grimsby Town who have suffered no less than 17 relegations and enjoyed 15 promotions since their formation 145 years ago. The Mariners’ best ever league position was 5th in Division One back in 1934/35, however in recent seasons they have generally plied their trade in the lower divisions and dropped out of the Football League altogether between 2010 and 2016. 

Seasons in the sun

The promotion and relegation drama will continue for decades to come and many big names will find themselves in the lower tiers of the game, while some smaller clubs may have their brief seasons in the sun. The leading bookmakers will continue to offer betting markets and free bets for who they think will drop down or haul themselves into higher tier each season while the BBC website will also give their predictions towards the end of each season. This is key to the continued success of English football and long may it continue.