14 teams that really weren't too good to go down
Manchester City, 1937/38
Younger football fans will only know City as the Abu Dhabi-backed, big-spending global powerhouses of today, but the club had a very different identity for much of its history.
The 1937/38 season was perfectly representative of the phenomenon known as ‘typical City’ or ‘City-itis’: Wilf Wild’s men, who were reigning First Division champions, were relegated with a positive goal average and the league’s best scoring record. Over 70 seven years on, they remain the only English side to top the division and then suffer relegation the following campaign.
When Germany finally introduced a professional league in 1963, there was, predictably, an initial state of flux: seven different clubs won the Bundesliga in the first seven years of its existence. Nürnberg were one of those, lifting the league title in May 1968. Twelve months later they were relegated.
Despite that championship win, manager Max Merkel brought in 13 new players and let 11 go, including the prolific striker Franz Brungs. Nürnberg’s new squad never really gelled and Der Club were sent down on the final day after a 3-0 loss at Köln.
Manchester United, 1973/74
It’s often misconstrued today that Manchester City’s Denis Law relegated former club Manchester United with his backheeled winner in the 1974 end-of-season derby. Results elsewhere actually meant that Tommy Docherty’s outfit would have gone down anyway.
A brief renaissance in spring – United gained nine points from a possible 10 against Chelsea, Burnley, Norwich, Everton and Newcastle – looked like it may be enough to lift the Red Devils out of trouble, but a draw and three losses in their final four games condemned the European Cup winners of 1968 to the second tier.
United’s problem was scoring goals: they managed just 38 in their 42 league games, with goalkeeper Alex Stepney’s two penalties enough to make him the club’s joint-top scorer at Christmas. That 1-0 defeat to City in the season’s penultimate game saw United relegated for the first time since the 1930s.
For four years, Swansea showed everyone exactly how not to run a football club.
An outstanding rise saw Swansea soar from the Fourth to First Division in four years between 1977 and 1981, but the fall was equally rapid. The club was dogged with financial problems between 1982 and 1986 and couldn’t prevent their dramatic bottom-to-top ascent in reverse.
Each season they appeared ‘too good to go down’ but proved people wrong time and again. In the wrong way.
Nottingham Forest, 1992/93
Everyone has their favourite Brian Clough quote, be it about the building of Rome in a day or being in the top one managers in the business. An interview with his friend Barry Davies just minutes after Forest’s relegation in 1993 is rather more distressing and poignant to watch than the sharp, mischievous and more well-known exchanges with Don Revie and John Motson, however.
In the clip, Clough is close to tears having just seen his side relegated from the inaugural Premier League in his final season at the City Ground. His alcoholism had long set in by this stage and, despite the emotional farewell he received from grateful Forest fans following the fatal 2-0 defeat to Sheffield United, this was an avoidable relegation.
The side of 1992/93 were significantly weaker than the back-to-back European Cup winners of 1979 and 1980, yet they were still good enough to survive: Teddy Sheringham may have been inexplicably sold to Tottenham the previous summer with Des Walker also departing, but the squad could still count on Clough’s son Nigel, Stuart Pearce and Roy Keane. Nevertheless, Forest spent most of the season rooted to the bottom and Clough’s extraordinary managerial career ended with a rare taste of failure.
Champions in 1990/91 and boasting a proud record of having never been relegated from the Bundesliga, Kaiserslautern went down in May 1996 to the great surprise of German football fans everywhere.
The Red Devils had come fourth the previous season and were hoping to replicate that heading into this campaign, but a penchant for drawing games proved the southerners’ undoing. Eighteen matches were tied, meaning Kaiserslautern lost just 10 times – the same as second-placed Bayern Munich.
Their defensive record was also very good, with only Schalke conceding fewer than their 38. Six wins from 34 games was a dreadful return, though, and Kaiserslautern duly fell through the trapdoor.
In the end, things worked out for the better. Indeed, as recoveries go, theirs takes some beating: Kaiserslautern won the German Cup a week after their demotion was confirmed, and went on to lift the Bundesliga title two years later.
The Napoli of 1997/98 were nowhere near as talented as the scudetto-winning version that featured Diego Maradona, Ciro Ferrara and Gianfranco Zola eight years earlier, but they still should have been more than good enough to retain their place in Serie A.
Four managers were employed throughout a tumultuous campaign where the Partenopei earned just two wins and 14 points.
Scoring only 25 goals and conceding 76 was never likely to be a recipe for success, and a team containing Robert Ayala, Claudio Bellucci and current Juventus coach Max Allegri were as good as relegated by March.
NEXT: When you have the league's second-highest scorer and still drop