Not so bad once you’re up? The fortunes of teams promoted to the English top flight

There was once a time when a club could make an impression on the upper reaches of the top flight soon, or even immediately, after being promoted. The below graphic charts the fortunes of teams in their first, second and third seasons after promotion from the English second tier over the last forty years. You can look back misty-eyed at the quaint days of old when, every now and again, a plucky new addition to the top division could give the established teams something to worry about. Those were the days when a realistic stab at the championship from a position of relative obscurity could be based on a well-functioning team, momentum from the previous season and a bit of cash. Now a spend of hundreds of millions of pounds over several years is required as an absolute minimum.

In the period covered, only Nottingham Forest have won the title one year after promotion and are only one of three champions crowned in any of their first three seasons.

The first half of the nineties was a golden era for the promoted side with Leeds and Blackburn winning the title in their second and third seasons respectively and Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United and Nottingham Forest making the top three straight after coming up. In the fifteen seasons since 1996, only two teams have troubled the top six in any of their first three campaigns after promotion (George Burley’s Ipswich and Graeme Souness’ Blackburn), something that was achieved seventeen times in the eight seasons up to 1996.

Although the possibility of making a mark on the top of the league has been reduced for the newly promoted, based on the recent squeezing of the data from the bottom as well as the top, the threat of over-stretching and collapsing also appears to have been cut. Since 1996, the lowest a team has fallen within three years of promotion was Derby who ended 2008-09 in 38th position (i.e.18th in the second tier, given a 20-team first tier) having been immediately relegated the year before. Between 1971 and 1996, our teams finished below 38th on sixteen occasions; including Wolves who, in 1985-86, found themselves 67th (i.e. second from bottom in the third tier) just three years after being runners-up in the Second Division. This change can probably be explained in one word: parachutepayments.

This post is similar to this one for two reasons. Firstly, it considers the performances of teams following their promotion to the top flight. Secondly, it laments the state of the modern game, be it the managerial merry-go-round or the strangling of competition. Please pardon my repetition and grumbling.

If you have the inclination, and can remember far enough back, please reminisce below about notable post-promotion campaigns.

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