Championship final proves that below the Premier League lies a land of sleeping giants

Matt Jones - Editor 18:08 02/05/2019
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Derby County beat Man United in the 2018/19 Carabao Cup.

Two clubs with a rich top-flight English football division pedigree meet for the third and final spot in the 2019/20 Premier League on Monday.

Aston Villa and Derby County are titans of English football – having won nine first division titles between them – and have featured prominently during the Premier League era.

Villa, with seven English top-flight championships, are the fifth most successful team in English league title history, but lifted the last of their seven trophies 38 years ago. Derby, meanwhile, won their two titles way back in the ‘70s.

Both have slipped into relative obscurity though in recent years – Villa only ended a 24-year stay in the Premier League following relegation in 2015/16, while County enjoyed a six-year stint there during the mid-1990s but have been stuck in the second tier now for over a decade.

It’s an hellacious league to get out of now, due to the fact so many former giants call the Championship home.

Here we take a brief look at each of the Championship’s 24 teams in 2018/19 and their top-flight pedigree.


Champions of England’s second tier for a fifth time after finishing five points ahead of Sheffield United, the Canaries are singing as they head back for a fifth Premier League flight, having been original members when the league was rebranded in 1992/93.

They were relegated on four previous seasons – enjoying only one-season stays in both 2004/05 and 2015/16, which was their last visit.

Mike Walker’s side finished third in the inaugural Premier League season – two points behind runners-up Villa and 12 adrift of champions Man United. The following year they played in the UEFA Cup, famously beating Bayern Munich before succumbing to Inter Milan in the third round.


The Blades have sliced their way through the Championship’s tall weeds for another stab at the top-flight, displacing long-time automatic favourites Leeds in the final months.

Another of the original 22 Premier League members, striker Brian Deane has a place in history as its first goalscorer, a header against inaugural champions United.

They were relegated a year later and have roamed the wilderness since – save for a brief return in 2006/07. The four-time FA Cup winners even spent a six-year stretch in the third tier before being promoted to the Championship just two seasons ago.


A true giant of English football. Leeds won the last Division 1 title in 1991/92 before the Premier League era exploded. They enjoyed a number of top six finishes in the late 90s and early 2000s and were a deadly team to watch under David O’Leary from 1998-2002. They made the 2000/01 Champions League semi-finals, losing to Valencia 3-0 having finished behind Real Madrid in the group and beating Deportivo La Coruna in the quarter-finals

The Yorkshire giants have fallen on hard times since being relegated in 2003/04 though – they have been left out in the cold now for 15 years, and even suffered the ignominy of dropping to League 1 between 2007-10.


FA Cup winners as early as 1887/88, the Baggies have lifted the famous trophy on five occasions in their history. They have bounced constantly back and forth between the first and second tiers since first getting a taste of the Premier League in 2002/03, but enjoyed a stable eight-year stay at the top table before being relegated in 2017/18.

Almost bounced back at the first attempt, finishing fourth this season, but lost to Midlands rivals Villa in the play-off semi-finals following a penalty shootout.


Aston Villa are aiming to bounce back to the Premier League after two years away.

Aston Villa are aiming to bounce back to the Premier League after two years away.

Looking to end a brief hiatus from England’s top table with a return after three years. Slight favourites after a strong second half to the season under Dean Smith.

Were League Cup runners-up as recently as 2009/10 – a season in which they finished sixth in the Premier League, which saw them qualify for next year’s Europa League qualifying rounds. Finished behind United as runners-up in the inaugural Premier League season.

Beat German giants Bayern to win the European Cup in 1982.


Another yo-yo club who own the unwanted record of tallying the lowest points in Premier League history – amassing just 11 points, scoring just 20 goals and earning just one win in 38 games during a miserable 2007/08. They became the first club to be relegated in March and finished a colossal 24 points behind second-bottom Birmingham City.

The Rams enjoyed a resplendent period in the 70s when they won two league titles and made it to the European Cup semis where they lost to Juventus. They earned Premier League promotion in 1996 under beloved former manager Jim Smith and finished as high as eighth in United’s 1998/99 treble-winning campaign.

After relegation they were back, briefly, in 2007/08, although probably wish they hadn’t been.


Boro were relegated during the debut season of the Premier League, finishing second bottom between Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace.

They’ve had their ups and downs since, roaring back two seasons later. In 1995/96 they lit up the league under manager Bryan Robson for a few campaigns, dancing to the beat of Samba Boys Juninho and Emerson, while Italy striker Fabrizio Ravenelli was a revelation.

They went down but came straight back up in 1998 and stayed for 11 years – winning the League Cup in 2004. A nine-year stay in the second tier was briefly punctuated by a Premier League return in 2016/17.


A big city but not a big club, the Robins have been floating around the lower leagues for the better part of their 125-year existence. Came close to the big time a decade ago when they finished fourth in the 2007/08 Championship and reached the play-off final, where they suffered a 1-0 defeat to Hull City.


More European Cup titles than Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea, and only one fewer than Manchester United.

Forest were a true force during the 1970s and 80s, lifting the European Cup in both 1979 and 1980 when Peter Shilton, Viv Anderson, Martin O’Neill and Trevor Francis were their heroes.

Enjoyed a renaissance under the enigmatic Brian Clough in the 90s, but following his sad decline in health they were relegated for a third and final time in 1999. They haven’t been seen in the ensuing two decades.


Swansea's Daniel James is in talks with Man United.

Swansea’s Daniel James is in talks with Man United.

The Welsh side first graced the English top-flight in 1981/82 but were in danger of slipping out of the football league altogether just 16 years ago. A final day 4-2 win courtesy of a hat-trick from James Thomas – now a Port Talbot paramedic – saw them survive in Division 3 by a point in 2002/03.

A year later they finished 10th, then got promoted from the renamed League 2 12 months later.

Just seven years after their dalliance with disaster they beat Reading in the play-off final to reach the promised land of the Premier League, where they stayed for seven seasons, winning the 2012/13 League Cup and reaching the Europa League’s last 32 the following year.


The Bees have not buzzed in England’s top-flight since the aftermath of World War I and the 1946/47 season. They have been in the second tier for the last five seasons, largely punching above their weight.

They almost reached the Premier League on their second tier bow in 2014/15 when they finished fifth, but lost to Middlesbrough in the play-offs.


Ah, the early 90s. Sheffield Wednesday won the 1991 League Cup, were one of the 22 inaugural Premier League teams and lost in the finals of both the League and FA Cup in 93.

The turn of the century, however, brought about a downturn in fortunes for the Steel City side, who melted into insignificance. Relegated in the 1999/00 season, they have been fumbling and failing to find their way back ever since.


Harry Maguire starred for Hull in the Premier League.

Harry Maguire starred for Hull in the Premier League.

The Tigers aren’t titans but have tussled with Arsenal in an FA Cup final since dragging themselves out of English football’s basement upon Championship promotion in 2005.

Three years later they were dining at the top table and took the Gunners to extra-time in the 2014 FA Cup final before Aaron Ramsey broke their hearts.


Preston North End have as many top-flight titles as Tottenham and were once a mainstay of the English elite. Twice FA Cup winners they were pioneers of the club game before relegation in 1960/61.

Since then, they’ve been nomads. While the Premier League exploded in 92/93, proud Preston were being relegated to the fourth tier. The Deepdale side have been safely mid-table in the Championship in the four years since their return, narrowly missing the play-offs a year ago.


An almighty sleeping giant, Rovers are one of a select few members of the Premier League winners’ club – only United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Leicester have been where they have in terms of heights.

Another one of the original 22, they finished an immense fourth following their 91/92 promotion. They jumped two spots a year later and, 12 months on, became champions.

They were relegated seven years ago though and dropped to the third tier two years ago, but climbed back and finished 15th.

Blackburn won the 1995 Premier League title.

Blackburn won the 1995 Premier League title.


Unfashionable, unglamorous Stoke weren’t expected to do much upon promotion to the top-flight in 2007/08, but their physical style stood them in good stead and they survived, even thrived, for a decade.

They dropped though a year ago and, while tipped by many as favourites to go back up, struggled to a mediocre 16th place this season.


Birmingham’s hoisting of a second major trophy, 2011’s League Cup, was hugely bittersweet. A memorable 2-1 triumph over Arsenal at Wembley was followed by an equally painful relegation from the Premier League – and they haven’t been back since.

Infrequent occupiers of a Premier League seat, they have rarely ventured into promotion contention in recent years.


For a team who only entered the football league in 1978/79, Wigan have ascended the ladder rather rapidly – 27 years later they were in the Premier League.

They enjoyed themselves while they were there too, finishing 10th on their top-flight bow and reaching the League Cup final where they lost to United 4-0. After an eight-year stay they dropped out and have twice been relegated to League 1.


Another one of the original 22, QPR were relegated in ’96 and suffered for a number of years, before returning to the top division as second tier champions in 2010/11.

They stayed for two years and came straight back up in 2014 after being relegated. But they were gone again the following season and have struggled in the lower reaches of the Championship ever since.


Another minnow who thoroughly enjoyed their moment in the sun, winning the Championship in 2005/06, the Royals crowned their Premier League bow with a stunning eighth-placed finish a year later, just missing out on the Europa League by a point.

They were down a year later, briefly returning in 2012/13. They lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup semis four years ago and missed out on a Premier League return two years ago when Huddersfield beat them on penalties in the play-off final.


A two-year flirtation with the top division from 1988-90 is all Millwall fans have to show for top-flight experience – finishing dead bottom at the turn of the decade, with the boom times for English football right around the corner.

They’ve since flitted between the second and third tiers, barely surviving the drop this season from the Championship. They appeared in the 2004 FA Cup final but were soundly beaten 3-0 by Man United.


Probably the smallest team in the division, alongside Brentford. The Millers have elevated themselves into the upper echelons of English football society since the early 2000s though, earning promotion to the Championship in 2005.

They’ve yo-yoed in recent years though and went straight back down to League 1 this term.


Jay Jay Okocha starred during the glory days for Bolton.

Jay Jay Okocha starred during the glory days for Bolton.

A giant historically and in more recent decades, having featured prominently during the 2000s as an effervescent Premier League side who played fantastic stuff under Sam Allardyce, who had a penchant for flair players from Europe.

The four-time FA Cup winners finished as high as sixth in 2005 and qualified for the UEFA Cup – their continental bow. But they’ve been in freefall since their 2012 relegation and are in a mess on and off the field – having just been relegated to League 1.


The Tractor Boys ploughed their way to UEFA Cup glory in 1981, beating AZ Alkmaar 5-4 on aggregate. They won the old Division 2 in 1992 to feature in the inaugural Premier League, where they survived for three seasons.

On their only other top-flight appearance in 2000/01 the Tractor Boys rolled back the years as they finished fifth – missing out on the Champions League by three points, but did enter the UEFA Cup again.

Have just been relegated to the third tier after 17 consecutive seasons in the second.

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