Is Sixth Time the Charm for Norwich City in the Premier League?

Norwich City fans
Amdamsky /

The term “yo-yo club” refers to a side that bounces up and down the divisions, typically between the top flight and the second tier, although it can be used more widely to encompass other divisions too. Over the years there have been many yo-yo clubs and teams like Fulham, Birmingham, Sheffield Wednesday, Watford and West Bromich Albion spring to mind.

We can talk about a yo-yo side in the wider sense of the word, to simply mean a team that has suffered a lot of relegations and enjoyed many promotions. In this context Grimsby Town are the side (at the time of writing) most deserving of the yo-yo tag, having changed division 31 times in their history.

However, in modern times the Premier League and football have become conflated and for some fans football is the Premier League. And when we look specifically at Premier League yo-yo clubs, nobody can quite match Norwich City. Time and again the Canaries seem just a little too good for the Championship but not quite up to the level required to stay in the Premier League.

Norwich City: Yo-Yo Club Extraordinaire

Norwich City FCBack in 1993, they finished third in the Premier League and that was, and indeed still is, their highest finish ever. And we do not just mean in the Premier League era; rather, that third-place finish in the top tier of English football is their best season ever. And to think Man United and Liverpool fans get upset after a few seasons without winning the title!

Since that high watermark in the inaugural Premier League campaign, the Norfolk outfit have been relegated six times and promoted six times! Indeed, after finishing 22nd in the Championship in 2009 they spent one season in League One, the third tier. However, just like a yo-yo, Norwich keep on bouncing back. In the three seasons prior to the 2021-22 campaign, they have hit peak yo-yo, winning the Championship in 2019, finishing bottom of the Premier League in 2020 and then winning the Championship again in 2021.

That most recent second-tier title sees them back for a sixth crack at the Premier League. They head into the campaign as even money favourites for yet another instant return to the Championship and are priced at odds of 9/2 to finish plum bottom yet again. But can the yo-yo defy gravity? Will it be sixth time lucky for Norwich? Might they manage to establish themselves as a top flight team in the medium term? Or can they at least manage to survive for another campaign, something that proved beyond them following their most recent promotions in 2019 and 2015?

Norwich’s Previous Spells in the Premier League

As said, this is the sixth time the Canaries will be plying their trade in the Premier League, by which we mean their sixth spell in the top flight. In total, they have spent just nine seasons in the EPL prior to the start of the 2021-22 campaign, so clearly, most of those visits have been short and sour, like a shot of lime juice. But how have they fared?

Appearance Years Number of Seasons High Finish Low Finish
First 1992-1995 Three 3rd (1992-93) 20th (1994-95)
Second 2004-2005 One 19th 19th
Third 2011-2014 Three 11th (2012-13) 18th (2013-14)
Fourth 2015-2016 One 19th 19th
Fifth 2019-2020 One 20th 20th
Sixth 2021-??? TBC TBC TBC

Looking at that roll of dishonour cannot be especially heartening for fans of the Norfolk side. Time will tell if this sixth trip to the Premier League will be their usual flying visit, whether they’ll match their three-season stays of the past, or whether they can make history and maintain top flight status for four or more campaigns.

Our focus here is the Premier League but we would be doing Norwich fans a major disservice if we did not look back at their longest stay in the top flight of English football. So, before we assess how they got on in their past five spells in the EPL, let’s consider their finest era in the days before Sky money changed the English game forever.

Canaries Singing in 1970s & 1980s

Norwich were founded way back in 1902 and it took them some time to reach the top of England’s football pyramid. They made it into Division One, as it was then known, for the first time in 1972 and despite finishing 20th they stayed up in what was then a 22-team division, with just the bottom two sides going down. It was a short reprieve, however, as the following year they were relegated in 22nd position, marking the start of their top-tier yo-yoing days.

However, their longest spell in the top division actually spans the days before the Premier League and the first seasons of that competition. They were winners of Division 2 in the 1985-86 season and impressively finished fifth in the top flight a year later. They would finish fourth in 1989 and in 1992 an 18th-place finish was enough to see them earn their spot in the first-ever Premier League in 1992-93.

As said, they would finish in third place that year, briefly challenging for the title before ending 12 points behind champions Manchester United and just two points short of Villa in second. They achieved that feat despite a goal difference of -4 and also despite taking just seven points from their final six games.

All in all their best top flight run lasted for nine seasons, six in the old First Division and three in the new, all-singing, all-dancing Premier League. They also had a run of six seasons in the top flight from 1975-76 to 1980-81. Moreover, between first hitting the pinnacle of English football in 1972, and exiting the Premier League at the end of the 1994-95 season, they spent just three seasons outside the highest tier. Staying true to their yo-yo credentials they were relegated three times but earned instant promotion on each occasion.

1. 1992/3 to 1994/95: Norwich’s First Stint in the Premier League

Norwich City FC
First Division Championship, 2004 (Dweller /

As we have said, Norwich automatically entered the first-ever EPL campaign thanks to being one of the members of the old First Division when the new competition began. Despite suffering 19 losses in the 1991-92 campaign, they ended 18th of 22 and so were essentially founder members of the Premier League.

As we also mentioned, they lasted three seasons in the Premier League at the first time of asking. Their overall performances for each season can be seen in the table below:

Season Position Points Played Won Drawn Lost GD
1992-3 3 72 42 21 9 12 -4
1993-4 12 53 42 12 17 13 +4
1994-5 20 43 42 10 13 19 -17

Norwich’s Best Ever Premier League Season

As already noted, a strange anomaly means that Norwich’s best season in the Premier League, indeed in English football (in terms of league performance only), came with a negative goal difference. Mark Robins top scored that season with 16 goals for the Canaries but a 7-1 defeat by Blackburn in October and a 4-1 defeat at Anfield the same month contributed to that woeful goal difference.

They had started the season superbly, collecting 13 points from a possible 18 in a very busy August and registering three wins from four games during an unbeaten September. They only played three EPL fixtures in November but won them all and at this stage fans of the relative minnows were daring to dream of title glory.

They stuttered in the New Year but a fine run of four wins in five games from the middle of March onwards just about kept them in the hunt heading into April. However, on the fifth of the month, they welcomed title rivals Man United to Carrow Road for a huge game. The visitors won 3-1 and four days later the Norfolk club went down 5-1 at Spurs. They battled back, beating Leeds 4-2 in their next game but ended the month with a soul-destroying 3-1 loss at rivals Ipswich in the “Old Farm” derby.

Just three wins and four defeats, plus a draw on the final day of the season, from their last eight games was a poor return. They finished a point above Blackburn and two below Villa but third place was still a superb finish, especially by their historic standards. Sadly, this would be as good as it got for the Canaries.

A year later a failure to convert draws into wins saw them finish in 12th place in the table, despite only losing one more game than they had when finishing third. In addition, their goal difference was actually eight better, which in large part came down to Chris Sutton’s 25 league strikes.

Sutton moved to Blackburn in the summer for a British record fee of £5m and in the 1994-95 campaign his former club really felt the loss. They managed just 37 goals, 28 fewer than the year before, also selling Robins and Efan Ekoku during the campaign.

They really lacked firepower and despite a solid start to the season they finished 20th and were one of four clubs relegated that year as the Premier League prepared to drop from 22 to 20 teams. Their only consolation was that Ipswich finished beneath them, bottom of the table in fact, but that brought little real solace as they ended the campaign with just one win from their last 20 games. At least that sole victory was against the Tractor Boys though!

2. 2004/5: Second Bash Lasts Just 38 Games

The Canaries would spend nine seasons in the second tier before a return in 2004-05 after they won the title in Division One as it was then called. As the stats below show, their return was hardly worth the wait and they made an instant return to the now-rebranded Championship.

Season Position Points Played Won Drawn Lost GD
2004-5 19 33 38 7 12 19 -35

The new boys, managed by Nigel Worthington, started abysmally and it is very rare for a newly promoted side to recover from a slow start in the Premier League. And when we say slow, we mean really slow! Amazingly Norwich did not win a single league game until the 20th November, opening with eight draws and five defeats.

If anything, things got worse after that as they lost 12 out of 16 games between December and the start of April. A brilliant run of four wins and a draw in their next six meant they headed into the last game of the season with a good chance of survival. However, a 6-0 defeat at Fulham put paid to that and once again Norwich fans had to endure the pain of relegation.

3. 2011/12 – 2013/14 – Third Time Lucky (Ish)

Norwich City looking defeated
Jon Candy /

The Canaries spent four seasons in the Championship before dropping into the third tier in 2009-10. However, they won the League One title that year and followed it up with the runner-up spot in the Championship to return to the EPL for the start of the 2011-12 campaign. They would stay for three seasons, a long visit by their standards!

Season Position Points Played Won Drawn Lost GD
2011-2 12 47 38 12 11 15 -14
2012-3 11 44 38 10 14 14 -17
2013-4 18 33 38 8 9 21 -34

Under Paul Lambert, the Canaries finished a highly respectable 12th on their return to the top flight. Considering they had been down in League One just a couple of seasons earlier, that was a sterling effort, with Grant Holt’s 15 league strikes proving crucial.

The following season they performed similarly well, improving in fact, to end up in 11th position in the table. Although in terms of points they regressed, managing 44, three fewer than the season before and perhaps this was a better indicator of what was to follow.

Norwich released a lot of players ahead of the 2013-14 season, including a number who had been instrumental in their promotions and Premier League success. They spent big to replace Holt and the others, breaking their transfer record on Ricky van Wolkswinkel and spending more overall than they had in any previous window.

It proved to be money very badly spent, with Van Wolkswinkel remembered by Norwich fans as a particularly poor player. The Dutch forward made 16 Premier League starts with a further nine appearances from the bench and managed just a single goal. Despite struggling for goals, Norwich headed into March well placed to stay up but four points from five games had them moving the wrong way.

April was worse as they lost at home to relegation rivals West Brom and then away at fellow strugglers Fulham. That left them an impossible task in their last four games as they faced Liverpool, Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal. They took just one point from those clashes and ended three points adrift of the Baggies who claimed that all-important 17th spot.

4. 2015/16: Fourth PL Visit Another One-Season Only Affair

Norwich bounced straight back into the Premier League after finishing third in the Championship but advancing through the play-offs. Sadly they would last just one season as they could muster only nine wins.

Season Position Points Played Won Drawn Lost GD
2015-6 19 34 38 9 7 22 -28

As well as a paucity of wins, the Canaries lost 58% of their games, a painful ratio for their fans. They suffered three streaks of four or more consecutive PL defeats and once again they were just not good enough to survive at this level. They started brightly enough and were eighth in the table after five games, whilst three wins in four matches saw them manage to get up into 14th with more than half of the campaign gone.

They followed that by taking just two points from the next 30 on offer though. Even so, they lifted themselves out of the relegation zone as the home straight loomed, being 17th with six games to go. Once again though, poor form hit, and a return of just three points from those clashes saw them yo-yoing down yet again.

5. 2019/2020: Premier League Strike Five!

Three seasons in the Championship followed and in the last of those they romped to the title. In 2018-19 German boss Daniel Farke, who had proved very successful with Borussia Dortmund’s reserve side, led Norwich to 27 wins from their 46 games. They scored 93 goals to finish five points clear of Sheffield United and 11 ahead of Leeds United.

Despite their previous history of not doing particularly well in the top flight, hopes were high ahead of the 2019-20 campaign. But, as we all know, it is the hope that, if not kills you, certainly makes defeat a whole lot harder to take.

Season Position Points Played Won Drawn Lost GD
2019-20 20 21 38 5 6 27 -49

The Canaries opened the season with a 4-1 loss at Anfield but bounced back by beating Newcastle 3-1. Often EPL newcomers struggle to score but this was not an issue for Farke’s men as they hit two against Chelsea next up, albeit losing 3-2. They lost again to West Ham but when they beat Man City 3-2 in their next match they moved up to 12th in the table and their fans were beginning to enjoy themselves.

Three defeats followed and plunged the Canaries into 19th spot, a position they would only improve upon for one gameweek during the remainder of the campaign. They lost 14 of their last 17 games, including all of their last 10, to go down with a whimper.

Will It Be Sixth Time Lucky?

Norwich City fans
ZakNelson1995 /

Norwich kept faith with Farke and much of their squad and were rewarded as, for the second time in three seasons, they won the Championship title. Their success was even more emphatic as they registered 29 wins and 46 points, despite selling some exceptional youngsters.

Quite how they will fare in the 2020-21 Premier League season remains to be seen but they should certainly have learned from their past experiences. In Farke they clearly have an exceptional manager and if they can hold onto players, such as Max Aarons, Todd Cantwell and Teemu Pukki, they may just have a chance of staying up. Getting Billy Gilmour on loan from Chelsea was a major coup and the youngster might just make the Canaries sing. So who knows, maybe it will be sixth time lucky in the Premier League for Norwich.