Biggest Premier League Relegations (And What Happened Next?)

Football players lying on pitch
katatonia82 /

When Everton were deeply embroiled in a nervy relegation battle during the 2021/22 Premier League season, there were some that claimed the club were simply ‘too big’ to go down. After all, they were just one of six teams to have played in every single Premier League season since its 1992 inception (along with Man United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea). Although the Toffees did end up beating the drop, it would be misguided to think their ‘big club’ status provided them with some form of immunity, as many high-profile teams have unexpectedly suffered relegation in the past.

As we will explore, the sharp pain of relegation can dig its claws into any team that underperforms, no matter what their reputation or history. In one particularly extreme example of this, going back to the 1930s, Manchester City ended up facing the drop just one year after winning the league. The Premier League is yet to see anything quite so extreme but there have been more than a few shock relegations.

Nottingham Forest – 1992/93

Nottingham Forest
Nottingham Forest (Jon Candy /
  • 1991/92 League Position – 8th
  • 1992/93 League Position – 22nd
  • Total Points – 40

Having secured a third-place finish in both 1987/88 and 1988/89, many would have found it extremely hard to believe Forest would face relegation just three seasons later. Although the former European champions were not at the peak of their powers, they still had Brian Clough in charge and a useful side on paper. Coming into the inaugural Premier League season, Forest were certainly a long way from being considered genuine relegation candidates. In the previous two campaigns they had finished eighth, so a long way clear of any sort of danger. Additionally, they even won what proved to be the final ever edition of the Full Members’ Cup.

The season itself started brightly enough too, a 1-0 victory over Liverpool, in what was the first ever ‘Super Sunday’ match. Teddy Sheringham netted the winning goal that day but he only played twice more for the club before securing a move to Tottenham. The loss of the previous year’s top scorer proved to be huge part behind Forest’s demise as they only managed to find the net 41 times in the league, one goal more than the league’s weakest attack (surprisingly Arsenal, who finished 10th). This lack of firepower not only saw the Nottingham outfit finish bottom, but they ended a massive nine points clear of safety.

What Happened Next

Relegation marked the end of Brain Clough’s long, massively successful 18-year tenure at the club. Taking his place was Frank Clark, a member of the Forest team that lifted the 1979 European Cup. He had some impossibly large boots to fill but he did as well as he could in the circumstances, getting the Reds right back into the Premier League at the first time of asking.

He even led them to a hugely surprising third place finish upon their return, making it seem like Forest were well and truly back. Just as before though, they suddenly and dramatically tailed off, finishing rock bottom of the table a mere two years later.

Middlesborough – 1996/97

Middlesborough FC
Middlesborough FC (dom fellowes /
  • 1995/96 League Position – 12th
  • 1996/97 League Position – 19th
  • Total Points – 39

The 1996/97 season saw two surprise relegations, Nottingham Forest, as touched on just above, but our focus here will be on another side, Middlesborough. Having finished a solid 12th the season prior, the Teessiders were expected to build on this after retaining star man Juninho and picking up two big-name signings, Emerson from Porto and Fabrizio Ravanelli from Juventus. Ravanelli, in particular, proved to be a bargain even at £7m as the Italian netted 31 times during the campaign, 16 of which came in the league.

With the diminutive but magical presence of Juninho also chipping in another 12 league goals, you are right to wonder how a team with so much attacking flair ended up being relegated. Despite outscoring 13 other teams in the league, their side was massively unbalanced, with the defence an incredibly porous one. Their total of 60 goals conceded was the worst in the top flight and it resulted in just six clean sheets all season. That said, they would have narrowly survived had it not been for the points deduction imposed by the FA for postponing a festive fixture against Blackburn.

Due to a long list of injuries and a virus that had swept through the Boro camp (sound familiar?!), Bryan Robson insisted he could not field a team but the authorities refused to take a sympathetic view and docked his side three points. As this decision came in January, it was not really what sealed their fate. Had the three points from the clash simply been awarded automatically to Blackburn, Robson’s men would have stayed up. Similarly, when the game was eventually played, Boro would have secured safety with a win but they couldn’t manage it. Even so, with the Smoggies only missing out on safety by two points, anger towards the Premier League only intensified.

What Happened Next

Given the FA’s involvement in their downfall, this was a particularly bitter relegation for Boro fans to swallow. Dropping down a tier also meant losing their star men in Ravanelli and Juninho. To their credit though, Boro did help fill the void left by signing some other stars such as Paul Gascoigne, Marco Branca and Paul Merson.

Although Gascoigne barely featured all year, Boro were still strong enough to clinch automatic promotion thanks to a single-point advantage over local rivals Sunderland. Having guaranteed their return to the Premier League, the Teesside club remained in the top flight for the next 11 years.

Blackburn Rovers – 1998/99

Blackburn Rovers
Blackburn Rovers (Kane Brooker /
  • 1997/98 League Position – 6th
  • 1998/99 League Position – 19th
  • Total Points – 35

As one of just three teams that had lifted the Premier League trophy, along with Man Utd and Arsenal, Blackburn were not used to being discussed as relegation candidates. Even in the year they went down, it was only after picking up three wins in their first 15 matches did people start to think they might actually be in trouble. After all, why would you have picked Rovers for the drop given they finished as high as sixth the year prior? There was actually some talk of them being outsider title challengers, especially given they had gone the distance previously.

Despite spending £36m on new players over the course of the season, a net spend of around £25m, everything that could go wrong at Ewood Park, did. Chris Sutton, who scored 18 league goals the year earlier, suffered with injuries and mustered just three goals from 17 appearances. New striker Kevin Davies, signed from Southampton for a hefty £7.25m flopped badly, scoring just one Premier League goal in 21 outings. Fellow big money signing Christian Dailly could not find a settled spot in the defence either and made only as many appearances as Sutton.

It was attack far more than defence that was the issue for Rovers though. This dismal season ended with Blackburn averaging just one goal a game and their joint league top scorers registering a paltry five goals.

What Happened Next

Unlike the aforementioned Boro and Forest, Blackburn did not come straight back up but they did do at the second time of asking. After a respectable but uninspired 11th place finish, a full season under Graeme Souness made a huge difference with his side registering 91 points as they finished runners-up of the division. Once back, Blackburn stuck around for a long time before a second relegation in 2012.

West Ham United – 2002/03

West Ham United
West Ham United (joshjdss /
  • 2001/02 League Position – 7th
  • 2002/23 League Position – 18th
  • Total Points – 42

A 10-year stay in the Premier League came to an end for West Ham as their talented side endured a truly underwhelming campaign. In their defence, no other team has gone down after securing 40+ points so they can consider themselves unlucky that 10 wins and 12 draws was not enough to keep them up. Nevertheless, this West Ham side should have been fighting for European places rather than scrapping it out with Bolton Wanderers to avoid slipping down a division.

Despite featuring the likes of David James, Jermaine Defoe, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Frederic Kanoute and Paolo Di Canio, the Hammers began the season dreadfully. Those players should have formed a formidable spine for the Hammers but things just didn’t go to plan.

By late January, they had registered just three league wins and were on a 14-game winless run. Partly responsible for this was manager Glenn Roeder, despite being the same man that guided the west London club to seventh the year earlier. Given his previous success, chairman Terry Brown stuck by the former Newcastle United player until he collapsed following a 1-0 win against Middlesbrough.

Diagnosed with a non-malignant brain tumour, Roeder had to leave his post, Trevor Brooking stepped in and this sparked West Ham into life. Incredibly, they stood a chance of survival coming into the last day of the season but they failed to better Bolton’s result, condemning them to the Championship. So much for the magic 40-point mark!

What Happened Next

A bit of a theme is emerging here as West Ham’s absence from the Premier League was very short-lived, just one season. They managed to bounce back through the play-offs however, having only managed sixth place during the regular season. So, although the Hammers faithful might have felt aggrieved to go down with 42 points, they could consider themselves lucky to have gone back up with just 73.

Leeds United – 2003/04

Leeds United
Leeds United (docteur es sport /
  • 2002/03 League Position – 15th
  • 2003/04 League Position – 19th
  • Total Points – 33

Given how riddled with debt they were at the time, the demise of Leeds in 2003/04 was not that much of a surprise at all. What was truly shocking though is how a team could get relegated having been in a Champions League semi-final just three years prior. This was a club that had established themselves as one of the best in England, securing a top five league position for five years running. They had been playing brilliant football and, incredibly for a team that has so often been hated by many fans, had become the unofficial second team of many supporters. Tell anyone at the time that the Peacocks would soon be going down and they would have no doubt laughed at the mere idea of it.

When it was known just how bad Leeds’ finances were though, something which seemed so farfetched suddenly seemed a very genuine danger. They managed to stave off relegation in 2002/03 but this year they sold off many key players to cover their debts, including Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Keane, Jonathan Woodgate and Robbie Fowler. In sales Leeds received over £52m that year yet they spent less than £3m on fresh recruits.

More useful names were lost at the start of the 2003/04 season such as Harry Kewell and Olivier Dacourt, with the holes filled by a large loan army. With a hugely depleted squad now at their disposal, United began the season awfully and even a change of manager could only offer a temporary improvement in their form. Leeds went down along with Wolves and Leicester, amazingly all three managing 33 points from their 38 games, Leeds conceding a league-high 79 goals.

What Happened Next

Given their huge debts that had reached the £100m mark, Leeds did well to finish 14th in the Championship the following season. They even got to the play-off final the following year but defeat in this contest (against Watford) sparked a period of more misery. Relegation and a points deduction came a year later followed by three seasons (and two more play-off defeats) in League One. It took Leeds a long, long time to get back into the Premier League, Argentine manager Marcelo Bielsa achieving hero status in the city for getting them back up in 2020/21.

Newcastle United – 2008/09

Newcastle United
Newcastle United (Rob Harris /
  • 2007/08 League Position – 12th
  • 2008/09 League Position – 18th
  • Total Points – 34

Newcastle were promoted into the Premier League for its second season and so had only missed out on the inaugural Premier League campaign. This meant that the 2008/09 season was their 16th consecutive year in the top flight. During this time their lowest finish was 14th in 2004/05 but even that year they were 11 points clear of the drop zone. They had secured second place twice, as well as four other top-five finishes and were well established as a Premier League team.

So, by all accounts the Toon Army were seen as a solid and pretty safe side, not one you would pick to go down. At this time they were also managed by Kevin Keegan, affectionately known as ‘King Kev’ by the locals. It was under his leadership that the Magpies managed a second-place finish in 1995/96 so there was plenty of optimism in Tyneside.

Keegan, had actually returned mid-way through the previous season, overseeing a mixed bag of results, but finishing with just two losses from the final nine matches. With a full summer of preparation this time, more was expected but the club legend ended up leaving just three games into the new campaign following a major spat with the Newcastle board. Chris Hughton took temporary charge before the poorly-judged appointment of Joe Kinnear, a man who had not managed in the top flight since 1999.

Kinnear had to step aside with heart problems in February, with Hughton once again stepping in. Newcastle’s already mixed form became even worse at this stage and this provoked a desperate Mike Ashley into hiring another Geordie hero, Alan Shearer, as interim boss. Shearer brought much passion with him but zero managerial experience and it rather showed as he oversaw just one win and four goals scored from eight matches in charge.

What Happened Next

Chris Hughton was back as caretaker manager for the next year and following a strong start he was given a job on a permanent basis. This was one managerial decision Mike Ashley got right as under Hughton the Toon Army smashed the English second tier, collecting 102 points in the process. Winning the Championship at the first attempt was something Newcastle repeated again in 2016/17, this time under Rafa Benitez, following their second Premier League relegation in 2015/16. Following their Saudi takeover, Magpies fans will be hoping relegation concerns are a thing of the past and they will be dreaming of a return to the days when they were challenging for the title.