Since its inaugural season in 1992/93, the Premier League has become the richest football competition on the planet. It is also the most watched, and widely regarded as the best football league in the world. Over the last 30 years, it has featured many of the greatest players and managers the sport has ever produced and there have been far too many fantastic title races and relegation battles to mention.
Given the massive rewards of being in the Premier League – both in terms of finances and prestige – it’s no surprise that clubs battle tooth and nail to make it to the top flight… and to stay there. But since that opening campaign, only six clubs have played in the Premier League every season, never having suffered the ignominy of relegation.
In this article, we’ll give details of those six clubs (which might just be five by the time you read this if Everton don’t up their game!). We’ll also mention a couple of other sides who came late to the top-flight party, but haven’t (yet) faced the indignity of demotion back to the second tier.
Which Teams Were in the Premier League in Its First Season?
Before we go into detail about the six sides who’ve maintained their Premier League status since day one, let’s check out the 22 sides who were in the top flight in the 1992/93 season:
|Team||First Relegated From the Premier League||Position at the end of 1992/93 season|
|Queens Park Rangers||1995/96||5th|
Ever-Present Premier League Teams: The Big Six?
Okay, we’ve given the game away somewhat by the table above. Aston Villa almost made it seven ever-present teams, but slipped out of the top tier at the end of the 2015/16 season. But here are the sides who’ve managed to avoid relegation since the first season of the Premier League, and most of them haven’t even been close to falling into the second tier.
- Best Finish – 1st (1997/98, 2001/02, 2003/04)
- Worst Finish – 12th (1994/95*)
Having won the old Division One title in the 1988/89 and 1990/91 seasons under the stewardship of the boring-but-effective George Graham, many people thought Arsenal would challenge for the Premier League title in the first years of the new league. But Graham didn’t move with the times and his brand of rather dour football soon got surpassed by the forward-thinking, more dynamic styles employed by the likes of Manchester United and even Blackburn Rovers (who won the title in the 1994/95 season).
Indeed, it was the 1994/95 campaign that saw Arsenal post their lowest final position of a Premier League campaign: 12th. Boss Graham was relieved of his duties before the season had reached its climax, and after a failed experiment with Bruce Rioch, the board went leftfield and sought the services of a little-known (in England) Frenchman who was plying his trade at the time in Japan: Arsene Wenger.
It proved a masterful move, and Wenger repaid the faith by revolutionising the club and leading them to their first Premier League title in the 1997/98 season. Plenty more silverware followed and he led the side to the title again in 2001/02 and notably in 2003/04 when the ‘Invincibles’ (as they became known) didn’t lose a single league game.
Arsenal have only finished in the bottom half of the table once in the Premier League era. So it’s been a relatively safe bet that the north London club will be more likely to be fighting for the Champions League places than scrapping to avoid falling into the bottom three in the run-in.
- Best Finish – 1st (2004/05, 2005/06, 2009/10, 2014/15, 2016/17)
- Worst Finish – 14th (1993/94*)
Five-time Premier League champions Chelsea have certainly been fortunate to have received the funding of a Russian oligarch. But they have also enjoyed the services of some very good players and indeed a particularly Special manager in the form of Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese coach certainly talked the talk, but he walked the walk too, guiding the Blues to the title (and the League Cup) in his first season in charge, 2004/05. Mourinho repeated the trick the following year, the first (and so far only) time the club had won back-to-back top-flight titles.
Despite winning both domestic cups the following season and finishing second in the Premier League, Mourinho was given the boot early in the 2007/08 season (but then, who wouldn’t want to make space for Avram Grant?). Chelsea won their next title under Carlo Ancelotti in the 2009/10 season, but then had to wait until 2014/15 (and the return of Mourinho) for their next top-flight crown. Their most recent title came in 2016/17 under Antonio Conte, now at Spurs of course.
Chelsea are another side who have rarely ended up in the bottom half, but their 14th-place finish at the end of the 1993/94 campaign stands out as their worst performance in the Premier League. Glenn Hoddle was the man in the dugout back then but the player-manager wasn’t able to inspire much joy on the pitch. Having said that, the Blues finished above both Tottenham and Manchester City and were never really in serious danger of the drop.
- Best Finish – 4th (2004/05)
- Worst Finish – 17th (1993/94*, 1997/98, 2003/04)
Of the six clubs to have maintained their position in the Premier League since its inception, Everton’s tenure has surely been the most precarious. They have finished in the bottom half of the table as many times as they have the top half (15 apiece) and they’ve ended up with fewer than 50 points on 12 occasions – and fewer than 40 twice! Indeed, Everton survived on just 39 points in 2003/04 and 2021/22, and at the time of writing (midway through the 2022/23 campaign) they would probably be rather happy to reach even that total!
It hasn’t been all bad for the Toffees, though. Under David Moyes, the Merseyside club had something of a purple patch. The Scot’s first full season at the helm wasn’t great (that was the 2003/04 campaign in which the club narrowly avoided the drop). But after that he led the Toffees to a fourth-place finish the following season, as well as two fifths, two sixths and two sevenths.
He didn’t actually win any silverware at the club, but they came close in 2009 when they lost in the FA Cup final 2-1 to Chelsea despite opening the scoring after just 25 seconds. The ship was at least relatively steady under Moyes, his first season aside. Everton fans will certainly be hoping for some calmer waters in the seasons ahead.
- Best Finish – 1st (2019/20)
- Worst Finish – 8th (1993/94*, 2011/12, 2015/16)
Given that Liverpool have been embroiled in plenty of title races in the Premier League era, it is perhaps surprising that the Merseyside club have been crowned champions just once. That success came in the 2019/20 season that will be remembered almost as much for the interruptions due to the global health crisis as the football. In the end, Jurgen Klopp’s Reds won the title at a canter, ending the campaign on a very impressive tally of 99 points, a whopping 19 points clear of their nearest rivals, Manchester City.
Liverpool have never finished lower than eighth in the Premier League, though this has happened on three occasions. It’s also worth noting that between the 1981/82 and the 1990/91 seasons, the Reds never finished lower than second! Based on their records in the 1970s and 1980s, it has to be suggested that Liverpool have underachieved in the Premier League era. Yes, they’ve managed one more league title than Merseyside rivals Everton and the likes of Spurs. But on the flip side, both Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers have won as many Premier League titles as them!
- Best Finish – 1st (1992/93, 1993/94, 1995/96, 1996/97, 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2000,01, 2002/03, 2006/07, 2007/08, 2008/09, 2010/11, 2012/13)
- Worst Finish – 7th (2013/14)
There is little doubt that Manchester United took to the Premier League like the proverbial ducks to water (is there a proverb about ducks and water? If not, there darn well should be!). The Red Devils have bagged 13 of the titles on offer since the Premier League was born. Which, at the time of writing is seven more than neighbours Manchester City, eight more than Chelsea, 10 more than Arsenal and a rather impressive 12 more than Liverpool.
Despite one or two disappointing seasons by their ludicrously high standards, Manchester United have never been close to getting sucked into a relegation dogfight. The lowest they have finished in the Premier League was 7th in the 2013/14 season. Former Everton boss David Moyes was at the helm having stepped into the gigantic boots of Sir Alex Ferguson as the club legend’s hand-picked replacement. Things didn’t go so well for Moyes who was shown the door before the season concluded once a top-four finish became impossible.
Of course, when looking at Man United’s time in the Premier League, you can’t underestimate the influence of Ferguson. The cantankerous Scot was in charge for all their title-winning seasons, and even the likes of Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal haven’t managed to guide the club to another Premier League crown. Current boss Erik ten Haag looks to have them on the right track though, although there have been false dawns before.
- Best Finish – 2nd (2016/17)
- Worst Finish – 15th (1993/94)
Like Everton, Tottenham have finished in the bottom half of the Premier League more times than they would have liked. Unlike Everton, though, Spurs have never really been in too many serious relegation scraps. Things could have gone badly awry in the 1993/94 season when Spurs, then managed by Argentine legend, Ossie Ardiles, flirted with relegation.
Their mid-season run of seven consecutive league defeats left them in serious trouble and they were in the bottom three with just four games remaining. Despite losing their last three games (to Oldham, Wimbledon and QPR!), the three points Spurs earned against Southampton at the end of the April was enough to save their skin as they finished in 15th position.
The other similarity Tottenham have with Everton is that Spurs are the only other side on this list to have never won the Premier League title. They came closest in the 2016/17 season when they finished as runners-up, seven points adrift of Chelsea. Despite putting up a decent fist of it under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs never actually made it to the top of the table and were stuck in the impressive but frustrating second spot from February to the end of the season.
*Denotes seasons when the Premier League contained 22 teams rather than the current 20.
Although the article focuses on the sides that have remained in the Premier League since its inception, technically two other sides should be mentioned based on the title: Brighton and Brentford. Although these teams were not in the Premier League when it all kicked off in 1992/93, since being promoted to the top flight, neither has been relegated. Let’s take a brief look at how they’ve fared during their short time at English football’s top table.
Brighton & Hove Albion
During most of the Premier League era, Brighton found themselves yo-yo-ing between the lower divisions of the Football League. They did have a stint in the old First Division from 1979/80 to 1982/83, but it took until the end of the 2016/17 season for them to claw their way onto the hallowed ground of the Premier League.
Brighton have stayed in the top flight ever since, and though they finished in the bottom half of the table in their first four seasons, they managed a rather impressive ninth-place finish in 2021/22. Under the excellent management of Graham Potter, the Seagulls steadily improved, despite selling their best players on a frequent basis.
Even more amazingly, that progress has continued even without Potter, who left to coach Chelsea. At the time of writing (halfway through the 2022/23 campaign), Brighton are looking well-set to remain in the Premier League for another season, so they too can join the ‘never relegated from the Premier League’ club.
Granted, Brentford’s case for even getting a mention here could seem a little tenuous given that they have only completed one full season in the top flight. But mention them we shall, because they have at least played in the Premier League and haven’t, at the time of writing, been relegated. Indeed Brentford look in a very good position to complete their second season without too many worries about relegation. But for now, we’ll offer them simply provisional membership of the never-relegated club.
If we were going to be rather pedantic, we could suggest that there are loads of other teams who have never been relegated from the Premier League on the basis that they’ve never played in it. But that would just be a little silly, so we’ll stop right there! In addition, there are many sides who have only ever been relegated from it once, though the majority of those currently reside outside the top tier too.
Premier League Mainstays
We think it’s fair to suggest that four of the six sides who have been in the Premier League since it started would certainly fit into the category of ‘biggest clubs in the land’. Based on their incomes, success on the pitch (in terms of trophies and average league positions), it should not be surprising that Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have never been relegated.
It is more surprising, perhaps, that Tottenham and especially Everton have avoided the drop for all this time. Of course, Everton fans will be rather nervous at the time of writing (with Everton in the bottom three) but we are hopeful they will retain their position as one of the Big Six of sides never to have suffered the indignity of relegation from the Premier League.