Which City Has the Best Football Record: Manchester, Liverpool or London?

Premier League trophies
Daniel Gellatley / Flickr.com

Football is hugely popular all over England and indeed the UK but, in terms of success on the pitch, there are three cities that very much lead the charge. London, Manchester and Liverpool are, at least by some calculations, the first, third and fourth most populous cities in England, respectively. So, whilst we might be surprised that Birmingham’s clubs (we would include Birmingham, Aston Villa and possibly West Brom at a push) have enjoyed less success, we should not be shocked that it is the football teams from these urban centres that have consistently lifted silverware.

Liverpool, Manchester & London Clubs

Here we will look at which of these three leading football cities has been England’s most successful. Before doing that though we need to consider what sides this includes, and what exactly we mean by “best football record”. We’ll start with the easier part of that.

Liverpool: Everton & Liverpool FC

When it comes to Liverpool and Manchester things are fairly straightforward. Liverpool boasts two clubs, its original side, Everton, and Liverpool which born out of the Toffees 14 years later following a dispute over rent. Tranmere Rovers could be classed as a Merseyside club (as they are on the other bank of the Mersey to Liverpool and Everton), but Tranmere is a suburb of Birkenhead and not part of Liverpool, so it doesn’t count in this context.

Manchester: Manchester City & Manchester United

We have a similar picture in Manchester, with Manchester City and Manchester United the two we will focus on here. Whilst both cities have smaller clubs that lie within (or near) them, especially when we consider the wider metropolitan areas, none of these have achieved any huge success, certainly not in terms of league titles or European successes.

That might be doing an injustice to the likes of Bury (two FA Cup wins) and Bolton (four successes) and both of these clubs are located in Greater Manchester. However, we believe that most football fans would understand we mean City and United for Manchester, and Everton and Liverpool for the city of Liverpool. And in the interests of fairness, and also for the same reason, we have excluded teams like Clapham Rovers (who, as we are sure everyone knows, won the FA Cup in 1880) from London.

London: Arsenal, Chelsea & Tottenham, Etc.

So, what London sides are we including then? Well, some are obvious, and the three most successful London clubs, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham are all in. Indeed, they are the only three London clubs to have won the top-flight title. We also include West Ham, the now-defunct Wimbledon, Charlton, and QPR. None of the other modern-day London clubs has won any major honours, although Fulham did lift the 2002 UEFA Intertoto Cup (and have also lost out in the FA Cup final and the Europa League final).

So, in short, we have:

London Liverpool Manchester
Arsenal, Chelsea, QPR, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham, Charlton & Wimbledon Everton & Liverpool Manchester City & Manchester United

How Are We Measuring the “Best Football Record”?

Liverpool vs Arsenal
Liverpool vs Arsenal (wonker / Flickr.com)

Despite claims by some buffoons to the contrary, the best football record is Three Lions. World in Motion just doesn’t cut it we’re afraid. But if we are measuring the success enjoyed by the three cities and their teams, the obvious starting point is domestic league titles. Perhaps the next most important metric is UEFA Champions League (UCL) titles, including in the tournament’s previous guise as the European Cup.

Important Competitions

These two competitions are by some distance the most important, certainly to modern clubs. However, we are not going to add a weighting to the various competitions, in part because their importance has changed over the years and will continue to do so, and also because any such “handicap” system would be rather arbitrary.

Trophies Won

As such, we will look at the total silverware tallies of the teams and cumulatively, the cities. But we will not include various competitions, chiefly minor cups and lesser leagues (such as winning the second-tier championship). In addition, we have excluded the various super cups that are only contested by two teams who qualified by virtue of winning another competition. We will, therefore, tally up the city totals for the following:

  • Premier League
  • Champions League
  • FA Cup
  • Europa League
  • European Cup Winners’ Cup
  • EFL Cup

NB – the stats in this article are correct up to the end of the 2021/22 season. Where competition names have changed, we have used the current moniker but include stats from previous ones too.

Which City Has Won the Most Titles?

Manchester & Liverpool fans
Inge Knoff / Flickr.com

When it comes to league titles things are currently neck and neck between Manchester and Liverpool, with London some way back. The two northern powerhouses boast 28 titles each with London, despite there being far more clubs in the capital, on just 21. Seven might not seem like a huge difference but Liverpool and Manchester have both won 33% more titles than London, which is statistically significant.

It is not all that long ago that Liverpool were a long way out in front on their own. Then Sir Alex Ferguson came along. Then so did oodles of Abu Dhabi dollars (or more accurately dirhams). Since 1990/91, just one title has winged its way to Merseyside. Even the London clubs, well, Chelsea and Arsenal, won eight championships in that period. In contrast though, United won 13 PL titles and City have claimed six, turning a 27-9 deficit into a neck-and-neck 28-apiece race.

It would take a very passionate Scouser to believe that their city will be level at the top for too long. In the very near future, Manchester looks almost certain to move out in front, whilst it is very possible that London will move into second eventually, though that may take a couple of decades or more. Nonetheless, for now it’s all square.

FA Cup: London Strikes Back

FA Cup logoWhether buoyed by playing the final on “home soil” or simply coincidence, London sides have a far better record in the FA Cup. Arsenal’s 14 FA Cup triumphs makes them the most successful club in the competition’s history, whilst Chelsea and Spurs are joint-third with eight wins. This combines to give all London sides (excluding teams who exclusively won in the 19th century) a very grand total of 35 FA Cup victories. As you can see below, they are well ahead of their northern rivals:

  1. London 35 – Arsenal 14, Chelsea and Spurs 8, West Ham 3, Wimbledon 1, Charlton Athletic 1
  2. Manchester 18 – United 12, City 6
  3. Liverpool 13 – Liverpool 8, Everton 5

EFL Cup: Toffees Let the Side Down

EFL Cup logoLiverpool are the side with the most wins in the EFL Cup, or League Cup (or for 2023 the Carabao Cup), but city rivals Everton have never won it. They have made the final twice, losing in 1977 to Aston Villa in a second replay and Liverpool themselves in another replay in 1984. Man City are breathing down Liverpool’s neck with eight wins, with six since 2014. Chelsea are London’s top team, boasting five EFL Cup wins but which city comes out on top overall?

Well, it is a close contest but Manchester just about hold the bragging rights here with 13 titles. They may add to that too, with the Red Devils set to play Newcastle United in the 2023 final. London are just behind with 12 wins, whilst Liverpool bring up the rear on nine.

Champions League: Liverpool Leading Light

Champions League logoWhen it comes to arguably the most prestigious trophy of the lot, Liverpool, both in city terms and the club itself, leads the way. Aside from Real Madrid, who are miles clear of every other team thanks to their incredible 14 titles, only Milan (seven) can better Liverpool’s six.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s they were the dominant force in European football and won the European Cup, as it was then, four times. Everton were favourites to win the 1985/86 European Cup and they and Liverpool probably would have won more titles had English clubs not been banned from the competition following the Heysel disaster in 1985.

Nonetheless, the Reds also claimed the Champions League titles in 2005 (the miracle of Istanbul) and 2019. Man United are the next most successful English side with three Champions Leagues to their name, and were also the first to win the old European Cup, doing so with George Best and co in 1968. They then performed their own miracle by nicking two goals in injury time to beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in 1999, sealing a treble. Between 2008 and 2011 they made three finals but found Barcelona too good in 2009 and 2011.

Chelsea are the only other side from our three major football cities to have lifted the trophy, doing so twice. The Blues won in 2012 and in 2021 beat Man City in the final. Like City, Arsenal and Spurs have both appeared in a single final and lost. However, such is the financial dominance of English sides, it is surely only a matter of time before these top sides add more to the English tally, which stands at 14 thanks to Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest, the latter winning back-to-back titles in 1979 and 1980,

Europa League: Another Win for London Town

Europa League logoThe Europa League began life as the UEFA Cup in 1971, essentially replacing the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. The Fairs Cup was not a UEFA competition though, so whilst we include wins in the UEFA Cup here, we do not also include Arsenal’s 1970 triumph in the Fairs Cup.

Liverpool (FC) are, once again, the most successful English side in this competition, winning the UEFA Cup in 1973 and 1976 and most recently in 2001. Spurs and Chelsea both have two wins apiece, with the Blues’ victories coming in 2013 and 2019 following the competition’s rebranding to the Europa League.

Man United won this competition in 2017, whilst Arsenal have lost in the final twice, with fellow London club Fulham also losing in the final, in 2010. So, all in all, that leaves us with London out in front on four victories, Liverpool on three and Manchester able to boast just one.

European Cup Winners’ Cup

Euro 2024 logoThe European Cup Winners’ Cup (ECWC) was contested between 1960/61 and 1998/99 and in terms of UEFA competitions was behind only the Champions League when it came to prestige. As such, the UEFA Super Cup, now played between the winners of the CL and the Europa League, was formerly contested by the victors of the former of those two, and this competition.

From 1999 onwards it was merged into the Europa League, with winners of a nation’s primary cup earning a place in that. Before time was called on the Cup Winners’ Cup, seven different English sides managed to get their hands on this trophy. They were as follows:

  • Chelsea – 2 wins, in 1971 and 1998
  • Arsenal – Made three finals but sole victory in 1994
  • West Ham United – Won in 1965 and lost in the final 11 years later
  • Spurs – Won in 1963
  • Man City – Only major European silverware came in 1970
  • Everton – Won in 1985
  • Man United – Won in 1991

The Cup Winners Cup is the only major European trophy not won by Liverpool, with Man United one of a small number of clubs to have won all three. This competition is also the only one in which English sides have been more successful than those of any other nation. The eight victories detailed above mean they will be, forever, one ahead of Spain’s sides, with Italian clubs also having won seven ECWCs in total.

Summary of Major Trophies by City (London, Liverpool and Manchester)

Competition London Liverpool Manchester
Premier League 21 (Arsenal 13, Chelsea 6, Spurs 2) 28 (Liverpool 19, Everton 9) 28 (Manchester United 20, Manchester City 8)
FA Cup 35 (Arsenal 14, Chelsea/Spurs 8, West Ham 3, Charlton/Wimbledon 1 13 (Liverpool 8, Everton 5) 18 (United 12, City 6)
EFL Cup 12 (Chelsea 5, Spurs 4, Arsenal 2, QPR 1) 9 (all Liverpool) 13 (City 8, United 5)
Champions League 2 (Chelsea) 6 (Liverpool) 3 (Man United)
Europa League 4 (Chelsea and Spurs both 2) 3 (Liverpool) 1 (Man United)
European Cup Winners’ Cup 5 (Chelsea 2, Arsenal, Spurs and West Ham 1 each) 1 (Everton) 2 (1 each)
Total 79 60 65

As we can see, it is the sides from the capital who have been most successful, their 79 major trophies seeing them well clear of their two northern rivals. Of course, there are far more teams in London so this is not strictly a like-for-like comparison.

It is also well worth looking at which trophies have been won by the various teams and cities. Most clubs and supporters would agree that the Premier and Champions Leagues are the two most important ones. If we look solely at those two we see a very different picture, with Liverpool in first place on 34, Manchester next with 31 and London very much in bronze medal position with just 23.

There are, of course, many different ways to view success and ultimately this issue is just a little bit of fun rather than anything more serious. Liverpudlians will no doubt claim that their city is the most important football centre in the country, whilst Mancunians will fight their corner and Londoners the same. On trophies alone, it might appear that London clubs have been most successful but such a measure will always depend on what competitions we include, which we don’t, and if we class winning the EFL Cup to have the same merit as the Champions League.

And, of course, if we are talking about the “best football record”, perhaps there is more to consider than just silverware.

Top-Tier Time

Arsenal vs Chelsea
Ronnie Macdonald / Flickr.com

In addition to looking at the trophy cabinets of the different clubs and cities, how about considering how long they have played in the top flight? This is contentious because it does feel a little bit like saying “it’s the taking part that counts”. However, being in the Premier League is not merely taking part, it is, for the vast majority of clubs in the English football pyramid, the dream, the promised land, everything they hope for.

Another issue with looking at this metric is the fact that there are 17 professional sides in London as of the 2022/23 season. There are just two in each of Liverpool and Manchester and so if we look at the sides’ presence in the top flight, it would be a miracle if London was not well ahead. As such, we will compare London’s two most successful sides, in terms of top-flight longevity, with Liverpool/Everton and Man United/City.

Arsenal & Spurs Everton & Liverpool Man Utd & Man City
106+88 = 194 120+108 = 228 98+94 = 192

As we can see, based on this metric, Liverpool is well ahead, with little to separate London and Manchester. Whilst not everyone will value the worth of this stat as a measure of success, it further serves to illustrate that when looking at which city has the best football record, so much depends on what precisely we mean by that. One thing we can be sure of, however, is that Birmingham sure has a lot of catching up to do!