At the time of writing in May 2023, Southampton have just been relegated from the Premier League. They were the first club to suffer that fate in the 2022/23 season and will be in the Championship in the 2023/24 seasons alongside the likes of Rotherham, Bristol City and newly promoted Plymouth Argyle.
Is this scenario new to the Saints though? How long have they been in the top flight? Have they been relegated before and, if so, how many times? In this article, we will answer those questions and look in a little more detail at the times the south coast side have suffered demotion from the Premier League.
Southampton’s Premier League Relegations
|Year||Position||Points||W||D||L||Return to PL|
* Stats for the 2022-23 season correct as of 19th May 2023. Southampton have two games left to play but cannot escape 20th place.
Southampton’s First Relegation: 2004/05
Top Scorer: Peter Crouch (12)
It may surprise some fans to learn that the Saints were founder members of the Premier League. They finished runners-up in the old First Division in the 1983/84 season, having played in the top flight since promotion ahead of the 1978/79 campaign. They kept their place among the nation’s elite for many years but they would finish 18th in the inaugural Premier League campaign in 1992/93.
Luckily for them, the PL contained 22 teams in those days and so they survived and, in large part to the brilliance, creative magic and goals of Matthew Le Tissier, they remained a Premier League side until 2004/05. Le Tissier is now regarded as either a crank or a warrior of truth against the mainstream media (depending on your standpoint) but back then there is no denying he was a joy to watch.
Key Players Depart
Le Tissier was born in Guernsey and whilst it would be hard to describe him as an athlete his skill, vision and technique were as good as anyone’s at the time. He only played eight times for England and never scored, but many feel that he was underutilised by a national side that feared players of his ilk (and perhaps still does).
He is generally classed as an attacking midfielder but was a second striker really and is among the elite group of players to have notched 100 Premier League goals. Indeed, his tally of 100 goals and 63 assists from 270 games is right up there with the very best. He was their top scorer for seven seasons (including two just before the Premier League was formed) and when he left the club at the end of the 2001/02 campaign he was sorely missed.
Even so, however, the club marched on without him with players like Marian Pahars and James Beattie replacing his goals. The latter top-scored for the club in 2002/03 and 2003/04 but signed for Everton during the 2004/05 season and his departure certainly played a large part in Southampton’s demise.
Relegation that season was still something of a surprise though as they had made the FA Cup final under Gordon Strachan in 2003, the Scot leading them to 11th and eighth-place finishes in the top flight before leaving midway through the 2003/04 campaign. It wasn’t like the loss of Strachan, who had decided to take a sabbatical, totally derailed them either.
With Paul Sturrock in charge from March, the side finished 12th and hopes were high ahead of the following campaign. Ah, it’s the hope that kills you. The Premier League was, by then, down to 20 teams and Southampton finished 20th, managing just six wins all season. Their record in 2022/23 looks very similar, although back in 2005 they ended up with 32 points, a tally they cannot get close to this term.
Three Different Managers
They had three managers over the course of the season, with Sturrock in charge until Steve Wigley was appointed in late August. The former Nottingham Forest player didn’t make it through to Christmas though, with Harry Redknapp taking over on 8th December. The club had just lost 3-0 to Man United and with only two wins to their name after 16 games the Southampton board had seen enough.
Harry managed to improve results a little, especially during a two-month spell from January to March when the Saints lost once in seven games, collecting 12 points, or 38% of their final tally! However, they suffered three consecutive defeats and only won one of their last eight games to finish plum bottom. Peter Crouch was their top scorer with 12 league strikes as they finished a point behind relegated Norwich and Palace and two adrift of 17th-placed West Brom.
Saints Double Drop into Third Tier: 2008/09
Not content with relegation from the Premier League, Southampton decided to give the third tier, League 1, a whirl. They finished 12th in their first season in the Championship, then sixth, losing out in the play-offs, and then in a sign of things to come, 20th, narrowly preserving their second-tier status.
Twelve months on, in 2008/09 they would finish 23rd, dropping down to the third tier. Unlike some clubs, such as Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday, for example, they managed to bounce back quickly though. In 2011, they finished second in League 1, repeating the feat the following season in the Championship to book their return for the 2012/13 Premier League season.
Southhampton’s Second Relegation: 2022/23
Top Scorer: James Ward-Prowse
As noted, the Saints were the first club to be demoted during the 2022/23 season. With three games to go they needed maximum points and a highly unlikely series of results elsewhere. However, they fell at their own first hurdle, going down 2-0 to Fulham at home on 13th May, 2023.
With just 24 points from their first 36 games they were already assured of their worst Premier League campaign ever. Their current goal difference is -35, the worst in the league at the time of writing, and it really has been a season to forget for the club. In the two transfer windows they had a net spend of around £120m and so fans would have hoped they could have improved on their 15th-place finish in 2021/22, when they also made the semi final of the FA Cup.
Instead they dispensed with Ralph Hasenhüttl in November 2022 after what was deemed a sub-standard start to the campaign. They lost 4-1 at home to Newcastle on the 6th of the month and the Austrian was sacked a day later with Saints dropping into the bottom three (18th). However, they were far from doomed and had only just come off a three-game unbeaten run that saw them collect five points and draw with Arsenal.
At the time of Hasenhuttl’s dismissal, they had taken 12 points from 14 games, a return of 0.857 points per game. Over the course of the season that would have given them 33 points and an outside chance of survival. Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing but it is hard to imagine the club having done so poorly had they stuck with their man.
Instead, the disastrous appointment of Nathan Jones followed, and yielded just three points. His short tenure brought one win and seven defeats in eight league games but in truth he was given little chance by the fans, who were against him from the off.
He had done a very decent job over two spells with Luton (who, subject to a play-off final may replace Southampton in the Premier League) but in between those had a very poor time as boss of Stoke. It was felt he had a small-time mentality and even, perhaps, an inferiority complex with players who had played at a level far beyond that which he had reached.
Whatever the reasons for why he failed, aside from shocking results, he was sacked on 12th February and Ruben Selles was appointed 12 days later. The Spanish boss briefly got a response, of sorts, from his players, collecting five points from his first five games in charge. However, they soon reverted to type and at present the Saints have collected just one point from the last 24 available.
Other Relegations from the Top Flight
As we often repeat (admittedly along with millions on social media), football did not commence when clubs and Sky decided to turn it upside down and create the Premier League. Now we will consider if Southampton have been relegated from the highest level of English football before their first PL demotion in 2005.
Saints 20th in Old Division 1: 1973/74
Back when club legend Mich Channon was banging in the goals and Lawrie McMenemy had his first spell as Saints boss, the club suffered relegation into the old second division. A couple of years later they would make history by becoming one of the few second-tier outfits to lift the FA Cup in 1976 with McMenemy at the helm. But in 1973/74 they were one of three sides to be demoted, along with Man United and Norwich.
The top flight held 22 teams back then and whilst Leeds United were pipping Liverpool to the title, Southampton were very much battling it out at the wrong end of the table. They actually only won four home games fewer than the champions (for reference, in 2022/23 that looks like being a gap of 15 wins despite a shorter season!) but their away record was very poor.
There were only two points for the win back then but even so the relegation battle was very tight. In the end Saints filled the last spot but with 36 points there were five clubs within two points of their tally. Midway through the season longstanding boss, Ted Bates, or “Mr Southampton”, stepped down, ending 18 years as Saints boss (he also spent 16 years there as a player). He assisted McMenemy for a few years before moving into a board role but even with his help and experience the club could not avoid the drop.
That was the first time the club had dropped out of the top tier, and the only time they have done so outside of the Premier League era. Founded in 1885 as St Mary’s YMA (the club’s current ground is called St Mary’s), they spent much of their early years in the lower divisions. Indeed, they only entered the Football League itself in 1920/21 having previously played in the Southern League.
Either side of the Second World War they spent long periods in Division 2 but were relegated in 1953. They eventually made it to the top flight for the start of the 1966/67 campaign and would stay there until 1974 as detailed above.