“If the founders of the Premier League had decided the title would be passed on like it is in boxing (so the first team to beat Leeds United in the 1992-93 season would have won their title, and the first team to beat that team would have taken it from them and so on), who would be the current champions?” asks Oliver Forrest.
It’s a good time to ask a question like this, as the Knowledge has little better to do during lockdown than trawl through hundreds and thousands of Premier League results going back to 1992. Before we come to the current incumbents, let’s look at those who finished each season as unofficial Premier League champions.
Chelsea have won the most titles with three and Liverpool have picked up two, when in reality they have only won the one they waltzed to last year. Manchester United have just one solitary unofficial title, as opposed to 13 in the real world. Their unofficial one came in 2004-05, a season when they didn’t win the real one.
The strangest finding is that Arsenal’s Invincibles did not win the unofficial title in 2003-04. They only faced the reigning unofficial champions twice during that season – Bolton in December and Newcastle in April – and drew both matches.
Sheffield Wednesday (in 1999-2000) and Newcastle (2015-16) were relegated from the real Premier League while also winning the unofficial one, which meant a couple of detours via the Championship, with Burton Albion, who only became a Football League club in 2009, perhaps being the smallest team to be wear the unofficial crown when they beat Brighton on 11 February 2017. We had to follow the 2016-17 Championship season into the play-offs, where Huddersfield brought the title back into the Premier League when they beat Reading on penalties.
Southampton are still the current champions despite their loss to Crystal Palace on the opening day. Palace lost the title to Everton on 26 September but the Toffees’ defeat at St Mary’s on 25 October means Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side have regained their crown and take it to Wolves this weekend.
First and worst
“Lee Dixon acknowledged on TV commentary that his professional career included coming in first (with Arsenal) and 92nd (with Chester City) in the pyramid,” notes Mike Wilner. “Are there other players who finished first and worst in England? How about other nations?”
It took Dixon only five years to go from bottom (1983-84) to top (1988-89). Another Arsenal player managed the same feat, though he did it the other way round and at a more leisurely pace. “The Scottish midfielder Eddie Kelly began his career at Arsenal (1969-76) and won the Double in 1971,” writes Robin Clarke. “His playing days ended at Torquay United (1984-86) with another double: they finished bottom of Division Four in 1985 and 1986.”
There are a couple of not dissimilar stories that are too good to ignore. The first, Leighton James, was top and bottom of the Football League pyramid during the season rather than at the end of it. His USP is that he did it with the same club.
“On 28 August 1973, Leighton James strode off the pitch after Burnley had beaten Chelsea to find the Clarets joint-top of the First Division, with two wins out of two,” explains Chris Rawson. “On 9 May 1987, he jogged on to Turf Moor in the same colours, with Burnley 92nd in the Football League and about to face Orient in the last game of the season. Burnley won 2-1 and avoided the ignominy of being the first club to be automatically relegated from the Football League.”
The other is a deluxe journeyman. “While he never won the Premier League, Edgar Davids won the Dutch, Italian and Spanish leagues as well as the Champions League and Uefa Cup,” writes Graham.
“He was later relegated from the Football League with Barnet in 2013.”
Barnet didn’t finish bottom of the Football League that season – they were 91st, with two teams relegated – but it still registers pretty high on the hero-to-zero-ometer.
The Guardian Sport