Between North, South, West and Humberside (East Riding), Yorkshire is the biggest county in the UK. Since the Premier League started in 1992, there have been 8 teams from ”god’s own country” that have played in the top tier of English football. Ranked in this list by their average league position, let’s have a look at how each team has faired over the last 26 years. Starting with…
Average league position: 19th
Highest league position: 19th (1997/98)
Seasons in the Premier League: 1 (1997-98)
In May of 1997, the little South Yorkshire town of Barnsley reached the top flight for the first time in their history. An incredible achievement for a club who had been in the football league for 99 years, becoming the smallest club in terms of population to be promoted to the Premier League – a record since beaten by Burnley. Danny Wilson’s men struggled to adapt to the top tier at first, losing 5-0 and 6-0 at home to Arsenal and Chelsea respectively, and a 7-0 defeat at Old Trafford to Manchester United. A mid-season run however, which included away wins at Liverpool and Aston Villa, gave Barnsley hope of surviving relegation. But just one win in their last nine games condemned the Tykes to Division One with a game to spare. The biggest highlight of the season came in the FA Cup, with a fifth round replay win over Man Utd giving the Oakwell crowd a night to remember. In the summer, manager Wilson left for Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley haven’t returned to the Premier League since, coming close only once in their 2000 Division One play-off final defeat to Ipswich. With them going back and forth between the Championship and League One in recent years, a return to the big time must seem like another 99 years away for Barnsley fans.
7. Bradford City
Average league position: 18th
Highest league position: 17th (1999/2000)
Seasons in the Premier League: 2 (1999-2001)
Bankrolled from the beginning of the ’90s by chairman Geoffrey Richmond, Bradford slowly climbed the divisions throughout the decade until their promotion to the Premier League in 1999. It was the first time the Bantams had been in the top tier since 1922. In fact Mr Richmond had promised the fans Premier League football ‘within five years’ in 1994, a promise which he duly delivered. Guided by manager Paul Jewell, Bradford struggled at first, winning only once from their first eight matches. An incredible run of nine home games without defeat towards the end of the season however, gave City a massive chance of staying up. A final day 1-0 victory against Liverpool from a David Wetherall header, secured Bradford another year in the top flight, surviving with a then record-low points tally of 36. The following summer saw a change of manager, as newly relegated Sheffield Wednesday tempted Jewell to drop down a division. Assistant Chris Hutchings took charge and was at the helm for some outrageous summer spending which went on to affect Bradford for years to come as the club racked up enormous debts. Multi-million pound signings Ashley Ward and David Hopkin joined and City also signed Benito Carbone on £40,000 a week wages. Incredible times at Valley Parade when you look back. Hutchings was sacked after recording just one victory in 12 matches and was replaced by the uninspiring Scot, Jim Jeffries. Bradford were relegated at the end of April and never really recovered financially, especially with the collapse of ITV Digital a year later. The last 14 years have been spent playing in League’s One and Two, the only highlight being a League Cup final appearance in 2014. With a population of over half a million, it’s hard to believe that Bradford City have only played 12 seasons out of their 115 year history in the top flight. The Bantams have always been the perfect example of a ‘sleeping giant.’
6. Hull City
Average league position: 17th
Highest league position: 16th (2013/14)
Seasons in the Premier League: 5 (2008-10, 13-15, 16-17)
Talking of big city clubs, Hull City have become one of the most consistent yo-yo teams of the last decade, spending half that time in the Premier League and the other half in the Championship. Promoted in 2008 for the first time in their history, Phil Brown’s men survived an inconsistent season by the skin of their teeth. A fantastic start of one defeat in their first 9 games had Hull at an all time high position of third in the table. That soon changed however, with the Tigers winning only two more games over the remainder of the season, staying up despite losing their final game at home to Manchester Utd. The following season was not so lucky for Hull, Phil Brown was placed on gardening leave and replaced by Iain Dowie, who was unable to prevent the Tigers from plummeting into to the Championship. Three years later under the management of Steve Bruce, Hull returned to the Premier League. They finished in their highest ever position of 16th, which was a lot more comfortable than the table suggested. The highlight of this period was an FA Cup Final appearance in 2014, which they unfortunately lost 3-2 to Arsenal, despite leading 2-0. City were relegated again the following year, but kept faith with Steve Bruce and returned at the first time of asking with a play-off victory over Sheffield Wednesday. Bruce left before the new season started and assistant Mike Phelan took charge, but he only lasted until January after a poor run of results. Spaniard Marco Silva took the reigns but couldn’t stop the Tigers from the drop again, with relegation confirmed in May 2017. Hull might well be a rugby city at heart but the fan base is there when things are going well, so despite struggling last year and at the beginning of this campaign, you wouldn’t be surprised to see them back in the Premier League over the next few years.
5. Sheffield United
Average league position: 17th
Highest league position: 14th (1992/93)
Seasons in the Premier League: 3 (1992-94, 2006-07)
Following successful spells in English football’s top flight in the ’60s and ’70s, Sheffield United returned to the old Division One in 1990 and were one of the inaugural members of the Premier League two years later. In fact main striker Brian Deane scored the first goal in Premier League history on the opening day against Manchester United during a 2-1 home victory. After a fairly comfortable first season finishing 14th, Deane was sold in the summer and was never adequately replaced. This led to a lack of goals for most of the season which ultimately condemned Dave Bassett’s men back to Division One, with a final day, last minute defeat at Chelsea sending them down. Two play-off final defeats in 1997 and 2003 followed, until the Blades eventually regained their Premiership status under the guidance of Neil Warnock. While they hovered above the relegation zone for most of the season, it was the final few games of the 2006/07 campaign where the drama really unfolded. Top scorer Rob Hulse suffered a horrific broken leg away at Chelsea, which seemed to start a decline in form for United. However, going into the last game of the season, all the Sheffield side needed was a draw at home to relegation rivals Wigan to survive. On top of that, West Ham who were also below them, were away at champions Manchester United. The Blades lost the match 2-1, the winning goal coming from Wigan’s David Unsworth penalty against his former club. Still thinking they would be fine, Sheff Utd fans couldn’t believe the scoreline at Old Trafford, where West Ham beat Man Utd 1-0 to ultimately send them down. The goalscorer in that game was a name that is still etched in the memory down at Bramall Lane; Carlos Tevez. Afterwards Sheffield United mounted a legal battle against the Hammers, who had been found guilty over irregularities found with the transfers of Tevez and Javier Mascherano early in the season. Although West Ham were never deducted the points that would have kept United up, they still had to pay the Blades £10 million in compensation. Warnock resigned not long after and despite coming close to a return with another play-off final defeat in 2009 to Burnley, Sheffield United have played most of this decade in League One. Promotion to the Championship in 2017 and a solid 10th place last campaign last year will let the fans dream of reappearing in the top flight. Let’s hope for their sake that there’s no little Argentinian to spoil it for them next time.
4. Huddersfield Town
Average league position: 16th
Highest league position: 16th (2017/18)
Seasons in the Premier League: 1 (2017-18)
You might think it’s a bit harsh on some of the clubs already mentioned to have Huddersfield so high up after one season, but what a season it was. Promoted via a penalty shootout win over Reading in the 2017 play-off final, the Terriers joined English football’s elite for the first time since 1972. They were odds-on favourites to go straight back down, but manager David Wagner had other ideas. Adopting a ‘gegenpress’ style of football from his old pal Jurgen Klopp – the idea being as soon as your team lose the ball, you immediately attempt to win it back, instead of falling back into position – worked magnificently for Huddersfield last season. They eventually sealed their safety with two games to go following a 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Unfortunately, Town have made a poor start to this season and it seems most teams have worked out how to play them by now, although there’s no need to panic just yet. Huddersfield Town have a big history in English football after becoming the first club to win the league championship in three consecutive seasons in the 1920’s under the great Herbert Chapman, so it’s fantastic to see them in the top tier once again. How long will they stay there? Who knows, so enjoy every minute Terriers fans.
Average league position: 13th
Highest league position: 7th (2004/05)
Seasons in the Premier League: 15 (1992-93, 95-97, 98-2009, 16-17)
Right before I start getting abuse, Middlesbrough is actually in the North Riding of Yorkshire. It is situated on the south bank of the River Tees which is in Yorkshire, whereas the north bank of the River Tees is in Durham. Between 1974 and 1996, Middlesbrough was in the county of Cleveland until that was abolished and split between Durham and North Yorkshire, so then the town came back to Yorkshire. Also if you go to Yorkshire’s biggest tourist website, yorkshire.com, you’ll see that Middlesbrough is a place of interest it advertises to visit, just like Leeds, York, Sheffield etc. So for all those reasons, it’s in. Anyway, back to the football…
Middlesbrough were one of the founder members of the Premier League in 1992, but did not last long in the top tier and were relegated that first season under manager Lennie Lawrence. Two years later and under the management of former England captain Bryan Robson, Boro were back in the top flight and with significant financial backing from chairman Steve Gibson. Brazilian starlet Juninho was signed that first season, with 6,000 fans welcoming him at the stadium. More big signings arrived, including England forward Nick Barmby, Italian international Fabrizio Ravenelli and a second samba star Emerson. That 96/97 season was certainly memorable at the Riverside stadium. Middlesbrough lost both cup finals to Leicester and Chelsea respectively and were also relegated on the last day of the season, after failing to beat Leeds at Elland Road. The big signings all moved on but Robson kept his job and won promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking with England midfielders Paul Merson and Paul Gascoigne in the squad. Middlesbrough were fairly comfortable in mid-table for the next 3 years until a relegation scare cost Robson his job. Manchester United assistant Steve McLaren took over and arguably guided Boro to the most successful period in their history. Winning the League Cup in 2004 (their first ever trophy) and finishing 7th the season after gave Middlesbrough consecutive years in the UEFA Cup, in which they finished runners-up to Sevilla in 2006. McLaren left for an ill-fated spell in charge of England and was replaced at the helm by his captain Gareth Southgate. Two uninspiring bottom half finishes were followed by relegation in the 2008/09 season. It was then 7 years in the Championship for Boro until they were back in the Premier League, finishing second to give Aitor Karanka promotion in his third campaign. The celebrations didn’t last long however as Middlesbrough struggled all season, sacking Karanka in March 2017 and were eventually relegated two months later. Just like Hull, you wouldn’t put it past Boro to win promotion again in the near future, especially with the good start they’ve made to this campaign. Surprisingly, Middlesbrough have had more seasons in the Premier League than any other club in this list.
2. Sheffield Wednesday
Average league position: 12th
Highest league position: 7th (1992/93, 93/94, 96/97)
Seasons in the Premier League: 8 (1992-2000)
Sheffield Wednesday went into the first Premier League season on a high after finishing third in the previous campaign. The arrival of former England international Chris Waddle from Marseille only increased the excitement around Hillsborough at that time. And so 1992/93 proved to be one of the most eventful and dramatic seasons in the club’s history. First up was a 2-1 League Cup final defeat at Wembley to Arsenal, despite taking the lead through a John Harkes goal. Wednesday followed that by finishing the season in a credible 7th position in the league, but it was the FA Cup where the real drama happened. The FA Cup semi-finals pulled a Sheffield derby out of the hat, against their local rivals United. When the other semi-final between Arsenal and Tottenham was switched to Wembley, a massive backlash happened in the steel city and the tie was also moved by the FA to the national stadium. An extra-time header by Mark Bright put Wednesday into the final in a 2-1 win, following a Chris Waddle free-kick opener which has gone down as one of the great Wembley stadium goals. The final itself was against Arsenal for the second time that season. After a 1-1 draw the match went to a replay a few days later; the last ever FA Cup Final replay as it turned out. Ian Wright and Waddle traded goals to send the game into extra-time again, but a last minute header from defender Andy Linighan ended Wednesday’s FA Cup dream. That was the last time the Owls have appeared in a major final. Manager Trevor Francis lasted two more years in charge before he was sacked and David Pleat took over. Pleat only last a couple of seasons himself, despite a 7th place finish, before he was replaced by former manager Ron Atkinson until the end of the 1997/98 season. When Atkinson’s contract wasn’t renewed, the Wednesday board turned to former player Danny Wilson from South Yorkshire rivals Barnsley. A 12th placed finish in his first season was followed by a disastrous 1999/2000 campaign which Sheffield Wednesday were relegated, with a record 8-0 defeat to Newcastle a particular low point. Wilson was sacked and caretaker Peter Shreeves saw the season out. The closest Wednesday have been to a return was the 1-0 play-off final defeat to Hull in 2016, a game which many fans saw as their big chance. It’s hard to believe that a club of Sheffield Wednesday’s size has been away from the top flight for 18 years now. During that period they even went down to League One. One thing is for sure, the Owls wouldn’t be out of place with the big boys if they ever returned.
1. Leeds United
Average league position: 8th
Highest league position : 3rd (1999-2000)
Seasons in the Premier League: 12 (1992-2004)
If you’re searching for a rollercoaster ride throughout the first 10-12 years of the Premier League, then strap yourself in and look no further than Leeds United. Having just won the final Football League Championship in 1992, you would have forgiven Leeds fans for being optimistic going into the first Premier League season. However, United only finished 17th, going down as one of the worst performances ever from a reigning champion. Manager Howard Wilkinson kept his job and finished 5th in both of the next two campaigns. A disastrous 3-0 League Cup final defeat to Aston Villa in 1996 didn’t go down well with the fans though and after a bad start to the following season (including a 4-0 home defeat to Man Utd), Wilkinson was sacked and replaced by former Arsenal manager George Graham. After a steady 11th place in his first campaign, Graham steered Leeds to a 5th place finish and UEFA Cup qualification. However, just a few weeks into the 1998/99 season, Graham left for Spurs and his assistant David O’Leary took charge. The new manager introduced youngsters Alan Smith and Jonathan Woodgate to the team, which improved them further and helped Leeds to 4th place and another UEFA Cup campaign. It was at this point that chairman Peter Ridsdale decided to start investing heavily in the squad. David Batty, Danny Mills, Eirik Bakke, Michael Duberry, Darren Huckerby and Jason Wilcox all signed during 1999/2000, assisting Leeds to a third place finish and Champions League qualification. Mr Ridsdale and O’Leary both saw this opportunity to write some more cheques and in came Olivier Dacourt, Dominic Matteo, Mark Viduka, Robbie Keane and £18 million pound club record signing Rio Ferdinand. Elland Road became an Anfield-type fortress during that Champions League campaign, helping Leeds to the semi-finals where they were soundly beaten by Valencia 3-0 on aggregate. A fourth place league position meant Leeds missed out on a vital Champions League spot, which had serious financial implications over the next few seasons. Going for broke, Leeds continued to spend money they didn’t have during the 2001/02 season and added Robbie Fowler and Seth Johnson to squad. Unfortunately they only finished in 5th place, again missing out on Champions League football, ploughing the club into more and more debt. This time it couldn’t be ignored and Leeds needed to sell players. In the summer O’Leary was surprisingly sacked and Terry Venables came in. During the course of the next season, Ferdinand, Keane, Bowyer, Woodgate, Fowler and Dacourt were all sold. This took its toll on the team and they just avoided relegation, finishing 15th. However, the 2003/04 was where it all ended for Leeds United. With debts totalling near the £100m pound mark, no money was available for transfers and more and more games were given to youngsters who were not ready. Peter Reid took over but was sacked by November and former player and coach Eddie Gray was placed in charge until the end of the season. Despite a gallant effort by the players, Leeds ended the season relegated from the Premier League with a 4-1 defeat at Bolton. Incredible to think that they were in a Champions League semi-final just three years earlier. Two years later a return to the top flight seemed hopeful, but the 3-0 play-off final defeat to Watford in 2006 is the closest Leeds have come to Premier League football since their relegation. And like Sheffield Wednesday before them, United even had a spell in the third tier after dropping down from the Championship to League One in 2007. Things are looking up for Leeds at the moment however, sitting at the top of the Championship after their best start to a season in years. With one of the biggest fanbases in the country and a Premier League standard stadium, Leeds United definitely have the potential to get back those glory days, as they keep marching on together.
Admittedly this isn’t the greatest of eras for football clubs in Yorkshire. With the relegation from League Two of York City and the winding up of Halifax Town and Scarborough in the late ’00s, there are only two other Yorkshire teams (not mentioned in this list) that play league football – Rotherham United and my hometown team Doncaster Rovers. Both are solid league clubs, but realistically are never going to make the top tier. So it will rest on the teams who already have experience in the big time to represent Yorkshire once again. At the time of print, four of these clubs are in the top half of the Championship. And as a proud Yorkshireman myself, I’d like nothing more than to see one or two of these sides hopefully join Huddersfield in the Premier League next season.
Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Yorkshire!