The top clubs in England over 50 years are…

4 January 2024 0 By Total Football News

Which is the top club in the land? Which teams are punching above their weight and which historic powerhouses languish in the lower divisions? This year’s Ultimate League has arrived…

The Ultimate League factors each club’s average league position over the past 50 years and includes every club that has featured in England’s top four tiers for at least 10 seasons during that period.

Liverpool remain England’s top club with a remarkable average position of 3.4 over the last half a century, while Manchester United stave off Arsenal narrowly for runners-up spot, with Tottenham completing the top four.

Everton’s continuous top-flight presence during the period, which has come under threat over the past three seasons, in addition to title-winning campaigns in the early ’70s and mid ’80s, places the Toffees in fifth spot.

Everton last won the English top-flight title in 1987

Image: Everton last won the English top-flight title in 1987

Chelsea’s notable success since the millennium helps the Blues secure sixth spot ahead of Aston Villa, who last won the top-flight title back in 1980/81 and only regained Premier League status over four years ago after spending three campaigns in the Championship.

Reigning champions Manchester City surge into eighth spot after enjoying considerable success in recent years, particularly under Pep Guardiola. Indeed, City had slipped into the third tier only 25 years ago but have now won seven league titles in the past 12 years and are challenging to claim an unprecedented fourth in a row this term.

Current top-flight clubs West Ham, Newcastle, Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace also rightfully reside in England’s top tier, according to their historic league success.

Founding members

Everton, Aston Villa and West Brom were among the 12 founding members of the original league in 1888.

A raft of second-tier sides are among England’s top 20 clubs in the rankings, including Southampton, Leeds and Leicester – who were all relegated from the Premier League last term – and Norwich, Middlesbrough, West Brom, Blackburn and Sunderland.

Norwich, Blackburn and Middlesbrough are the biggest underachievers in the top 20 – all currently sitting between 19 and 17 positions below their historic average ranking. Everton, Leeds and Southampton fall into this category, too – all sitting 12 places lower than their respective averages.


In total, 91 of the 97 teams in the rankings have retained Football League status in the top four tiers for 50 consecutive seasons, only MK Dons, Stevenage, Newport County AFC (post-1989/90), AFC Wimbledon, Accrington Stanley (post-1968/69) and Fleetwood fall outside of this category.

Biggest underachievers

Oldham, who currently play in the National League, are England’s biggest underachievers and languish 54 places below their 50-year average ranking after suffering relegation from the Football League for the first time in 115 years in 2021/22, followed by Southend and Scunthorpe (both -41).

Oldham last appeared in England's top division in 1994, when they also reached the FA Cup semi-finals

Image: Oldham last appeared in England’s top division in 1994, when they also reached the FA Cup semi-finals

Other serious underachievers include Torquay (-35), Swindon (-32), Yeovil (-28), Charlton (-27), Hartlepool (-26) and Derby (-25).

Biggest overachievers

In contrast, Bournemouth (+37), Brentford (+32), Burton (+31), Brighton and Fleetwood (both +29) are punching well above their 50-year average rankings.

Other notable overachievers include Stevenage, Wycombe (both +26), Lincoln (+25), Cheltenham (+24), Luton (+23), Northampton (+22) and Fulham (+19).

Teams removed from Ultimate League

  • Aldershot (pre-1992/93)
  • Bury (pre-2023/24)
  • Darlington (pre-2012/13)
  • Halifax (pre-2008/09)
  • Hereford
  • Macclesfield
  • Newport County (pre-1989/90)
  • Scarborough
  • Wimbledon (pre-2004/05)