Arsenal are apparently making contingency plans should the worst happen this season because, as this lot demonstrate, you’re never too big to go down…
Nottingham Forest – 1992/93
Relegation was no way to bring down the curtain on Brian Clough’s 18-year reign at Forest, which brought a league title and two European Cups to the City Ground. But those glorious days belonged to a different era by the time the Premier League’s inaugural season concluded with Forest propping up the table, 10 points from safety.
Forest had finished eighth in 1991/92 having also reached the League Cup final but the following season was a disaster that few had anticipated. It began promisingly with a 1-0 win over Liverpool in the first televised game on Sky Sports, but the matchwinner Teddy Sheringham was sold to Spurs a week later. Des Walker had already gone to Sampdoria and neither were adequately replaced. Stuart Pearce had checked out, mentally at least, after a dispute with Clough, while the manager’s son played most of the season with speculation swirling about his father’s health and future.
After beating Liverpool, Forest managed only two more wins before Christmas. They showed some signs of life after the turn of the year when they won five and drew two of eight matches but only another two wins followed while the club tore itself apart over the Clough issue.
Read more: Brain Clough – Portrait of an icon
There were parallels between Clough’s exit and that of Arsene Wenger’s from Arsenal. When it was announced that Clough would retire, it wasn’t clear to what extent he was being pushed. Clough was only 58 but alcoholism gave him the appearance of a much older man and Forest director Chris Wootton had been suspended over his attempts to feed stories of the manager’s drinking to the press.
Forest’s relegation was confirmed on the penultimate weekend of the season, when they were beaten 2-0 by Sheffield United at the City Ground on Clough’s home farewell. Clough Jr admitted that “age has caught up with him” when Barry Davies pressed the forward on the issue of his manager’s health before Davies and Clough shared one of the many embraces the boss was handing out as he was given a hero’s send-off despite relegation.
— It’s A Funny Old Game (@sid_lambert) May 13, 2018
Manchester United – 1973-74
Six years after being the first English side to win the European Cup, United were relegated from the First Division, leaving them outside the top flight for the first time since 1938.
It was Tommy Docherty’s first full season in charge after the charismatic Scottish manager was appointed to replace Frank O’Farrell midway through the previous campaign. O’Farrell was the man after the man after Sir Matt Busby, but Busby’s presence in the boardroom was still overshadowing his successors.
United flirted with the drop in 1972-73 but there was to be no escape in 1974. They conceded only 48 goals but scored just 38 in 42 games. Relegation was confirmed on derby day, when Denis Law’s backheel condemned his former side to a 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford. But results elsewhere meant Law’s reluctant goal was irrelevant in United’s fate. They would have been down anyway had the ball not squeezed through Alex Stepney’s legs.
United kept faith in Docherty and they were rewarded with what many veteran Reds claim to be one of the most enjoyable seasons following United around the Second Division, to places like Leyton Orient and York City. Docherty built a young and exciting team and they returned to the top flight as champions before finishing third and reaching the FA Cup final in 1975-76.
OTD 74 – The Doc’s Red army visit the historic city of York. pic.twitter.com/sMd5wxQVhR
— unitedrewind (@unitedrewind) December 21, 2020
Leeds United – 2003-04
‘Doing a Leeds’ – to suffer dire consequences as a result of financial mismanagement while ‘chasing the dream’.
For the Whites, the consequence of overspending on things like office aquariums and bang-average midfielders from Derby was relegation. The Championship didn’t halt their descent – the fallout continued in the second tier to the extent of relegation to League One after entering administration in 2007.
It was all a far cry from places like the San Siro, the Bernabeu and the Mestalla, where Leeds ventured on their European travels. A Champions League semi-final place in 2001 gave Peter Ridsdale and the Leeds board a taste of the big time and they spent big in an effort to stay there.
Another failure to finish in the top four in 2002 prompted a fire sale of players when it was belatedly realised that Leeds could not sustain their debt repayments without the Champions League revenue. United plummeted to 15th the following season under Terry Venables and Peter Reid. After gathering just eight points from their opening 12 games, Reid was gone in late 2003 to be replaced by club legend Eddie Gray. But seven straight defeats early in 2004 left Leeds languishing at the foot of the table and their relegation was confirmed with a 4-1 defeat at Bolton, which left Alan Smith and Paul Robinson in tears, just three years after they had been playing in the Champions League semis. Not to worry – Smith was on his way to Man Utd and Robinson joined Tottenham.
Given the scale of their debts, an immediate return was never likely and it took 16 years for Leeds to climb their way back into the top flight.
Newcastle United – 2008/09
Prior to relegation in 2009, it had been 16 years for Newcastle in the Premier League, a period which saw them go agonisingly close to winning the title under Kevin Keegan before Sir Bobby Robson took the Magpies on a couple of Champions League adventures and to the UEFA Cup semi-finals.
Five years later, Alan Shearer was taking them to the Championship. He could hardly be blamed – his appointment late in the season was a last, desperate throw of the dice. The former striker was one of four different managers that season, starting with Kevin Keegan in charge before his fall-out with Mike Ashley.
Chris Hughton, as caretaker manager, could not arrest a slump in form so Ashley, in his infinite wisdom, turned to Joe Kinnear who had not managed in almost four years since leaving Nottingham Forest after 10 months in the Championship. It had been almost a decade since Kinnear had managed in the top flight and the interim boss set about making his presence felt immediately, especially with the local media.
Kinnear’s reign was longer than initially expected but suddenly cut short in February 2009 when it was discovered that the manager needed a heart bypass operation. By that time, Shay Given and Charles N’Zogbia had left in January, following James Milner’s sale to Aston Villa the previous summer. When Shearer arrived with eight games to go, the writing was on the wall, and his appointment reaped only a single win before relegation was confirmed with a miserable 1-0 defeat at Villa on the last day.
“It’s been catastrophic for everybody,” admitted Ashley after relegation. “I’ve lost my money and I’ve made terrible decisions. Now I want to sell the club as soon as I can.”
That was 11 years ago…
Hamburg – 2017-18
Like Arsenal have never been relegated from the top flight, Hamburg had never been relegated from the Bundesliga. Not even Bayern Munich could claim to have been ever-present in the Bundesliga since its inception in 1963 and it was something Hamburg were extremely proud of. So much so, they had a clock in the corner of the Volksparkstadion recording their time in the top division.
That clock stopped on 54 years and 261 days. The six-time Bundesliga champions and 1983 European Cup winners’ luck had run out. After escaping on the final day of the previous season and coming through relegation play-offs in 2015 and 2016, their descent into Bundesliga II was confirmed on the last day of the 2017-18 season.
Hamburg won their match at home to Borussia Monchengladbach, but the game finished amid a shower of fireworks and flares after it became clear that a favour from Cologne against Wolfsburg was not forthcoming.
They had done well to cling on that long. In April, they were eight points adrift of safety with four games to go. But Christian Titz, the former reserve team manager and their third coach of the campaign, nearly pulled off a great escape with four wins in their last six. But Hamburg succumbed and they remain in the second tier two and a half years later after a couple of shambolic near misses in their quest to return to the Bundesliga.