English clubs · English league · Football history · Records & statistics

London Clubs


Fulham will join five other London clubs in the English Premier League next season, bringing the total number of London clubs in the English Premier League to six, almost a third of the total number of 20 clubs.

However, this is still two less than the record eight clubs that London have had in the top flight in one season.  In the 1989-90 season, the 20 teams in the First Division included Arsenal, Charlton, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Tottenham, QPR, Millwall and Wimbledon.  In fact, in the ten seasons between 1986 and 1995, London regularly had seven clubs in the top flight (the old First Division until 1992 and the English Premier League from 1992 onwards).  During that time, Arsenal, Tottenham, QPR and, surprisingly, Wimbledon were the mainstays of the London contingent who were joined at various times by Charlton (1986 to 1990), Chelsea (1984 to 1988), Crystal Palace (1989 to 1993 and 1994-95), Millwall (1988 to 1990) and West Ham (1981 to 1989, 1991 to 1992 and 1993 onwards).

Yet there were no London clubs in the top division from the inception of the Football League in 1888 until 1904 when Arsenal (then known as Woolwich Arsenal) were promoted from the Second Division on goal average ahead of Manchester United.  By 1909, Arsenal had been joined in the First Division by Chelsea and Tottenham.

In its early years, the Football League was dominated by northern and midlands clubs. No London side won the championship until Arsenal did so in 1930 with a then record 66 points (under the old 2-points for a win system).

The number of London clubs in the First Division had reached four by 1924, West Ham winning promotion from the Second Division to joined Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham.  From 1924 to 1950, there were regularly three or four London clubs in the First Division, although it would surprise many to know that in the five seasons between 1935 and 1947 (the league was interrupted by the war from 1939 to 1946), the four London clubs in the First Division were Arsenal, Brentford, Charlton and Chelsea, with Brentford and Charlton regularly finishing in the top six.

The number reached five for the first time in 1950-51 (Arsenal, Charlton, Chelsea, Fulham and Tottenham).  Although the number dropped to three (Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham) for the 1957-58 season, there were regularly five London sides in the top flight in the 1960s, with Leyton Orient, QPR and Crystal Palace all reaching the First Division for the first time.  West Ham joined Arsenal and Tottenham as permanent fixtures in the top flight during this period.

Although the relegation of Chelsea and QPR in 1979 left London with only three First Division clubs (Arsenal and Tottenham, together with the promoted Crystal Palace) for the first time since 1957-58, the number was back to five (Arsenal, Chelsea, QPR, Tottenham and West Ham) by 1984.  The promotion to the top flight of Wimbledon (for the first time) and Charlton in 1986 took the number to a record seven, a jump from the previous record of five.  Wimbledon reaching the First Division was all the more remarkable for the fact that it had been a non-league club only ten years earlier.  In 1988, Millwall reached the top flight for the first time.

Despite the fact that since the 1950s, London regularly has had five or more clubs in the top flight, London clubs have between them won the championship only nine times since the war (Arsenal with six, Tottenham with two and Chelsea with one).  This is less than the eighteen titles won by the sides from Liverpool (Liverpool with fourteen and Everton with four), and the twelve won by the sides from Manchester (United with eleven and City with one) since the war.

It has sometimes been said that the number of “local derbies” that London sides have had to play in the top flight makes it more difficult for them to win the championship.  Whatever the reason, London sides have had far more success in the FA Cup, having between them won it eighteen times since the war (Tottenham with six, Arsenal with five, West Ham with three and Charlton and Wimbledon with one each). London sides have also won the League Cup on eight occasions (Tottenham with three, Arsenal and Chelsea with two and QPR with one).

The record of London clubs in Europe is also patchy.  Although Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and West Ham have won either the UEFA Cup or the Cup Winners’ Cup or both, no London club has won the Champions’ Cup or its precursor, the European Cup, or for that matter, even reached the final of that competition.

London has twelve professional football clubs (thirteen if Barnet is included), more than any one city, even one as large as London, could ordinarily be expected to sustain in the long term in a highly competitive professional league such as that in England.  It might be expected that over time, the larger, more successful clubs would draw fans away from the smaller, less successful clubs from within the same city.  It perhaps says much of the character of local communities within London that clubs such as Charlton, Millwall, Crystal Palace,  Fulham and Leyton Orient have successfully revived their fortunes after having faced periods of financial difficulty and dwindling crowds in the recent past.

LONDON CLUBS IN THE TOP FLIGHT

London Club

Year of joining the league

Seasons in the top flight (Division 1 until 1991-92, Premier League since 1992-93)

Total number of years in the top flight

Arsenal

1893

1904 to 1913, 1919 to present (W2)

84

Chelsea

1905

1907 to 1910, 1912 to 1924 (W1), 1930 to 1962 (W2), 1963 to 1975, 1977 to 1979, 1984 to 1988, 1989 to present

66

Tottenham Hotspur

1908

1909 to 1915, 1920 to 1928, 1933 to 1935, 1950 to 1977, 1978 to present

66

West Ham United

1919

1923 to 1932, 1958 to 1978, 1981 to 1989, 1991 to 1992, 1993 to present

46

Charlton Athletic

1921

1936 to 1957 (W2), 1986 to 1990, 1998 to 1999, 2000 to present

20

QPR

1920

1968 to 1969, 1973 to 1979, 1983 to 1996

20

Wimbledon

1977

1986 to 2000

14

Crystal Palace

1920

1969 to 1973, 1979 to 1981, 1989 to 1993, 1994 to 1995, 1997 to 1998

12

Fulham

1907

1949 to 1952, 1959 to 1968

12

Brentford

1920

1935 to 1947 (W2)

5

Millwall

1920

1988 to 1990

2

Leyton Orient (Clapton Orient)

1905

1962 to 1963

1

(W2):  League interrupted from 1939 to 1946

(First written for Totalworlds Football Writings)

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