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No such thing as being ‘too good to go down’

Too good to go down? Tell that to German side Hamburg, once a European power-house and a Champions League side in 2007.

‘The Rothosen’ are the only club to play in every Bundesliga season since the league was formed in 1963 but currently sit just a place and two points above the relegation zone.

And what about Villareal? They played in this season’s Champions League yet a dire run of injuries and an exodus of stars has seen them plummet to fourth bottom of La Liga.

All around Europe, big teams are crashing and burning, but they are hardly the first to fall from grace:

Man City – 1938

As this season has shown, nobody has the capacity to slide from the sublime to the ridiculous quite like City.

Back in the thirties, the Citizens were English football’s prime force and in 1936-37 won the their first ever title, scoring an incredible 107 goals – 49 more than second-placed Charlton.

A year later, they topped the scoring charts again. Sadly their defence didn’t hit such heights and a kamikaze City were relegated in 21st place. To this day, they remain the only reigning champions ever relegated from the top flight.

Liverpool – 1954

The Liverpool spin machine would have you believe that the Reds have been at the top of the English game since Roman times, but in the early 50s they were rubbish.

Champions in 1947, they had slipped badly and started the 1953-54 season with five straight defeats. They then suffered 3-0 smashings at the hands of Blackpool and Arsenal and a 6-0 hiding by Charlton at the Valley.

A run of one win in 20 over the winter sealed their fate and they were relegated in April after defeat by Cardiff. They would spend the next eight years in the Second Division.

Kaiserslautern – 1996

Fourth the year before, Kaiserslautern had, like Hamburg, spent every season in the Bundesliga. They also had great players like Andy Brehme and the meanest defence in the division. Unfortunately, they couldn’t score for toffee and racked up 18 dull draws.

So, despite losing just ten games – the same as second-placed Bayern Munich – and conceding fewer goals than everyone but title-winners Dortmund, they were relegated on the final day. Two years later, they became the first promoted side to win the title.

River Plate – 2011

With 33 Primera Division titles, River Plate are by far the most successful team in Argentina and part of an SPL-style ‘Big Two’ alongside Boca Juniors.

As such, the Argentine football authorities have done everything in their power to ensure neither River nor Boca can ever be relegated, including changing the entire system to favour big sides (relegation is decided on a three-year ‘average’ so richer sides can afford a dodgy season and buy their way to success the following year).

So even after three bad seasons had left them in a relegation play-off, and even after they had lost the first leg of that play-off 2-0, most people assumed dodgy refereeing, pressure on their opponents or a hasty rewriting of the rules would conspire to save River’s bacon.

In the end, they did get a dubious penalty, but it wasn’t enough. They were relegated for the first time in their 110-year history, leading to violent riots which saw 89 people hurt, one run over and 55 arrested.

By Chris Dunlavy, The Football League Paper


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