How are London’s football clubs developing?
Football in the capital is as big as it has ever been, with thirteen professional teams and more than 80 amateur clubs. WNOL looks at a specific team each of the four main divisions and see how they have developed.
Premier League – Chelsea
Let’s begin with one of the biggest London-based clubs in the Premiership. While Arsenal may have won more Premier League trophies, it’s fair to say Chelsea have risen to become the biggest team in the capital. During the last five seasons, the Blues have finished as the highest club from London in four of them. Their shaky 2011-12 campaign was the only recent domestic disappointment for Chelsea, but still managed to regain a level of success by winning the Europa League, their second major European trophy in successive seasons.
Chelsea’s fortunes were different for a considerable amount of time. After winning the First Division in 1955, they spent much of the next three decades yo-yoing between Division 1 and 2. The redevelopment of Stamford Bridge in the 1970s caused the club to go into financial crisis. The Bridge wasn’t eventually completed until the 1990s due to a shortage of materials and workers available.
This financial crisis caused Chelsea and their new owner Ken Bates (who acquired the club for just £1) to sell a number of their key players, condemning them to further relegations. After narrowly avoiding relegation to the Third Division in 1983, new manager John Neal (who sadly passed away on Sunday) helped the club reform and gain promotion to top division. They unfortunately suffered relegation again 1988, but once again bounced back and won promotion the following year.
Times have changed for the Chelsea. After being sold to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich for £140 million, the club became one of the biggest in the world. Many have laid criticism on Abramovich’s Chelsea, saying he introduced a culture of excessive spending to succeed rather than focusing on developing players, but nevertheless the Blues are in a period of success previously unseen in it’s history.
Championship – Fulham
Fulham’s fortunes have definitely been far less successful than their west London counterparts Chelsea.
Whilst the Blues are winning countless trophies now, Fulham have failed to win a single honour in their 135-year history. The club spent much of their first 80 years jumping between the top two divisions before Johnny Haynes, often regarded as being Fulham’s greatest player, revived the team and helped them remain in the First Division for nine seasons, the longest consecutive period until the formation of the Barclays Premier League.
Like with Chelsea, Fulham finally found consistency after being sold to Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed in 1997. The club achieved the new owner’s aim of getting to the Premier League within five years, eventually getting there on their fourth attempt under the management of French star Jean Tigana.
Fulham remained in the Premier League for thirteen seasons, but were relegated last season after a poor campaign that saw three different managers at the helm (Martin Jol, René Meulensteen and Felix Magath.) Many criticised the club’s decisions under new chairman Shahid Khan, particularly having three managers, with Jamie Redknapp simply stating “what did Fulham expect?”
It remains to be seen if the club can improve again. They currently lie 17th in the Championship after an inconsistent run of performances and ANOTHER manager change. Fulham clearly have the financial backing to succeed, but more poor decisions by Khan could hinder the team in the future.
League One – Leyton Orient
Leyton Orient are a team that love the Second Division/Championship and Division 3/League One.
In their history, The O’s have only spent one year in the top flight of English football, 1962-63 and have spent the majority of their time in the leagues mentioned above. The club have never been able to push past the second tier, but have always remained financially secure under Barry Hearn (until 2014) and new chairman Francesco Becchetti.
Orient do seem to be heading in the right direction though. They finished the 2012-13 season in 7th place, their highest in exactly twenty years, before finishing 3rd in their last campaign. Losing their manager Russell Slade could be a massive kick in Orient’s teeth, as without him they lie 19th with just 19 points. The club haven’t lost any of their key players, so if Mauro Milanese can recover his team’s best form they’ll have no problem pushing for another play-off position.
League Two – AFC Wimbledon
To say AFC Wimbledon have had a turbulent recent few decades is probably an understatement.
In their original incarnation the club were often referred to as The Crazy Gang and spent most of its time in amateur and semi-professional football leagues. The tides changed in the 1980s however, as the club managed to rise from the Fourth Division to the top flight in the space of nine years (1977-1986.)
The club’s greatest moment came when they beat top division champions Liverpool to win the 1988 FA Cup Final, featuring players such as John Fashanu, Dennis Wise and Vinnie Jones.
After a successful decade in the top flight, Wimbledon suffered a downfall due to financial struggles that eventually led to two incarnations of the club; the Milton Keynes Dons (who took the place of the original team in the Football League One) and AFC Wimbledon, supported by many of the original club’s fans and players.
AFC Wimbledon have fought their way up to League Two, where they currently lie. Being founded in 2002, the club had to start from the Combined Counties League, the ninth tier of English football and have been promoted five times since.
Whilst they don’t have the exposure and stature they have as the original Wimbledon, AFC Wimbledon are now completely fan-owned and don’t have the financial worries they had just over a decade ago.
While they might not reach the level of success they once had, Wimbledon appear to have sorted out the issues that plagued the previous incarnation and are more sustainable as a result.