Directionless nerd with a first class degree in Criminology and Economics and no clear idea of what to do with it.
All-Time Premier League: Huddersfield Town
For the ninth instalment in this series, we cross the Pennines to Huddersfield – an unlikely location, one might think, for one of the great football clubs; and based on what has happened in the Premier League era, or indeed since the Second World War, one would be right. This West Yorkshire market and mill town, the birthplace of Rugby League, is a stronghold of egg chasing, and its soccer team has spent only two seasons in the modern Premier League, and only seven in the top division of English football (whatever one wants to call it) since its relegation in 1952. It has not finished as high as second, never mind first, in top-level League or Cup competition since 1938. But its inclusion in the All-Time Premier League is not a mistake. For a few years in the 1920s, Huddersfield could claim to be the centre of soccer in Great Britain, and possibly in the world, thanks to a team that had almost not existed at all.
All-Time Premier League: Everton
Now, our alphabetical journey takes us northwards, from the Blues of Middlesex to the Blues of Merseyside. Today, Bill Shankly’s joke about Everton being Liverpool’s second team seems to become truer every year; but it wasn’t always the case, and it certainly wasn’t true when he told it. In 1966, when Everton won the Cup and Liverpool the League, it was a joke between equals. For the last fifty years, Liverpool have been pulling further and further ahead, in public profile and in the honour roll, almost continuously; and every time Everton have threatened to emerge, the Reds have been present, on or off the pitch, to push the Blues back into their widening shadow.
All-Time Premier League: Chelsea
Our next stop is in the West End of London, where in 1904 Gus Mears purchased the Stamford Bridge Athletics Ground, with the intention of adding soccer to the programme. Having tried and failed to agree terms with Fulham, he decided to form a first-class club of his own – and he wanted to attain first-class status immediately. At the time, promotion to the Football League was won not automatically on the pitch but in an end-of-season election in which the worst teams in the League were pitted against promising non-League clubs. Such a system was obviously open to abuse, with little to stop the clubs forming a cartel, but Mears managed to circumvent that obstacle. He secured the signatures of several famous players, promising them that their registration would not be retained if he failed to win them election to the League. The League, whether impartially impressed or enticed by the gate money such stars would bring in, endorsed his club’s candidature. Thus, without a single season of play behind them, the “Pensioners” were in the big-time.
All-Time Premier League: Burnley
Our tour of Lancastrian mill towns beginning with B concludes with the “Clarets” of Burnley – a club which qualifies for this competition by a quirk of the game’s history, but which has plenty of history of its own on which to draw.
All-Time Premier League: Bolton Wanderers
Now we come to a team which you may be surprised to see. If you’re a newcomer to football, finding a club currently in League Two (the Fourth Division in old money) qualifying for this league of the all-time best may have you scratching your head; but with four FA Cups and a Charity Shield, the “Trotters” just about make the cut. Having spent more time in the top division without winning it than anybody else, they’d find life tough in the all-time league; but the players who won them those five first-class honours, together with a few from the club’s more recent spell of small-scale success in the twenty-first century, would make it tougher for their opponents than the history-unaware fan might think.
All-Time Premier League: Blackburn Rovers
After Arsenal and Aston Villa had taken approximately eight thousand words out of me, I hope it’s not an insult to the club if I say that the next team on my list was a welcome relief. After sorting, selecting and strategically synthesizing the stars and heroes of those heavy histories, something a little lighter was what I looked forward to.
All-Time Premier League: Aston Villa
My last post was much longer than I expected, and if that’s any guide then this one won’t be much shorter. Aston Villa’s recent history is not as successful as Arsenal’s, but there was a time when they stood at the top of the honours list, and as recently as the early nineties the two would have had almost identical tallies. They don’t boast as long a run of First Division seasons, but they are now in their 107th. Only Everton, fellow founder members of the Football League, have had more. The players who have won them their twenty-five major honours have been not only some of the greatest footballers, but some of the most colourful characters in the game’s history, and doing them justice will take some time.
All-Time Premier League: Arsenal
Ordering the teams alphabetically, I begin with a club whose inclusion in this league should surprise nobody. In the hundred and one years since Henry Norris talked his team into the top flight, the Arsenal have never been relegated. With a history encompassing thirteen League Championships and a record fourteen FA Cups, they provide us with as rich a selection of players as any team in the league. “Arsenal,” wrote Percy Young (1960), “is the footballer’s pantheon: having achieved distinction in some other place he is transferred there, and to list the great men is but to inscribe the names of practically all footballers of the greatest reputation within the last thirty years.” In the subsequent six decades, although they have not recaptured the undisputed dominance they enjoyed in the thirties, their status among the aristocracy of English soccer has never been in doubt, and that list has only grown longer and longer.