The History Of English Football Before The Big Four

Sometimes it’s hard to believe because they monopolize the Premier League so much, but the Big Four in England have not always been the big four. Chelsea only joined the ranks in 2003. Prior to that, the league was topped by the Big Three or Big Two depending on Liverpool’s inconsistent form.

To understand how the biggest teams in English football compare, Bill Sports Maps has created an image showing the most successful clubs. Here are the top 10 most successful (click the image to see the top 26 and complete image):


Over the entire history of English football, you can see how the top clubs compare. The Big Four, over a period of 120 years, are Liverpool, Man United, Arsenal and Aston Villa. Chelsea are in ninth place just ahead of Wolverhampton. Number five through eight are Everton, Spurs, Newcastle and Blackburn.

As well as Bill Sport Maps, another fantastic resource is an applet which features the tables of all of the professional football leagues in England from 1889 to present. It’s an amazing tool that’s easy to use and provides a fascinating glimpse at the highs and lows of all of the English teams.

14 thoughts on “The History Of English Football Before The Big Four”

  1. I’ve been following the League intently over the last decade and I have heard a lot of good things about Nottingham Forest teams of the past. Surprising to see them not in the Top 10 !

  2. Gaffer,
    Thanks for featuring one of my posts. It’s funny, because I woke up this morning, an hour ago, thinking about this chart, and wondering if I should update it…guess what I will be doing this week !

  3. @Dave Winter….Well played Sir…If you have any questions or require additional information, please do not hesitate to let me know.

  4. Great post! If you want competitive soccer where any side can win check out some of the leagues in Latin America, many of which are in season now. Those leagues despite having some clubs that are richer than others always seem to provide some semblance of balance. The same can be said for the Mexican League. Santos Laguna and Atlante are the past two champions. Say what? Not America, Chivas or Pachuca. Yup, it doesn’t get more competitive than that. Now Juarez will compete in the Primera next year and they are right over the border from El Paso so I think I’ll check out a match.

    BTW, a canard exists in this country that MLS is world’s most competitive league. Not so. I’ll be detailing this in a blog post later this week, but MLS is only considered competitive because so many MLS fans only follow two leagues closely: MLS and the PL and yes compared to the PL, MLS is very competitive. But in MLS tweleve seasons, 10 of the championships have been won by just three franchises. Now in the PL it would be 12 of 12, but MLS in reality is not that much more competitive, despite the claims it is.

  5. i wish villa would come back to prominence. they could be on the brink but they could also end up selling all their stars. england’s 2nd city needs a contender.

  6. Bet the Old Etonians, Old Cathusians, Royal Engineers and Oxford University would be delighted to look at this chart and find out that they are now defunct. Think you’ll find all four of them still alive and well, if not exactly challenging for major honours.

  7. Yeah, I know, that was boneheade of me to presume all the clubs who won the FA Cup in the 19th Century were defunct. I deleted this chart from my site, and made a new one, which included a re-wording, in that section of the chart that listed the 19th Century FA Cup winners. The list is now titled 'Defunct and Non-League Clubs which won the FA Cup in the 19th Century.' Here's the post from November 6, 2008.

  8. Back in the 1970’s an Australian newspaper published a statistical history…wins, draws, losses, for, against etc… of what was then the English 1st Division from its inception in the 1880’s to the time of publication. I have kept that list going to the present incorporating the Premier League. In other words, it’s a history of the top flight of English Football.
    I would like to know how accurate my record keeping is, keeping in mind that the last 30 years or so has seen the changeover of 3 points for a win instead of 2. I have never been able to find this type of list again. Can anyone help point me in the right direction?
    Thanks in anticipation.

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