Norwich City and Southampton may be having markedly different Premier League campaigns at the moment, battling at different ends of the table, but they do have one major claim in common – both have achieved back to back promotions from League One to the Premier League in recent seasons.
Both had played in the Premier League before of course but as has befallen many a club over the years, they slipped down the leagues following a change in fortunes.
Falling in to the third tier of English football is surely a bitter pill to swallow any side that has played in the Premier League, but under Paul Lambert Norwich rose remarkably through consecutive promotions in 2009/10 and 2010/11 and back in to the top-flight. Southampton similarly achieved the same feat in the very next season, having been promoted to the Championship in 2011.
Having spent 13 years in the Premier League since it’s inception, the south coast club’s dramatic fall and even more dramatic rise over the past 10 years or so is most impressive. They have managed to stabilise themselves as an established Premier League side once again, unlike the Canaries who have bounced between the top-two divisions somewhat.
But are there currently any sides in the country’s third-tier who are in a position to replicate the feats of these two sides?
League One currently has a total of eight sides who have previously played in the Premier League, the latest being Wigan who were in the top-flight as recently as the 2012/13 season. On paper they seem the best placed to achieve at least one promotion, currently sitting in second place and one of the strongest sides in League One.
The biggest boundary to any side hopeful of a rapid rise through the divisions however is surely the Championship. The sheer volume and quick turn-around of matches, on top of the quality of sides in the division, mean that promotion to the Premier League is hard enough as it is let alone immediately following promotion from League One – making Southampton and Norwich’s achievements all the more noteworthy.
However, sides need only look to the Premier Leagues most recent additions for inspiration. Bournemouth may not have achieved back to back promotions but their rise in recent seasons has been quite incredible, going from the bottom of League One to the top of the footballing pyramid in just five seasons.
Their model is likely more achievable, stabilising the club for a campaign before again pushing for promotion the next, although Russian money no doubt helped their cause.
Burton Albion, a club not dissimilar in size to Bournemouth, cannot fail to be inspired by the Cherries rise and could very well become the next unfancied side to make the Premier League. Having risen from non-league to become League Two champions, they currently sit top of League One and in a good position to gain a successive promotion.
They may have lost manager Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink to QPR, but in Nigel Clough they have another good young manager to try and achieve the unlikely.
The thought of a club the size of Burton Albion being in the Premier League seems far-fetched but people likely said that about Bournemouth a few years ago. Bigger clubs like Coventry City or the aforementioned Wigan Athletic are better placed to climb to rise given the infra-structure and fan base, their previous time in the Premier League also giving them a better chance, statistically at least.
But certainly Burton and others can take hope from Bournemouth’s recent achievements in escaping from League One. Along with Norwich and Southampton, their rise through the leagues was done with good attacking, passing football. So there is hope for the likes of Justin Edinburgh’s young talented Gills side or an unfashionable side like Walsall, both good ‘footballing’ sides.
More likely is that they get stuck in the Championship, battling relegation or getting lost in the mire of anonymity of lower mid-table.
But with a little luck, some good progressive management, and more often than not some outside investment, a successive rise through the leagues is tricky but attainable.
And you never know, Man City did it at the end of the 90’s and look where they are now…