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The magnificent 47 teams who have graced the Premier League

Sunday 29th January 2017
Next May sees the completion of a quarter century of Premier League seasons. The 24 seasons that have played out thus far have only yielded a relatively thin number of champion clubs, just six different destinations for the trophy in all.

Thirteen of those triumphs, of course, have been claimed by Manchester United. There's a clear argument for saying the advent of the Premier League has stifled domestic competition at the top end in this country.

Certainly, the clubs operating from the top table of our elite do so with enormous and ever growing financial clout. Never has the gulf between the richest and poorest of our clubs been so wide. The trickling-down of this money from top to bottom, via shared gate receipts or transfer fees, is negated by inflated operating costs, players wages, and the standard practice of bringing more than half your players in from foreign clubs. But if you poke around and look between the lines there is a lot about the Premier League and its inclusiveness to celebrate.

United's dominance has certainly been unprecedented but they are now deep into their fourth season without a title. A fifth seems inevitable. The past four seasons have seen four different winners too and last season's utterly remarkable climb to the top by Leicester City must surely rank as the biggest unforeseen success story in English football history. Fabulous wealth, history and tradition is not everything after all.

A friend remarked to me last week about how many ‘big' teams are currently plotting their way through the lower leagues. He was right. There are two former PL teams in League Two for example, Portsmouth and Blackpool. League One boasts another seven. By contrast, teams with no recent tradition of playing top-flight football (or of no such tradition whatsoever), like Bournemouth, and less recently Cardiff City and Wigan Athletic, have rubbed shoulders with the big boys. Past seasons have also seen Oldham Athletic, Swindon Town, Bradford City and Wimbledon (pre MK Dons incarnation) occupy PL places.

Where it all began. Sheffield United's Brian Deane (left) scored the first goal of the Premier League era against Manchester United at Bramhall Lane on 15/08/92

The pyramid system it seems is alive and well. Of the 92 clubs currently playing in the top four tiers of English football 47 have played in the Premier League. That's more than half; only just, but more nonetheless. Should Brighton come up to the mark at the season's end they'll most likely be number 48 (I'm assuming Burton Albion won't make a late dash for promotion and pip them to an automatic place).

And amongst those clubs lie stories reflecting some incredible ebbs and flows of fortune. Take current champions Leicester City for example. Nine seasons ago they were down amongst the dead in League One. Southampton were in League One even more recently and even started season 2009-10 with a ten-point deduction for financial irregularity. If you went back twenty seasons, you'd have found Manchester City there too, perhaps now the country's wealthiest and highest aspiring club. And then there's Swansea City. Languishing in League Two as recently as 2004 they have played top flight football for the past five seasons, bagging themselves a League Cup victory in 2013 along the way. Remarkably they've got form for that kind of thing having gone from the old Division Four to the old Division One in four seasons from 1978 to 1982. They promptly plunged down to the bottom in the following four years so by 1986 were back where they'd started, having flirted with bankruptcy on route. Never a dull moment in that corner of South Wales then.

And what about Luton Town? Though they never quite hung around long enough to claim a spot in the first ever Premier League, finding themselves relegated instead at the end of the last Division One season in 1991-1992, their fortunes fell so far they dropped out of the leagues altogether in 2008-2009, not re-entering League Two until season 2013-2014 where they currently remain.

Salutary lessons for all. Though a mere handful of teams may have dominated its title wins the underlying trend in the Premier League is that it remains part of a vibrant and honest pyramid structure. If your club can't be the next Leicester City then pray at least it isn't the next Luton Town.
Derek Dohren
Anfield born and raised and a Red through and through, though I'm an advocate of supporting your local team, wherever you may find yourself living. Hence I have also followed Hamilton Academical and FC Granada in my time. I pray to the gods I never have to live in Birmingham. Author of 'Ghost on the Wall', the authorised biography of Roy Evans and founder of the website shankly.com.

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