English Football's 12 Biggest Underachieving Clubs

You know what you're getting yourself in for when you support a naff football team. Occasional flickers of optimism, the odd wisp of aspiration, before the inevitable crushing of hopes and dreams as order is restored. 

It's not necessarily a nice feeling, but is sets you up well for the real world by preparing you for the heartaches and flattened ambitions that life will throw at you. 

But what happens when you actually support a team who aren't supposed to be terrible? What's it like when a club with a proud history, substantial fan base and abundance of infrastructure ends up letting you down?

Let's take a look at the clubs in English football who are punching a little bit below their weight.

Plymouth Argyle

George Cooper

​The Pilgrims have spent the majority of their history in the second and third tier, but for seven out of the last nine seasons, Plymouth have been plying their trade in League Two.

The club were a mainstay in the Championship in the 2000s, boasting the likes of Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Jamie Mackie and David Norris. However, administration and successive relegations in 2011 saw the Green Army playing in the fourth tier for the first time in over 50 years. 

Despite their huge geographical inconvenience, Plymouth attract bigger away followings than many Championship clubs. Plus their ground is nicknamed 'the Theatre of Greens', which singlehandedly should be sufficient to guarantee promotion.

Bradford City

Utilita Energy Stadium - Bradford City Football Club

​Bradford have been a club underachieving for some time. They play in a 25,000 capacity stadium, in League Two. 

The club spent two seasons in the Premier League either side of the turn of the millennium, but financial troubles saw them tumble into League Two in 2007.

Phil Parkinson worked wonders at the club, guiding Bradford to the League Cup final in 2013, and it all could have been so different had they won the 2017 League One playoff final. However, they suffered relegation again in 2019, and are currently knocking on the door of the playoffs as they attempt to escape the fourth tier.

Newcastle United

Mike Ashley

Both Rafa Benitez and Steve Bruce have done their best with the limited funds made available at St James' Park, and anything higher than a mid-table finish would be considered an overachievement from Bruce.

But that should not be the ambition of ​Newcastle United. Kevin Keegan, Bobby Robson, Alan Shearer - this is a club with a rich history, and who qualified for the Champions League as recently as 2003. 

Yet Mike Ashley's turbulent tenure has seen the former Premier League title challengers relegated twice and reduced to mid-table mediocrity. The club has huge potential in the right hands.


Shkodran Mustafi

It's been a funny old season for ​Arsenal. They find themselves sitting just a point above Burnley, and three points behind Sheffield United, yet this is probably the most content Gunners fans have been for some time.

Mikel Arteta is overseeing a transitional phase at Arsenal, with a strong run of pre-coronavirus form suggesting his side are moving in the right direction.

However, this is still Arsenal. The former Invincibles and three-time Premier League champions should not have their Champions League ambitions all but over by March, and should not consider finishing above Wolves an achievement.

Aston Villa

Jack Grealish,Dean Smith

Dean Smith has done a magnificent job at ​Aston Villa, inspiring a late surge from Championship mid table to Premier League promotion. The club currently find themselves second bottom of the top tier, but just two points from safety - absolutely not a disgrace given the players Smith has at his disposal.

However, Villa should not be in this position in the first place. Historically, they are a huge club, having won the Division One title seven times, and triumphing in Europe in the 80s. 

They consistently challenged for Europe under Martin O'Neill in the late noughties, but were allowed to slowly stagnate prior to their 2016 relegation. Put simply, a club of Aston Villa's stature should not be struggling to stay afloat in the Premier League.

Sheffield Wednesday

Barry Bannan

Sheffield Wednesday are English football's sleeping giants with narcolepsy. ​

They are the third oldest professional football club in England, a founding member of the Premier League and - the 1970s aside - have spent the majority of their history in the top flight. 

However, Wednesday have not played Premier League football since being relegated in 2000. Apart from two playoff appearances in 2016 and 2017, they have never really threatened to return to English football's top tier.


Jonathan Woodgate

Boro have spent just one season in the third tier since the second World War, ​but just two points separate them from the Championship drop zone.

The club were founding members of the Premier League, and a mainstay in the top flight in the 2000s, as Steve McClaren guided them to their first major trophy and the final of the UEFA Cup.

Yet the club have played amongst English football's elite just once since their 2009 relegation under Gareth Southgate, and are now in a battle to avoid the drop into League One.

Nottingham Forest

General Views of Sport Venues After Events Postponed Due To Coronavirus

Forest won back to back European Cups in 1979 and 1980 under the stewardship of the great Brian Clough. 

From Peter Shilton to Martin O'Neill, Roy Keane to Robert Earnshaw, the club has one of the proudest histories in English football. 

However, since their relegation from the top flight in 1999, they have endured a three year spell in League One, and only made the Championship playoffs on three occasions. They are on course to make the playoffs again this season for the first time since 2011, but really Forest have the infrastructure to be an established Premier League side.

Leeds United

Luke Ayling

​Leeds have had two terrific seasons under Marcelo Bielsa, with the Argentinian waking the sleeping giants from their slumber, and they should return to the top flight this season with the fantastic squad that he has assembled.

But Leeds should not be in the Championship in the first place. They won the league in 1992, they were Champions League semi finalists in 2001. Don Revie, Gordon Strachan, Mark Viduka have graced Elland Road during a selection of glorious eras.

However, financial trouble plagued the club following their 2004 relegation from the top flight, and Leeds have had a bigger rivalry with Huddersfield than Manchester United over the past decade.


Tranmere Rovers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

Sunderland 'Til I Die ​can give you the lowdown on the Black Cats' recent fall from grace.

The club have spent more time in English football's third tier in the last two years than they have in their entire history. Sunderland had yo-yoed between the Premier League and Championship for the best part of a decade, before enjoying nine solid top flight seasons in the top flight, with a couple of great escapes here or there.

However, successive relegations mean their 49,000 seater stadium is now playing host to League One football. A slight upturn in fortunes since the appointment of Phil Parkinson means they sit just outside the playoffs this season, but a club the size of Sunderland should have breezed to promotion from the third tier at the first time of asking.

Ipswich Town

Cole Skuse

Failure to return to the top flight following their 2002 relegation proved costly for Ipswich, as they fell into financial difficulty and their prized assets were eventually all sold off.

Failure to invest when Mick McCarthy had the club on the brink of promotion in 2015 was just as costly, as the club were left to rot, stagnate, and slide into League One. Ironically, probably the only person who could have saved them from relegation in 2019 was Mick McCarthy, but don't tell an Ipswich fan that as they don't find irony funny.

The wheels have fallen off their promotion campaign this season, with the club who provided England with Bobby Robson and Alf Ramsey, and were playing European football in 2002, now unlikely to make the League One playoffs.

Bolton Wanderers

Bolton Wanderers v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League One

Poor Bolton have had a right old time of it recently. They have been a club teetering on the financial brink, and bar a miracle, the club look destined to fall into League Two and play fourth tier football for only the second time in their history.

This is no surprise given they were slapped with a 12-point deduction at the start of the season and were playing their youth team until September.

Bolton fans used to watch Jay-Jay Okocha​, Nikolas Anelka and Eidur Gudjohnsen strut their stuff. Now they rely on Daryl Murphy, Will Buckley and Ali Crawford. Bolton were playing in Europe just 12 years ago. This is not a club that should be consigned to League Two.

Source : 90min