League One may be the third tier of English football but the 2019/20 season sees it full of sleeping giants. Clubs such as Sunderland, Ipswich Town, Coventry City, Portsmouth and Bolton Wanderers are battling it out to regain their glory days. It’s a situation full of promise but also a degree of sadness.
From the UEFA Cup to League One
In the 1960s, Ipswich Town won the First Division (now the Premier League) title. The 1970s saw them win the FA Cup and the following decade, Ipswich won the UEFA Cup. Those glory days under first Sir Alf Ramsey and then Sir Bobby Robson are long gone now.
2001/02 saw them relegated from the Premier League and they have never returned since then. There were some appearances in the promotion play-offs, but they ended in the semi-finals. Last season was a painful one for Ipswich. Finishing bottom and being relegated to League One was bad enough. Watching Norwich City win the title and promotion to the Premier League was rubbing salt in the wound.
This season has seen them get off to a much better start, with talented youngsters starring like midfielder Flynn Downes. They were unbeaten in their first six league games and two points clear at the top. It looks as if their stay in League One may not last too long, which is great news for their suffering fans.
Sunderland on the rise?
The North East may not supply clubs that win titles, but they do have dedicated fans. Sunderland have spent many years in the Premier League, mainly battling relegation. They finally succumbed to the dreaded drop in the 2016/17 season and followed that with relegation to League One in the following season.
Despite the double relegation, Sunderland still attract over 30,000 to league games. That’s more than five Premier League teams this season and all but Leeds United in the Championship. Last season saw them draw far too many games and they eventually lost in the play-off final. Only one of their first six league games have been lost, and they remain the League One favourites this season.
Play Up Pompey
Portsmouth are another League One club that have won the First Division and the FA Cup. They have been going up and down the leagues over the past few decades. Twice they have ended up in League Two, and it’s usually financial problems that cause their demise.
It’s only 11 years since Pompey won the FA Cup, but problems with owners caused them to drop down the divisions. Under new ownership, there may not be the huge amounts that some Premier League clubs have, but at least the thought of them going out of business has gone.
Last season saw them knocked out in the play-off semi-finals by Sunderland. They had earlier beaten them when winning the EFL Trophy at Wembley. This season has seen a slow start made, and promotion looks a tough task for them at present.
Tragedy avoided at Bolton
If this article was written next season, it’s highly unlikely that Bolton Wanderers will be included. Financial problems have beset this club, and they nearly went out of business in August. Bolton have won the FA Cup four times and were regulars in the Premier League, even reaching the last sixteen of the UEFA Cup in 2008. Four years later they were relegated, and the financial problems began. Premier League wages paid in the Championship doesn’t work.
Another relegation occurred last season, and they started this season on -12 points. A new owner has arrived, and some senior players but relegation to League Two looks inevitable. It’s going to be a long road back for them, but at least Bolton still has a club.
The end for Bury?
Not so lucky have been Bury FC who were promoted from League Two last season but were recently expelled from the EFL. They twice won the FA Cup, but now the town doesn’t have a club. There’s a desire to be allowed into League Two next season, but more likely they’ll end up in non-league football if new owners are found of course.
There are too many sleeping giants in football. Who’d have thought that Bournemouth would become an established Premier League side, while Notts County are in the National League? County were founder members of the Football League but lost their league status last season. With finances a problem in English football, more sleeping giants could well be on their way to League One and below.