During the Fulham Game thread, I somewhat jokingly said the three points were big because it put Newcastle 17.5% to safety, assuming that 40 points would be enough to avoid relegation. This led to a brief discussion about what Newcastle’s goals should be this season and one commenter asked about the relation between a relegated club and how established they were at top flight. I decided to take a look at it, and see what sort of trends we could come up with.
To date, there have been 19 seasons of the Premiership, and there have been 58 total relegations (seemingly half of them by Sunderland). In 1994-1995, the Premiership needed to get down to 20 teams, so it relegated four clubs. Going by season by season here’s what I found.
26 times a club earned promotion only to be sent down the next year. In 1997-1998, all three promoted signs "earned" a ticket back to the First Division (the Championship was formed at a later date) At 44.8 percent of the relegations, the first season is the most brutal for clubs. No other amount of time in the Premiership has seen even ten relegations. The second season is the second most dangerous with 7 relegations. The first four seasons as a whole are the most dangerous for clubs. 40 of the 58 (69%) relegations happened for clubs that had been in top flight for less than five years. Ironically, no club has been relegated after being in the Premiership for five seasons.
There’s still some danger after that, of course. Three sides have been relegated after spending six seasons at top flight. Four have been sent down after seven seasons. Even after that, no one is safe. Ask Coventry City, who in 2000-2001 was relegated after 34 seasons in Top Flight: or Southampton who bid adieu to the Premiership after 27 years in 2004-2005.
On the flipside, 9 clubs have never been relegated from the Premiership, including Wigan who earned promotion 7 years ago and has held on ever since. The 2000-01 promoted class of Fulham, Bolton and Blackburn have not been relegated since rejoining top flight. Even though it is hard to avoid relegation after the first few seasons, it is possible. And teams can do even better than just surviving. Manchester City suffered from the "ping-pong effect" for a few seasons, being relegated in 2000-2001 (their first season in top flight) only to come back for the 2002-2003 season. They’re now title contenders.
Using the first five seasons as the "danger zone" for clubs, we find that eight of the 20 clubs would be considered relegation candidates. Of course there’s the three new members: Swansea City, Norwich City, and Queens Park Rangers. Two clubs remain from last year’s promoted class, Newcastle and West Brom. In addition, Wolverhampton, Stoke City, and Sunderland have all been promoted within the last five seasons.
Looking at clubs that have ridden the promotion-relegation ferry quite frequently over the years, we see Newcastle’s rivals in Sunderland. The Mackems have come up to the Premiership four times, and been sent down three (their current spell at top flight is their longest since the Premiership began). West Bromwich Albion has also earned promotion four times and been sent down three. In the Premiership’s history 14 clubs have been promoted and relegated an equal number of times. Leicester City, Middlesborough, and Birmingham City have all been promoted and relegated three times each.
While its possible, of course, that Newcastle gets relegated this season, it is in the club’s favor that they have spent significant time in the Premiership. They haven’t gone up and down a lot in their history, which might indicate some stability in the league. No one is safe and seemingly each year a side that should be relegated escapes for another year. Using data like this can’t indicate what will happen. After all, when Newcastle went down, they went with their north-eastern rivals, Middlesborough, both of whom had been up in the Premiership for over ten seasons. So yes, while being established in the Premiership helps, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a team is guaranteed safety.