Liverpool FC is a world-famous football club renowned for its success in both domestic and European competitions. As a club Liverpool have won more top-flight games than any other in English football history, so it might be hard to believe they’ve ever had the kind of truly heartbreaking season that you may associate with other clubs, ending in relegation to a lower division.
However, it may surprise you to learn that Liverpool have in fact experienced the sinking feeling of being relegated: and in fact, they’ve ended a season in that way not just once but THREE times in their history – more than local rivals Everton!
An Evertonian Split
Everton FC had actually played at Anfield for eight years, however following a dispute with land-owner John Houlding they relocated to Goodison Park in 1892. Houlding still wanted a football club to play on the land, and so he founded a new club.
Whilst Houlding wanted to name the new club Everton Athletic, the Football Association did not want to recognise such a similarly-named club and thankfully common sense prevailed with the more distinctive name Liverpool FC selected in March 1892. Official recognition soon followed along with the club being admitted to the expanding Football League.
A Tough Start
Liverpool enjoyed a successful start after their founding in 1892 – they won the Lancashire League in their first season, then joined the Second Division of the Football League for 1893/94 and won that in their inaugural campaign. Even this early after its formation, the club was famous for fielding a high number of Scottish players, a connection which has remained throughout the club’s subsequent successful spells too.
Winning the Second Division didn’t guarantee promotion in these early days of football. After winning the title, Liverpool would have to both defeat a First Division side in a test match, and then if successful pass through an election process. Liverpool beat Newton Heath – the side that would later become their fierce rivals Manchester United – 2-0 and had impressed enough Football League members that they were elected into the First Division.
For their third season, Liverpool played in the First Division for the first time and found it tougher going than in the two different leagues they’d played in during the previous two seasons. They finished 16th of 16 teams, although only 2 points (one win at the time) away from safety. Again a test match was played, with Liverpool losing 1-0 to Second Division champions Bury and the election confirming that result and relegating the club for the first time.
Undeterred, Liverpool again won the Second Division title the following season. The test match format had changed, but Liverpool were still able to prove themselves, beating Small Heath 4-0 and drawing 2-2 with West Bromwich Albion, and were subsequently elected back to the First Division. Their period as a yo-yo club would end, as this time they established themselves a First Division side and remained there for several seasons.
The Second Relegation
The second relegation for Liverpool would follow eight years later, in 1903/04. After finishing 5th the previous season, Liverpool endured a much more difficult campaign, culminating in a 17th-placed finish in the league of 18 teams, and again just two points – one win – away from avoiding the dreaded bottom-three finish.
Test matches had been abolished since Liverpool’s first relegation, but an election was still used to confirm the league results. Liverpool and 18th-place West Bromwich Albion had their relegations confirmed, whilst 16th-placed Stoke City retained their place in the top flight. Liverpool fans of today will at least be reassured to learn that Manchester United were the club denied a place in favour of Stoke in that election, so at least they wouldn’t be replacing Liverpool in the top division.
This drop out of the First Division would again be just for a single season as once again Liverpool showed they were too good for the Second Division, winning 27 of their 34 games in 1904/05 and finishing as champions. They were re-elected into the First Division, although in this case not at another club’s expense as the league expanded to 20 teams.
The Third Relegation
After that promotion in 1904/05, Liverpool remained a top division team for an incredible 49 years, establishing themselves as regulars at the top table and winning the league title in 1906, 1922, 1923, and 1947. However, they weren’t done experiencing the dismay of demotion from the top division as it would happen once more, in 1953/54.
After winning just one game between 31st October 1953 and 20th March 1954, Liverpool briefly sparked hopes of a revival when they won back-to-back games at home to Sunderland and away to Manchester City, and they also won two of the following four matches, however it wasn’t to be enough and relegation was confirmed by a 1-0 loss at home to Cardiff on the 17th April.
Liverpool had dominated the Second Division whenever they’d played in it previously, but that wasn’t to be the case this time around as they endured their longest spell away from the top-flight. An 11th-placed finish in 1954/55 was followed by a run of six consecutive seasons finishing either 3rd or 4th, but with only two clubs being promoted each season this meant a series of narrow misses.
Liverpool finally broke that run by finishing as Second Division champions in 1961/62, thanks in large part to an impressive unbeaten campaign at Anfield. This win came under Bill Shankly, who had become manager in 1959 and would go on to win major domestic honours for the club whilst laying the foundation for Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan to establish the club as a major European force, to the extent that them dropping back out of the top division again any time soon seems one of the most remote possibilities in football.