Tottenham Hotspur are one of England’s most famous football clubs, particularly noted for their Cup performances having won the FA Cup no fewer than eight times, as well as multiple triumphs in both English league and European football.
However, football in England has a long history and you may be surprised to learn that in the past Tottenham have actually been relegated from the top division on FOUR separate occasions!
Joining the League
Having been founded in 1882, Tottenham turned professional in 1896 and played their first twelve seasons of organised league football in the Southern League, which at the time was an independent football league in the south of England, and today is one of the lower leagues in English football, below the English Football League system in the football pyramid.
The club had become famous by winning the 1901 FA Cup – the first non-league side to do so since the Football League had been founded – and in 1908 an election of Football League members admitted the club to the league, with them joining in the Second Division from the 1908/09 season. An immediate 2nd-place finish in the Second Division in that first season saw Tottenham promoted to play in the First Division for the first time.
First World War Woes
Tottenham’s first relegation came in the final season before the Football League was suspended due to the First World War. They finished 20th in the First Division with 28 points – although the equivalent of 36 points by contemporary standards as a win was worth only 2 league points at a time rather than 3 as it is today.
The league had been criticised for not suspending play partway through the season for the war, and with the pressure mounting, no new season was started in the autumn and subsequently no Football League games were played for the remainder of the war. Spurs would have to wait until 1919/20 to correct their fall from grace, but when the time came they were ready: they lost only 4 of their 42 games and scored 102 goals as they romped to the Second Division title to secure a return to the top flight at the first time of asking.
The Second Drop
After winning their way back to the big time immediately when football resumed after the First World War, Spurs would go on to win the FA Cup the following year and enjoy a successful spell in the top-flight, finishing second in 1921/22 and spending eight seasons back in the top division before they again suffered the ignominy of relegation.
Whilst Spurs still enjoyed some good results during the 1927/28 season, most notably scoring 5-2 wins over both Newcastle United, the reigning champions, and Everton, the club that would finish champions this year, their form was inconsistent at best and after a 2-0 win over Arsenal on 7th April they failed to win any of the last four games of the season – when even one win in those fixtures would have been enough to save them. Eventually they finished 21st of 22 teams, just one point behind Portsmouth sitting just outside the relegation zone, and again dropped into the Second Division.
This would be a long spell in the Second Division for Tottenham, as they took five season to get back to the First Division, eventually finishing 2nd in 1932/33 to secure a return to the top flight.
Fresh from their promotion in the 1932/33 season, Tottenham took their promotion form into the following league season and finished 3rd in the First Division in their first season back, and although they were quite far behind the top two, this was still a great result which seemed to bode well for the future.
Unfortunately, this proved to be something of a false dawn and in 1934/35 the club endured a horrendous campaign, finishing bottom of the league and with the club’s worst goal average (used at the time instead of goal difference and calculating by dividing goals scored by goals conceded) as they conceded 93 goals.
It would be a long eight years until Tottenham were able to get out of the Second Division this time, but they then managed to do even better with their post-promotion bounce than they had done on the previous occasion, as they won the Second Division in 1949/50 and then the First Division title in 1950/51 to complete a remarkable change in fortunes.
The Fourth and Latest
After that promotion in 1951, Tottenham enjoyed a long and successful period in the First Division, winning the league title and the FA Cup multiple times – including together as a Double in 1961 – as well as the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1963 – the first European trophy won by a British side – and the 1972 UEFA Cup, as they enjoyed the most successful spell in their history.
Bill Nicholson, the legendary manager that had overseen all that success, departed the club early in the 1974/75 season and new boss Keith Burkinshaw endured a difficult first few seasons in charge, culminating in relegation after finishing 22nd – bottom of the table – in 1976/77 for the club’s fourth and latest demotion.
It was to be a short-lived absence from the Fist Division this time, however, as Burkinshaw guided the club to promotion the following season as he started to assemble his own famous Spurs side, notable for the play of both English midfielder Glenn Hoddle and Argentinian pair Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa. This side went on to become another famous team in Tottenham’s history, winning back-to-back FA Cups in 1981 and 1982 and the club’s second UEFA Cup title in 1984.