Football from top to bottom

How much do you know about the clubs that play English league football week in, week out? A new book gives you all the facts on every club. To give you a flavour, here is an essential guide to the clubs at the top and bottom of the four divisions...

Thursday 06 November 2008 01:00

Top of the Premier League: Chelsea

Ownership looms large in Chelsea's history. The first owners built Stamford Bridge – and then hunted around for a team to fill it. When they couldn't find one, they formed their own, back in 1905, in The Butcher's Hook pub in Fulham Road.

The club was forced to flog the freehold to property developers back in the '70s after miscalculating the cost of building a new stand, and were fortunate to buy it back when the developers went bust in the '90s. These days the freehold, the pitch and even the turnstiles are owned by the Chelsea Pitch Owners, a fan group formed to make sure the club never loses its home again. The club is now firmly in the hands of Roman Abramovich, the billionaire who took control in 2003.

It was the previous owner, Ken Bates, who declared he wanted Chelsea to be the Manchester United of the south, and in one respect, he got his wish. Watching the last Champions League final in a pub packed with neutrals, it was striking how Chelsea have replaced United as the team to hate.

Quoted: "There's a language barrier. The majority of the lads speak Italian but there are a few who don't."

Dennis Wise, who once found himself in a minority at Chelsea

Bottom of the Premier League: Tottenham

You wouldn't bet your house on Spurs. Actually, someone did. Three-up at half-time against Manchester United at home, a mug internet punter thought he'd impress his girlfriend by putting everything they had or were likely to have on Tottenham to win the match. They lost 5-3.

Don't get me wrong, Tottenham have had some fabulous players over the years and played some blindingly entertaining football.

Whenever a crowd-pleaser comes on the market, Tottenham are at the head of the queue to sign him. Their greatest coup came in 1978 when Argentine World Cup winners Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa boarded a plane to White Hart Lane. Ardiles was mesmerisingly good.

Then there was Paul Gascoigne; Sir Bobby Robson famously dubbed him "daft as a brush". When George Best declared Gazza's IQ was less than his shirt number, a perplexed Gazza enquired, "What's an IQ?" But when given his chance in the England team he took it, singlehandedly transforming a mediocre side to the point where they were a penalty shoot-out away from the 1990 World Cup final.

Quoted: "The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It's nothing of the kind. It's about doing things in style, with a flourish."

Danny Blanchflower, Spurs legend

Top of the Championship: Wolves

The best team in the world? Back in the '50s, everyone in England reckoned the honour belonged to Wolves. English football had been in the doldrums.

For decades we'd assumed we were the world's top footballing nation. Defeats such as the 1-0 loss to the US in the 1950 World Cup could be dismissed as flukes. Until 1953 when the Hungarians came to Wembley and took England apart 6-3. The following year, they tore England to shreds 7-1. Wolves gave us our pride back. With floodlights still a novelty, a series of floodlit games against some of the top sides in the world were staged at Molineux, including Spartak Moscow, Moscow Dynamo, and top Argentine team Racing Club. But the big one in November 1954 was against Honved, the club side containing six of the Hungarian team that had caned England. The friendly was live on the BBC; Wolves came back from two-down to win 3-2 and woke up to headlines proclaiming them champions of the world.

This got up the noses of the French who'd been pushing for a new competition under floodlights featuring Europe's top teams. Which is how the European Cup was born.

Quoted: "If I could get rid of every player who has ever been through my hands we'd never lose a game, because they all seem to come back and score."

Mick McCarthy, Wolves manager, 2008

Bottom of the Championship: Doncaster Rovers

Doncaster Rovers have risen like a phoenix from the ashes in the 10 years since John Ryan took charge of the club in the autumn of 1998.

In this case, ashes means ashes. Previous incumbent Ken Richardson hired a former SAS man to burn down their home Belle Vue in an insurance scam that all went horribly wrong and saw the chairman jailed for four years.

The season before that saw the club set an unwanted record, plummeting like a stone out of the Football League after losing an unprecedented 34 games in front of average gates of less than 1,800 fans.

When Doncaster-born multimillionaire Ryan pulled up in his green Bentley outside the ravaged crumbling hell-hole that was Belle Vue, the club was stranded at the foot of the Conference, a drop to the Northern Premier League a real possibility. There was no kit, no nets, no balls, and only a handful of players. An unhappy feature of early away matches were scheduled motorway stops where the team coach would pick up players they had never heard of, never seen, and certainly never played

with just to make up the numbers for that day's game.

Ryan set about transforming every element of Rovers off the pitch, and in a glorious cameo, on it. In 2003 he fulfilled a childhood dream and was immortalised in The Guinness Book of Records when he came on as a substitute for the final few minutes of an away game at Hereford, becoming the oldest player ever to play for a British professional team at the age of 52 years and 11 months.

Quoted: "It's demeaning to define a woman by her breasts and it would be belittling Melinda's very real talent."

Melinda Messenger, the glamour model owes her prize DD assets to cosmetic surgeon John Ryan. Doncaster Rovers owe him so much more

Top of League One: Scunthorpe United

The club was formed at the end of the 19th century but didn't gain league status until 1950. For much of that time they played at the Old Show Ground in the heart of town, but in 1988 became the first club in the modern era to move to a new, purpose-built stadium.

Money, or the lack of it, was the driving force for the move – Safeway were desperate to buy a city centre site, United were desperate to clear their debts. For some years there was a plaque inside Safeway marking the spot where the centre circle used to be – next to the deli counter, in fact – but that disappeared when Sainsbury's took over the premises and couldn't stomach a plaque bearing the branding of a rival chain. The Show Ground also boasted the first cantilever stand in the country, which went up in 1958 after the old one burnt down. The club were so proud of it, they tried to take it with them when they moved to their current home at Glanford Park but couldn't afford to.

Who made his debut for the Iron in 1980 and was appointed captain of England the same year? Arise Sir Ian "Beefy" Botham. He made his first appearance for Scunthorpe in a 3-3 draw at Bournemouth and turned out on a number of occasions over the next few years, attracting a lot of media attention and raising a lot of money.

The club made him an honorary vice-president in 1985, though the shareholders bit the hand that fed them by ungraciously booting him off in 1994 because he wasn't spending enough time around Glanford Park.

Quoted: "Dad, you're going to get hammered."

Peter Beagrie's son Sam gives his verdict after hearing the Iron have drawn Chelsea in the FA Cup in 2005

Bottom of League One: Hereford United

Chairman, majority shareholder, director, occasional coach. And manager. Let's hear it for Graham Turner, who pulled off a minor miracle of sorts in 2008 when he took Hereford to a second promotion in three years, pulling them from the Conference into England's third tier.

Turner was a reluctant owner. Formerly manager at Villa and Wolves, he arrived in 1995 with the club in the Fourth Division, led them to the play-offs in his first season, but saw the club relegated to the Conference the following year. It wasn't until the last few minutes of the last game of the season that the Bulls occupied bottom place and the big drop stunned the club.

So much so that the then shell-shocked chairman told reporters it was the worst day of his life, momentarily forgetting he had lost both his wife and daughter in the previous 12 months. Turner offered his resignation but it wasn't accepted; and soon afterwards he bought a majority shareholding to stop the club folding.

It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement but he's still there. The future of the club would have been so very different were it not for an FA Cup qualifying tie in 2001 against Dover Athletic. Hereford were in voluntary administration at the time; if they had lost the club would have gone under. A win took them into the first round and a tie against Wrexham, televised live on the BBC.

The TV payment for that game kept the Bulls afloat.

Quoted: "To achieve maximum football, the player has to be in an optimal state of arousal."

Hereford trainer Phil Robinson didn't know whether to train the players, or breed them

Top of League Two: Darlington

The shadow of former chairman George Reynolds who once refused a donation from the club's supporters' trust, is finally lifting from Darlington.

Not popular with the players, he once released their salaries to the local paper in an effort to shame them into playing better. Greatest moment?

Undoubtedly 50 years ago in the fourth-round FA Cup tie against Chelsea, a team that had been champions of England just three years earlier.

Darlington went three-up at Stamford Bridge but the game went to a replay after Chelsea clawed it back.

At Feethams it was 1-1 after 90 minutes – but three goals in a delirious six minutes saw Darlington triumph 4-1.

Quoted: "The physio came running out like an idiot – I thought he'd actually got someone fit."

Much excitement in Darlington in 1999 when the club won the historic FA Cup "Lucky Losers" draw. Knocked out in the second round, they found themselves playing in the third after Manchester United dropped out of the competition to take part in the Fifa World Club Championship

Bottom of League Two: Luton Town

The omens were looking good when the Hatters reached the 1959 FA Cup final against Nottingham Forest, a team they had trounced 5-1 just a few weeks earlier.

But preparations were a shambles, with the club owners on some crazed ego trip. Chairman Percy Mitchell picked the side and omitted all-time record goalscorer Gordon Taylor.

Director Tony Hodgson led the team onto the Wembley pitch following a protracted row with the Football Association over whether he could wear his favourite hat. Half-time team talk? There wasn't one. Where was the manager? The club appeared managerless on the greatest day in its history? It was.

Luton had actually appointed one but kept it a secret and told him not to start until the Monday after the final.

Quoted: "It is bad enough with incapable referees and linesmen but if you start bringing in women, you have big problems."

Then manager Mike Newell after his undignified attack on assistant referee, Amy Rayner

Order your own copy

To order 'Can We Play You Every Week' by Max Velody for the special price of £11.69, including free p&p, call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897, or visit

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