In the All Time League Table, progress up and down is glacially slow.
For example, Liverpool would need to spend two seasons outside the top flight for Arsenal to overtake them as the best league team ever. Meanwhile, the Gunners would need a terrible season themselves and finish 16 places below Everton to lose second spot to them instead of inching further ahead.
To assess this for yourself just look at the Total Position column on the All Time League Table, and spot the positions most closely contested.
Despite the test-match style pace, however, there are always some football teams poised to climb a place. So, in our 2016-17 snapshot, who should we be watching most closely? What are the Top 5 rivalries 2016-17?
1 – Chelsea vs Tottenham (9th vs 10th)
In early 2016 the unthinkable nearly happened. Spurs were riding high, Chelsea were having a mare, and it looked like Tottenham might climb above Chelsea into 9th place in the All Time League Table. However, a late run by the Blues and a miserable capitulation by Spurs *again* meant that going into 2016-17 Chelsea still had their noses in front. However, fewer than two places separate these London giants – can Spurs make them up this year?
2019 update: still the same 1.5 places.
2 – Bolton Wanderers vs Sheffield Wednesday (15th vs 16th)
The Owls, who play in the Championship, are just 12 total places below Wanderers. But with Bolton playing in the third tier next season then the 15th and 16th placed teams are likely to swap. If Bolton make the promotion places, however, and Wednesday struggle, we’ll see the Trotters hang on.
2019 update: with Bolton relegated again in May 2019 The Owls are now above The Trotters and will inch further ahead this season.
3 – Nottingham Forest vs Leicester City (20th vs 21st)
Forest are in the top 20 of our all time football league table, but next are local rivals Leicester. Leicester’s title win in 2016 has put them just 57 places behind Forest. If Leicester repeat their top-of-the-table finish and Forest have a shocker they’ll be very close come May. However, we all expect a mere dozen or so spots to separate them – maybe in a couple of seasons, Leicester?
2019 update: with Leicester continuing their good form in the league above Forest they are now above their neighbours and closing in on Birmingham.
4 – Fulham vs Southampton (27th vs 28th)
Fulham are a slender 28 total league places above Southampton, some of those gathered in the last few years when they were in the top flight and Southampton were in a slump. Now that the London club are in the Championship the south coast team have a chance to catch up. Fulham need to match Southampton’s finish in their respective divisions to keep their place. They can even afford to give away a few places. However, if Southampton squeeze a top 10 finish the Fulham must do better than 18th to stay ahead.
2019 update: Fulham now have a single point advantage, and will be overtaken by May 2020.
5 – Plymouth Argyle vs Leyton Orient (53rd vs 54th)
In the bowels of the 4th tier there lies a contest that only those special few will appreciate. If Leyton Orient finish nine places or better above Plymouth Argyle, they overtake them into the giddy heights of 53rd place. Of course, as the three teams above them are two or three divisions higher there’s little prospect of them closing the gap on the top 50 anytime soon, but in a decade or so, who knows. How sad is this?
Note: Reading and Brighton are currently playing two divisions above these teams, and if this stays the same they’ll make up the 200 places needed to overtake them in about five seasons.
2019 update: it’s all go in the mid fifties! Leyton Orient have now dropped out of the league, so Plymouth remain above them. More than this, high-flying Brighton have overtaken Reading and Orient. Reading will overtake Orient as well in May 2020.
P.S. it’s probably going to happen…
There are some lower league place changes that are likely or inevitable this season.
Notts County and Bristol City (34th & 35th)
Notts County’s slide continues. No longer supported by their positions in a tiny league 100 years ago, a succession of lower league finishes means they’re sinking into the quicksand of mediocrity. Bristol are playing two divisions above Notts, and will almost certainly make up the 38 total places that separate them.
Oldham Athletic and QPR (41st & 42nd)
This could be tasty. Oldham are currently just 19 total places above QPR, and play in the division below. Put simply, they need to finish better in League One than Rangers do in the Championship by about 5 places.
2019 update: QPR are now ahead and stretching the gap.
Lincoln City / Stockport County and Bristol Rovers (62nd/63rd & 64th)
With Lincoln and Stockport both out of the league for season 2016-17, Bristol Rovers will overtake them both with a single bound. Playing in League One, Rovers will certainly make up the 15 places to Stockport and the 28 places to Lincoln.
Wrexham (and Northampton) and Bournemouth (70th and 71st)
Both Wrexham and Bournemouth are well away from their typical position at the foot of the third tier. Wrexham are out of the league, while Bournemouth are flying uncharacteristically high. This means that Bournemouth will certainly make up the 19 places it needs to move into the top 70 (woo-hoo!). Indeed, if they finish the season 42 places above Northampton Town they’ll move into 69th.
2019 update: Bournemouth have now overtaken Gillingham to go into 68th.
Newport County and Scunthorpe Utd (82nd & 83rd)
Newport were relegated from the league in 2016, and join the 100 club. Meanwhile Scunthorpe are sitting comfortably in League One. Even if they finish last they’ll get the 32 places they need to move ahead of the welsh team.
Colchester Utd and Mansfield Town (84th & 85th)
These clubs are used to slugging it out in the basement of the league. Mansfield can rise above Colchester if they finish six places above them in League Two.
2019 update: Colchester are still above, but just by 1/2 a place.
Wimbledon into the top 100
Wimbledon will definitely improve on 105th position this season. With promotion to League One in 2016, they’re guaranteed to finish 32 places or better above four non-league 100-Club teams: Loughborough, New Brighton Tower, Middlesborough Ironopolis and Burton Wanderers. This will move them into 101st place. To get into the top 100, however, they’ll probably need to overtake Accrington, one of the 12 founders of the league. For this they’ll need to make up a total of 113 places, which will probably take about four seasons in League One. They could manage it quicker, mind, if Peterborough Utd take a dive and fail to defend their 40 place advantage.
2019 update: Wimbledon are now in 100th place. They, and Peterborough, have now edged Accrington out to 101st.