The pinnacle of the English game is the Premier League. It is a league admired worldwide by fans for its action and branding. Some say it is the best football league in Europe.
Whatever is said about the Premier League, it is the place to be for any club in the English football pyramid. The riches and prestige on offer can make or break a football club. Clubs throughout the English game dream of making it to the promised land.
However, is it possible then for a club to rise from non-league to the Premier League? Well, although it has not been done often, a few clubs have bucked the trend and made it all the way from non-league to the Premier League. Here are those proud few:
The Latics are one of the biggest Cinderella stories in the history of English football. Incredibly, as recently as 1977, the Latics were not even a professional club. However, in 1978 after being successful in non-League football, the north west outfit was elected by the Football League to join the fourth tier of English football.
In just over two decades, Athletic worked their way from the fourth tier of the English game to the Premier League. One of the key factors in their meteoric rise was sportswear impresario Dave Whelan. Athletic was in the third tier when Whelan bought the club in 1995.
With his financial backing, the club from Lancashire steadily rose up the football pyramid. In 2005, the Latics won promotion to the Premier League, and they remained in the English top flight for eight seasons until 2013 when they suffered relegation. However, that season was bittersweet for Wigan, as under head coach Roberto Martinez, they defeated Manchester City 1-0 to win the FA Cup at Wembley.
Relegation in 2013 led to Wigan’s downward spiral, as they have yet to return to the Premier League. Since suffering relegation, they have spent five seasons in the Championship and three in League One.
While Wigan might have been a Cinderella story, Wimbledon will claim to have risen better and quicker up the English football pyramid than any club in history. However, it feels wrong to compare Wimbledon Football Club (Now MK Dons) to a Disney princess because of its formerly tough image.
Their rise from non-League to Premier League started the season before Blackpool, as the Dons were elected to play in the Football League for the season 1977/78. It took until 1984 for Wimbledon to earn a place in the English Second Division (now the Championship).
The incredible Wimbledon story took an even more unbelievable turn in 1986 when they won promotion to the English First Division, now the Premier League. The story was incredible because the Dons had been playing non-League football just nine years earlier.
The London outfit certainly made their mark in the English top flight, as they finished in sixth place in their debut campaign after topping the table after just five games of the league season.
In 1988, the Dons achieved the biggest achievement in the club’s history, as they recorded a 1-0 win over then-mighty Liverpool in the FA Cup final at Wembley. The performance epitomised the Crazy Gang spirit fostered within the Wimbledon squad.
The likes of Vinnie Jones, John Fashanu, Dennis Wise and Lawrie Sanchez helped Wimbledon to become a team that no team liked to play against. Even the biggest and best teams in the country wilted at times under the physical and mental tactics of the Dons, as proven by their FA Cup win over Liverpool.
Wimbledon established itself as a top-flight club for over a decade. However, in 2000, the Dons suffered relegation to the second tier, resulting in some hard years for the club, including administration.
Worse was to come, as in 2004, Wimbledon F.C. was renamed MK Dons after they relocated to Milton Keynes in 2003, with the name change and relocation taking 16 months for the English FA to approve. The current iteration of the club has yet to return to the English top flight since its demotion.
Angered by the club’s switch to Milton Keynes, a group of Wimbledon F.C. fans formed AFC Wimbledon in 2002. The new club started in the ninth tier of English football. However, it reached the Football League in 2012, just ten years after its foundation. They became the first club founded in the 21st century to win promotion to the Football League.