The 6 Most Shocking Relegations in Football History

15 Nov 2023

These are the most heartbreaking, shocking and biggest teams relegated ever in football history.

6. Manchester United - 1973/1974

It's impossible to imagine Manchester United getting relegate six years after winning the European Cup Final in 1968. That's exactly what happened when Manchester United suffered a shocking relegation in 1974 after the club began performing uncharacteristically.

United started the season poorly, George Best left at the beginning of 1974, and they just never recovered. Nobody thought United could get relegated but they became one of the biggest teams relegated ever.

Rubbing salt into the Red Devils wounds was Denis Law - a United legend - turned villain by scoring for City in the last game of the season against United which triggered a chain of events.

It resulted in a pitch invasion, Law's substitution because he was so emotionally distressed from scoring, and a pitch invasion which ended the game and the season prematurely.
United recovered by earning promotion from the Second Division the very next season. It would take United until 1993 to win the league again, Sir Alex Ferguson leading United to 13 Premier League titles in 26 years.

5. Corinthians - 2006/2007

In 2005 Corinthians signed a huge investment deal with Media Sports Investments, the same mob that had third-party ownership over Carlos Tevez. It seemed to pay dividends as they won their fourth title in their history.

After money laundering allegations two years later Corinthians broke off the partnership and as the money ran dry, the club fell into the relegation zone on the back of the crisis.

On the last day of the 2006/07 season a win against Gremio would have ensured safety but a loss sealed their fate and Corinthians became one of the most surprising relegations only two years after winning the Brazilian championship.

A couple seasons later Corinthians returned to the top flight and in 2011 they won the Serie A title to cement themselves atop of Brazilian football again.

4. River Plate - 2010/2011

The fall of one of Argentina's biggest clubs, River Plate, was one of the most shocking relegations ever. At the end of the 2011 season the club finished within the Primera Division relegation table on the back of crippling debts that sent the club spiralling.

River Plate had an opportunity to avoid a surprising relegation if they could manage to overcome Belgrano de Córdoba in a two-legged playoff. They weren't good enough and lost 3-1 on aggregate, suffering a heartbreaking relegation to the second division for the first time ever since their 1901 founding.

Bitter rivals Boca Juniors were jubilant with River Plate's relegation but it was a huge blow for the league losing the Superclásico, one of the world's fiercest football derbies. River Plate rebounded quickly though and won a record 36th Primera Division title in 2014.

3. Juventus - 2005/2006

Juventus was one of the top teams in Europe in 2006 when they won their 20th Serie A title. The team had stars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pavel Nedved and Alessandro Del Piero in the squad.

Things went south following the Calciopoli scandal which found Juventus guilty of influencing referee appointments. Juventus were dumped into Serie B for the 2006/07 season in one of the biggest relegations in history and were also stripped of two of their titles.

Ibrahimovic, Lilian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro and Patrick Viera all left following relegation. Buffon, Del Piero, Nedved and a host of other stars stayed and helped Juventus gain promotion after only one season in the second tier.

Coinciding with a move to a new stadium in 2011, Juventus went undefeated to claim the Serie A title, before going on a dominant and unprecedented run of nine titles.

2. Leeds United - 2003/2004

At the turn of the millennium Leeds United were one of the biggest clubs in Europe with stars like Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Fowler, Mark Viduka and Robbie Keane. Then the club free-fell into oblivion as a result of poor football financial mismanagement, creating what we know as "Doing a Leeds".

After reaching the Champions League semi-finals in 2001 Leeds failed to qualify for the tournament the year after and missed out on all the revenue from gate receipts and broadcasting rights.

In 2004 and just three years after their famous Champions League run, Leeds became one of the biggest clubs relegated from the Premier League. The wage bill also spiralled out of control with debts of £119m.

Leeds United were almost expelled from the Football League but they somehow survived and had to begin League One with a 15 point penalty to start the 2007-08 season. In 2020 Leeds United began life back in the Premier League after a 16-year absence.

1. Schalke - 2020/21

Life in Gelsenkirchen - an area with one of the highest unemployment rates in Germany - revolves around their football club Schalke 04.

In 2006 Schalke had a huge sponsorship deal with Gazprom, which included the owner visiting Vladimir Putin. The clubs stature rose rapidly, mingling with the elites. Schalke even made the 2010–11 Champions League semi-finals including a win over Inter Milan in the quarters.

The clubs business model relied upon qualifying for the Champions League consistently to keep paying stars like Manuel Neuer, Christoph Metzelder, Julian Draxler and Raul.

Schalke would have a disastrous start to the 2020/21 season as the club continued to become decimated by crippling debt. The season would end with one of the biggest relegations ever. After only three wins and using 41 different players, Schalke began the 2021/22 season in the German second tier.

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I was shocked to learn the fall from grace for some of these clubs. Most were able to rebound but interestingly some were not. How much of this was due to players leaving and not wanting to play in a lower division?
When giants fall, the crash is deafening...