The 10 Biggest Underperforming Clubs in Britain - Ranked

Jack Grealish
Newcastle and Aston Villa have both been punching below their weight | James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

You know what you're getting yourself in for when you choose to support a relatively rubbish football team. If, in spite of the array of illustrious clubs in your local area, you decide to don the colours of a Rochdale, a Tranmere, a Barnet, then you've taken the noble but difficult path in life.

It's a lifetime of disappointing long coach journeys back from some of the most miserable places the UK has to offer, having watched your side fail to register a shot on target. It's okay. You knew exactly what you were signing up for; you don't buy yourself a Scunthorpe season ticket because you're expecting to see Champions League football within the next three years.

But what happens when you support a team who are traditionally not too bad, but end up letting you down on a weekly basis? Now that's another realm of disappointment altogether.

Let's take a look at the clubs who fit into that very category and crown the very biggest underachievers in British football.

10. Charlton Athletic

Darren Bent, Matt Holland
Charlton had a nifty little Premier League side in the mid 2000s | Alex Livesey/Getty Images

We're not going to pretend Charlton Athletic are a giant of the English game - but they're not a third tier side either.

Prior to their 2010 relegation, the Addicks had only spent two seasons outside of the top two divisions since 1935. Just 16 years ago they finished seventh in the Premier League under Alan Curbishly. They have since spent 50% of the last decade in League One.

With behind the scenes turmoil currently unfolding at the Valley, it's likely things will get worse before they get better for Charlton fans.

9. Bradford City

Utilita Energy Stadium - Bradford City Football Club
Bradford boast one of the best stadiums in the Football League | Visionhaus/Getty Images

Bradford spent a couple of seasons in the Premier League either side of the millennium, but tumbled into League Two after suffering a series of financial woes in 2007.

Phil Parkinson did a remarkable job at the club, and their current situation would have changed drastically had they won the 2017 League One playoff final.

But they lost, were relegated two years later and are currently a fourth tier side with a 25,000-seater stadium.

8. Newcastle United

Alan Shearer, Bobby Robson
Newcastle have housed some greats down the years | David Rogers/Getty Images

The Magpies had spells in the 90s and 2000s where they were one of the best teams in the country, but have since wilted into mid-table mediocracy.

Having been managed by Kevin Keegan and Bobby Robson, playing Champions League football, challenging for the title, watching the likes of Alan Shearer, Gary Speed, David Ginola and Titus Bramble take to the St James' Park turf, it is quite a fall from grace.

Oh, and it's been more than 50 years since they won a major trophy.

But fear not Newcastle fans, you're not even the biggest underachieving side in the north east, let alone Britain. Every cloud has a red and white lining...

7. Aston Villa

Gary Shaw, Peter Withe
Peter Withe and Gary Shaw were part of Villa's great 1980s side | Getty Images/Getty Images

Aston Villa are the royal family of English football; they're steeped in a rich history, but we're not really sure what the point is in keeping them around in the 21st century.

The Villans are one of English football's traditionally huge clubs; eight-time champions of England (although only once since the First World War), seven-time FA Cup winners (a full two claimed after WWI) and European Cup winners in 1982.

In stature, they are a club who should be challenging for a place in Europe, not celebrating survival. Maybe Roy Keane did have a point...

6. Middlesbrough

Sevilla's Spanish midfielder Jose Luis M
Middlesbrough were Uefa Cup final runners up in 2006 | FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

Boro were Premier League regulars throughout the 2000s, and the Teesiders even dabbled in a bit of genuine success as they won the League Cup and reached the UEFA Cup final under Steve McClaren (great guy, bet he went on to do great things.)

However, they were relegated under Gareth Southgate (terrible guy, bet that was the end of his career) and bar a brief top flight return in 2016, have largely stagnated in the second tier.

Middlesbrough are not one of these clubs with a divine right to be in the Premier League - but they should not simply be floating around aimlessly in the Championship either.

5. Sheffield Wednesday

David Hirst
David Hirst celebrates Wednesday's 1991 League Cup triumph | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Sheffield Wednesday are traditionally considered the biggest team in Sheffield - but they have been overshadowed by the red half of the city of late.

Wednesday are four-time champions of England and three-time FA Cup winners - although admittedly these honours all came before the Second World War.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, the Owls were a relative mainstay in the top flight, and were founding members of the Premier League. However, after relegation in 2000 they have not returned since - and having been slapped with 12-point deduction this season, it could be a while yet.

4. Ipswich Town

Arnold Muhren, Frans Thijssen
Dutch duo Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen were core members of Ipswich's 1981 Uefa Cup winning team | Getty Images/Getty Images

The club that once produced two of England's finest managers (Bobby Robson and Alf Ramsey) and the greatest player to never go to the World Cup (Darren Bent), now find themselves plying their trade in League One.

The heady days of European, FA Cup and league triumphs are long gone at Portman Road. The Tractor Boys even enjoyed one stunning fifth-placed finish in the Premier League - no newly promoted side has been as successful since.

Careless spending was followed by a lack of investment though, as the club gradually slipped into the third tier. They couldn't even muster a commendable promotion challenge during their first season in League One.

3. Sunderland

Sunderland's English forward Darren Bent
Sunderland's current situation is a far cry from the glory days of Darren Bent's beach ball goal | AFP/Getty Images

Yes, the Black Cats have been a mess these past few seasons which has probably been a chastising experience for many involved with the club, but it's been great Netflix viewing from a neutral's perspective.

While Ipswich slowly stagnated and eventually declined into League One over the course of a decade and a half, Sunderland grumpily slid into the third tier like a hungover student on a waterslide in Benidorm.

Six-time champions of England and two-time FA Cup winners - one of which was their famous 1973 underdog triumph - the Black Cats have spent 100 of their 130 years of existence in the top flight. With the highest average attendance outside the Premier League, they're one of English football's biggest sleeping giants.

2. Nottingham Forest

Brian Clough and Peter Taylor
Clough guided Forest to double European Cup glory | Getty Images/Getty Images

Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest were as good as they come. They were crowned champions of England, and then champions of Europe. And then champions of Europe again, just for good measure.

Forest are one of the biggest, most famous sides in English football – and they haven't played in the Premier League for over two decades.

Since 2011, on paper the club have done nothing. They have not reached the playoffs once, somehow missing out on the final day of the 2019/20 campaign. For a club who were once considered the very best in Europe, losing 4-1 to Stoke on the last day of the season to miss out on a playoff spot they had looked assured of for six months was, sadly, quite a Forest thing to happen.

1. Bolton

Bolton Wanders v FK Rabotnicki - UEFA Cup
Bolton has some side in the noughties | Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

Bolton are very much the S Club 7 of English football. They really hit their stride in the 2000s with two forays into the UEFA Cup (while S Club released Reach and Never Had a Dream Come True) before capitulating in the 2010s and 2020s with a relegation to the fourth tier for just the second time in their history (S Club now tour university student unions).

From playing Atletico Madrid and Sporting CP with the likes of Nicolas Anelka and Jay-Jay Okocha gracing the turf, to seeing Harrogate Town on their fixture list.

Bolton are by no means the biggest club on this list. But in terms of stature of club in comparison to the predicament they currently find themselves in, they take the top spot.