The Middling Midlands

Coventry ended its punchline status in 1987

Midlands teams haven’t had much to sing about lately.  They don’t have the glitz and glamour of clubs from Swinging London and they don’t have the pedigree of the Northern teams.  The teams from England’s soft creamy middle have almost made a habit of being also-rans. 

There are exceptions, of course.  Brian Clough took little Derby County and won the league with them in 1972.  He would outdo himself at the end of the decade, taking local rivals Nottingham Forest to the League title… and then on to two consecutive European Championships.  Aston Villa then followed with  League and European wins in 1981 and 1982, respectively.  But since then, there has been a distinct lack of silverware… unless you count the League Cup… which I don’t. 

In fact, in the last 50 years, a Midlands team has only won the league four times, and the FA Cup three times.

Here’s the current breakdown of the nine major teams:

Aston Villa (currently 8th)
The biggest of the Midland clubs,  Villa appears to still be in turmoil, months after Martin O’Neill left the club over a disagreement with owner Randy Lerner over transfer funding. They have finished 6th the last three seasons, qualifying for the UEFA Cup each time.

But O’Neill was right: the squad is small and injuries have devastated the side that Gerard Houllier now helms. A string of recent draws and near-misses show that this young team gets tired easy and are prone to taking their foot off the gas.

Trophy Case: 7 Titles, 7 FA Cups, 1 European Championship, 5 League Cups
Last Trophy Won: 2000 League Cup
Last Time in Contention: 2010 League Cup final

League Cup: It kind of looks like Mickey Mouse...

Stoke City (currently 10th)
Now entering its third season in the Prem, the league’s second-oldest club is hanging in there by playing tight defensive football.  In fact, last season was their best finish in 30 years.  No one expects the former club of Sir Stanley Matthews to do much except survive.

Trophy Case: 1 League Cup
Last Trophy Won: 1972 League Cup
Last Time in Contention: 2010 FA Cup Quarterfinals

West Bromwich Albion (currently in 12th)
Like many of the Midlands teams, the Baggies’ best years are behind them. They used to be the darlings of the FA Cup, with five… as many as Everton and more than Manchester City.  But they’ve become a yo-yo club, having been relegated three times in the last seven seasons.  They have taken some impressive scalps this year: a draw at Old Trafford and a win away to Arsenal.  Those are a far cry from their opening game: a 6-0 loss to Chelsea.

Trophy Case: 1 League Title, 5 FA Cups, 1 League Cup
Last Trophy Won: 1968 League Cup
Last Time in Contention: 2008 FA Cup Semi-Finals

Birmingham City (currently in 18th)
The second team in the Second City, Birmingham are not the most glamourous club. Although they had their best finish in over 50 years last season, the same old Brum seems to be coming out. The Blues sit in the relegation zone, and will need to get over their confounded habit of drawing games to pull themselves up.

Trophy Case: 1 League Cup
Last Trophy Won: 1963 League Cup
Last Time in Contention: 2010 FA Cup Quarterfinals

Wolverhampton Wanderers (currently in 19th)
Mick McCarthy’s side is a far cry from the mighty Wolves teams of the 1950’s, that finished in the top 3 in eight of nine seasons. They barely survived relegation last season, and look destined to drop in May.  They can’t score and they can’t defend. ‘Nuff said.

Trophy Case: 3 League titles, 4 FA Cups, 2 League Cups
Last Trophy Won: 1980 League Cup
Last Time in Contention:  2003 FA Cup Quarterfinals

Derby County (currently 4th – Championship)
The team that Cloughie built has since gone through tough times. They were relegated from the Premier League in March 2008, after only one season. It was the earliest ever relegation from the Prem, with the lowest-ever points total (15), and the Rams equalled Loughborough’s 108-year-old record of only one win in a season. But so far, they are scoring in an extremely crowded Championship. Let’s see if they can sustain it until the playoffs.

Trophy Case: 2 League Titles, 1 FA Cup
Last Trophy Won: 1975 League Champions
Last Time in Contention: 2009 League Cup Semi-Finals

Nottingham Forest (currently in 10th – Championship)
The other side in the Brian Clough derby, Forest have perhaps fallen the farthest.  The two-time European Champions were relegated in the Premier League’s inaugural season, bounced back up the next year, finished third the following season, and then dropped two years later.  They would make a final appearance in the top flight again in 1998-1999, but went into free fall after that.  They lost their playoff tie last season to Blackpool, who are now scrapping with the big boys.

Trophy Case: 1 League Title, 2 European Championships, 2 FA Cups, 4 League Cups
Last Trophy Won: 1990 League Cup
Last Time in Contention: 1996 UEFA Cup Quarterfinals, 1996 FA Cup Quarterfinals

Coventry City (currently 11th – Championship)
Before they were relegated a decade ago, Cov spent 34 straight seasons in England’s first division.  It wasn’t always pretty but they found a way to stay up.  They even found a way to win the 1987 FA Cup, ending their legacy as the punchline of a Monty Python bit. That trophy is the last major title won by a Midlands team.

Since their drop, they’ve kept to the same formula in the Championship: not good enough to go up, not terrible enough to go down, just enough to stay in the middle. It’s kind of like Goldilocks, frankly.

Trophy Case: 1 FA Cup
Last Trophy Won: 1987 FA Cup
Last Time in Contention: 2009 FA Cup Quarterfinals

Leicester City (currently in 15th – Championship)
At the turn of the millenium, Leicester kept themselves in the top half of the Premier League table, won a couple of League Cups, and made brief appearances in the UEFA Cup.  But then they started to yo-yo more than West Brom, and even spent a season in League One.  Last season, they lost their playoff tie with Cardiff on penalties. This year, they started poorly, winning only one of their first nine games.  But they seem to have experienced a bit of resurgence under Sven-Goren Eriksson.

Trophy Case: 3 League Cups
Last Trophy Won: 2000 League Cup
Last Time in Contention: 2005 FA Cup Quaterfinals

Brent Lanthier

Cloughie is gone... and so are the dynasties he built

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