List of unrelegated association football clubs

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Several association football clubs succeed in playing at the highest level without being relegated from their domestic league. This page lists the clubs that managed to stay in top flight for an extended period of time, and those that have never been relegated from their current top-tier league.

Historical considerations[edit]

More often than not, football clubs have played in more than one top-tier competition. It is therefore possible that teams relegated at one point in their history, but have not done so in the competition in which they currently compete. This is the case for multiple teams in countries where football was played in regional leagues prior to the creation of a unified national league. In such countries, a national champion was previously declared by means of a play-off tournament between teams that qualified through their regional tournaments. In Germany, for instance, seven teams have never been relegated from the Bundesliga (some joining more recently), but three of them found themselves expelled from the older Oberligen. Hamburg played continuously in the top tier of the German football system from the end of World War I until 2018.[1][2] In the Netherlands, football used to be organised in regional competitions as well. The unified Eredivisie was born in 1956, and four teams have continuously played at this highest national level since then.[3]

Even before the establishment of regional competitions, football was played in league systems. The very first football championships in Europe were often organised on a local level. Taking these smaller competitions into account, Austria Wien and Rapid Wien can claim to have played at the highest possible level since competition began in Austria in 1911.[1] At that time however, the only organised football was played in the league of Lower Austria,[4] which was then located in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and only teams from Vienna took part.[5] Later, Austrian teams competed in the German football system for several years, which made it possible for Rapid Wien to become German champion in 1941.[6] The current Austrian Bundesliga was only established in 1974,[7] and to this point a total of five teams never relegated from that competition.[8]

In Greece and Turkey, competitive football was organised in even smaller leagues. In both countries, city-leagues were the highest level for quite some time.[9][10] In 1959, a unified Hellenic championship was founded, and Olympiacos, Panathinaikos and PAOK have played in every season of it.[1] However, these teams were already high-flyers in the preceding city-leagues. The same applies to Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray in Turkey.[1]

In Russia, football too was first played at city-level. The St. Petersburg Football League was established in 1901, and its Moscovite counterpart followed in 1909. Many years later, in 1936, the Soviet Top League was formed. This competition ceased to exist when the Soviet Union fell, and new leagues were formed in the fifteen successor states. As a result, many teams entered a top division for the first time in their history. In Estonia, for example, the new Meistriliiga was composed of clubs that never participated in the top flight before.[11][12] As these are relatively new competitions, many clubs can claim to have never been relegated from the top-level. But only Dynamo Kyiv and Dinamo Tbilisi have always played at the highest possible level.[1] On the other hand, Dynamo Moscow played in every season of the Soviet Top League but was relegated in from the Russian Premier League in the 2015–16 season.

Timeline chart showing Yugoslav First League successors

Besides the Soviet, also the Czechoslovak and Yugoslav football leagues split into multiple competitions in the early 1990s. A total of eight teams have not been relegated from the national championships of the Czech Republic[13] and Slovakia,[14] but no team managed to achieve this in Czechoslovak times. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, football became divided alongside ethnic lines and competition was held in three different leagues, before the establishment of a national division in 2000. In Kosovo, a national league also exists, although not it was not recognised by UEFA or FIFA until 2016. In all, three clubs – Red Star Belgrade, Partizan Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb – have played at the highest level since the creation of socialist Yugoslavia, whilst Hajduk Split have never been relegated since they first played in the championship of the now long gone Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.[1] However, many more teams have never been relegated from their current national championships.

In still many other instances, new top-tier leagues were created to replace existing national championships. In England, six teams have been present in every season of the Premier League, which was founded in 1992.[15] None of them however had an uninterrupted run in the preceding First Division.[16] Thus, a great number of teams can claim to have never been relegated from these newer competitions. In Scotland, only Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen[17] have never been relegated though Rangers were liquidated in 2012, with a new club starting in the fourth tier of the Scottish football league system.[1] Similarly, Cliftonville, Glentoran and Linfield have the unique distinction of having played at the top flight in Northern Ireland for 125 years,[1] but five more teams have been present in every season of the NIFL Premiership, which was only established in 2008.[18]

There are however leagues that have been running for a long time. Not surprising, fewer clubs manage to stay on top the longer a competition runs. The Spanish Primera División was born in 1929, and only Athletic Bilbao, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have been present ever since. The same year the Italian Serie A became a round-robin tournament, and only Inter Milan has continuously played at the highest level from that moment forward – even doing so since 1909. And finally, no team that plays in the Swiss Super League – established in 1897 – has not been relegated at one point in their history.[1]

Unrelegated for three quarters of a century[edit]

This table lists all clubs that have continuously played at the highest level for 75 years or more until their first relegation. Taken into account are all the leagues that formed the highest level at the time each club played in them. Competitions that were organised on sub-regional levels are excluded though. This is the reason no clubs from Greece or Turkey are listed, as in those countries football was played in city-level competitions up until 1959.

The large number of Brazilian football clubs on this list can be explained by the fact that these clubs were dominant in the relatively small state leagues, which formed the highest tier of competition in Brazil for more than half a century. The Taça Brasil, which existed between 1959 and 1968, is not considered a top-tier tournament for the purpose of this list, as it was a knockout competition between the different state champions, and no team took part in every edition.

As of 2019, the majority of the teams listed below continue to play at the top, although a few have ended their uninterrupted spell. Note also that some teams had been relegated (and promoted back) before the start of their record spell.

The squads on bold letter have on-going spells playing at their respective top flight divisions.

Club First year of spell Last year of spell Duration (years) Competition(s)
Scotland Celtic F.C. 1890 129 Football League, Premier League & Premiership (122 seasons in total)
Northern Ireland Cliftonville F.C. 1890 129 Football League, Premier League & NIFL Premiership (118 seasons in total)
Northern Ireland Glentoran F.C. 1890 129 Football League, Premier League & NIFL Premiership (118 seasons in total)
Northern Ireland Linfield F.C. 1890 129 Football League, Premier League & NIFL Premiership (118 seasons in total)
Scotland Rangers F.C. 1890 2012 122 Football League & Premier League (115 seasons in total)
Northern Ireland Lisburn Distillery F.C. 1890 1995 105 Football League (94 seasons in total)
Scotland Heart of Midlothian F.C. 1890 1977 87 Football League (80 seasons in total)
Netherlands Sparta Rotterdam 1893 2002 109 Eerste Klasse West & Eredivisie (108 seasons in total)
Uruguay Peñarol 1900 119 Primera División (114 seasons in total)
Italy Juventus F.C. 1900 2006 106 Italian Football Championship (101 seasons in total)[19]
Italy A.C. Milan* 1900 1980 80 Italian Football Championship (75 seasons in total)[19]
Uruguay Club Nacional de Football 1901 118 Primera División (114 seasons in total)
Hungary Ferencvárosi TC 1901 2006 105 Nemzeti Bajnokság (102 seasons in total)
Scotland Aberdeen F.C. 1905 114 Football League, Premier League & Premiership (105 seasons in total)[17][20]
Paraguay Club Guaraní 1906 113 Primera División (108 seasons in total)
Paraguay Club Olimpia 1906 113 Primera División (108 seasons in total)
Brazil Botafogo de Futebol e Regatas 1906 2002 96 Campeonato Carioca, Taça de Prata & Série A
Paraguay Club Libertad 1906 1998 92 Primera División (87 seasons in total)
Brazil Fluminense FC 1906 1996 90 Campeonato Carioca, Taça de Prata & Série A
Italy Inter Milan 1909 110 Italian Football Championship[19] (105 seasons in total)
Brazil Sport Club Internacional 1909 2016 107 Campeonato Gaúcho, Taça de Prata & Série A
Argentina Club Atlético River Plate 1909 2011 102 Primera División (102 seasons in total)
Austria FK Austria Wien 1911 108 1. Klasse, Gauliga Ostmark, Staatsliga, Nationalliga & Bundesliga (108 seasons in total)
Austria SK Rapid Wien 1911 108 1. Klasse, Gauliga Ostmark, Staatsliga, Nationalliga & Bundesliga (108 seasons in total)
Northern Ireland Glenavon F.C. 1911 2004 93 Football League & Premier League (82 seasons in total)
Brazil Clube de Regatas do Flamengo 1912 107 Campeonato Carioca, Taça de Prata & Série A
Hungary Újpest FC 1912 107 Nemzeti Bajnokság (104 seasons in total)
Argentina Club Atlético Independiente 1912 2013 101 Primera División (101 seasons in total)
Argentina Boca Juniors 1913 106 Primera División (106 seasons in total)
Paraguay Cerro Porteño 1913 106 Primera División (101 seasons in total)
Brazil Sport Club Corinthians Paulista**** 1913 2007 94 Campeonato Paulista, Taça de Prata & Série A
Brazil Clube Atlético Mineiro 1915 2005 90 Campeonato Mineiro, Taça de Prata & Série A
Brazil Santos FC*** 1916 103 Campeonato Paulista, Taça de Prata & Série A
Hungary Budapest Honvéd FC 1916 2003 87 Nemzeti Bajnokság (84 seasons in total)
Brazil Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras 1916 2002 86 Campeonato Paulista, Taça de Prata & Série A
Netherlands AFC Ajax 1917 102 Eerste Klasse West & Eredivisie (101 seasons in total)
England Arsenal F.C. 1919 100 Football League First Division, Premier League (93 seasons in total)
Germany Hamburger SV 1919 2018 99 Norddeutsche Fußballmeisterschaft, Gauliga Nordmark, Oberliga Nord & Bundesliga (96 seasons in total)
Belgium Standard Liège 1921 98 Pro League (95 seasons in total)
Brazil Cruzeiro Esporte Clube 1921 98 Campeonato Mineiro, Taça de Prata & Série A
Republic of Ireland Bohemian F.C.** 1921 98 League of Ireland
Netherlands Feyenoord 1921 98 Eerste Klasse West & Eredivisie (96 seasons in total)
Brazil CR Vasco da Gama 1921 2008 87 Campeonato Carioca, Taça de Prata & Série A
Egypt Al Ahly SC 1922 97 Cairo League, Egyptian Premier League
Republic of Ireland Shamrock Rovers F.C. 1922 2005 83 League of Ireland
Croatia HNK Hajduk Split 1923 96 Yugoslav First League & Prva HNL] (84 seasons in total)
Iceland Valur 1923 1999 76 Úrvalsdeild
Northern Ireland Ards F.C. 1923 1998 75 Football League (68 seasons in total – only became champions once)
Northern Ireland Portadown F.C. 1924 2008 84 Football League & Premier League (77 seasons in total)
Netherlands PSV Eindhoven 1926 93 Eerste Klasse Zuid & Eredivisie (92 seasons in total)
Peru Club Universitario de Deportes 1928 91 Primera División
Spain Athletic Bilbao 1929 90 Primera División (88 seasons in total)
Spain FC Barcelona 1929 90 Primera División (88 seasons in total)
Spain Real Madrid C.F. 1929 90 Primera División (88 seasons in total)
Albania KF Tirana 1929 2017 88 Kategoria Superiore
Israel Maccabi Tel Aviv F.C. 1931 88 Palestine League, Israeli League, Liga Alef, Liga Leumit & Premier League
Chile Colo-Colo 1933 86 Campeonato Nacional
Portugal S.L. Benfica 1934 85 Primeira Liga (85 seasons in total)
Portugal FC Porto 1934 85 Primeira Liga (85 seasons in total)
Portugal Sporting CP 1934 85 Primeira Liga (85 seasons in total)
Cyprus APOEL FC 1934 85 First Division
Brazil São Paulo FC*** 1930 89 Campeonato Paulista, Taça de Prata & Série A
Georgia (country) FC Dinamo Tbilisi 1936 83 Soviet Top League & Umaglesi Liga
Russia FC Dynamo Moscow 1936 2016 80 Soviet Top League & Football Championship
Ukraine FC Dynamo Kyiv 1936 83 Soviet Top League & Premier League
Bulgaria PFC Levski Sofia 1937 82 State Football Championship & A Group
Malta Hibernians F.C. 1937 82 Premier League

*AC Milan withdrew from the 1908 Italian Championship.
**Bohemians were relegated in 1911 from the (now Northern) Irish League, but returned in 1912 and stayed there until 1920 to form the Irish Free State (now Republic of Ireland) League, from which they have never been relegated.
***Santos withdrew from the 1920 Paulistão, São Paulo withdrew from the 1935 Paulistão and both from the 1979 Brasileirão.
****Corinthians and São Paulo withdrew from the 1979 Brasileirão.

Source: RSSSF and RSSSF Brasil

Unrelegated from current national top level[edit]

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This is a list of football clubs which have never been relegated from their current national top-level league and have played at least ten seasons at this level. The year before the name of each team indicates when they began their uninterrupted run. Clubs that are in bold are founding members of their current league.

Primera División – Argentina[1]

Premier League – Armenia[21]

Bundesliga – Austria[8]

*Sturm Graz relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the Bundesliga.

Premyer Liqası – Azerbaijan[1]

*Neftchi relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the Premyer Liqası.

Vysheyshaya Liga – Belarus[22]

*Dinamo Minsk relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the Vysheyshaya Liga.

First Division A - Belgium[1]

*Zulte Waregem is the successor of clubs that have relegated from a top-tier league.

Primera División – Bolivia

Premijer Liga – Bosnia and Herzegovina[23]

*These teams relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the Premijer Liga.
**Zrinjski played in the wartime league of the Independent State of Croatia. Between 1945 and 1992, they were banned by the Yugoslav communist government.

Série A – Brazil[1][16]

Parva Liga – Bulgaria[1]

Campeonato Nacional – Chile[1]

Categoría Primera A – Colombia[1]

Prva HNL – Croatia[1]

*Osijek and Rijeka relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the Prva HNL.

First Division – Cyprus[1]

*Before 1974, APOEL and Omonia played in the Greek top-level league when they became Cypriot champion. *Before 1948, Anorthosis withdrew from the top-level league twice but they were never relegated.

First League – Czech Republic[13]

*These teams relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the First League.

Superligaen – Denmark[24]

*AaB relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the Superligaen.
**Copenhagen and Midtjylland are the successors of clubs that have relegated from a top-tier league.

Serie A – Ecuador[1]

Premier League – Egypt[1]

Premier League – England[3][16]

*All these teams were relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the Premier League. Arsenal's run in the top division dates from 1919, Everton's from 1954, Liverpool's from 1962, Manchester United's from 1975, Tottenham's from 1978, and Chelsea's from 1989.

Meistriliiga – Estonia[11]

Veikkausliiga – Finland[1]

Ligue 1 – France[3]

*In 1972 PSG split into two. The professional branch continued to play at the highest level under the name Paris FC, while the other section kept the name PSG but assumed amateur status. Two years later, the latter section promoted back to the top tier, while Paris FC relegated to the second level.[25]

Umaglesi Liga – Georgia[26]

Bundesliga – Germany[1]

*These teams relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the Bundesliga.

Premier League – Ghana[1]

Superleague – Greece[1]

Liga Nacional – Honduras[1]

League of Ireland – Ireland[1]

*Bohemians relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the League of Ireland.

Premier League – Israel

Serie A – Italy[16][27]


Ligue 1 – Ivory Coast[1]

J1 League – Japan[28]

*These teams relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the J1 League.

Premier League – Kazakhstan[29]

Kyrgyzstan League – Kyrgyzstan[30]

Virslīga – Latvia[31]

1. MFL – North Macedonia[1]

*Vardar and Rabotnički relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the 1. MFL.
Malaysia Super League – Malaysia[1]

*Before 1982, Malaysian football competitions were organized on a knockout basis and there was no league with promotion or relegation at the time.

Premier League – Malta[1]

Liga MX – Mexico[1]

Divizia Națională – Moldova[32]

*Zimbru Chișinău relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the Divizia Națională.

1. CFL - Montenegro[33]

The Montenegrin First League was formed in 2006. as of 2018, six teams have played in every season of this competition.

*Podgorica and Nikšić relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the 1. CFL.

Eredivisie – Netherlands[3]

*These teams relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the Eredivisie.
**In 1917 a new regional top-tier, the Eerste klasse West B, was created under pressure from clubs in the second tier, including Feyenoord. However, this league was considered inferior to the other regional top-tier competitions.[34] After only two years, the Eerste klasse West B was abolished and replaced by the Overgangsklasse, an intermediate level between the first and second tier. In 1921, Feyenoord finally entered the top flight.[35]
***VV DOS played in every season of the Eredivisie before merging into FC Utrecht in 1970.

Northern Ireland Football League Irish Premiership - Northern Ireland[18]

Eliteserien – Norway[1]

Primera División – Paraguay

Primera División – Peru[1]

*Sporting Cristal is the direct successor of Club Sporting Tabaco, which was relegated from the top-tier league.[37] **Universidad San Martin bought the promotional place from Sport Coopsol in order to play at the top flight division the same year the club was established.[38]

Primeira Liga – Portugal[1]

Liga I – Romania[1]

Football Championship – Russia[1]

*These teams relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the Football Championship.

Jameel League – Saudi Arabia[39]

Premiership – Scotland[20]

The Scottish Premier League existed between 1998 and 2013, when it was replaced by the Scottish Premiership. as of 2019, four teams have played in every season of both competitions without being relegated.

*These teams were relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the Premier League. Motherwell's run in the top division dates from 1985, Kilmarnock's from 1993. Celtic and Aberdeen have never been relegated, with Celtic's run dating from the inaugural season of the Scottish Football League in 1890, and Aberdeen's from 1905.

SuperLiga – Serbia[40]

*These teams were never relegated since their creation in 1945. Before 2006 they played in the predecessor leagues of the SuperLiga, the Yugoslav First League and the First League of Serbia and Montenegro. At their creation, the two teams replaced the pre-1945, also unrelegated teams, of BSK Belgrade and SK Jugoslavija.

Super Liga – Slovakia[14]

1. SNL – Slovenia[41]

*Maribor relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the 1. SNL.

K League 1 – South Korea

Topklasse – Suriname

Primera División – Spain[1]

Tajik League – Tajikistan[42]

*Pomir Dushanbe relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the Tajik League.

CLP-1 – Tunisia[1]

*Although ES Sahel and ES Tunis were not relegated, they did not participate in 1961-62 and 1970–71, respectively.

Süper Lig – Turkey[1]

Ýokary Liga – Turkmenistan[43]

Premier League – Ukraine[1]

*FC Shakhtar Donetsk was relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the Premier League.

UAE Arabian Gulf League – United Arab Emirates

Primera División – Uruguay[1]

Uzbek League – Uzbekistan[44]

*Pakhtakor Tashkent relegated from a top-tier league prior to the establishment of the Uzbek League.

Primera División – Venezuela

Premier League – Wales[1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  8. ^ a b "Meisterschaft Österreich I". Austriasoccer.at. Ambrosius Kutschera. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
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  14. ^ a b "Slovakia – List of Champions". RSSSF.com. Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation. Retrieved 16 August 2015.
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  16. ^ a b c d "Tenacious titans built to last". FIFA.com. FIFA. 7 July 2011. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  17. ^ a b Aberdeen (along with other clubs) voluntarily withdrew from the league for two seasons during wartime due to travel difficulties: 1917–18 and 1918–19. They were not relegated and returned to the top division when the war conditions ended.
  18. ^ a b "Northern Ireland – Champions". RSSSF.com. Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation. Retrieved 16 August 2015.
  19. ^ a b c Includes Campionato Federale (1898-1904), Prima Categoria (1904-1922), Prima Divisione (1921-1926) and 1921–22 Prima Divisione (C.C.I.), Divisione Nazionale (1926-1929), Serie A (1929-1945 and 1946-present) and, for the second time, the Divisione Nazionale (1945-1946).
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  27. ^ "Italy – Championship History 1898-1923". RSSSF.com. Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
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  29. ^ "Kazakhstan – List of Champions". RSSSF.com. Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation. Retrieved 16 August 2015.
  30. ^ "Kyrgyzstan – List of Champions". RSSSF.com. Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation. Retrieved 16 August 2015.
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  33. ^ "Montenegro - List of Champions". RSSSF.com. Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation. Retrieved 16 August 2015.
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  41. ^ Slavko Jerič, Tjaša Corn (13 May 2013). "Bozgo in Tavares edina vijolična kralja strelcev". Rtvslo.si (in Slovenian). RTV Slovenija. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
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  44. ^ "Uzbekistan – List of Champions". RSSSF.com. Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation. Retrieved 16 August 2015.