Teams That Were Once Considered Part of English Football’s ‘Big Six’

A portrait of Kevin Keegan of Newcastle
Keegan’s Newcastle were a top four side in the 90s | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Project Big Picture and the new proposals for the European Premier League are both obsessed with the idea of the Premier League’s big six – protecting them, giving them more power and and boxing them off as English football’s elite.

But it’s easy to forget that the big six we know and tolerate today have only really been knocking about for a decade. Prior to that it was a big four, with Manchester City and Tottenham considered good mid table top flight teams at best. And before the big four established themselves, it was even more fluid, with all manner of clubs staking a claim to be the cream of the English football crop.

Let’s take a look at previous big six members from years gone by and see who would be attempting to dictate English football had these radical changes to the game been cooked up in previous eras.

Preston North End v Stoke City - Sky Bet ChampionshipPreston North End v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship
Preston are founding members of the Football League | Lewis Storey/Getty Images

They may not have played top flight football since 1961, but if Project Big Picture had been given the green light during 1800s, we’d all be at the mercy of Preston North End right now.

The Lancashire outfit are the OG Invincibles and first team to ever complete the double, having won the inaugural English league championship and FA Cup back in the 1888/89 season.

Sunderland ‘Til I Die would have looked very different if Sunderland had actually been good | GRAHAM STUART/Getty Images

Sunderland had already been crowned champions of England on six occasions by 1936. When WWII struck, the Black Cats were English football’s joint most successful side.

The club have failed to hit the same heights since, but English football’s loss has been Netflix’s gain. Sunderland ‘Til I Die would have been a lot less entertaining if the Black Cats had been collecting three points every week.

Aston Villa have an illustrious history | ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

Aston Villa shared the honour of being top dog in English football with Sunderland during the early days of English football, winning six top flight titles in the space of 17 years.

They also boasted a decent side in the early 1980s, winning their seventh league title in 1981.

Huddersfield Town v West Ham United - Premier LeagueHuddersfield Town v West Ham United - Premier League
Huddersfield boasted a mean side in the 20s | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

David Wagner woke up a sleeping giant from one hell of a power nap when he took Huddersfield back to the top flight in 2017.

The Terriers became the first ever team to win three consecutive English top flight titles after being crowned champions of England in 1924, 1925 and 1926.

Wolverhampton Wanderers V Brighton & Hove Albion- Sky Bet ChampionshipWolverhampton Wanderers V Brighton & Hove Albion- Sky Bet Championship
Wolves have a stand named after the great Stan Cullis | Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

There was no need for a Portuguese revolution at Wolves in the 1950s – legendary manager Stan Cullis led them to three Division One titles in the space of six years.

Wolves were crowned champions of England in 1954, 1958 and 1959, and finished runners up a further five times.

Paul Reaney, Don Revie, Jack Charlton, Billy BremnerPaul Reaney, Don Revie, Jack Charlton, Billy Bremner
Revie’s Leeds were legendary | Express/Getty Images

Don Revie transformed Leeds into a force to be reckoned with in English football, as the Whites went from second tier outfit to champions of England within four years.

Late 90s / early noughties Leeds could also stake a claim for being a previous member of the Premier League’s big six, with five successive top five finishes and a Champions League semi final spot.

Brian Clough, Peter TaylorBrian Clough, Peter Taylor
Brian Clough and Peter Taylor transformed the fortunes at Forest | Getty Images/Getty Images

Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest won promotion from the second tier to the top flight in 1977 – and won the league title the following season.

It was a remarkable spell in Forest’s history, with Clough’s side going on to win the League Cup on four occasions and two successive European Cups.

Arnold Muhren, Frans ThijssenArnold Muhren, Frans Thijssen
Frans Thijssen and Arnold Muhren were two of the first foreign players to grace English football | Getty Images/Getty Images

Bobby Robson’s Ipswich never quite managed to win the league title, finishing runners up in successive seasons, but he did guide them to FA Cup and European success.

Although there was no league title to show for their efforts, the Tractor Boys were one of English football’s elite in the early 80s thanks to a spine of home grown talent and the infusion of Dutch duo Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen.

Howard KendallHoward Kendall
Howard Kendall’s Everton won two titles in three years | Fox Photos/Getty Images

Everton have always been up there as one of the most prestigious clubs in English football, but they really cemented themselves as one of English football’s elite during Howard Kendall’s first spell in charge.

It was a real purple patch for football on Merseyside, as Everton and Liverpool won a combined seven successive league titles between 1982 and 1988. The Toffees claimed two of those – 1985 and 1987.

Tim Sherwood’s Blackburn won the Premier League in 1995 | Getty Images/Getty Images

Before the glory days of the Venky’s, Steve Keane etc, Blackburn enjoyed some even more glorious glory days.

Bankrolled by local businessman Jack Walker, managed by Kenny Dalglish and with the formidable strike partnership of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton banging in the goals, Blackburn recorded three successive top four finishes – and won the Premier League in 1995.

Anthony McPartlin, Declan Donnelly, Kevin KeeganAnthony McPartlin, Declan Donnelly, Kevin Keegan
Keegan’s Newcastle were a breath of fresh air | Getty Images/Getty Images

Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle are widely regarded as the best team to never win the Premier League. The Entertainers played terrific football, were adored by the neutral and finished as league runners up in successive seasons.

The Magpies enjoyed a renaissance under Bobby Robson with three successive top five finishes – and famously qualified for the Champions League thanks to the goals of Santiago Muñez and Gavin Harris.