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When one scrolls back through the history books and looks at the top flight of English football before the advent of the Premier League in the 1990s, when it was simply Division One, the most striking element is undoubtedly the variety of different team names one finds at the upper echelons of the table. We certainly haven’t forgotten about Nottingham Forest, thanks to a certain Ol’ Bighead whose shadow will ever loom large on the game, but perhaps we forget just how unpredictable the table was.
Southampton’s amazing season in the Premier League so far is a reminder of these days. Check here to see the current odds of them finishing as champions. To plug a random year from three decades ago, the final 1973-74 Division One table featured two giants of the age at the top – Leeds United, Champions, and Liverpool, Runners-Up. But the next four teams have hardly been in Champions League running over the past two decades: Derby County, Ipswich Town, Stoke City and Burnley.
Scroll down and 10th place and below feature some teams we are very unaccustomed to seeing in the lower reaches of the table, outside of European qualification contention: Arsenal (10th), Tottenham (11th), Manchester City (14th), Chelsea (17th) and Manchester United (21st), the latter relegated and once place below – Southampton!
Shift to a few different years and one still finds variety; in 1978-79, a top four of Liverpool, Nottingham Forest, West Bromwich Albion and Everton.
We could go on and on, but what’s clear is that while Southampton’s magical run might feel like an anomaly in this day and age, it is fact simply harking back to earlier, simpler times before the top four or five began to feel set in stone.