What exactly is ‘Second Season Syndrome’?
September 5, 2007
Ask almost any fan of a club that has done well in their first year after being promoted to the Premiership and their feelings will not be one of anticipation, but more of fear- all due to the condition dubbed “second season syndrome”. Second season syndrome is defined as a downturn in fortunes for a club two years after promotion to the top flight- especially if they have done exceptionally well the prior season. While most promoted clubs often drop straight back down into the division they came from, quite a few have surprised football fans and pundits alike with a brilliant first season- however after expectations are raised, they often struggle in their second year.
The first notable example of second season syndrome that was seen in the Premiership was Middlesbrough in the 1996/97 season. Promoted as champions of Division One in 1995, Middlesbrough shone in their first season- reaching the heights of fourth place in October before eventually finishing well clear of the relegation zone in 12th place. The next season however, despite manager Bryan Robson buying expensive players (at the time) like Fabrizo Ravanelli and Emerson, Middlesbrough eventually slumped to a dismal 19th place in the table and were relegated, starting the trend that would be continued quite a few times over the next decade.
For Ipswich Town in 2001/02, the sudden drop was even more alarming. After being promoted due to them winning the Division One playoffs in 2000, Ipswich shocked the Premiership after storming into fifth place and thus winning a place in the UEFA Cup. Although they qualified for the UEFA Cup again next season (this time via their UEFA Fair Play ranking), Ipswich were relegated at the end of the year- winning just one of their first seventeen Premier League fixtures and eventually going into financial administration.
While the next team to be hit by second season syndrome was not relegated, the drop was still a massive seven places down the Premier League table. The team this time was Manchester City, promoted as Division One champions in 2002. They did well as a team in their first season- eventually finishing a respectable ninth in the table. Their second season, however, saw them sucked into a relegation battle for all but the last few days of the season, finally finishing sixteenth to stay up (and have since pushed on to become a comfortable mid-table team).
The last example of second season syndrome that I will give you is the season of 2006/07, where not just one, but two teams struggled in their second season. This time both teams were not relegated- but a struggle of such great magnitude looked almost impossible after their successful first seasons in England’s highest division. West Ham United and Wigan Athletic, both promoted from the second tier in 2005. West Ham finished ninth in their first year as well as reaching the final of the FA Cup (and thus qualifying for the UEFA Cup), but in their follow up season were almost certain to be relegated until an exceptional run of form by Argentine striker Carlos Tevez. Wigan Athletic went from tenth in their first team to surviving due to goal difference on the last day of the season- despite keeping most of their star players.
While all this does is highlight the difficulty of going from a side promoted to the Premiership to a comfortable mid table side in the top flight, fans of those clubs about to celebrate their second season should still have faith- there are survivors, as West Ham, Manchester City and Wigan Athletic have shown, and the former two at least are almost certain not to go down this season.