Yorkshire football has been through its fair share of hard times for the last half a century. However, Leeds United’s return to the Premier League for the first time in 16 years, last season’s surprise package Sheffield United and successes further down the footballing ladder offer glimpses of hope for the county’s football fans.
Despite being the UK’s largest county, teams from Yorkshire have won 11 league titles in the 121 years of English football. That’s nearly half the 21 titles won by London clubs and well short of the 61 league championships won by rivals from the northwest regions of Lancashire and Liverpool. Furthermore, the county has only produced one league title in the last 50 years and Leeds United are the only Yorkshire side to have been champions of England since 1930.
That said, the county is not without its claims to fame. Huddersfield Town became the first team ever to win three consecutive English titles between 1924 and 1926, an achievement that has only been matched four times by Arsenal (1933 to 1935), Liverpool (1982 to 1984) and Manchester United (1999 to 2001 and 2007 to 2009). While Sheffield Wednesday are the only club ever to have won the league title with different names, having won the first three of their four titles as The Wednesday.
Yorkshire’s Premier League woes
Moving into the modern era, hopes were high with the establishment of the Premier League in 1992. Leeds were reigning champions having just won the last First Division and they were one of four Yorkshire sides in the inaugural Premier League, along with Middlesbrough, Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday. However, Leeds only avoided relegation by two points and Middlesbrough did get relegated, which was a sign of things to come for Yorkshire sides in the Premier League.
Sheffield United were relegated in the second season of the Premier League, returned for one season in 2006/7 before being promoted again last year. Sheffield Wednesday were relegated in 2000 and are still yet to return, while Middlesbrough enjoyed a top-flight stay between 1998 and 2009 with one season back in 2016/17. Other Yorkshire sides have flirted with the big time, including Barnsley in 1997/98 and Huddersfield in 2018/19. Bradford City had two seasons between 1999 and 2001 and Hull City were in the Premier League for five seasons from 2008 to 2019, then 2013 to 2015 and finally 2016/17.
But only Leeds have really had Premier League success to shout about, finishing as high as third in 2000, then fourth and fifth in the following two campaigns. But things quickly fell apart as their finances spiralled out of control and the club was relegated in 2004.
Signs of hope for Yorkshire football
It may seem like a doom and gloom situation for Yorkshire’s football scene, but there are certainly signs of things being on the up. Sheffield United really shook things up in their first season back in the Premier League for 13 seasons. They secured wins over Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham, had the fourth-best defence in the league, and even threatened to break into the European qualification places before finishing the campaign in ninth place. And they’ll be joined next season by local rivals Leeds, who won The Championship by 10 points from West Bromwich Albion.
Both sides will be hopeful of strong campaigns in 2020/21, with Sheffield United looking to strengthen and build on last season’s success. While Leeds will be hopeful that manager Marcelo Bielsa will work wonders to make them competitive on their return to the top.
However, it’s not all about the Premier League. Rotherham United just got promoted to the Championship at the first time of asking. Harrogate Town finished second in the National League and will compete in the playoff final for a chance to reach the Football League for the first time in their history on Sunday (2 August). A league below them, York City look to be on the up as they were top of the National League North only for non-league football to be declared null and void for the season.
Elsewhere, Doncaster Rovers may consider themselves unlucky as they finished six points shy of the League One playoffs with a game in hand and 12 remaining. Likewise, Bradford City can take positives from finishing four points off the League Two playoffs with nine games remaining.
Despite these positives, fans of other Yorkshire sides have had their fair share of woes. Hull City suffered a painful relegation from the Championship, finishing bottom of the league just three years after dropping out of the Premier League. Barnsley, Huddersfield and Middlesbrough only narrowly avoided joining them in League One, and the financial situation at Sheffield Wednesday has seen them embroiled in legal issues with the EFL.
Yorkshire football has had plenty of highs down the years but the lows have been all too frequent in the last few decades. A 12th league title won by a Yorkshire side may well be many years away but there are certainly signs of hope for the county’s football fans up and down the footballing pyramid.
Post By Rob Latham (@robilaz)