Does 2nd season syndrome actually exist?

Swansea, Norwich City and QPR all did themselves proud in the 2011/2012 Premier League season by managing to avoid relegation after gaining promotion in the previous campaign, but will any of them catch a case of 2nd season syndrome?

Second season syndrome is the now-common phrase that is used to describe a downturn in fortunes for a football club two seasons after its promotion to the Premier League of English football – particularly if the first season after promotion had brought a strong finish.

Here are a few examples over the years of 2nd season syndrome and the teams that have been affected by it:

2006–07 season

  • West Ham United were promoted to the Premier League as Football League Championship playoff winners in 2005. The following year they finished ninth in the Premier League and reached the FA Cup final, where only a late equaliser and a penalty shoot-out triumph by Liverpool prevented them from winning their first major trophy since 1980. But a dismal start to the following season saw Alan Pardew sacked in December, and as late as March they were 10 points adrift of safety. But a dramatic upturn in fortunes, engineered by a core group of players including Argentine striker Carlos Tévez, saw them beat the drop and finish 15th.
  • Wigan Athletic reached the top division of English football for the first time ever in 2005, and were many people’s favourites for an immediate return to the Championship. But they were in the top six for much of the first half of the season, occupying second place in late October, and finished 10th in the final table. They also reached their first ever major domestic cup final, reaching the Carling Cup final but losing 4–0 to Manchester United. The following season brought a major struggle, and Wigan only managed to stay up on goal difference with a surprise away win over Sheffield United, who were relegated instead.

2007–08 season

  • Reading were promoted as Champions from the Championship in 2006 and enjoyed a very successful first season in the Premier League, where the team finished 8th, narrowly missing out on qualification for the UEFA Cup by one position. Reading’s second season however was different in that the team struggled to get out of the lower half of the Premier League table. After a 2–1 defeat to newly promoted Sunderland, manager Steve Coppell admitted that Reading were suffering from second season syndrome. This was confirmed following their relegation on the final day of the season.

2009–10 season

  • Hull City were promoted in the play-offs in 2008 and set the division alight early on, with shock wins away at Arsenal among other games, and were 3rd placed in late October with 20 points after 9 games, which would account for well over half their final total. Their form declined thereafter with one win from their next seven, but as late as early December, they having played 16 games they stood 5th in the table with 26 points. After than Hull took just one win from their remaining 22 games, and a final total of just 35 points, which was enough for them to survive by a single point. This poor form continued into the following season, with manager Phil Brown sacked, and HIll ended the season second from bottom. Thus, alongside Millwall, Hull are one of two clubs to complete only two seasons in a row in the top flight overall.

2010–11 season

  • Birmingham City F.C. were promoted in 2009 after grabbing a second place finish in The Championship. In The 2009–10 season Birmingham managed a 9th Placed finish with 50 points and a 15 game unbeaten run along the way. However the following season saw Birmingham relegated to The Championship after losing 2–1 to Tottenham Hotspur on the last day, despite winning the Carling Cup in February.

I decided to have a look into this so called phenomenon by analysing the fortunes of promoted teams in their first and second seasons in the Premier League from 2000 – the present day. As you can see from the table below, promoted teams on average score 4 points less in their second season compared to their first, dropping an average of 3 places!

So on first inspection,  2nd season syndrome certainly does exist!

-Graham Cobden

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