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Promotion Heartache: 10 European clubs that just missed out


James Kelly casts an eye across Europe to look at teams who in the last decade or so have narrowly missed out on promotion to their domestic top flight through a mixture of late goals, play-off defeats and off field complications.


Sitting inside Wembley, I am surrounded by tangible sadness. It is 29th May 2017, and I have just watched Exeter City lose 2-1 to Blackpool in the League Two play-off final. On the train back I am sandwiched next to the window by a rather large man, leaving me little to do other than gaze out of the window with my earphones in. As I think about the thousands of disappointed Grecians to the soundtrack of A Tribe Called Quest, I realise how this happens every season to scores of football fans. Upon my return home I delve into the record books to check up on missed promotions from around Europe, specifically into top flights. What I found was a selection of unfortunate clubs, who missed their one chance of hitting the big time. Can they kick it? Well they very nearly could have…

Lorca Deportiva, Spain (2005/06)

A club that almost ascended to Spain’s top flight just four years after foundation under the guidance of now PSG manager Unai Emery. Lorca were right in the mix throughout the season, although with just five games to go a run of poor form saw the side slip out of the promotion spots. This involved a 1-1 draw with Real Valladolid, 2-1 loss to Lleida and 0-0 draws with Ejido and fellow third chasing side Levante. The penultimate game of the season saw the two meet, in which Facundo Sava missed a penalty for Lorca. Had he scored, Lorca would have moved back into the promotion spots at the expense of their opponents and on course for a second successive promotion under Emery. The next season though he moved to Almería, Lorca were relegated and in 2012 the club were dissolved. The re-founded side now ply their trade in Spain’s fourth division.

Bristol City, England (2007/08)

Having been without a top division team since 1980, the eighth largest city in England’s barren run was nearly ended in 2008 by manager Gary Johnson. Newly promoted, the club started the season as favourites for relegation but ended up challenging for the title. Top with only eight games left, a poor run-in of losses to Plymouth, Cardiff, Southampton, Stoke and Sheffield United left them in the play-offs. In the semis they comfortably dispatched of Crystal Palace, however lost 1-0 in the Wembley showpiece to Hull. They haven’t come close since, instead suffering relegation to League One in 2013, and only secured their Championship status late last season.

UC AlbinoLeffe, Italy (2007/08)

This unlikely event came about due to the rehiring of manager Elio Gustinetti, the man responsible for getting the minnows up to Serie B in 2003. They were in 2nd place for much of the season but came unstuck right at the end, only taking 1 point from their last four games. The play-offs offered some form of reprieve, and having made it past Brescia on away goals in the semis they narrowly lost 2-1 over the two legs to Lecce. Since then they have fallen to the third division, ended last season in mid table.

CD Santa Clara, Portugal (2008/09 and 2009/10)

Hailing from the Azores islands in the Atlantic Ocean, Santa Clara are the most westerly based team in Europe to have played top flight football, most recently during the 2002/03 season. In 2008/09 they were sitting in 2nd on the final day, destined for promotion having led the league for periods. That was until they lost 1-0 at 5th placed Feirense, whilst UD Leiria scraped past Beira Mar to go up in their place. The following season they again pushed for promotion, ending up in 4th after a poor end of season which involved three draws and a 5-2 loss to Trofense in the final six matches. Since then Santa Clara have had to make do with finishing in the lower half of the table, and despite a promising start last season fell away to 10th place.

FC Fredericia, Denmark (2009/10)

In the penultimate game of the season, Fredericia lost 2nd place thanks to a last minute 1-0 defeat at relegation threatened Kolding. Had they not conceded, Fredericia would have gone up on goal difference. On the final day, this slip up looked to have not cost them promotion as they were still going up until their rivals Lyngby scored an 88th minute winner. They’ve since failed to replicate the success of that season, finishing 8th in the 12 team second division last time around.

Altay SK Izmir, Turkey (2009/10)

After finishing 4th in the 2009/10 1. Lig table, meaning qualification for the play-off group for teams placed 3rd to 6th, Altay went into their final match needing a win over Konyaspor. Leading with half an hour left it looked as if their seven-season top flight absence was over, only for a Ramazan Kahya brace to end those hopes. An injury time equaliser was scored, but it wasn’t enough as Konyaspor went up in their place. Since then Altay have fallen to the 4th division and only last month restarted their climb, courtesy of a 6-5 penalty shootout victory over fellow fallen club Kocaelispor in the fourth division play-off final.

Helmond Sport, Netherlands (2011/12)

A regular to falter at the play-off stages, Helmond qualified eight times in ten seasons between 2003 and 2013, coming closest to reaching the Eredivisie in 2012. Having reached one of the two play-off finals against VVV Venlo, they were leading in the first leg 1-0 only for two late goals, including an 87th minute winner from VVV to change the dynamic of the tie. Had that not been conceded they would have gone through on the away goals rule, as the reverse leg finished level at 2-2. Instead fans were once again left pondering what might have been. Last year ended in 13th although due to the extremely complicated nature of the Eerste Divisie play-offs, still managed to qualify for the first round. After beating Almere City 6-2, they lost out to Roda JC in the semi-finals.

Ljungskile SK, Sweden (2014)

A team with a history of promotions, enjoying an amazing rise from the seventh to first tiers in the space of just eight years in the late 80s and early 90s. Going into October 2014, the penultimate month of the Superatten, the team from a town of just 3500 were top of the league, but draws at Degerfors and Syrianska pushed them back to 3rd. Going on to lose 4-1 on aggregate to Gefle in the promotion/relegation play-off, they were 6th in the 2015 Superatten and last year were surprisingly relegated.

White Star Bruxelles, Belgium (2015/16)

Arguably the most unfortunate of all, White Star actually won the Second Division title in 2015/16 to seal a historic first promotion to the Pro League. The celebrations however were halted by the Belgian FA, as the club’s debts and lack of suitable stadium meant the side were ineligible for promotion. This was particularly harsh, with the debt not overly serious and a ground sharing agreement with RWD Molenbeek arranged ready for the top flight. These were ignored, with White Star demoted to the third tier administratively, and thanks to a disastrous season with only four wins in 30 matches, were relegated again in 2016/17.

Red Star, France (2015/16)

With 7 games left the side from Paris, who had only just been promoted to Ligue 2 the previous year, sat in 3rd place and were destined for a return to the top flight they last graced in 1975. However a hat-trick of losses to Paris FC in the derby (4-2), relegation threatened Chamois Niortais (2-0) and fellow promotion chasers Metz (2-0) put them in the final position of 5th. The season just gone has been a disaster and they were relegated in 19th place.

So there you have it, next time your team endure a disappointing result spare a thought for the unfortunate supporters of these ten clubs.

James Kelly

James Kelly

Man Utd and Wrexham fan from North Wales. Currently studying far away in Exeter. European football watcher with soft spots for Marseille, Roma and Real Zaragoza. Love researching declines of teams, visiting stadiums and collecting football shirts!
James Kelly

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