What is relegation in soccer? Understanding what it means to be relegated in football

What is relegation in soccer? Understanding what it means to be relegated in football

Samuel Lisubila
updated at August 9, 2023 at 9:30 AM

Relegation is a system where teams that finish at the bottom of the league are forced down the division below, enabling those at the top to get promoted to a higher level if they are not already at the top. The system began in 1898 and still exists today. This article explains and gives an in-depth analysis of what it means to be relegated in soccer.

What is relegation in soccer?
Neymar of Brazil crying after a match between Croatia and Brazil at Education City Stadium on 9 December 2022 in Al Rayyan, Qatar. Photo: Matthew Ashton
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While leagues in North America may be closed, meaning they only relegate or promote teams if they invite another group into the competition, the European side is different. Squads get relegated, giving every group a challenge to remain relevant in the league. But first, here is a detailed explanation of the system.

What is promotion and relegation in soccer?

With the growth of soccer worldwide, teams have been competing to participate in top competitions. However, the top leagues prevent congestion using the promotion and relegation system. Groups compete to reach the top ranks and get promoted to the top level, while others struggle to remain at the top, preventing relegation.

Relegation in English soccer

English uses the English Football League system, also known as the football pyramid. It consists of a series of interconnected competitions from England for men's associated football leagues. These are five teams from Wales, one from Guernsey, one from Jersey and one from the Isle of Man.

With a hierarchical format, the squads use the promotion and relegation system, with the top level being the English Premier League. The English Football competition organises levels two to four and five to ten, administered by the FA, which the National League System manages. At the same time, the remaining feeder competitions are run by county FAs on an impromptu basis.

While the number of clubs might vary in each league due to the introduction, exit, merger or folding of clubs, there is a limit to the total number of clubs. However, an estimated number of 15 clubs per division makes a total of about 7,000 teams of nearly 5,300 clubs are members of a league in the English men's Football League system.

Benefits of relegation

Benefits of relegation
Marcelo Brozovic of Croatia celebrates the win against Brazil at Education City Stadium on 9 December 2022 in Al Rayyan, Qatar. Photo: Michael Steele
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The relegation system has been implemented in many European competitions, and leagues worldwide have adopted that. The system ensures groups do their best to remain relevant in the competition. Here are more benefits of the system:

1. Teams compete until the last day of the season

In closed league systems, people do not care about the squads at the bottom of the table. At the same time, the squads only play for the sake when they know they have nothing to play for. However, squads fight hard in open competitions to avoid relegation, giving fans unstoppable action from the beginning to the end of the season.

2. Relegation gives a team enough motivation to improve

In a closed system, squads have no pressure to perform better than 'Ok'. This is because they know they cannot lose their position in the competition no matter how poorly they perform. If it were an open system with a battle against relegation, groups would invest and perform to their best with the fear of being dropped to a lower competition.

3. The system allows squads to enter the league each year

After a challenging season struggling to reach the top, groups have the privilege of joining the top competitions via the promotion system. This gives the tournament a new look, bringing excitement to the competition.

Critics of relegation

Critics of relegation
Fans of Japan were disappointed with the defeat during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match against Croatia at Al Janoub Stadium on 5 December 2022 in Al Wakrah, Qatar. Photo: MB Media
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Everything with advantages doesn't mean it lacks shortcomings, nor is the relegation system. Here are some critics of the system:

1. It might cause a significant financial problem for a group

The financial consequences of relegation may cause squads to go bankrupt. As a team's revenue goes down as they get relegated, this may contact the team to go broke as they continue competing in a low-quality league. Most times, this forces a team to go into debt before they are considered bankrupt. Because of such implications, competitions such as the Premier League offer 'parachute payments' to a relegated team to support them financially.

2. The teams lose their quality players

Once a squad suffers relegation, players may gravitate to teams at top levels to be able to participate in top-notch competitions, and this may force the extinction of a team as a whole.

3. A team might be relegated for just having a bad year

At times, groups might struggle due to different reasons. Be it injuries, poor coaching or outside influencers, this might cause some seasons to be worse than others, and a team might fall into relegation. This might be so disastrous that a team might lose their position in the league and never bounce back.

Relegation in British soccer

Relegation in British soccer
Aaron Ramsey acknowledges the fans after the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between Wales and England at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on 29 November 2022 in Doha, Qatar. Photo: Visionhaus
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In British soccer, eight top leagues operate in a hierarchical system. The top two teams are promoted, while the next four compete in playoffs, with the winner getting the third promotion spot. However, the bottom four are relegated.

Which is the most relegated team in the EPL?

Birmingham City is the most relegated and promoted team in the Premier League. Since its induction into the EPL, they have suffered 12 relegations and 12 promotions.

What are the advantages of relegation?

Relegation mainly focuses on the well-being of groups and the competition at large. While squads might fear facing the wrath of the system, they ought to invest and perform their best to remain relevant.

Which is the least relegated team in the EPL?

Multiple teams in the EPL have always been competitive enough never to suffer relegation at any time in the league. The six include Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United, Everton and Liverpool.

Which is the least relegated team in the EPL?
Jorginho of Chelsea celebrates with teammates during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on 22 October 2022 in London, England. Photo: Darren Walsh
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Can a team face relegation twice?

A team can only be relegated once in the league they participate in. This is because it is taken to the lower level once it finishes the season at the bottom of the competition, and it then waits for the next season to try to return to the higher level.

Is there a maximum amount of relegations?

No. once a squad performs poorly, it is immediately relegated to the lower level. But once it performs impressively in the next season, it is promoted back to the higher level. This sequence can go for as long as it can.

Is it a must for a team to be relegated from the EPL?

The 40-point myth has been said in the past to guarantee EPL safety. However, in history, this mark has shown that it is not enough to avoid relegation, as a lower total has been enough.

When did relegation begin in soccer?

In 1892, the promotion-relegation system was invented with only two divisions in the English Football system. Before that, groups had to vote on which had to go down or up between the divisions.

How does relegation work in soccer?
Barcelona's Spanish defender Gerard Pique at the end of the Spanish league football match against UD Almeria at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on November 5, 2022. Photo: Josep Lago
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While relegation in soccer might seem harsh to teams, it is advantageous as it boosts their capabilities and competitiveness. They must prove their worth in top-flight competitions and are filtered from the rest.

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Samuel Lisubila photo
Samuel Lisubila