The phrase ‘yo-yo team’ or ‘yo-yo’ club is one which has only come into use in the last two decades or so. Coined in England, the phrase most commonly refers to a team who are regularly relegated from and promoted to the Premier League. While the phrase is commonly only used to describe teams in England, it is by no means only an English phenomenon. Other countries have their own ways of describing a yo-yo team, such as ‘Fahrstuhlmannschaft’ in Germany and ‘wańka-wstańka’ in Poland.
Although being a yo-yo team most likely means you are rarely challenging for national titles, for some clubs, being a yo-yo team can be highly effective. In the world’s top leagues, particularly the Premier League, being regularly promoted and relegated rather than overspending upon promotion can be very effective, perhaps best illustrated by the success of West Bromwich Albion.
This list takes into account how often a team has yo-yo’ed over their entire history, although there is an emphasis on their recent past. Since the term most commonly refers to promotion and relegation from the top flight, that is what the list primarily focuses upon. Here are the top 20 yo-yo teams in soccer history:
20. Club Olimpo
Often referred to as “el ascensor” or “the elevator”, Club Olimpo are the most noteworthy example of a yo-yo club in Argentina. The current top division outfit based in the Buenos Aires Province finished 18th last season in the Argentine Primera Division. Something of a yo-yo team throughout their history, Olimpo have taken their yo-yo’ing to new extremes in recent years. Relegated from the top tier in 2006, they were promoted in 2007, relegated in 2008 and promoted once more in 2011. Club Olimpo have remained in the top flight ever since but only narrowly avoided relegation in 2015.
19. Crystal Palace
Not the most promoted or relegated team in English football, but Crystal Palace have certainly fluctuated between the various levels of English football over the years. Playing in the fourth tier at the start of the 1960s, since 1978, Palace have tended to yo-yo between the first and second tiers.
With a total of 13 promotions and relegations to their name, Palace particularly yo-yo’ed in the 1990s. Promoted to the top flight in 1989, they were relegated in 1993, promoted in 1994, relegated in 1995, promoted in 1997 and relegated once more in 1998. Currently seventh in the Premier League, the Eagles are showing signs that they may finally establish themselves in the top flight under Alan Pardew.
18. St Johnstone FC
The most relegated from and promoted to team of the Scottish top flight, St Johnstone have spent the last five seasons in the SPL, relative success for a side so used to fluctuating between divisions. The club where Sir Alex Ferguson once led the scoring charts as a player have been regularly yo-yo’ing since the start of the 1980s.
They were promoted in 1983, relegated in 1984, relegated again in 1985, promoted in 1988, promoted again in 1990, relegated in 1994 and promoted once more in 1997, in their most prolific era of promotions and relegation. St Johnstone currently sit fourth in the SPL.
17. Leicester City
Leicester City’s incredible performances and results this season stand as one of the greatest shocks in Premier League history. The goal scoring form of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez mean that going into 2016, Leicester are second in the league, behind only Arsenal. Often something of a yo-yo team throughout their history, Leicester are on course to beat their best ever finish in the Premier League, which is currently 8th. With a total of 22 promotions and relegations to their name, only three teams have yo-yo’ed more times in English football than Leicester.
16. Karsiyaka SK
Relegated from the top flight in 1964, 1967, 1972, 1991, 1994 and 1996, and having spent nine recent seasons in the third tier in two separate spells, Karsiyaka SK are the standout yo-yo team in Turkish football. The phrase used to describe these teams in Turkey is ‘asansör takım’, or ‘elevator team’, and there are a number of teams who have had the label attached to them at various points in their history, including Sakaryaspor, Samsunspor, Adanaspor and more.
Karsiyaka though, who currently play in the TFF First League, Turkey’s second tier, in a stadium with a capacity of more than 50,000, are widely regarded as the top yo-yo side in the country.
15. Manchester City
Now an established force of not only English football but the European game, for much of their history Manchester City have been a yo-yo club. Although the Sky Blues experienced flutters of success over their history, it was never sustained, up until the recent injection of overseas cash into the club. The 1980s and 90s in particular saw a lot of yo-yo’ing for the blue side of Manchester, with 10 promotions/relegations in the space of 20 seasons, including a season in the third tier of English football.
14. Wisla Plock
The Polish term ‘wańka-wstańka’, which translates as ‘roll-poly toy’, is the phrase used to describe a yo-yo team in that part of the world. No team has stronger ties to the phrase than Wisla Plock, based in the city of Plock. Currently plying their trade in the I liga, the second tier of Polish football, Plock have long been a yo-yo team, but particularly so in recent years.
They were promoted in 1994, relegated in 1995, promoted in 1997, relegated in 1998, promoted in 2000, relegated in 2001, promoted in 2002 and relegated in 2007. The period from 2002 to 2007 saw much success, reaching two Polish Cup finals, winning one, and finishing both 4th and 5th in the league. They have failed to return to the top flight since relegation in 2007.
13. Santa Cruz
Brazil’s finest offering in terms of a yo-yo club is Santa Cruz. Based in Recife, the ninth largest city in Brazil with a population of over 1.6 million people, Santa Cruz have a huge support base. The capacity of their stadium is currently restricted to just over 60,000, but previously stood at 110,000 and has saw a crowd of over 90,000 for a game between Brazil and Argentina.
Despite their size and success at state level, Santa Cruz have often struggled for nationwide success. They have spent a total of nine seasons in the top flight, 18 in the second tier, three in the third and three in the fourth. Santa Cruz are currently in fine form, sitting second in Serie B and well on course for another promotion.
12. Drogheda United
Drogheda United have an absolutely incredible record of yo-yo’ing. Between the 1993-94 season and the 2000-2001 season, the club was either relegated or promoted ever season, as well as being promoted once more in 2003. Since then, Drogheda have managed to establish themselves much more, winning the FAI Cup in 2005, the league title in 2007 and almost qualifying for the Champions League proper in 2008, narrowly losing out in qualification to Dynamo Kyiv. Drogheda are currently bottom of the League of Ireland table though, and are threatening to return to their yo-yo years.
11. Bofoakwa Tano
Ghanian side Bofoakwa Tano may not have as many promotions and relegations to their name as many of the other teams on this list given their relative infancy, but when one considers their record in relation to the number of seasons they have played, they thoroughly deserve to rank so highly. Promoted to the top flight for the first time in 1967, Tano have since been promoted or relegated 10 times.
What’s more, the club twice finished in the bottom two and only avoided relegation due to league restructuring and has also survived relegation a number of times due only to winning the relegation playoffs.
10. Birmingham City
Back to England with Birmingham City, the club with the joint second most promotions and relegations in the history of the English game. Birmingham have been relegated/promoted 28 times, 15 of which have come in the last 37 years. The mid 80’s, mid 90’s and mid 2000’s have seen the majority of the Blues yo-yo’ing. Their record over that period stands as; relegated in 1979 promoted in 1980, relegated in 1984, promoted in 1985, relegated in 1986, relegated again in 1989, promoted in 1992, relegated in 1994, promoted in 1995, promoted again in 2002, relegated in 2006, promoted in 2007, relegated in 2008, promoted in 2009 and relegated in 2011.
9. Armina Bielefeld
As stated in the introduction, a yo-yo team in Germany is known as a ‘Fahrstuhlmannschaft’, once more, roughly translating as a ‘lift team’ or ‘elevator team’, and few clubs are so associated with the term as Armina Bielefeld. The Bielefeld-based outfit have fallen out of the spotlight in recent years, having been relegated from the Bundesliga and dropping down to the third tier in 2011. Armina have the second most promotions and relegations from the Bundesliga, with 15, and will be hoping for a swift return to the top flight having won promotion from the third tier last season.
8. Finn Harps FC
Hailing from the small Irish town of Ballybofey, with a population of fewer than 5,000 people, Finn Harps FC are the second and final Irish team to make this list. With a stadium capacity of 7,500, the Harps stadium holds more than the population of the town in which it is built, and their all-new stadium is currently under construction.
The club had its greatest success in the 1970s, winning the FAI Cup, Dublin City Cup and never once finishing in the bottom half of the top fight. Since 1990 to the present day though, the Harps have been an archetypal yo-yo club, with regular relegations and promotions between the League of Ireland Premier Division and First Division, and are currently in second place in the second tier.
7. Deportivo La Coruna
One of only nine clubs to have won the Spanish title, having won the trophy in 2000, Deportivo had more than a decade of success between the late 1990s and mid 200s. Founded in 1906, Doprtivo have had an incredible 25 promotions and relegations over their history, including dropping down to the third tier. They particularly yo-yo’ed in the 1960s and early 70s, being promoted in 1962, relegated in 1963, promoted in 1964, relegated in 1965, promoted in 1966, relegated in 1967, promoted in 1968 and relegated in 1970 and promoted in 1971.
6. FC Saarbrucken
The only team on this list to have yo-yo’ed in two different countries football league pyramid’s, FC Saarbrucken have played in both the French and Germany league’s due to their precarious location in Saarland. They have won the second tier in both France and Germany and have been something of a yo-yo club throughout their history. Nothing has changed in recent years, with a record that reads; promoted in 2000, relegated in 2002, promoted in 2004, relegated in 2006, relegated in 2007, promoted in 2009, promoted in 2010 and relegated in 2014. Despite having a stadium capable of holding more than 35,000 people, Saarbrucken currently play in Germany’s fourth tier.
5. West Bromwich Albion
Given that the phrase ‘yo-yo team’ has come into common parlance largely during the 21st century and most commonly in reference to promotion and relegation from the Premier League, one could argue there has been no more glaring a case of such a team as West Bromwich Albion. The West Midlands outfit based just outside of Birmingham have won one league title and five FA Cups in their 138 year history, although none since 1968.
During the Premier League era, West Brom have been the most noted yo-yo club, often regarded as a model by which other clubs should follow. Their consistent yo-yo’ing gave them the financial clout to establish themselves in the top flight and they are now arguably an established Premier League team.
4. FC Nuremberg
The only team to have been relegated from and promoted to the Bundesliga more times than Armina Bielefeld, FC Nuremberg are the greatest yo-yo team in Germany. The club have 16 promotions and relegations to their name, 10 of which have come in the last 22 years, with the club even dropping into the third tier on one occasion. With nine league titles and four DFB-Pokal wins to their name, Nuremberg are one of the most successful teams in Germany, but currently find themselves third in the 2. Bundesliga, looking for a return to the top flight this season.
3. Notts County
A grand total of 29 promotions and relegations ranks Notts County as the number one yo-yo team in English football, ahead of the likes of Birmingham, Leicester and Man City. The oldest professional football team in the world still in existence, Notts County had been relegated and promoted before most clubs had been founded, suffering their first relegation in 1893 and their first promotion in 1897. The club regularly fluctuated all the way from the fourth to the first tiers of English football right up until 2000, when the pyramid began to become more structured, and the Magpies haven’t played at a higher level than the third tier since then.
2. FC Volendam
Netherlands offering to the world of yo-yo clubs is a fine one, and it comes in the form of FC Volendam. Based in the small Dutch town of Volendam, with a population of only 22,000 and a stadium capacity of fewer than 7,000, the club have been punching above their weight to have been a yo-yo club in many respects. The Dutch call the ‘Heen-en-weer club’ or ‘to-and-fro club’, such is the routine nature of their relegations and promotions.
Volendam won promotion to the Eredivisie in 1959, were relegated in 1960, promoted in 1961, relegated in 1964, promoted in 1967, relegated in 1969, promoted in 1970, relegated in 1972, promoted in 1977, relegated in 1979, promoted in 1983, relegated in 1985, promoted in 1987, relegated in 1998, promoted in 2003. relegated in 2004, promoted in 2008 and relegated in 2009. This incredible record makes them comfortably one of the stand-out yo-yo clubs in world football.
1. SK Brann
Norwegian outfit SK Brann take our title as the greatest yo-yo club in footballing history. Based in the Norwegian city of Bergen, Brann have won three league titles and six domestic cup titles over their 107 year history. Despite their most recent success coming in 2007, when they won the Tippeligaen title, Brann have not been able to shake off their yo-yo’ing habits, and were relegated once more in 2014, only to be promoted again in 2015, meaning they will spend the 2016 season back in the top flight.
The most extraordinary statistic about SK Brann, and the main reason they top this list, was their record between 1979 and 1987. Between these two years, Brann were relegated in every odd-numbered year and promoted in every even-numbered year, setting a world record for consecutive promotions and relegations from a top tier that still stands.
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