1980–81 in English football
First Division 
The 1980–81 season saw Ron Saunders complete Aston Villa's revival, as they ended their 71-year wait for the league championship trophy. They competed in a two-horse race with Ipswich Town during the final stages of the season before pipping the Suffolk side at the post. Liverpool slipped into fifth place but compensated for this downfall by lifting the European Cup and their first-ever League Cup. But Manchester United failed to make the top five and this shortcoming cost Dave Sexton his manager's job. He was succeeded by Ron Atkinson, who had just finished fourth in the league and reached the UEFA Cup quarter finals with an impressive West Bromwich Albion side.
Crystal Palace endured a dreadful season with just six wins. They were joined in the Second Division by Norwich City and Leicester City. The Eagles' stay in the top flight had lasted just two years, while The Canaries' relegation brought to an end their six years in the limelight. The Foxes, however, were relegated after just a single season in the First Division.
Second Division 
FA Cup holders West Ham United regained their First Division status after only three years in the second tier by lifting the Second Division championship trophy. They were joined by Notts County, who, by contrast, returned to the First Division after an absence of 55 years, including two spells in the Fourth Division totaling 8 seasons, and Swansea City, completing a meteoric rise under John Toshack, from the Fourth Division to the First in just four years. The Jacks were to play in the top flight for the first time in their history.
Both Bristol City and Bristol Rovers were relegated from the Second Division, and they were joined in the relegation zone by Preston North End. The Robins were suffering their second consecutive relegation, having been relegated from the top flight just 12 months previously, having not fallen as low as the Third Division for 16 years. Their close rivals, Bristol Rovers, on the other hand, returned to the Third Division after seven years in the second. However, Preston North End's stay in the second division was even shorter, The Lilywhites having only been promoted three years previous.
Third Division 
Rotherham United, Barnsley and Charlton Athletic occupied the promotion places in the Third Division. Hull City, Blackpool - who four years missed out on promotion to the First Division by a point - and Colchester United were joined in relegation by Sheffield United, who just five years earlier had finished sixth in the First Division.
Fourth Division 
Southend United, Lincoln City, Doncaster Rovers and Wimbledon occupied the four promotion places in the Fourth Division. There were no movements between the Fourth Division and the Alliance Premier League as the re-election system went in favour of the league's bottom four clubs, although bottom-placed York City came perilously close to being replaced by Alliance champions Altrincham, surviving by just two votes.
FA Cup 
Inspired by Ricardo Villa and Osvaldo Ardiles, World Cup winners with Argentina in 1978, Tottenham Hotspur overcame Manchester City in the FA Cup final replay to lift their first major trophy under the management of Keith Burkinshaw.
League Cup 
European football 
English clubs continued their dominance of European football. Liverpool won the European Cup, beating Real Madrid 1–0 in the final and ensuring that the trophy remained in English hands for the fifth year running. Bobby Robson proved his managerial credentials by bringing UEFA Cup glory to Ipswich Town, who beat AZ Alkmaar 5–4 on aggregate in the final.
- High scoring defensive midfielder John Wark was credited for his achievements at UEFA Cup Winners Ipswich Town by the PFA, who elected him Player of the Year.
- Aston Villa's forward Gary Shaw added the PFA Young Player of the Year award to his league championship medal.
- The FWA voted Ipswich's Dutch winger Frans Thijssen as their Player of the Year.
Star managers 
- Ron Saunders ended Aston Villa's 71-year wait for the league championship trophy by pipping Ipswich Town at the post.
- Bob Paisley made up for Liverpool's disappointing league form with success in the European Cup and League Cup.
- Bobby Robson couldn't quite bring the league championship trophy to Ipswich Town but compensated by bringing them the UEFA Cup.
- Keith Burkinshaw completed his rebuilding programme at Tottenham Hotspur by yielding an FA Cup triumph.
- John Lyall had another successful season with West Ham United as they won promotion to the First Division a year after winning the FA Cup.
- John Toshack completed the quickest rise through the Football League with Swansea City, who climbed from the Fourth Division to the First Division with three promotions in four seasons.
- Ron Atkinson took West Bromwich Albion to fourth place in the league to attain their second UEFA Cup place in three seasons.
- Terry Neill guided Arsenal to third place in the league to ensure UEFA Cup qualification.
- Jimmy Sirrel took Notts County into the First Division for the first time in nearly 60 years.
- Norman Hunter attained promotion to the Second Division with Barnsley.
Top goalscorers 
First Division 
Second Division 
Third Division 
Fourth Division 
Diary of the season 
31 August 1980: The first month of the Football League season ends with Ipswich Town, Southampton and Aston Villa level at the top of the First Division after four matches. Stoke City, Manchester City and Leeds United occupy the bottom three places. The Second Division promotion race has begun with Blackburn Rovers, Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday occupying the top three places. Cambridge United, in only their 11th season as a Football League team, stand fourth in the division harbouring dreams of the quickest modern day rise from non-league football to the First Division.
30 September 1980: September draws to a close with Ipswich Town leading the First Division by four points over their nearest rivals Liverpool, Everton and Aston Villa. Crystal Palace have slumped to the bottom of the table and are joined in the relegation zone by Manchester City and Leeds United. The race for a place in the First Division next season is headed by the Second Division top three of Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United and Notts County. Cambridge United's promising start has fallen away and they now stand third from bottom.
22 October 1980: Bottom of the First Division, Manchester City win their first league match of the season at the thirteenth attempt when they defeat Tottenham Hotspur 3–1.
31 October 1980: Aston Villa, who last won a top division title in 1910, finish October as First Division leaders, though Ipswich Town, still unbeaten, are two points behind them with two games in hand. Liverpool, Nottingham Forest, Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion are a further two points behind. Crystal Palace, Manchester City and Brighton & Hove Albion occupy the relegation places. The race for three places in the First Division next season is being headed by Notts County, West Ham United and Chelsea, with Swansea City, Blackburn Rovers and Sheffield Wednesday in close contention.
11 November 1980: Ipswich Town's unbeaten start to the season ends when they lose their fifteenth match 1–0 to bottom-placed Brighton & Hove Albion.
29 November 1980: Ken Brown makes his first signing for Norwich City by paying Liverpool £100,000 for 19-year-old central defender Dave Watson.
30 November 1980: November ends with Aston Villa still leading the First Division, two points ahead of Liverpool. Ipswich Town are now third, but are three points off top spot with three games in hand. West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal complete the top five. Leicester City prop up the First Division having lost their last four games, and join Crystal Palace and Brighton & Hove Albion in the bottom three. West Ham United, Chelsea and Notts County continue to head the challenge for promotion to the First Division.
31 December 1980: The year ends with Liverpool leading the First Division on goal difference ahead of Aston Villa. Ipswich Town are a point behind the leaders with two games in hand, and Arsenal are a further three points adrift. Crystal Palace and Leicester City remain stranded in the bottom three, but Brighton & Hove Albion have climbed out of the drop zone on goal difference at the expense of Norwich City. FA Cup holders West Ham United lead the Second Division promotion race, joining in the top three by Swansea City (who have never played in the top flight before) and Chelsea (who were last in the top flight two seasons ago). Notts County and Derby County are pushing the top three hard, while the likes of Luton Town and Orient are starting to emerge as possible contenders.
24 January 1981: Manchester City defeat Norwich City 6–0 in the FA Cup fourth round tie at Maine Road, just two months after John Bond's move between the two clubs as manager. Everton knock out Merseyside rivals Liverpool with a 2–1 victory at Goodison Park, and Nottingham Forest beat Manchester United 1–0.
31 January 1981: January draws to a close with Ipswich Town back on top of the First Division, ahead of second placed Aston Villa on goal difference with a game in hand. Liverpool are beaten 2-1 at home by Leicester City and are now four points off the top. Southampton and West Bromwich Albion complete the top five, while Manchester United, with fifteen draws already this season, have fallen to ninth in the table. Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Norwich City remain in the bottom three. West Ham United continue to lead the race for promotion, with Notts County and Chelsea completing the top three. Liverpool's 85-match unbeaten home run in all competitions is ended by a 2-1 home defeat to struggling Leicester City in the league, Their last home defeat was in February 1978.
28 February 1981: Having won five League matches in a row, Ipswich Town remain top of the First Division at the end of February, with Aston Villa two points behind them. Liverpool's challenge is effectively over after taking just four points from four League games this month. Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Norwich City still occupy the relegation zone. West Ham United remain top of the Second Division, followed closely behind by Notts County and joined in the top three by Sheffield Wednesday at the expense of Chelsea, who have slumped to seventh. Grimsby Town have emerged as surprise promotion contenders alongside larger clubs like Blackburn Rovers and Derby County.
7 March 1981: Exeter City's FA Cup run finally ends when they lose 2–0 away to Tottenham Hotspur in the quarter-finals.
10 March 1981: Ipswich Town remain in contention for a treble of the league title, FA Cup and UEFA Cup by beating Nottingham Forest 1–0 in the FA Cup quarter-final replay after drawing the first game 3–3.
12 March 1981: Ken Brown continues to build for the future of First Division strugglers Norwich City by paying Queens Park Rangers £225,000 for 22-year-old goalkeeper Chris Woods. Meanwhile, Liverpool sign 23-year-old Vancouver Whitecaps and Zimbabwe goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar for £250,000.
31 March 1981: Ipswich Town lose 3–0 away to Leeds United but remain one point ahead of second placed Aston Villa at the top of the First Division. West Bromwich Albion have moved into third, but are a distant six points behind Aston Villa. Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Leicester City remain in the bottom three places. West Ham United and Notts County continue to head the Second Division promotion race, joined in the top three by Grimsby Town at the expense of Sheffield Wednesday, who are now eighth.
4 April 1981: Crystal Palace are relegated from the First Division with five matches of the season remaining.
8 April 1981: Aston Villa move three points clear at the top of the First Division after winning the derby against third-placed West Bromwich Albion 1–0.
11 April 1981: Ipswich Town's treble bid is ended with a 1–0 extra-time defeat by Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park. In the final, they will face either Tottenham Hotspur or Wolverhampton Wanderers, who draw 2–2 in the other semi-final at Hillsborough.
14 April 1981: Ipswich Town return to Villa Park for a crucial League match against First Division leaders Aston Villa, and win 2–1 to move within a point of their opponents with a game in hand.
18 April 1981: Aston Villa take a decisive step towards the First Division title by beating Nottingham Forest 2–0 on the same day that Ipswich Town lose 2–0 at home to Arsenal.
25 April 1981: Aston Villa defeat Middlesbrough 3–0 at Villa Park, meaning they only need a draw from their final game of the season to seal their first league title since 1910. Leicester City are relegated.
29 April 1981: England draw 0–0 with Romania in their World Cup qualifying game at Wembley.
30 April 1981: Manchester United sack Dave Sexton after four trophyless seasons as manager.
2 May 1981: Aston Villa seal their first league title for 71 years despite losing their final game of the season 2–0 to Arsenal as Ipswich Town lose 2–1 to Middlesbrough, their third League defeat in four matches. Norwich City are relegated after a 3–2 home defeat to second-bottom Leicester City. Newly promoted to the First Division for next season are West Ham United after a three-year exile, Notts County after 55 years away, and Swansea City for the first time ever.
9 May 1981: In the FA Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City's Tommy Hutchison scores for both teams, first putting Manchester City 1–0 but later scoring an own goal to bring the match to a replay.
14 May 1981: Tottenham Hotspur lift the FA Cup, defeating Manchester City 3–2 in the replay.
20 May 1981: Ipswich Town win the UEFA Cup 5–4 on aggregate despite losing 4–2 to AZ Alkmaar in the second leg of the final.
8 June 1981: Having failed to save Crystal Palace from relegation, Clive Allen drops down a division to return to Queens Park Rangers in a £400,000 deal.
9 June 1981: After a month of searching for a new manager, Manchester United appoint Ron Atkinson from West Bromwich Albion.
6 September 1980: Joe Bradford, 79, scored a club record 267 goals in all competitions for Birmingham City between 1920 and 1935, completing his career with five games and one goal for Bristol City. He was capped 12 times for England, scoring seven goals.
20 December 1980: Tom Waring, 74, scored 159 league goals from centre-forward for Aston Villa between 1928 and 1935, though he failed to win a major trophy with them. He had previously scored 23 goals in 24 league games for Tranmere Rovers, and after leaving Villa Park he turned out for Barnsley and Wolverhampton Wanderers before returning to Tranmere for two years and finishing his career at Accrington Stanley. By the time of his last senior game in 1938, he had scored 244 league goals. He was capped five times by England in the early 1930s and scored four goals.
30 December 1980: George Beel, 80, scored a club record 178 league goals for Burnley between 1923 and 1932. His career spanned from 1919 to 1933 and took in a total of 243 league goals. He also turned out for Lincoln City (twice), Merthyr Town, Chesterfield and Rochdale.
3 February 1981: Sammy Crooks, 73, played 408 league games on the right wing for Derby County between 1927 and 1947 after signing from Durham City. He scored for the Rams in the first five rounds of the FA Cup in 1946 but a knee injury prevented him from playing in the final. He managed Shrewsbury Town in their first four seasons in the Football League and also managed four different non-league sides. He was capped 26 times by England in the 1930s and scored seven goals.
4 February 1981: Joe Jacques, 36, made more than 300 league appearances in defence for Lincoln City, Darlington, Southend United, Gillingham and Hartlepool United between 1964 and 1976. He began his professional career in 1959 with Preston but failed to make a league appearance for them in five years.
6 April 1981: Des Harlock, 58, played 150 league games for Tranmere Rovers as a right-winger between 1946 and 1954 after signing from Liverpool in 1945, his league debut delayed until his 24th year due to the war.
20 June 1981: Billy Charlton, 80, scored 103 league goals as a left-winger for South Fields, West Ham United, Newport County, Cardiff City and finally Tranmere Rovers, 72 of those goals coming for his final club.
|First Division||Aston Villa (7)||Ipswich Town|
|Second Division||West Ham United||Notts County|
|Third Division||Rotherham United||Barnsley|
|Fourth Division||Southend United||Lincoln City|
|FA Cup||Tottenham Hotspur (6)||Manchester City|
|League Cup||Liverpool (1)||West Ham United|
|Charity Shield||Liverpool||West Ham United|
Notes = Number in parentheses is the times that club has won that honour. * indicates new record for competition
League table 
|4||West Bromwich Albion||42||20||12||10||60||42||+18||52|
|19||Brighton & Hove Albion||42||14||7||21||54||67||−13||35|
|1||West Ham United||42||28||10||4||79||29||+50||66|
|8||Queens Park Rangers||42||15||13||14||56||46||+10||43|
|20||Preston North End||42||11||14||17||41||62||−21||36|
Administration entrance: Bristol City
Voluntary arrangements: Bristol Rovers
P = Matches played; W = Matches won; D = Matches drawn; L = Matches lost; F = Goals for; A = Goals against; GD = Goal difference; Pts = Points
Non-League football 
The divisional champions of the major non-League competitions were:
- "1981 FA Cup Final". Spurs Memorabilia. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
- English League Leading Goalscorers. Rsssf.com (2010-09-17). Retrieved on 2011-03-23.
- Smailes, Gordon (2000). The Breedon Book of Football Records. Derby: Breedon Books. p. 146. ISBN 1859832148.
- West Ham United FC News – Hammers Mad. Westhamunited-mad.co.uk (1980-08-30). Retrieved on 2011-03-23.
- Payne, Mike (1993). England: The Complete Post-War Record'. Derby: Breedon Books. ISBN 1873626398.
- West Ham United FC News – Hammers Mad. Westhamunited-mad.co.uk (1980-09-27). Retrieved on 2011-03-23.
- West Ham United FC News – Hammers Mad. Westhamunited-mad.co.uk (1980-11-29). Retrieved on 2011-03-23.
- West Ham United FC News – Hammers Mad. Westhamunited-mad.co.uk (1980-12-27). Retrieved on 2011-03-23.
- Smailes, Gordon (2000). The Breedon Book of Football Records. Derby: Breedon Books. p. 235. ISBN 1859832148.
- West Ham United FC News – Hammers Mad. Westhamunited-mad.co.uk (1981-01-31). Retrieved on 2011-03-23.
- "Season 1980–81". Liverweb. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
- West Ham United FC News – Hammers Mad. Westhamunited-mad.co.uk (1981-02-28). Retrieved on 2011-03-23.
- Smailes, Gordon (2000). The Breedon Book of Football Records. Derby: Breedon Books. p. 259. ISBN 1859832148.
- West Ham United FC News – Hammers Mad. Westhamunited-mad.co.uk (1981-03-28). Retrieved on 2011-03-23.