Second season syndrome

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Second season syndrome is the now-common phrase that is used to describe a downturn in fortunes for a football club in its second season after its promotion to the Premier League of English football – particularly if the first season after promotion had brought a strong finish.[1] The syndrome actually predates the Premiership, and could be seen in the cases of Swansea City (1981–1983) and Millwall (1988–1990) in the old First Division. Second season syndrome has also been used to describe other sports where a successful first season has taken place, followed by a poor second season straight after[2] as well as individual sportspersons.[3] In the US, this event (more commonly applied to athletes than teams) is known as a sophomore slump. Second season syndrome is best explained by regression to the mean.


Also when a player scores many goals in his first season but doesn't score as often in his second season e.g. Papiss Cissé of Newcastle United, who scored 13 goals in 14 appearances in his debut season but followed it up with only 8 strikes in 36 appearances in the following season.


  • Middlesbrough were promoted to the Premier League as Division One champions in 1995, and started the following season in fine form, occupying fourth place in late October and looking like serious contenders for a European place. Despite a dismal run of mid-season form which saw them lose 10 out of 11 games, they still finished 12th in the final table – comfortably clear of the relegation zone. That summer, manager Bryan Robson paid some of the highest transfer fees of that era for high-profile foreign stars, including Fabrizio Ravanelli and Emerson. The new signings performed well and despite reaching the final of both domestic cups, Middlesbrough were relegated the following season in 19th place.[4] This was helped in no part by the Premier League docking three points off the club for failing to fulfill a fixture, which otherwise would have seen Middlesbrough avoid relegation by two points.[5]


  • In 1999, Bradford City returned to the top flight after an absence of 77 years, after coming second to Sunderland. The Bantams stayed up the following season, with a then Premier League record low of 36 points. A 1–0 victory on the final day of the season over Liverpool with a David Wetherall goal ensured City and not Wimbledon stayed up. However just days after the season finished, manager Paul Jewell sensationally left the club and was succeeded by his assistant Chris Hutchings. Hutchings struggled and was sacked after just one win from 12 league games. He was replaced by Jim Jefferies but City remained in the bottom three for the rest of the season. Relegation was confirmed several games before the end of the season with a 2–1 defeat at Everton, with both Benito Carbone and Robbie Blake missing penalties. The club has since run into financial trouble, been in administration twice, and had a further two relegations.[4]


  • Ipswich Town gained promotion to the Premier League in 2000 as Division One playoff winners, and in their first season back at the highest level, they finished fifth to gain UEFA Cup qualification. But they won just one of their opening 17 Premier League fixtures the following season, leaving them bottom of the table in early December. A run of seven wins from eight games looked to have saved them as they stood 12th at the end of January, but another setback pushed them back into the drop zone and defeat to Liverpool on the final day of the season confirmed their relegation.[4]


  • Manchester City reached the Premier League as Division One champions in 2002, and finished ninth the following year – their highest finish for a decade. But the following season they finished 16th and having only secured top-flight survival in the penultimate game.[citation needed]


  • 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 Tevez, saw them beat the drop and finish 15th.[6]
  • 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 League 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.[7]


  • 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, despite beating Derby County 4-0 away from home.[8]


  • 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, 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 Hull ended the season second from bottom.


  • 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 League Cup in February.


  • QPR were promoted as Championship champions in 2011, after an absence of 15 years. Their entire season was one of struggle, and finished in 17th place after losing to Manchester City on the final day and allowing City to take the Premier League title. As this was only the second time all promoted teams had avoided relegation, QPR had hope to stay in the Premier League longer, but the following season they were relegated in bottom place after drawing with rivals Reading, who were in a third solitary season themselves.[9][10]


  1. ^ Cheetham, Matt (2007-09-17). "Second Season Syndrome..." (pdf). Barefacts. University of Surrey. p. 31. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  2. ^ Rae, Richard (2007-10-22). "Hamilton too smart for second-season syndrome". Guardian Unlimited. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  3. ^ Meadows, Paul (2007-10-03). "'Second Season Syndrome' hits Tottenham striker". FansFC. Archived from the original on 2007-11-13. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  4. ^ a b c Higgins, Toby (2007-03-02). "Only Thing Harder Than Going Up Is Staying Up". Offsidemedia. Archived from the original on 2007-12-03. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  5. ^ Duxbury, Nick (1997-01-15). "Middlesbrough rocked by three-point penalty". The Independent. Newspaper Publishing. Retrieved 2016-03-16. 
  6. ^ Austin, Simon (2007-07-11). "Reading's big task". BBC Sport. BBC. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  7. ^ Hulott, David (2006-11-05). "Wigan recovering from second season syndrome". Square Football. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  8. ^ BBC Staff (2007-09-17). "Second season syndrome alive and well". BBC Sport. BBC. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  9. ^ "Premier League - does second season syndrome exist? - Daily Mail Online". Mail Online. 14 August 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2016. 
  10. ^ "Second-season woe". Sky Sports. Retrieved 25 April 2016.