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Five Clubs Who Have Played Continental Competition As A Non Top-Flight Team (Relegation Team)



Playing Continental football is a big deal for many club sides, a bigger deal for clubs who find it difficult to compete for the League title or trophy.

Playing the Champions League either in Europe, Africa or Asia needs a club to be in the top 4 or top 3 rankings on its local league to qualify, thus clubs who are outside that category or lower-division automatically don’t stand a chance to qualify.

However, the only slim chance for a lower league side to play Champions League football is only if such teams had played in the Champions League and won it as a top-flight but somehow despite the feat manage to relegate in the same season. Such teams will feature due to the rule of defending Champions automatically qualifying for the next division.

Another route available is even longer and more treacherous, first, it is a journey of two years for any lower division side who wish to play in the Champions League. First, there is a need to win a League Cup as a lower division side and qualify for the Europa league or Confederations Cup the next season as a lower league side.

Of course, participating alone in the Europa League or CAF Confederations Cup alone does not guarantee Champions League football unless such a club side wins it. So if such a club side wins the Europa League or Confederations Cup and still fail to promote to the top division, they play in the Champions League as second division side.

However, this is extremely difficult a feat for teams (in fact no team has) in the lower division to achieve due to many factors as low funding to get players to compete as such levels, squad depths, level of competition, etc.

Irrespective, some teams have managed to carry the unwanted tag of “Second Divison team” sailing unfamiliar terrain on the continent through the Uefa Europa League, Uefa Cup Winners Cup and CAF Confederations Cup.

In this write-up, we take a look at such a set of teams who have played on the continent from the second division (Relegation)

Birmingham City
Country: England
Year: 2011/2012

Birmingham City was a top-flight team up until 2011 when they dropped into the Championship following a poor ending to the league season. The team actually had to contend with either forfeiting winning the League Cup and survive in the Premier League or drop into the Championship and stand an unsure chance of winning the Carling Cup.

However, the Blues chose the latter option and managed to shock Arsenal by 2-1 in the final for their second major trophy in their history only a few weeks after they were confirmed to have relegated.

The following season the team made the group stage of the Europa League after beating Nacional in the qualifying round of the competition, before been drawn alongside Club Brugge, Maribor and Sporting Braga in the group stages where they ended up third on the table.

Country: Italy
Year: 1987/1988

Before the UEFA Europa League, they used to be a club competition in Europe, one of them is the now UEFA Cup winners Cup. Also before Atalanta became a decent side which they are now, they used to shuttle between the Serie A and Seria B of the Italian leagues.

They qualified for a spot in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1987-88 after losing to Napoli in the 1986-87 Copa Italia final, the same season they relegated to the Serie B. Napoli had won the Serie A and qualify for Europe through the League thus making it possible for Atalanta, to pick the European ticket meant for the Coppa Italia winners and take on the rest of Europe from their position in Serie B.

The got promoted to the Serie A at the end of the same year they played in the Uefa Cup Winners Cup. However, unlike Birmingham, Atlanta was able to make it to the semifinals of the UEFA Cup Winners Cup where they lost to eventual winners Mechelen in 1988, the farthest any non-topside as made in the European scene.

Cardiff City
Country: Wales
Year: 1967/1968

Before Atlanta, a particular team from Wales, Cardiff City made it to the semifinals of the UEFA cup winners.

In 1967/1968 Cardiff City at that point in time, we’re playing in the lower Divison of the English league but made European Cup through the Welsh cup.

During this period, there were only 32 teams in the competition compared to 72 teams in the overall competition and 48 in the group stage that is found in the competition in recent times.

Newport County
Country: Wales
Year: 1980/1981

Newport county were Third Division side in the 1970s and 80s but they managed to make the group stages of UEFA Cup winners Cup competition as Welsh cup champions and finished in the quarter-final stages in 1980/1981Cup Winners Cup before losing to Carl Zeiss Jena of Germany.

Nasarawa United
Country: Nigeria
Year: 2019/2020

Just like Atalanta in 1987/1988 season, Nassarawa United managed to make the qualifying rounds of the Caf Confederations Cup 2019/2020 season in a similar manner. The team actually got relegated from the Nigeria Professional Football League abridged version in 2019.

However, after finishing second place behind Kano Pillars in the Aiteo Cup who had qualified for the CAF Champions League through the NPFL Championship Play-offs, Nasarawa United picked up the CAF Confederations cup slot available for Cup Winners Cup.

However, their season on the continent finished as soon as it started after losing to Santoba Conakry of Guinea in the first qualifying round.


Due to lack of data and records in other domain, we aren’t able to cover every team who has managed this feat. Do you know a team we omitted, please mention in the comment box.




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Daniel is a passionate lover of Nigerian football. Follows local football and the national teams religiously. Aside from writing, he also does Sports analysis on Radio. Write to me on or follow me on twitter@danycrusoe95

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