Brentford, Hull and seven other clubs who rapidly climbed through the English leagues

Football can be incredibly cruel, but at other times it takes you on a journey of pure magic.

With the end of the season approaching and the relegation trapdoors wide open, there will be plenty of fans fearing the worst for their clubs. One relegation can so often lead to another and another.

However, fear not beleagured fans. For while dropping like a stone is possible, so too is rising like a phoenix, as these clubs show.

Wimbledon

Wimbledon FA Cup win 1988

You're almost not allowed to talk about Wimbledon these days - the original Wimbledon, that is. What happened to that club and its fans is one of the very darkest tales in the history of English football.

What Wimbledon did was incredible, though. After decades in non-league, they were finally elected to the Football League in 1977. Nine years later, they were in the top division. Two years after that they won the FA Cup.

Sadly, that didn't get them all the way to Europe because English clubs were banned at the time, but what a remarkable achievement it was.

Much of that rise was also masterminded by the same manager - Dave Bassett. He had left before the FA Cup triumph, although you'd be hard-pressed to find a more influential single manager at a club since.

AFC Wimbledon

AFC Wimbledon promoted 2016

The great thing about Wimbledon is that they didn't just do it once, but twice. In 2000, Wimbledon were relegated from the Premier League. By August 2001, the club was no more.

Obviously the official line does not say that. The official line says the club was 'relocated and renamed', specifically to Milton Keynes and MK Dons, but we all know what happened: a club was stolen.

Wimbledon fans did what every other set of fans would do when faced with the same circumstances - sacked off the stolen club and started afresh.

In 2002, AFC Wimbledon were formed, going back to the classic club crest and original ground at Plough Lane.

They started in the Combined Counties League Premier Division before winning six promotions in 13 years to climb to League One, and in doing so became the first club formed in the 21st century to play in the Football League. Those years included an English record run of 78 games unbeaten between February 2003 and December 2004.

The 2021/22 season saw them relegated back to League Two, but it shouldn't take the shine off an incredible journey.

Fleetwood Town

It is sometimes hard to separate the Fleetwood Town story from the Jamie Vardy story, but the truth is that the Leicester striker played only a minimal part in the rise of the Cod Army.

There are actually three incarnations of Fleetwood dating back to 1908, but the current club was only actually formed in 1997. Fleetwood FC had folded a year before, and Fleetwood Wanderers were formed in Division One of the North West Counties Football League. That's the tenth tier of English football. The club's name was immediately changed to Fleetwood Freeport due to a sponsorship deal and they eventually settled on Fleetwood Town in 2002.

By then their rise up the leagues was underway and by the close of the 2005/06 season they were in the Northern Premier Division. Two years later they had reached the Conference.

There their rise stalled until 2011/12 when Vardy fired them to promotion to the Football League.

They are now in League One and have flirted with reaching the play-offs once or twice, although they did have to wait until the final day of the 2021/22 season to ensure they didn't slip back into League Two.

AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth celebrate promotion

Bournemouth are definitely a heart-warming tale for any football fan who has seen their team fall on desperate times.

The Cherries were in a perilous state in 2008 when they were a League One club. They were forced into administration, deducted 10 points and relegated to the fourth tier. It also meant they started the following season with -17 points. Relegation out of the Football League looked a distinct possibility.

Somehow they pulled off an escape even Houdini would be proud of, avoiding relegation and then getting promoted the following season. Two years after that they were promoted to the Championship and then, just seven years after sitting bottom of the Football League, were promoted to the Premier League.

Eddie Howe, who is currently showing his quality at Newcastle, was in charge for 11 of the 12 years between surviving in League Two and being relegated from the Premier League.

Swansea City

Swansea with 2013 League Cup

Swansea are probably to the modern era what the original Wimbledon were to the pre-Premier League era.

They didn't come from non-league, but they did rise through the leagues to establish themselves in the top flight and won some major silverware.

Swansea started the 2004/05 season in League Two. Six years later they were promoted to the Premier League after beating Reading 4-2 in the Championship play-off final at Wembley. In 2013 they won the League Cup and qualified for Europe.

There was no real secret to how Swansea did it, though. Simply put, they hired good managers. The likes of Roberto Martinez, Paulo Sousa and Brendan Rodgers cut their managerial teeth at the club.

They have since dropped out of the Premier League, but no one would be surprised to see them back at that level very soon.

Burton Albion

Burton Albion promoted

We have almost just gotten used to Burton Albion as a Football League club, but that probably doesn't do their journey justice.

The Brewers were only formed in 1950 and slowly made their way through the non-league pyramid until hitting the Football Conference in 2002.

Although they continued what was, by other club's standards, their slow burn progress, by 2009 they were a Football League club and another seven years later they were playing Championship football.

That was where their progress stalled and they hit what may just be their natural ceiling in the modern, money-driven age, but everyone should have learned enough by now to never write off Burton Albion.

Hull City

Hull City promoted

There is an argument to be made that Hull City have been historic underachievers more than anything. After all, we are talking about a proud sporting city that has just one football club.

Of course, while Hull City has no football rivals in their own back yard, football itself has to compete with rugby, which is a major passion of the city.

The fact of the matter is, though, that Hull have spent almost all of their history outside of the top division. However, once they decided to do something about that, they did it quickly.

Successive promotion campaigns between 2004 and 2006 hauled the Tigers from League Two to the Championship in one seamless swoop. They didn't stop there either.

In 2008, Dean Windass, who had started his career in East Yorkshire and represented the club in the fourth tier before moving on to make his name elsewhere, brilliantly volleyed them into the Premier League with a play-off winner at Wembley.

Remarkably, Ian Ashbee captained Hull through their entire rise from League Two to the Premier League.

They couldn't stay there for more than a couple of seasons, but they returned relatively quickly and even qualified for Europe in 2014.

Brentford

Brentford promoted

If you're looking for a current example of a club who powered through the leagues, then Brentford are here for you.

Brentford's story is very similar to that of Bournemouth, just without the points deductions and Eddie Howe.

They finished bottom of League One in 2006/07 and looked like they were heading for successive relegations a year later too. They managed to survive, though, and won the title the following year.

By 2014, under the brilliant management of Mark Warburton, Brentford reached the Championship and nearly went straight through it. After a fifth-placed finish, the Bees lost to Middlesbrough in the play-offs.

They kept plugging away though and, after a series of mid-table finishes, they finally completed their journey to the Premier League in 2020/21 via the play-offs.

Brentford have backed that up by surviving comfortably in the top flight this season.

Wigan Athletic

Wigan Athletic FA Cup winners 2013

When Wigan won the 2013 FA Cup as massive underdogs thanks to Ben Watson's near-post glancing header, it was impossible not to draw parallels with Wimbledon's rise.

After all, as recently as 1997, Wigan were playing in the third tier of English football and no one ever really expected them to get any higher.

There is a temptation to almost deglamorise Wigan's rise because, ultimately, it was bankrolled, and football clubs who are perceived to have bought success rather than earned it are generally looked down upon.

Maybe that's fair in Wigan's case, but they went from non-league to the Premier League in 26 years and then held their own for eight years while winning a major trophy and qualifying for Europe.

Ultimately, they still achieved it, and plenty of other teams who have been bankrolled by wealthy owners have not.

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