Football Features

What happened next? Every Championship play-off final winner since 2000

By Chris Smith

What happened next? Every Championship play-off final winner since 2000

Published: 13:25, 15 May 2022

Considered the most valuable single game in world football, there’s nothing quite like the drama of the Championship play-off final.

For the winners, the untold riches and glamour of the Premier League await, while the losers must suffer Wembley heartache before going back to the drawing board for another year.

But even for those who make it into the top flight, there’s no guarantee they’ll stay there. Just look at Fulham, who have won two of the last three play-off finals only to come straight back down, though they are back once again (this time as champions).

We’ve taken a look at every Championship play-off winner since 2000 to see how they got on in their subsequent Premier League campaign.

Ipswich Town (2000)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 5th
  • Memorable players: Richard Wright, Matt Holland, David Johnson, James Scowcroft, Tony Mowbray, Marcus Stewart, Jim Magilton

Ipswich scored 11 goals in three play-off games to blow Bolton and Barnsley away in 2000 and continued their great form upon their return to the top flight, sealing a shock fifth-place finish and UEFA Cup football. ‘Second season syndrome’ set in and the Tractor Boys were relegated back to the second tier in 2002. But not before a famous 1-0 home win over Inter Milan in the UEFA Cup third round.

Bolton Wanderers (2001)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 16th
  • Memorable players: Jussi Jaaskelainen, Colin Hendry, Kevin Nolan, Ricardo Gardner, Dean Holdsworth, Michael Ricketts

After losing to Ipswich in the play-off semi-finals a year prior, Sam Allardyce guided Bolton all the way to the Premier League with wins over West Brom and Preston in 2001. Wanderers went on to finish 16th the following season and slowly became regulars in the top half of the Premier League, with Allardyce attracting veterans such as Jay-Jay Okocha, Ivan Campo and Fernando Hierro to the North West.

Birmingham City (2002)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 13th
  • Memorable players: Geoff Horsfield, Bryan Hughes, Stan Lazaridis, Tommy Mooney, Andy Johnson

A 10-game unbeaten run at the end of the 2001/02 season catapulted Birmingham into the play-offs, where they scraped past Millwall and Norwich City (the latter on penalties) to reach the promised land. Steve Bruce, who had joined the club in December 2001 to mastermind their rise, guided the club to 13th during their first season back in the top flight, and they managed to stay in the Premier League all the way until 2006 before their famous ‘yo-yo’ period.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (2003)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 20th
  • Memorable players: Joleon Lescott, Denis Irwin, Kenny Miller, Dean Sturridge, Alex Rae, Paul Ince

A rag-tag band of players that included then-youngster Joleon Lescott playing alongside veterans Denis Irwin and Paul Ince was able to guide Wolves to fifth in the Championship before beating Reading and Sheffield United in the play-offs. But Lescott missed the following season through injury, meaning Wolves conceded a massive 77 goals and finished bottom of the Premier League to go straight back down.

Crystal Palace (2004)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 18th
  • Memorable players: Andy Johnson, Tony Popovic, Ben Watson, Julian Gray, Wayne Routledge, Dougie Freedman

After limping through the first half of the season, Iain Dowie was appointed Palace manager in December 2003 and inspired his side to rocket up the table and into the play-off places, inspired by a 32-goal season by Andy Johnson. From there, they beat the far more fancied Sunderland and West Ham to seal their Premier League return. But despite Johnson managing another 21 goals in the top flight the following year, they were relegated on the final day, returning straight to the Championship.

West Ham United (2005)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 9th
  • Memorable players: Teddy Sheringham, Marlon Harewood, Bobby Zamora, Matthew Etherington, Nigel Reo-Coker, Serhiy Rebrov, Anton Ferdinand, Mark Noble, Tomas Repka, Christian Dailly, Steve Lomas

With a team full of then-England youth internationals like Bobby Zamora, Nigel Reo-Coker and Anton Ferdinand, led by veteran forward Teddy Sheringham, West Ham’s 2004/05 side was definitely one of the most talented to appear in a play-off final. So, despite finishing sixth, it’s little surprise they swept away Ipswich and Preston before going on to finish ninth in the Premier League the following season, also reaching the FA Cup final (losing to Liverpool) and qualifying for the UEFA Cup.

Watford (2006)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 20th
  • Memorable players: Jay DeMerit, Marlon King, Ashley Young, Hameur Bouazza, Lloyd Doyley, Ben Foster, Darius Henderson

Watford couldn’t get close to Reading and Sheffield United in the automatic promotion spots but still breezed into the Premier League with dominant 3-0 play-off wins over Crystal Palace and Leeds United. But Aidy Boothroyd’s men finished bottom of the Premier League in 2006/07, selling Ashley Young to Aston Villa mid-season. But they did reach the FA Cup semi-finals.

Derby County (2007)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 20th
  • Memorable players: Steve Howard, Arturo Lupoli, Seth Johnson, Lee Camp, Jon Macken, Dean Leacock, Gary Teale, Giles Barnes, Darren Moore, Matt Oakley

Derby were actually very unlucky not to go up automatically, finishing just two and four points below Birmingham and Sunderland above them, respectively. But after beating Southampton and West Brom in the play-offs, the Rams were immediately relegated with a Premier League record low 11 points the following season, winning just one of their 38 games.

Hull City (2008)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 17th
  • Memorable players: Dean Windass, Boaz Myhill, Sam Ricketts, Michael Turner, Fraizer Campbell, Nick Barmby, Jay-Jay Okocha, Michael Bridges

Few can forget a 39-year-old Dean Windass firing Hull City into the top flight for the first time in their history in 2008, beating Bristol City in the Premier League. By matchweek nine the following year, Hull were as high as third in the Premier League, though they fell off hard, barely managing to survive in 17th. Still, a great achievement all things considered.

Burnley (2009)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 18th
  • Memorable players: Martin Paterson, Graham Alexander, Steven Caldwell, Wade Elliott, Brian Jensen, Chris McCann, Robbie Blake, Jay Rodriguez, Chris Eagles

Before Sean Dyche’s Burnley, there was Owen Coyle’s Burnley, who beat Reading and Sheffield United in the play-off without conceding a goal to reach the Premier League. Just as Dyche’s side would in years to come, the Clarets went straight back down a year later, finishing 18th and with Coyle losing his job in January. Nowadays, of course, Burnley are a Premier League mainstay (and will look to beat the drop this season).

Blackpool (2010)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 19th
  • Memorable players: Charlie Adam, Seamus Coleman, Gary Taylor-Fletcher, David Vaughan, Brett Ormerod, D. J. Campbell

When Blackpool scraped into the Championship play-offs in 2009/10, few expected them to make much of an impression. But the Seasiders defied all the odds to beat Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City to reach the top flight for the first time since 1971. Despite sitting ninth after 20 games, Ian Holloway’s men fell off fast to sink all the way down to 19th. They’ve never recovered since.

Swansea City (2011)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 11th
  • Memorable players: Ashley Williams, Nathan Dyer, Scott Sinclair, Joe Allen, Angel Rangel, Garry Monk, Leon Britton, Fabio Borini

Even in the second tier, English football was transitioning to a more possession-based style in 2011 and few teams did it better than Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea City. Rodgers guided the South Welsh side to 11th in the Premier League following their 2010/11 play-off win, playing some wonderful football. Of course, Rodgers impressed so much that by 2012, he found himself in charge of Liverpool.

West Ham United (2012)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 10th
  • Memorable players: Kevin Nolan, Carlton Cole, Mark Noble, James Tomkins, Winston Reid, Rob Green, Julien Faubert

Remember when we said West Ham’s 2005 side was one of the most talented in play-off history? Their 2012 contingent would give them a run for their money. Sam Allardyce’s men missed out on automatic promotion by just two points and swept aside Cardiff and Blackpool in play-offs, scoring seven goals and conceding just one. It would prove Mark Noble’s second play-off final win with the club and they have gone on to great heights since then, recently appearing in the Europa League semi-final. Noble will bow out this campaign as a one-club man and a Hammers legend.

Crystal Palace (2013)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 11th
  • Memorable players: Julian Speroni, Yannick Bolasie, Kevin Phillips, Mile Jedinak, Wilfried Zaha, Glenn Murray, Jonny Williams

After losing their opening three games of the season, few could have foreseen Palace reaching the Premier League in 2012/13 but a strong middle of the campaign saw them race up the table, eventually finishing fifth. The Eagles beat Brighton and Watford in the play-offs without conceding a goal and have remained in the top flight ever since.

Queens Park Rangers (2014)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 20th
  • Memorable players: Rob Green, Ravel Morrison, Charlie Austin, Nedum Onuoha, Jermaine Jenas, Joey Barton, Niko Kranjcar, Junior Hoilett, Bobby Zamora, Benoît Assou-Ekotto

After suffering relegation from the Premier League in 2013, Harry Redknapp was able to bring QPR straight back up at the first time of asking in 2014. Powered by Charlie Austin’s goals, the London side never dropped lower than fifth in the table and beat Wigan and Derby in the play-offs. But once again, their return to the Premier League lasted just one season, with Redknapp leaving the club in February 2015.

Norwich City (2015)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 19th
  • Memorable players: John Ruddy, Cameron Jerome, Gary Hooper, Wes Hoolahan, Nathan Redmond, Sebastien Bassong, Bradley Johnson

Though they were once again immediately relegated a year later, Norwich will always remember their 2014/15 campaign for beating local rivals Ipswich Town in the 2014/15 play-off semi-finals.

Hull City (2016)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 18th
  • Memorable players: Sam Clucas, Andy Robertson, Ahmed Elmohamady, Tom Huddleston, Abel Hernandez, Allan McGregor, Chuba Akpom, Harry Maguire

After suffering relegation in 2015, Hull immediately returned for a third spell in the Premier League in 2016, beating Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday in the play-offs. Lining up for Hull that season were Andy Robertson and Harry Maguire, now among the best defenders in the Premier League for Liverpool and Manchester United, respectively (though the latter has endured a particularly detrimental campaign as far as form is concerned).

Huddersfield Town (2017)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 16th
  • Memorable players: Aaron Mooy, Elias Kachunga, Christopher Schindler, Danny Ward, Philip Billing

After a 45-year absence, three-time English champions Huddersfield Town pulled off the great shock of returning to the top flight via the play-offs in 2017. The Terriers did it the hard way, though, beating both Sheffield Wednesday and Reading on penalties. David Wagner further enhanced his reputation by guiding Huddersfield to 16th in the Premier League a year later.

Fulham (2018)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 19th
  • Memorable players: Ryan Sessegnon, Ryan Fredericks, Lucas Piazon, Aleksandar Mitrovic

After four years of Championship football, Fulham returned to the Premier League via the play-offs in 2018, beating Midlands giants Derby County and Aston Villa along the way. Although they were immediately relegated, this campaign proved to be a breakthrough one for Ryan Sessegnon, who still has an extremely high ceiling, particularly following the appointment of Antonio Conte at Tottenham.

Aston Villa (2019)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 17th
  • Memorable players: Axel Tuanzebe, Ahmed Elmohamady, Tyrone Mings, John McGinn, Conor Hourihane, Jack Grealish, Tammy Abraham, Anwar El Ghazi

Aston Villa’s relegation from the top flight for the first time since 1988 shook the English football world in 2016 and it took the six-time champions three years to make it back. They did so the hard way, too, losing the 2018 play-off final to Fulham before beating Midlands rivals Derby County 2-1 in the 2019 edition. The Villans have been growing into life back in the Premier League well since, with Steven Gerrard succeeding Dean Smith and bringing superstars like Philippe Coutinho to the Midlands.

Fulham (2020)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 18th
  • Memorable players: Joe Bryan, Tim Ream, Anthony Knockaert, Tom Cairney, Aleksandar Mitrovic

Fulham have well and truly joined the likes of Norwich, West Brom and Birmingham in the ‘yo-yo’ club department. The Cottagers once again earned promotion via the play-offs in 2020, with a brilliant Joe Bryan strike sealing a 2-1 final win over London rivals Brentford. But despite playing some attractive football, Scott Parker’s men went straight back down, failing to turn performances into points. They have, though, once again bounced back, doing so with Aleksandar Mitrovic netting a quite ridiculous 43 goals in 44 games.

Brentford (2021)

  • Subsequent Premier League finish: 13th (as it stands)
  • Memorable players: Ivan Toney, Bryan Mbeumo, David Raya, Pontus Jansson, Ethan Pinnock

Following the heartache of that 2020 play-off final defeat to Fulham, Thomas Frank’s men transformed their fortunes under the arch last season, winning the Wembley showpiece at the expense of Swansea City. Since gaining promotion to the Premier League for the first time ever, the capital club have enjoyed some major success, claiming the scalps of Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham (twice), while playing some attractive football and comfortably beating the drop. Christian Eriksen’s mid-season signing has also proven a major game-changer.