Football Features

Wrexham’s League Two to Premier League promotion roadmap – and three teams who could inspire them

By Ben Green

Wrexham's League Two to Premier League roadmap copy

Published: 0:03, 6 August 2023

Wrexham are back in the football league and, true to their Hollywood image, threatening to entertain.

The 2023/24 season opener ended 5-3 in favour of visitors MK Dons, including two goals within the opening 10 minutes and another double in stoppage-time. A dramatic start, if not a productive one given their ambitions.

Having spent 15 years in non-league wilderness, the Welsh club won promotion to the fourth tier during their second season owned by famous-actor duo Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.

“Of course our aim is to reach the Premier League,” Deadpool star Reynolds told S4C in May. “Why not? If it takes five years, or 20 years, that’s the goal.”

LEAGUE TWO PROMOTION ODDS
Squawka

Odds correct as of 23:00 on August 08

RB Leipzig, backed by £8bn corporate conglomerate Red Bull, took less than 10 years to go from the various regional leagues of Germany to runners-up in the Bundesliga. Meanwhile, Darmstadt enjoyed a similar pathway to the top flight from the lower divisions, as did Strasbourg in France. But what examples do Wrexham have to look to from the English Football League?

How hard is going from League Two to the Premier League?

In the 2021/22 season, Wrexham were famously pipped to the National League post by Stockport County, who returned to league football for the first time in over a decade.

Far from scrapping around the relegation zone as they found their footing back in English football’s fourth tier, Stockport came fourth in 2022/23, just four points off an automatic promotion place.

Their achievement in nearly securing back-to-back promotions — having just come up short in the play-offs — spotlights a wider debate about how difficult it actually is to secure promotion once you’re in league football. Indeed, is Stockport’s near-promotion an indication of a lesser ‘quality gap’ between the National League and League Two? Or was their success last season simply an anomaly?

Well, according to football recruitment analyst and Squawka contributor Andy Watson, the ‘quality gap’ between divisions naturally diminishes as you go down the footballing ladder.

Andy researched the nine seasons between 2010/11 and 2018/19 to determine how clubs fared in the immediate campaign after promotion. Looking exclusively at data between the Premier League and League Two, his analysis found that during their selected timeframe, not a single promoted club suffered relegation after moving up from League Two to League One.

In fact, the average position of promoted clubs was 11.9 in League One, almost exactly mid-table in a league of 24 clubs. For the Championship, it was 14.5 while only 20% of promoted teams went immediately back down.

The ‘quality gap’ between the Championship and the Premier League is where things start to get a little more difficult — as expected — with 37% of promoted clubs suffering immediate relegation. The average position comes in at 15.1, but Wrexham won’t have to worry about that for some time.

READ MORE:

As for the jump from the National League to League Two, it’s not often clubs experience successive promotions. The last club to achieve back-to-back jumps from the National League to League One was Tranmere Rovers.

The Merseyside club won the National League play-offs in 2017/18, before mimicking that feat in 2018/19 in League Two. Their League One stint was brief, just the single season. But having such a recent case study offers hope to Wrexham, who know they will be able to attract a higher calibre of player given the exposure and wealth their Hollywood owners have injected into the club.

Plus, Tranmere didn’t even win the National League as champions.

Prior to them, Bristol Rovers achieved successive promotions from the National League to League One between 2014/15 and 2015/16, while Crawley Town produced something similar between 2010/11 and 2011/12.


BetMGM sign-up offer: Get £40 in free bets when you bet £10

Not signed up to BetMGM yet? Here's how eligible readers* can take advantage of their welcome offer:

  1. Open an account at BetMGM using this link.
  2. Select the Sports Welcome Offer.
  3. Get the offer from the ‘My Offers’ page.
  4. Deposit and place a £10 bet at odds of 1/1 (2.0) or greater.
  5. When it settles, unlock £40 in Free Bets

*New customer only. 3 days to claim & 7 days to place a qualifying bet to receive 4x Free Bets: 1 x £10 Horse racing, 1 x £10 Free Bet Builder, 1 x £10 Acca and 1 x £10 Football. 7 day expiry. Exclusions apply. Stake not returned. T&Cs apply. For more information, visit begambleaware.org


So three clubs since 2010 who have produced back-to-back National League and League Two promotions. Wrexham may still hope that they can join that club, and even kick on. They just need to stop conceding five goals in a game, and follow the examples of the teams you’re about to hear about.

Clubs who went from League Two to the Premier League without suffering relegation

Luton Town

Let’s start with the new boys of the division, Luton Town. Their tale is one of many peaks and troughs, unbelievable highs and debilitating lows. It all began in 2009, the nadir of the club’s existence. Financial woes in the noughties saw Luton tailspin towards obscurity, entering administration in 2007/08 as a result. A season later, they were docked 30 points and suffered relegation from League Two, entering non-league football for the first time in the club’s history.

It would take The Hatters four seasons, five managers and three play-off attempts before they finally got back into the football league. John Still’s men won the National League with a whopping 101 points and 102 goals scored, 30 of which came from Andre Gray. The club then stabilised in League Two, becoming part of the furniture and flirting with promotion, an achievement that would eventually bear fruit in 2017/18 as they finished runners-up.

Their existence in League One wouldn’t prove quite as protracted, as two Joneses secured back-to-back promotions. First Nathan in 2018, then Graeme in 2019. The Hatters took a couple of seasons to adjust back in the Championship for the first time in 12 years, making their first real attempt at Premier League promotion in 2021/22. They finished sixth and contested the play-offs, where they would lose to Huddersfield Town in the semi-finals.

It looked like Luton had bitten off more than they could chew. However, last season resulted in the most unthinkable of achievements for a club who were only in League Two five years ago. Rob Edwards — who was sacked by fierce rivals Watford early last season — came in for Jones and won the play-offs after finishing third in the league. The likes of Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah will now be preparing themselves to play at the ramshackle Kenilworth Road that holds just 10,356.

Bournemouth

If we go back to that 2008/09 season where Luton were relegated from League Two, Bournemouth were also struggling in the division, finishing just two places above the drop zone. More memorable about that season, though, is that it marked Eddie Howe’s first steps into football management. A then fresh-faced Howe stepped in for Jimmy Quinn at the turn of the year, and he managed to keep the club afloat despite a 17-point deduction.

Hamstrung by financial restrictions and a transfer embargo that prevented him from signing players, Bournemouth looked like they would struggle in Howe’s first full season. In fact, the opposite happened. The precocious tactician guided the club to promotion with a second-placed finish and then reached the League One play-offs in 2010/11. His rapid rise to prominence naturally alerted several top clubs to his talents, and in 2011, Burnley prised him away.

A little over a year later, Howe was back at Dean Court with unfinished business. He set to work guiding The Cherries to the Championship and then, eventually, the Premier League. For his efforts he was selected as the Manager of the Decade at the Football League Awards, and Bournemouth have since established themselves as a consistent top flight team, spending six of the last eight seasons in the Premier League.

Howe, meanwhile, leads Newcastle United into a season of Champions League football in 2023/24.

Brentford

Completing our hat-trick of current Premier League clubs, Brentford were, quite incredibly, in League Two during that 2008/09 season. It’s quite a remarkable storyline, and one that tugs at the heartstrings of footballing purists. That is the beauty of the sport, though, the unpredictable and anything-can-happen narrative. Unlike Luton and Bournemouth, though, that season for Brentford was not marred by financial uncertainty and relegation struggles.

READ MORE: