Seventeen English teams have competed in the European Cup or Champions League. Only six of those have won the thing. Which leaves these 11 complete losers.
Arsenal’s six-year wait and Newcastle United’s 20-year break from Champions League action is now over. Both sides will be hoping to lift the trophy for the first time and seize the crown from Manchester City, who finally added their name to the list of winners in the summer.
Here’s a list of English clubs that have entered, but never won, the continent’s premier competition, along with their best-ever finish.
Arsenal’s maiden European Cup adventure in the 1971/72 season ended in defeat to eventual winners Ajax in the quarter-final and despite strong league campaigns in the 70s and 80s, 20 years passed before they had another crack, becoming the first English side to compete in the competition following the ban implemented in the aftermath of the Heysel tragedy. From the late 90s until 2017, the Gunners were mainstays in the Champions League, with their best performance coming in 2006. Jens Lehmann was sent off early on against Barcelona in the final but Sol Campbell headed in to give 10-man Arsenal the lead in the first-half. Arsene Wenger’s men held on until the last quarter of an hour, when Samuel Eto’o and substitute Juliano Belletti both found the net to deny the Gunners victory.
Blackburn Rovers: Group stage
Blackburn Rovers finished in the top four in three consecutive seasons in the formative years of the Premier League, but back then only the winners qualified for the Champions League. Their heroics in the 94/95 campaign saw them unseat Manchester United at the top of the English pyramid but a dismal defence of their title, combined with a woeful European campaign that ended with just one win from the group stage, resulted in quite a come down at Ewood Park.
Burnley’s league title win in 1960 saw them become just the third English club to compete in the European Cup, after Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers. The Clarets received a bye in the first round before edging past Reims 4-3 on aggregate to reach the quarter-finals. Fellow tournament newbies Hamburg ended their run after a 3-1 lead from the first leg at Turf Moor was overturned following a 4-1 loss in Germany.
Derby County: Semi-final
Brian Clough is of course remembered for his incredible European exploits at Nottingham Forest, where he won the continent’s premier competition two years running. Before that incredible achievement, he guided Derby County to a first-ever league title in 1972 and led the Rams into Europe the following season. An impressive journey to the semi-finals followed, with a controversial exit to Juventus preventing a trip to Rotterdam for the final. Clough was convinced of skullduggery and accused the Italian side of bribing of the referee.
Everton lifted two league titles in the 80s but the ban on English clubs from competing in Europe at the time prevented the Toffees from testing themselves against the continent’s elite sides. Howard Kendall was manager at the time and he had previous experience of the European Cup from his playing days, with involvement in the competition’s first penalty shootout. Kendall scored a vital away goal for Everton against Borussia Monchengladbach in the second round of the 1970/71 tournament, with the tie going to penalties after both legs finished 1-1. Everton progressed after Andy Rankin saved the final spot-kick but went out to Greek champions Panathinaikos in the quarters.
Ipswich Town: First round
League champions under future World Cup-winning manager Alf Ramsey in the 1961/62 season, Ipswich Town ventured into Europe for the first time the following campaign. After steamrolling Maltese side Floriana in the preliminary round with a 14-1 aggregate victory, the Tractor Boys awaited a far tougher test in the form of AC Milan. Despite winning 2-1 at Portman Road in the second leg, the damage had been done in Italy with a 3-0 defeat at the San Siro.
Leeds United: Final
The 1974/75 season started in turmoil for Leeds United, with long-serving manager Don Revie departing for the England job and incoming boss Clough’s appointment immediately questioned after he’d regularly criticised the club’s style of play under Revie in the past. Clough’s reign was damned from the start, with the players and supporters not taking to him, combined with terrible form in the league, he lost his job at Elland Road after just 44 days. Former England international Jimmy Armfield came in to steady the ship just before the side started their continental campaign and he managed to guide his new players to the final of the European Cup. Holders Bayern Munich stood in the way and some contentious decisions ended up going in favour of the German side as they retained the trophy with a 2-0 win.
Leicester City: Quarter-final
Leicester City’s remarkable rise from relegation battlers to title winners in 2016 gave them automatic passage to the Champions League and with it a chance to make another impossible dream a reality. However, a poor Premier League campaign and the subsequent departure of manager Claudio Ranieri did little to inspire faith in a long European run. As it turned out, progress to the quarter-finals meant the Foxes ended up going further than any other English side that season.
Our Champions League debut, away in Bruges. pic.twitter.com/3E0eZndlFb
— Leicester City (@LCFC) September 14, 2023
Newcastle United: Second group stage
The Champions League format is changing next season and the last time Newcastle United competed in the competition before this year’s tournament, the path to the final was different too. A second group stage was introduced in 1999 before being abandoned for the 2003/04 campaign. During that period the Magpies recorded their best finish to date, navigating their way through the first group with victory against Juventus and a dramatic late win away at Feyenoord. Barcelona and Inter Milan awaited in the next group and despite coming away from the San Siro with a point, it proved to be the end of the European journey for Bobby Robson’s men.
Tottenham Hotspur: Final
The incredible drama of the Manchester City quarter-final. The late, late comeback in the Ajax semi. Tottenham seemed to have lady luck on their side in the 2018/19 Champions League, nearly 60 years after Bill Nicholson’s Double winners made the club’s first appearance in the competition. Of course, it all went Spursy in the final with star striker Harry Kane not fully fit and a dour performance on the pitch resulting in opponents Liverpool adding another famous European night to their history.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Quarter-final
Manchester United’s youngsters looked set to dominate at home and abroad in the late 50s, but the Munich air disaster left manager Matt Busby with a huge rebuilding job at Old Trafford. Wolves picked up the baton for England in Europe and despite exiting at the first round in 1959, they made it to the quarter-finals the following season, beating Red Star Belgrade on the way, the team the Busby Babes last played before tragedy struck.