Norwich (129 days)
Last day top of the Premier League – March 19, 1993
The first club to end a day top of the Premier League table courtesy of anything other than alphabetical order was Mike Walker’s Norwich City. Tipped by many as relegation candidates in 1992, the Canaries stunned Arsenal to win 4-2 on the inaugural league’s opening day. With Coventry beating Middlesbrough, Leeds overcoming Wimbledon and Sheffield United shocking Manchester United all by one goal, Norwich climbed straight to the summit.
They were expected to fall quickly and sharply, yet did no such thing. Chelsea were beaten next at Carrow Road as Norwich proceeded to win 12 of their first 18 league games, ending the calendar year top with a goal difference of zero and a three-point gap over Manchester United and Aston Villa in second and third place respectively.
Both sides leapfrogged Norwich by the first game of 1993, and although they clawed back their advantage by the end of the month with consecutive wins over Crystal Palace and Everton, United would soon assert their dominance. The Canaries had flown so close to the sun, but have been locked in their cages since.
Leeds (159 days)
Last day top of the Premier League – January 11, 2002
One of the best teams never to win a trophy came ever so close in those halycon days under David O’Leary. Leeds never finished lower than 5th from 1997/98 to 2001/02, reaching the FA Cup quarter-final and two European semi-finals in that time. They famously ended the millennium as the Premier League leaders, sitting one point clear of Manchester United as the year 2000 beckoned.
Leeds had been top even before O’Leary’s appointment in 1998. Their first spell in the throne was brief, with three straight wins to open the season under Howard Wilkinson in 1995/96 seeing them go top for just over a week. They then went top for a full day after beating Southampton in O’Leary’s fourth game in charge. Despite not yet returning to the top flight since their 2004 relegation, they have been top of the Premier League for longer than title-winning Leicester (157) and Huddersfield (1) combined.
Aston Villa (162 days)
Last day top of the Premier League – August 13, 1999
The aforementioned tussle with Norwich gave Aston Villa the unlikely taste of a Premier League title race that they managed to sate throughout the years. The Villans topped the table after an opening-day thrashing of QPR in August 1993, ended 1998 with a two-point gap over second-placed Chelsea, then climbed to first again in late 1999, when they opened that season with victories over Newcastle and Everton. John Gregory could not quite keep that pace however, and they soon fell away. Villa have been as high as second in 2014 and third in 2015 since without ever going top this century.
Liverpool (352 days)
Last day top of the Premier League – December 27, 2018
Liverpool first went top of the Premier League on August 22, 1993, with Graeme Souness’s side opening their campaign with wins over Sheffield Wednesday, QPR and Swindon. They spent one whole day on that perch before being knocked off by Manchester United. Twelve months later, Roy Evans dragged them back there briefly with a 6-1 opening-day win over Crystal Palace, while Gerard Houllier managed the feat in both 2001 and 2002. It took Rafael Benitez until 2007 to finally see Liverpool in first, while even Kenny Dalglish had the Reds top for a single day in August 2011.
A 6-1 win over Watford in November 2016 saw Jurgen Klopp head the Premier League table for the first time in his career – a seat he found himself in for a brief period in 2016/17, and now again in December 2018. All in all, only one Liverpool manager has never had them top of the table once. Poor Hodge.
Newcastle (360 days)
Last day top of the Premier League – August 13, 2007
It is almost impressive to spend five days short of an entire year at the top of the Premier League without ever actually winning it. Newcastle have been top of the Premier League for a longer combined time than two winners (Blackburn, 238 days, and Leicester, 157 days), as well as Bolton (38 days), Tottenham (33 days), Portsmouth (9 days), Everton (8 days) and West Ham (1 day).
It all started with Kevin Keegan’s infamous title races – and collapses – but the baton was gamely picked up by Sir Bobby Robson, and even Sam Allardyce at the start of the 2007/08 season. Oh, those heady early days under Mike Ashley’s ownership.