The 5 English Football Clubs to Have Pulled Off a Chicago Bulls-Style 'Three-Peat'

21 May 2020 05:34

Those who have been watching The Last Dance these past few weeks will be well versed in the inner details of how Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, coach Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls won three NBA championships back-to-back on two separate occasions in the 1990s.


Even if you haven’t seen that excellent series it’s likely you’ll still be aware just how dominant the Bulls were during those two ‘three-peat’ streaks – 1991-1993 and 1996-1998.


Only the LA Lakers, also coached by Jackson, have ever pulled off a ‘three-peat’ since.


The achievement of back-to-back-to-back titles has been almost as rare in English football over the last 132 years. It has only been done five times, and by just four different clubs.


Here’s a closer look at every ‘three-peat’ in English football league history.



Huddersfield Town (1923/24, 1924/25, 1925/26)


Huddersfield FC

In the earliest years of the Football League, plenty of teams had successfully retained the championship from one season to the next – Preston, Sunderland, Aston Villa (twice), The Wednesday (Sheffield Wednesday to you and me) and Liverpool.


But no one had ever done three in a row until Huddersfield in the mid-1920s.


Legendary manager Herbert Chapman oversaw the start of that streak. The Yorkshireman was a visionary and pioneer, credited as one of the earliest forms of the modern ‘manager’ football fans today would recognise, evolving the role beyond that of a mere trainer.


He was a tactical innovator, a firm believer in physical fitness and recovery, and looked beyond his own shores for inspiration at a time when English football was infamously insular.


Chapman was actually banned by the FA in 1918 along with several officials when Leeds City were expelled from the Football League. Huddersfield was his first job since then and he guided the Terriers to FA Cup glory in his maiden season back in the game.


From there, league titles in 1923/24 and 1924/25 followed. But while he was preparing to go for a third, Chapman instead moved to Arsenal on an improved salary. Cecil Potter was appointed successor at Huddersfield and the club won its third straight title.


Huddersfield were denied four in a row when they finished second under new manager Jack Chaplin behind Newcastle in 1926/27. They were also runners-up twice more in 1927/28 and 1933/34 and have never flown as high since.



Arsenal (1932/33, 1933/34, 1934/35)


Arsenal 1932

Chapman started another historic winning streak at new club Arsenal the following decade. In his very first season in London he took a Gunners side that had finished 20th the previous year up to second behind only his former Huddersfield side.


Chapman led Arsenal to a first ever major trophy in 1929/30 in the shape of the FA Cup, while he delivered a first ever league title in 1930/31. Everton pipped the Gunners to the title the following season but they were back on top in 1932/33, only for tragedy to strike.


Chapman’s legacy and lasting impact on English football was even more pronounced during his years at Arsenal than it had been at Huddersfield, becoming an advocate for floodlights, white footballs, and numbers on kits. He is even credited with the idea for teams competing in the FA Cup final to walk out onto the pitch together before kick-off.


He was cruelly denied the opportunity to retain Arsenal’s league title when he contracted pneumonia in January 1934 and died within a few days of falling ill. He was just 55 years of age.


Arsenal were top of the table the day Chapman died and held onto their lead under caretaker manager Joe Shaw to claim the 1933/34 title, finishing ahead of Huddersfield.


George Allison was appointed new permanent boss at the end of the season and delivered the club’s third straight league title in 1934/35 to match Huddersfield’s run a decade earlier.


Arsenal won the FA Cup in 1935/36 and another league title in 1937/38, but they have retained a title since that ‘three-peat’ in the 1930s.



Liverpool (1981/82, 1982/83, 1983/84)


Liverpool League Champions 1983/84

Liverpool came close to winning three league titles in a row in the late 1970s, losing out to Nottingham Forest in 1977/78 after being crowned in each of the previous two seasons. Given that they won two more straight after, that season was all that denied them five in a row.


But three in a row did come soon after. Bob Paisley was the manager who had overseen the club’s previous four league titles and delivered another in 1980/81, the same season in which Liverpool also won a third European Cup in the space five years.


It also coincided with the rise of superstar number nine Ian Rush.


Liverpool retained the league title in 1982/83, with Rush bettering his goalscoring tally from the season before. Paisley then stepped down as manager in the summer of 1983, ending 44 years as a player, coach and manager, to be replaced by assistant Joe Fagan.


Liverpool won a third successive league title in 1983/84, as well as also capturing another European Cup by beating Roma on penalties in the continental final.


Liverpool’s dominance at that time was such that in 10 seasons between 1981 and 1991 they never finished lower than second in the league, and won further titles in 1985/86, 1987/88 and 1989/90.



Manchester United (1998/99, 1999/00, 2000/01)


Manchester United Premier League champions 2000/01

Three clubs – Huddersfield, Arsenal and Liverpool – had won done an English league ‘three-peat’ by the turn of the new millennium as the Premier League era took hold, but still no single manager had ever overseen back-to-back-to-back titles.


Sir Alex Ferguson was the first to achieve that feat when Manchester United won three in a row in the late 1990s and into the early 2000s.


The first of those was the iconic treble year that saw the club become the first and still only English side to win a league title, FA Cup and European Cup/Champions League in one season.


Where they had been pushed all the way by Arsenal in the Premier League in 1998/99, United turned the screw in 1999/00 and won the title by a record margin, while also setting new records for points and goals scored in the process.


Another record for title win with most games to spare followed in 2000/01.


However, United were unable to sustain it any longer. Combined with the upheaval and uncertainty thrown up by Ferguson’s intended 2002 retirement, they slumped to third in 2001/02, which was a lowest league finish since the 1990/91 campaign.



Manchester United (2006/07, 2007/08, 2008/09)


Manchester United players celebrate

United doubled their achievement and in the late 2000s became the first and only English club to win three consecutive league titles on two different occasions.


By 2006, Ferguson had assembled a new team, combining the vibrant youth of emerging superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney with the leadership and experience of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, all built on a rock solid defensive foundation.


United had to wrestle the Premier League title back from Chelsea in 2006/07, doing so in emphatic fashion. The title race was much closer in 2007/08, but again United prevailed over Chelsea and then also beat the Blues in the Champions League final as well.


Ronaldo had been persuaded to stay in the summer of 2008 amid serious interest from Real Madrid and his decision was vindicated when United saw off still competition from Liverpool in the 2008/09 title race to equal their north west rival’s overall league title record of 18.


Even without Ronaldo, United were so close to potentially seven in a row, missing out by a single point in 2009/10 and on goal difference in 2011/12, interspersed with wins in 2010/11 and 2012/13.



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Source: 90min