Brighton currently sit atop the Premier League table, but how unusual is this and which teams have historically been the league leaders in England?
It’s been a phenomenal start to the 2023-24 Premier League season by Brighton & Hove Albion, securing back-to-back 4-1 wins across the opening two matchdays versus Luton Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The second of those wins – away at Wolves – saw them end Saturday night (19 August 2023) top of the Premier League, a position they will remain in until at least next Saturday (26 August) when they play again.
This is the first time in Brighton’s league history that they have led the English top flight table, despite the weekend victory being their 398th match and 2023-24 their 11th season in the top tier.
In doing so, they became the 31st different team to lead the Premier League table for at least one night since it began in 1992, and the 53rd side to be top at the end of a day in English top-flight history.
Manchester United have ended the most days top of the Premier League table (within seasons), spending 2,362 nights as the team in first place. The bulk of those came under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson, however – 96.7% of them, in fact. Since his retirement at the end of 2012-13 – United’s last league title – the Red Devils have spent only 78 days at the summit of the league, with this being the 11th season since his departure. Two of those days were the opening two of the 2013-14 season under David Moyes, following an opening day 4-1 win at Swansea City – this wasn’t a sign of things to come, however.
Since 2013-14, Man Utd have ended fewer days in season as the team in first place than Manchester City (892), Liverpool (605), Chelsea (602), Arsenal (414) and under half the tally of Leicester City (175).
That first Premier League season without Ferguson as a manager saw United’s rivals City secure their second Premier League title – they spent just 15 days top of the league that season, which is the fewest of any Premier League title winner.
The opposite can be said of Arsenal last season, with the Gunners breaking the all-time English top-flight record for the most days spent top of the league without winning the title (248).
248 – Arsenal led the Premier League table for 248 days in 2022-23, the most for a team who failed to win the title in English top-flight history. Agonising. pic.twitter.com/KR1E2DgjNS— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 20, 2023
Those 248 days contribute towards 8.1% of Arsenal’s total days ended as the league leaders in English top-flight history – the third highest tally across all English clubs.
Again, it’s Manchester United that lead this statistic, with a total of 4,486 nights spent in first place of the English top-flight table since it began in 1888. More of those have come in the 31 years of the Premier League era (52.7%) than in the 104 years before it. They haven’t spent a night top of the league since they last did so on 17 September 2021.
Liverpool have spent the second highest tally of nights at the top of the English top flight (4,038), with the majority of those across the 1970s (803) and 1980s (947). A side note worth mentioning is that Liverpool’s tally is boosted by the 96 days that they spent top of the league while the Premier League took an enforced break for the Covid outbreak in 2019-20. As a result, their 352 nights spent top of the Premier League that season is a record in a single campaign.
Most of the teams within the top 10 for all-time nights spent as the league leaders in the English top flight during seasons won’t come as much of a shock, but Sunderland will surprise some.
Sunderland are one of only nine clubs to have spent over 1,000 days at the top of the league (1,146), with over half of these coming before World War I (644). They also spent 183 days top of the Division One table in 1935-36 – their most in a single season, which brought them their last top-flight league title.
Six current top-flight clubs have never spent a day top of the Premier League: Bournemouth, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Luton Town, Sheffield United and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Of those six clubs, only Bournemouth have failed to spend a single night top of the English top-flight table (no, being AFC Bournemouth and leading the table before a ball is kicked doesn’t count), while Wolves have spent the 12th most days top of the English top-flight table (954), overall. The last time they spent a night top was on 5 October 1962, 11 games into the 1962-63 season.
Two clubs have spent a single day of top-flight history as the leading team in England. The ‘honour’ falls to Hull City – last top following a 2-1 win over reigning champions Leicester City on the opening day of the 2016-17 season, and Wigan Athletic.
Wigan ended 18 August 2007 as the team top of the Premier League – three games into the 2007-08 campaign. After losing the opening game of the season at Everton (2-1), they secured back-to-back home wins over Middlesbrough (1-0) and Sunderland (3-0) to top the league courtesy of goals scored. That one-day run ended on Sunday 19 August as both Chelsea and Man City moved above them in the table.