London has a proud history of providing some of the best club football teams to have played the game. The hustle and bustle of the United Kingdom’s capital has seen players from all over the world jostle to represent any number of teams up and down the league structure, with a large number of clubs hailing from the city.
In this article, we will run down the biggest clubs from the Premier League, Championship and League One. We will also look at the biggest London derbies and the most successful clubs in London.
How Many Football Clubs Are There in London?
There are no fewer than 18 London clubs that play at a professional level in London. Some ply their trade at a higher level than others, with the capital boasting European and league champions. At the other end of the scale, there are a number of smaller London clubs that are looking to fight their way up the footballing ladder.
All told, residents of London are spoilt for choice when it comes to who to support. Whether they want to watch Premier League or Championship action, or if they want to visit a smaller stadium and enjoy more grassroots football, the capital of the UK has got them covered. Of all of these teams, who are the most successful, when were they founded and what makes them worthy of support in a city that is bustling with teams?
In the Premier League alone there are currently seven London based clubs.
Founded in 1886, Arsenal are one of the most successful teams in English football. Otherwise known as the Gunners, Arsenal call the Emirates Stadium their home and have been playing there since the 2006/07 season following a move from the legendary football ground; Highbury.
The Gunners have been able to secure 13 First Division/Premier League crowns, with their last Premier League triumph coming back in the 2003/04 season. While Arsenal have threatened to get back to challenging for titles since their last title, they have not yet been able to seal the deal in the league, with the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea still well clear of the side.
Perhaps the most famous iteration of the side came in their last Premier League title-winning season. The squad of the 2003/04 season were dubbed The Invincibles because they went through an entire Premier League season avoiding defeat. 26 wins and 12 draws saw the Gunners onto 90 points, meaning they finished 11 points clear of Chelsea in second.
It was an utterly stunning season for the Gunners as the likes of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Martin Keown all starred across the campaign. These players wrote their names in footballing history, with all of Arsene Wenger’s men enjoying a fairytale season.
Fast forward to the present day, and Arsenal are still battling to return to the glory days of old, but they still seem some way off this. Manager Mikel Arteta is threatening to provide Arsenal with both attacking incision and defensive solidity, with the former in particular missing in recent years for the Gunners. However, there is still a big gap between themselves and Liverpool and Manchester City at the top of the table. Can Arsenal return to battling for the Premier League alongside being a major player in Europe again? Only time will tell.
Founded in 1889, Brentford currently ply their trade in the Premier League after a swashbuckling promotion to the top league in English football. Brentford play their home games at the Brentford Community Stadium which was opened in 2020, meaning they closed the book on a 116-year love affair with Griffin Park. At the time of writing, Brentford have all but secured their safety for the 2022/23 Premier League season with some exceptionally impressive performances across the season.
Brentford have enjoyed some very big wins in the league including a 1-0 win over Arsenal on the opening day of the season, but few matches will have been more impressive than their 4-1 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge as they humiliated the Blues in their own backyard. While Brentford are a side still looking to write their own history in England’s top league, they have impressed upon their admission to the Premier League in 2021/22, and they will look to build upon this in the coming seasons.
Hailing from Stamford Bridge, Chelsea FC are one of the best clubs in the Premier League and Europe. The Blues were the Champions League winners for a second time in 2021 as they beat Manchester City 1-0 in the final in Spain courtesy of a Kai Havertz strike.
Before that, Chelsea had only won one Champions League crown, but what a victory it was. Whether they were in the stadium or watching on from home, few Chelsea fans will ever forget that fateful night in Germany as the Blues beat Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. Major heroes from that game included Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Petr Cech, with the three etching their names into Chelsea and Premier League folklore. John Terry is another that has had a major impact on the league for the club, although this has not always been for the right reasons.
While the Blues are capable of a stunning season one year only to follow it up by an abject one the next, Chelsea have become a mainstay of the upper-echelons of the Premier League and Europe. Six First Division/Premier League titles, eight FA Cups, five League Cups, two Champions League trophies, two Europa League crowns and a Club World Cup victory make up just some of their accolades, with Chelsea the most successful club in London by virtue of the fact they have won everything on offer to them.
Crystal Palace are a side that have become a mainstay of the Premier League and are looking to work their way up the table with each and every season they spend in the league. With Selhurst Park as their home, Palace call upon their 25,486 passionate fans to roar them on in each game they are at home, with Palace’s supporters among the best in the league.
Former-Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira is the current manager of the London side and he is threatening to force his side to break into the European spots in the league. However, it is likely that he will need continued support from those above him, with financial backing the only thing that will help to close the gap between Palace and the sides above them.
As far as major titles go, Palace have not ever been able to win the top tier of English football, with their best finish in the First Division coming in the 1990/91 season, where they finished third. Other than that, Palace have won the Championship in 1978/79 and 1993/94. Ending as runners-up in the FA Cup in 1989/90 and 2015/16 is the closest they have gotten to silverware outside of the Championship.
For Palace, the fact they have gotten so close to the FA Cup in the last decade is promising for them as they continue to prove that the magic of the cup is still alive. However, any side outside of the top six needs a huge amount of help to win any cup, with the gap between the best sides in England and every other team in the league massive.
Tottenham Hotspur have been a member of the big six for some time now, but they have not quite been able to seal the deal when it comes to winning titles and trophies in recent years. Of course, Spurs were able to lift the First Division crown in 1950/51 and 1960/61 along with eight FA Cups, but the latest of these came in 1991.
A League Cup crown back in 2008 was the last piece of silverware they were able to pick up, with their trophy drought only looking like it will get longer. With the likes of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son currently running out for them each week, Spurs have a number of very talented footballers in their squad. However, this has not been something they can transfer into trophies.
Consistently disappointing campaigns in England and Europe have resulted in near-misses or early exits, with Spurs unable to match the success of their big rivals in Chelsea and Arsenal. Perhaps now with the stunning Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as their home, Spurs can prove to their rivals and all 62,850 fans they can cram into the stadium that they are on the cusp of being competitive at the top once again.
Established in 1898, Watford have been a side that have battled in the Premier League for some time now, but they are perhaps most famous for music mega-star Elton John becoming their chairman in 1976.
An appearance in the 2019 FA Cup final was a very promising campaign for Watford up until they fell apart in the final. A 6-0 demolition at the hands of Manchester City saw Watford denied even a sniff of the cup as the gap between themselves and the best teams was exposed. Currently managed by former-England man, Roy Hodgson, the Hornets are languishing in the relegation zone at the time of writing as they stare down the barrel of a return to the Championship.
While dropping to the Championship will be seen as a major failure for Watford, it may not be the worst thing that could happen to the side. After all, dropping down to the second tier of English football provides a good chance to reevaluate and drop any dead weight in the side.
While the fans that pack into Vicarage Road will want to see Watford playing at the top level next season, they may have to remain contented with battling for a top spot in the Championship next year.
West Ham United
West Ham have been a side that always seem on the cusp of battling for European places but ultimately struggle to then close the gap between themselves and the top six. Founded in 1895 as Thames Ironworks, West Ham rebranded to the side we currently see today in 1900. Now playing their home games at the London Stadium, the Hammers are building towards breaking up the top six, with the misfiring sides above them now within their reach.
West Ham have been able to win silverware by winning the Championship in 1957/58 and 1980/81, and they have secured three FA Cups. While the Hammers are hardly the most prolific team in London, they are slowly edging towards seriously contending with the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham whenever they play.
In the Championship League, there are three London clubs.
Fulham are a side that were founded in 1879, meaning they are the oldest club in London. Despite holding the accolade of the oldest club in the capital, Fulham have not ever been able to win a major trophy. The closest they got to silverware came in a 1975 FA Cup final loss to West Ham, while they were beaten by Atletico Madrid in the 2010 Europa League final.
Founded in 1885, Millwall are known as a fiery football club that were made even more famous by the film Green Street. Their biggest achievement came when they reached the 2004 FA Cup Final, with this providing them with passage into European competition. Despite this, Millwall have played most of their football in the second and third tier of English football.
Queen Park Rangers
Known widely as QPR, Queens Park Rangers were founded in 1882. The side have won a League Cup, which came back in 1967 but, since then, they have had to settle for some short stints in the Premier League, plying their trade mostly in the Championship in recent years. Calling Loftus Road their home, QPR are very central geographically in London.
In League 1, you’ll find two London clubs with a host of other professional teams.
Having been founded in 1905 and playing their football at the Valley, Charlton Athletic have enjoyed stints in the Premier League as they became a mainstay of the competition between 2001 and 2007. With an FA Cup victory in 1947, Charlton do have some silverware to their name, but since relegation from the Premier League in 2007, they have moved between the Championship and League One.
Established in 2002, Wimbledon were set up by fans of the old club after their team moved to Milton Keynes. After starting out at the bottom of the English football pyramid, Wimbledon now play in League 1 in front of their fans at Kingsmeadow.
Other London Based Teams
Alongside the above sides, all of Leyton Orient, Sutton United, Barnet, Bromley, Dagenham & Redbridge and Wealdstone also play in London, meaning there are a total of 18 professional London based teams.
Which Is the Most Successful Club in London?
Ultimately, this question comes down to two teams. Chelsea and Arsenal have continued to battle one another for silverware as the two sides build upon a brilliant rivalry. While Chelsea may have taken strides forward over the last two decades, have they been able to overtake Arsenal yet?
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* Stats correct as of April 2022
By the above metric alone, Arsenal are the most successful club in London. When only taking into account the seven pieces of above silverware, with those seen as the biggest on offer to an English club, the Gunners remain the most successful side.
With the exception of the FA Cup, most of Arsenal’s trophies came many years ago. Chelsea, meanwhile, won the Champions League in 2021, with this proving to be their last piece of silverware. While Arsenal are currently the most successful, Chelsea have clearly been the best over the past two decades, and few would bet against them overtaking Arsenal in the trophy-winning standings soon.
The Biggest London Rivalries
With so many big team names in the Big Smoke, comes big rivalries, as well. Here we detail some of the biggest rivalries in London.
Arsenal vs Tottenham
Whenever Arsenal play Tottenham, it is a feisty affair. The north London derby has seen some incredibly entertaining games at pivotal points in different seasons across the history of the sides, while it has also seen its fair share of flashpoints too.
For older Arsenal fans, one match that would stick out came when the Gunners secured the 1971 First Division title at White Hart Lane. Meanwhile, for Spurs, their 5-0 humiliation of Arsenal back in 1983 was a big highlight. The highest scoring derby between the pair came back in 2004, when Arsenal defeated Spurs 5-4 at White Hart Lane in a pulsating affair. At the time of writing, Harry Kane is the top scorer in north London derbies with 11 goals.
Chelsea vs Everyone
The fortunes of Chelsea over the last 20 years has been difficult to stomach for some clubs, with the money pumped into the side helping to see the Blues win everything. While it has been claimed that the fans of Chelsea are not amongst the most passionate in football, they have been treated to some sublime football teams and truly world-class players.
With this in mind, rivalries between Chelsea and Tottenham, Arsenal, Fulham and QPR have intensified. Of course, matches with QPR and Fulham have been few and far between as the two sides have not been able to cement their place in the Premier League. This means that the Blues have focussed on their rivalries with Arsenal and Tottenham instead. While the Gunners and Spurs will see their own rivalry as their biggest focus, both sides have had fiery and bad-tempered run-uns with Chelsea in the past.
‘Battle of the Bridge’
One of the most famous of these battles came in the ‘Battle of the Bridge’. Back in 2016, Tottenham arrived at Stamford Bridge knowing they had to win if they were to maintain their faint hopes of winning the league title. Rivals, much like older siblings, always have other ideas. The Blues produced a stunning performance that coupled some brilliant goals with some incredibly aggressive tactics. However, it was Spurs that were the worst offenders in the game, committing a total of 20 fouls as they completely lost their composure.
In the end, there were 12 yellow cards, with nine of those being shown to Tottenham’s players. Ugly scenes continued after the final whistle after goals from Gary Cahill and Eden Hazard helped Chelsea come back from 2-0 down. While the Blues would not want to have been so far out of title-winning contention, they will have taken some solace in the fact they were the side to deny Tottenham the title and hand the trophy to Leicester.
Millwall vs West Ham United
While the other sides will all feel they have fierce derbies to look forward to each season, none are as explosive as Millwall vs West Ham. Historically known as the Dockers derby, the two sides were founded by port workers. The rivalry itself comes down to the fact that fans of the clubs see football as a way of life rather than just a game. This sees incredibly fiery confrontations both on and off the field and has resulted in ugly scenes all too often.
For fans of the club, the fact that West Ham and Millwall play in the Premier League and Championship respectively has deprived them of the chance to enjoy this rivalry. With no signs that West Ham will be relegated or that Millwall will gain promotion, the FA Cup and League Cup will be the only way these two sides meet, although the chances of this happening remain slim.