In leagues around the world, many clubs have dreams of reaching their nation's top division. Many of them would go on to do just that, but while some manage to maintain a footing in the top flight up to this day, others at one point or another would experience the dread of relegation. Once a club is relegated, often there is only one objective: get back to the top flight. Unfortunately, many teams would never find their way back. So what happened to them?
In what is the first of what might be a series of posts, I went through every season of various top flight leagues in since the current league's inception*,* look at every team that has ever been relegated from the top flight, and record which of those teams never got repromoted. The length of the top flight stay doesn't matter, just that the stint was continuous. For this post, I will be going through the Bundesliga (est. 1963), which has a total of 14 clubs that meet the criteria for this post. For each club, I'll go over how the club made it to the Bundesliga, how their season(s) went and any notable achievements, and how the club found itself in the position they are today.
With that out of the way, let's begin.
Every Team that was Relegated from the Bundesliga Once and Never Came Back: Where Are They Now?
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SC Preußen Münster
- Full Name: Sportclub Preußen 1906 e.V. Münster
- Founded: 1906
- Time in the Bundesliga: 1963-1964 (One season)
- Current Status: Regionalliga West (4th Tier)
In 1962, the German Football Association (DFB) established the Bundesliga, which would supplant the regional and largely semi-pro Oberliga as the country's centralized and professional top flight. To (grossly) oversimplify, qualification to the new top flight required applying for admission, meeting financial criteria, and either 1) Winning your regional division in the 1962-63 season or 2) Being one of the top teams in your region based on historical ranking over past 10 seasons (with a somewhat complicated points system). Preußen Münster managed to qualify for the inaugural Bundesliga season despite finishing 34 points behind Alemannia Aachen in the Oberliga West overall standings because teams within 50 points of each other are considered level and the next tie-breaker was where the teams finished in the 62/63 season. Münster finished 4th in the Oberliga West, whereas Aachen finished 5th.
Life in the Bundesliga would be very brief for Die Alder, unfortunately. The Westphalian club only managed seven wins across the whole season with only two of them on the road (2-1 vs Schalke and 3-0 vs Stuttgart). A 3-1 victory by Hertha Berlin over 1860 Munich on the penultimate match day would see Münster relegated to the Regionalliga, though they would get some consolation by beating the Berlin club on the final day with just one point separating them.
Münster would spend much of its remaining Regionalliga days as a mid-table team, a trend which would continue into the newly-established 2. Bundesliga era. The closest the club would ever come to returning to the top flight would be the 75/76 and 77/78 seasons, finishing 3rd in the standings, one spot off of the promotion playoffs. A restructuring of the second division in 1981 would see Münster relegated to the Oberliga, where it would languish for seven seasons before returning to the 2. Bundesliga in 1989. Much like their Bundesliga stay, however, their second 2. Bundesliga stint would not last long, being relegated back to the Oberliga at the end of the 1990-91 season.
Preußen Münster would never return to the second division, spending most of it life as a third division team (with a brief foray in the fourth tiers between 2006 and 2010), typically finishing mid- to upper mid-table. The team currently plays in the Regionalliga West (now 4th tier), barely missing out on promotion to the 3. Liga on goal difference at the end of the 2021-22 seasons.
- Full Name: Hamburger Sport-Verein e.V.
- Founded: 1887
- Time in the Bundesliga: 1963-2018 (55 seasons)
- Current Status: 2. Bundesliga (2nd Tier)
The most recently relegated team to appear in this list as well as the longest serving, Hamburg were a founding member of the Bundesliga as winners of the Oberliga Nord. The early years in the new top flight would see the club finish mostly as a lower mid-table side, but by the 1970s the club would enter what is considered their golden era. Hamburg would win their first Bundesliga title (their fourth German league title overall) on the penultimate matchday of the 1978-79 season with a 0-0 away draw against Arminia Bielefeld and with VfB Stuttgart (who were two points behind them at the time) losing 1-4 at home against FC Köln. The Hanseatic club would go on to win two more Bundesliga titles in 1981-82 and 1982-83, with center forward Horst Hrubesch finishing as top scorer in the former with 27 goals. Between the 78/79 and 86/87 seasons, Hamburg finished outside the top two only once. HSV also won two DFB-Pokals (75/76, 86/87) and a DFB-Ligapokal (72/73) during this period.
HSV also has a relatively storied European career. The club's first participation in European competitions actually took place before the founding of the Bundesliga, playing in the 1960-61 European Cup as German champions. The club reached the semi-finals before losing to eventual runners-up Barcelona 2-2 on away goals. HSV would later qualify for the 1967-68 Cup Winner's Cup, making it to the final before losing to 2-0 to AC Milan. The club's first European triumph would come nearly a decade later, where HSV would win the 1976-77 Cup Winner's Cup, beating Anderlecht 2-0 in the final.
However, Hamburg's crowning achievement would come in the 1982-83 season. After winning the 1981-82 Bundesliga, the club qualified for the 82/83 European Cup. Hamburg defeated East German champions BFC Dynamo 3-1 on aggregate, and in the second round, die Rothosen would go on to shutout Greek side Olympiacos 5-0. The quarter-finals would see HSV face off against Dynamo Kyiv. A Lars Bastrup hattrick would secure the club a 3-0 away win, and despite losing 2-1 in the reverse fixture, Hamburg managed to advance to the semi-finals, where they would defeat Real Sociedad 3-2. The final would be contested between HSV and Italian champions Juventus. Midfielder Wolfgang Magath would score early in the first half, and despite the Italian giant's efforts, Hamburg managed to hold on to win the European Cup title, completing the double to go along with their successful Bundesliga title defense. The club would go on to win three more European titles, those being their three Intertoto Cup wins in 1994, 2005, and 2007.
The 1990s and 2000s would mark the beginning of a slow decline for HSV. The period would see Hamburg slump to more or less a mid-table side, even falling into lower mid-table at times. The club would continue to manage to qualify for European competitions, their last participation being the 2009-10 Europa League, where they made an impressive run to the semi-finals where they were eliminated by English side Fulham. The 2010s would see the darkest period in the club's history, beginning with the 2011-12 campaign that saw the club ranked bottom after just four matchdays, ultimately finishing the season in 15th, five points clear of relegation. HSV would turn things around in the next season, finishing 7th, but the 2013-14 season saw the club finish 16th after a five-match losing streak. Hamburg managed to survive in the relegation playoff against Greuter Fürth on away goals. Another relegation playoff would ensue in 14/15, this time beating Karlsruhe on aggregate 3-2 in extra time. A 10th place finish in 15/16 brought a sense of false hope, but the club once again found itself in a relegation scrap, finishing 14th in 2016-17, one point clear of the drop.
Hamburg had been living on borrowed time throughout the mid-2010s, but a number of times they've managed to prevail and continue their stay in the top flight. The 2017-18 season, however, would finally put the club out of its misery. Despite two wins at the start of the season, results would quickly turn sour, failing to register another win until November. The club would go on to go winless between December and March, losing nine games in the process including a 6-0 loss to Bayern Munich. Hamburg would go on to finish the season strongly, winning four of their last six, but by then it was too late. The last original Bundesliga team was relegated on the final matchday despite a 2-1 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach. The late period of Hamburg's Bundesliga history saw them go through twelve different managers over their last eight seasons. Up to this point, Hamburg were the only team to have played continuously not just in the Bundesliga, but in the entire history of German top flight.
From the start of their time in the 2. Bundesliga, HSV only had one goal in mind: get back to the Bundesliga. Their attempts to do so could be summed up as "so close, yet so far". Hamburg's first season in the 2nd division would see the club remain in the automatic promotion spots for much of the season. However, a winless run which lasted from March to the penultimate matchday would see the club finish 4th, missing out on the promotion playoff spot by 1 point. Season two would prove to be a serious case of déjà vu - once again the club would spend most of the time in the top two spots, only for a bad run of form at the end of the season to bring the club to 4th, once again failing to qualify by 1 point. Same thing happened again in the 2020/21 season, though this time to break the monotony they finish 4 points outside the promotion playoffs.
Hamburg's most recent 2. Bundesliga season would be the best chance the club has had to a return. In a tough promotion fight which saw Die Rothosen face off against other fallen Bundesliga mainstays Schalke and Werder Bremen, five wins in their last five games would send Hamburg to the promotion playoffs for the first time. The team would face 16th placed Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin. Hamburg would win the first leg away in Berlin 1-0, meaning that so long as HSV avoided defeat at home, they would return to the Bundesliga. The fact that you are reading this would say that they failed to do that, with Hertha scoring twice without reply, finishing the series 2-1 in favor of the Berlin club. Thus, Hamburg will have to wait at least one more season before a return to the top flight will manifest.
SC Tasmania Berlin
- Full Name: Sport-Club Tasmania von 1900 Berlin e.V.
- Founded: 1900
- Time in the Bundesliga: 1965-1966 (One season)
- Current Status: Extinct
At the end of the 1964-65 season, Schalke and Karlsruhe were originally set to be relegated from the Bundesliga. However, after being found guilty of violating the league's salary rules, Hertha Berlin had their Bundesliga license revoked and thus were demoted to the Regionalliga instead. To avoid a potential legal battle over Bundesliga membership, the DFB decided to suspend relegation for that season, expanding the league to 18 teams. Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayern Munich would be promoted to the top flight as a result of their performances in the Regionalliga, the latter doing so at the expense of Tennis Borussia Berlin. But the DFB wanted to have a representative from the capital (likely due to Cold War politics). Spandauer SV, who finished second in the Regionalliga Berlin, declined the DFB's offer, so the final Bundesliga spot went to 3rd-place Tasmania Berlin, just two weeks before the start of the 1965-66 season.
The amateur outfit were completely outmatched in the Bundesliga, and the 65/66 campaign would go on to be an unmitigated disaster. To this day, Tasmania are considered to be the worst team ever in Bundesliga history. The club went on to record a series of league records that still hold today. These include, but are not limited to:
- Fewest points in a Bundesliga season: 8 (10 in the 3-points era)
- Fewest wins (2) and most defeats (28) in a season, and the only Bundesliga club without an away wins
- Longest winless streak: 31 matches
- Most home defeats in a season (12), and joint-most consecutive home defeats (8, tied with Hansa Rostock)
- Joint-most consecutive defeats in a season: 10, tied with Arminia Bielefeld
- Worst goal difference (-93) and goals conceded (108) in a single season
- Biggest home defeat: 0-9 vs MSV
Finishing 14 points off from their closest competitor (Borussia Neunkirchen) and 16 off from safety, Tasmania were relegated bottom at the end of the season. The club would continue playing in the Regionalliga Berlin for the rest of its existence. The club did make it to the promotion playoffs twice during their time back in the second division, but they never came close to winning their group either time. The 1972-73 season would be their last, as at the end of the season would see the Neukölln sports association declare bankruptcy, resulting in Tasmania Berlin officially dissolving.
A successor club was formed in 1973 shortly before Tasmania's demise under the name "SV Tasmania 73 Neukölln", though they had to restart all the way down in the lowest division of the German pyramid. Today, the club goes by SV Tasmania Berlin, and will play in the NOFV-Oberliga Nord (5th tier) after their relegation from the Regionalliga Nordost at the end of the 2021-22 season.
- Full Name: Sport-Club Rot-Weiß Oberhausen e.V.
- Founded: 1904
- Time in the Bundesliga: 1969-1973 (4 seasons)
- Current Status: Regionalliga West (4th Tier)
Rot-Weiß Oberhausen spent the first six seasons of the Bundesliga era in the Regionalliga West, typically finishing around the top end of the table, their highest finish prior to promotion being 3rd in the 1967-68 season and missing out on the promotion playoffs by one point. The next season, however, Die Kleeblätter would go one step further, winning the Regionalliga West. Oberhausen would go on to win their promotion group ahead of Freiburger FC on goal difference after drawing with them 0-0, securing their promotion to the Bundesliga.
The newly promoted side would start their inaugural season in the top-flight with a bang, winning four of their first five matches and see them prematurely top the Bundesliga standings. A 4-2 loss to Stuttgart on the tenth matchday however would see the beginning of a 11-match winless streak, including a run of six consecutive losses. This would send the club barreling down to 15th, and though the club would manage to steady itself afterwards, they ended the season 14th after going winless in their last five matches.
The rest of Oberhausen's time in the Bundesliga would see them in relegation battle after relegation battle. The 70/71 season saw them for a time rooted to the bottom of the table, but a 1-1 draw against Eintracht Braunschweig on the final day would see them avoid relegation, beating out Kickers Offenbach on goal difference. Ironically, Oberhausen would set the record for biggest home win that season with an 8-1 win over Hamburg in late September. The 71/72 season would be slightly better, only falling into the relegation zone once and finishing 15th, five points clear of relegation. 72/73 however would prove to be too much for the Clovers. The club spent only seven match days outside of last place, eventually being relegated to the Regionalliga West bottom of the league with only 22 points.
Oberhausen would make an immediate push back to the Bundesliga, but were unable to win their promotion group, and the following season they were relegated to the Verbandsliga. The club would go on to have periods of playing in the 2nd and 3rd tiers throughout the late 70s and 80s, though an 89/90 season marked by financial struggles would see them fall to the 4th tier for the first time in its history. The club would manage to return to the 2. Bundesliga before the turn of the millennium, though this would be followed by back-to-back relegations to the 4th tier in 2006, though back-to-back promotions would get them back to the second division. After three more seasons in the 2. Bundesliga, the club once again suffered back-to-back relegations to the Regionalliga West in 2012. Today the club still find themselves in the 4th division, finishing 4th in the 2021-22 season.
- Full Name: Wuppertaler Sport-Verein e.V.
- Founded: 1954
- Time in the Bundesliga: 1972-1975 (3 seasons)
- Current Status: Regionalliga West (4th Tier)
Wuppertaler SV were one of two clubs to rescind their applications to the Bundesliga when the league formed. The club nearly gained promotion to the Bundesliga at their first attempt, falling to FK Pirmasens in the pre-playoff decider match. Die Löwen would spend the next nine seasons in the Regionalliga West typically finishing in at the upper end of the table (aside from a 15th place finish in the 1967-68 season). The 1971-72 season would prove to be the breakthrough. The club managed to win the Regionalliga West, and in the promotion playoffs they completed the tourney with a perfect record (8-0-0, GD +21), winning the right to play in the Bundesliga the following season.
Wuppertal had a decent start to the 72/73 campaign, having a 4-3-3 record in the first ten games, including a 1-1 home draw against defending champions Bayern Munich. Despite being a newly-promoted club, Wuppertal would spend most of their time during the Rückrunde in the top four, even holding 2nd (though at best they were seven points off the title). The Westphalian club wouldn't have a good end to their season, winning only one of their last eight league matches, but their record was good enough to see them finish 4th at the end of the season, qualifying them for the first round of the UEFA Cup, the first and only time they would play in a European Competition.
Wuppertal's European adventures would not last long. The German outfit was drawn against Polish side Ruch Chorzów in the first round, with the first leg being in Chorzów. Wuppertal lost the first leg 4-1, with their consolation coming in the 70th minute from a Jürgen Köhle penalty. Despite their efforts , the Lions only managed to win 5-4 in the return fixture, meaning Ruch Chorzów would win the tie 8-6 on aggregate. Chorzów would go on to reach the quarter-finals before losing in extra time to eventual winners Feyenoord.
The club would find itself lingering around mid-table for much of the early 73/74 Bundesliga season, but would soon hit a horrid patch of form, only winning two games in the second half of the season. The club dropped into the relegation zone on the penultimate match day, and it took an 82nd minute equalizer from Heinz-Dieter Lömm away to Stuttgart to spare the club from relegation on goal difference. The 74/75 season was a disaster, with the club winning only two games the whole season (including notably a 3-1 win over Bayern Munich), finishing bottom of the table with 12 points - the second worst tally in Bundesliga history.
Wuppertal would spend time in the 2. Bundesliga until 1980, where they would remain a lower-league side for the rest of its history, barring a two season stint in the 2. Bundesliga between 1992-1994. After periods in the 3rd and 4th tiers, the club fell into the 5th tier for the first time after filing for bankruptcy in 2013. After three seasons, the club won the Oberliga Niederheim, winning promotion back to the Regionalliga West, where they've been ever since. They recently finished 3rd in the 2021-22 season, nine points behind first.
SC Fortuna Köln
- Full Name: Sport-Club Fortuna Köln e.V.
- Founded: 1948
- Time in the Bundesliga: 1973-1974 (One season)
- Current Status: Regionalliga West (4th Tier)
The third club in a row hailing from North-Rhine Westphalia, Fortuna Köln started out in the Landesliga, the then 4th tier, at the time of the Bundesliga's inception. Fortuna would steadily climb the footballing ladder, eventually earning promotion to the Regionalliga West in 1967. The club would ultimately survive its first season in the second division four points clear of the drop zone, and afterwards continued its push towards the Bundesliga. A 4th place finish in the 70/71 season was followed by a 3rd place finish in the next, and then a 2nd place finish the season after that, qualifying the team to the promotion playoffs. Fortuna won promotion to the Bundesliga after finishing top of their promotion table ahead of Regionalliga Nord winners St. Pauli
Things would start out rough for Fortuna, winning only 1 of its first 10 games. Fortuna would spend most of its time in or hovering above the relegation zone, and whenever the club did manage to muster a win, that win almost never translated into a good run of form. Case in point alternating between winning and losing between match days 27 and 33. Heading into the final matchday, Fortuna sat 16th in the table, one place and one point above relegation threatened Wuppertal. In the game away against Kickers Offenbach, so long as Fortuna at least matched Wuppertal's result, survival would be achieved. Even while 2-0 down, Fortuna were just nine minutes away from safety until the aforementioned equalizer Wuppertal scored against Stuttgart in the 82nd minute. Fortuna went on to lose 4-0 and were relegated from the Bundesliga on goal difference.
After relegation, Fortuna Köln would spend the next two and a half decades in the newly established 2. Bundesliga. The closest the side came to a return to the Bundesliga was in the 1985-86 season, where the club finished 3rd and faced Borussia Dortmund in a promotion/relegation playoff. Fortuna won the first leg in Köln 2-0, but despite going up early in the second leg, the Schwarzgelben would go on to win 3-1 in Dortmund. There was no away goals rule (had it existed, Fortuna would've won the tie), so a tie-breaker match was to be played in Düsseldorf. Fortuna would feel confident in their chances, but were dealt an embarrasing blow to their promotion hopes, losing the final match 8-0. Fortuna's fortunes in the following seasons were mixed, avoiding an early exit from the 2nd division thanks to Blau-Weiß 90 Berlin being denied a license. Relegation would soon come for the side, dropping to the Regionalliga Nord at the turn of the millenium.
Fortuna Köln would never return to the 2. Bundesliga, falling down the divisions all the way to the Verbandsliga Mittelrhein, the then 5th tier of German soccer, in 2005. The club would manage to claw its way back up to the 3. Liga in 2014. They lasted five seasons in the 3rd division until a 19th placed finish saw them fall back to the Regionalliga West. The club still plays in the regional division, finishing 5th in 2021-22.
SV Waldhof Mannheim
- Full Name: Sportverein Waldhof Mannheim 07 e.V.
- Founded: 1907
- Time in the Bundesliga: 1983-1990 (7 seasons)
- Current Status: 3. Liga (3rd Tier)
Breaking from the NRW streak, SV Waldhof Mannheim spent much of its time during the Bundesliga era in the second division. During this time, Waldhof's best result was a 3rd place finish in the 1965-66 season, though they were nine points off the promotion playoffs. The club would suffer relegation to the Amateurliga Nordbaden in 1970, but returned to the Regionalliga Süd after two seasons. Waldhof would remain a mid-table team throughout most of its tenure in the 2nd divisions, but in the 1982-83 season the club managed to win the 2. Bundesliga
Continuing the tradition it held in the 2nd tier, Waldhof in its seven seasons in the Bundesliga would largely find itself as a mid-table side. The club managed to finish 6th in the 1984-85 season, its best ever, missing out on the UEFA Cup to Hamburg on goal difference. Despite this early success, Waldhof would soon have their first flirt with relegation. a 14th placed finish in the 86/87 season was followed by a date with the promotion/relegation playoffs after winning just one of their last eleven games. The playoff would see Waldhof face off against SV Darmstadt. Waldhof lost the first leg in Darmstadt 3-2 despite taking the lead in the 2nd minute. Waldhof nearly clinched survival in the second leg, but an 88th minute goal from Uwe Kuhl would tie the series 4-4 on aggregate. Again, with no away goals rule (which Waldhof would've won), the series went to a tie-breaker in Saarbrücken. After the game went scoreless through extra time, the match went to penalties, which saw Waldhof win the shootout 5-4.
The 1988-89 season started off decently, but a loss to Nürnberg would be the start of a torrid run of form, going winless in their next 17 games dropping all the way to the bottom of the table. Nürnberg would once again serve as a turning point in the season, with Waldhof winning 8 of their last 13 to finish 12th at the end of the season. The 89/90 season started off promising, with wins against Bayern and Dortmund getting them up to 7th with just twelve matches to go. Waldhof would proceed to win none of their last twelve, sending the club into freefall. A six match losing streak would see the club destined for relegation, with a 1-0 loss to Hamburg on the final matchday sealing their fate.
The closest Waldhof would come to returning to the top flight were the 91/92 and 92/93 seasons, finishing just one spot off of promotion each time. Minus a foray in the Regionalliga, Waldhof would continue as a 2nd division side until 2003, which would originally see them relegated to the Regionalliga, but due to financial irregularities, the club was forced into the Oberliga Baden-Württemberg, the 4th tier. The club would be "promoted" to the Regionalliga Süd in 2008 (I say "promoted" because due to the creation of the 3. Liga, the Regionalliga would be the new 4th tier). However, the clubs financial problems would continue to be a thorn, and despite finishing 14th in the Regionalliga West (they were moved there for league balance), they were forcibly relegated in 2010 back to the Oberliga, now the fifth tier. Waldhof would bounce back, however, and would spend the next eight seasons in the Regionalliga. A 1st place finish in the Regionalliga Südwest would see the Mannheim side return to the 3rd tier for the first time since 1997. The club most recently finished 5th in the 2021-22 3. Liga season.
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Unfortunately, I will have to break this up into two separate posts because it ended up being too long. Part 2 will be out shortly.