Victory is often sweetest when least expected, but when a club is crowned champions in their first season after promotion it likely ranks as one of the most satisfying achievements of all. In honour of all the teams to achieve this impressive feat, FIFA.com takes a look at the best rags-to-riches stories from the world of football, starting in France.
Bordeaux’s maiden first-division title in the 1949/50 season was a proud moment for the French club. Promoted from the second division at the beginning of the season, they immediately made their mark in the top flight, however, trailed frontrunners Lille by six points midway through the campaign.
But Bordeaux were more than up for the challenge as they were a veritable tour de force throughout the remainder of the season. The unlikely title-chasers were boosted by a new signing in Dutch winger Albertus De Harder, and when the dust finally settled after the final matchday, the debutantes were crowned league champions, finishing six points clear of Lille.
Some 14 years after Bordeaux’s triumph, Saint-Etienne followed in their footsteps, winning the second division in 1963 to then go on to claim their second Ligue 1 title the following year. The man who captained Saint-Etienne to that historic championship was none other than Amie Jacquet, who, as France national team coach, led Les Bleus to victory at the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ on home soil.
Matching the feat were fellow-French side Monaco, who captured their third Ligue 1 crown in 1978 under coach Lucien Leduc. Their victorious campaign was notable for the exceptional performance of young goalkeeper Jean-Luc Ettori, who went on to start between the posts in 604 matches for his side, a record that still stands to this day. Monaco’s win surprised almost everyone, not least their own players, with forward Christian Dalgar admitting afterwards: “We never thought we’d win the league. We were confident we could finish half-way up the table maybe!”
That same year, in England, there was a massive upset in the top flight when newcomers Nottingham Forest defied all the odds to pip title-holders Liverpool to the post. Nor was it a flash in the pan for Brian Clough’s side, who then went on to lift the European Cup the following two seasons.
We never thought we’d win the league. We were confident we could finish half-way up the table maybe.
Rosario's golden moment
Even by the standards of Argentinian football, fans of Rosario Central are notoriously passionate about their club. Perhaps the most famous Rosario supporter of all was the writer Roberto Fontanarrosa, a native of the city, who once wrote: “Rosario Central’s supporters always love to think that their side is best at everything, at least outside of Buenos Aires. Rosario were the first side from the provinces to win the first division, the first to play in the Copa Libertadores and the first to win an international title.”
But of all the club’s great achievements, the one the fans treasure most came in the 1986/87 season, when they beat bitter hometown rivals Newell’s Old Boys by one point to win the Primera A after being promoted from the second division the season before. Rosario’s coach at the time, Angel Tulio Zof, showed how much the win meant in an interview shortly after the title was confirmed. “It’s so emotional. There are no words to describe what we’re going through right now. These feelings, the people around us - it’s just what we dreamed of. Thankfully, this is for the good of football. These young players are dedicated and have done what they needed to do to become champions.”
These days, Rosario are back down in the Primera B, but some impressive recent performances have given their passionate fans hope that they can repeat history and win another top-flight championship 25 years after that incredible feat.
The modern game
While in recent decades it has been harder for smaller teams to wrest league titles from the heavyweights, there still have been exceptions to the rule. In Germany, FC Kaiserslautern were relegated to the second tier ahead of the 1996/97 season, but coach Otto Rehhagel never lost faith in the side and brought them straight back up to the Bundesliga, where they proceeded to stun everyone by romping to a fourth league title the following year.
That Kaiserslautern side had a host of star names in its ranks, including Andreas Brehme, whose goal secured West Germany the 1990 FIFA World Cup™, Ciriaco Sforza, Michael Ballack and Olaf Marschall, with the latter finishing second-highest scorer in the Bundesliga that year.
Moving to Asia, Lebanese outfit Olympic Beirut had a dramatic start to the new millennium, moving up from the second division to claim a league and cup double with a nucleus of local players.
In Qatar, meanwhile, Al Gharafa had looked set to dominate the Stars League last year, having won the previous three league titles, but no one gave the script to lowly Lekhwiya. The club rose from the second tier to snatch the 2011 crown to the astonishment of most observers. In a recent interview with FIFA.com their Algerian coach Djamal Belmadi had this to say about his side’s achievement: “The question everybody is asking is how a new club could come from the second division and do what we did. I talked the players and told them we had a single aim this season, but when I said that we were going to win the league they thought I was crazy. It was an incredible feeling to win.”
Finally to Japan, where last year Kashiwa Reysol became the first side in Japanese history to win the second and first division titles in successive years. The club then crowned an unforgettable 2011 by finishing fourth at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011, where only a penalty shoot-out defeat by Qatar’s Al Sadd denied them a podium finish.