Since the inception of the European Cup, later turning into the Champions League, 39 clubs have appeared in at least one final. Four of these clubs are no longer in their country’s top flight: Aston Villa, Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and Stade de Reims.
A footballing empire in the pre World War I days, Villa were a mainstay in the Premier League since its inaugural season, usually as mid-table club, sometimes doing a bit better, competing in the UEFA Cup/Europa League 10 times since English clubs were allowed back into continental competition.
In 1981, Villa won the league title for the first time since 1938, and a Peter Withe goal in the 1982 European Cup final vs Bayern Munich (playing with Paul Breitner and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, gave Villa their first ever European trophy and the sixth in a row for an English club.
Villa were relegated in 1988, but returned to the top flight a year later. Since that return, they placed 2nd twice, in 1990 and 1993. They placed in the top half of the table 12 more times up until 2011, and then began the slow decline into relegation, finishing rock bottom of the Premier League in 2015-2016, winning just 3 matches the entire season.
Leeds made the European Cup Final before the impressive 1977-1985 run by Liverpool, Villa and Forest was made, with an English team making every final except for the 1983 one. After returning to the top flight in 1965, Leeds finished in the top 2 seven times, including two league titles in 1969 and 1974.
The 1974-1975 season has been immortalized in The Damned United, beginning with the disastrous spell of Brian Clough trying to replace Don Revie, not lasting more than 44 days. Jimmy Armfield took over and led Leeds to the European Cup Final, losing 2-0 to Bayern Munich, with a Peter Lorimer goal cancelled for offside and Franz Roth put Bayern up 1-0 minutes later, with Gerd Muller sealing the deal.
Leeds were relegated in 1982 and didn’t return to division 1 football until 1990. They finished 4th in their first season back and won the championship in 1992, the final season before the shift to Premier League. Leeds lasted 12 seasons in the Premiership, including seven top 5 finishes, but were relegated in 2004. Since then, they’ve even falled down to the depths of League One, but are in the Championship for the 7th consecutive season.
Remember Brian Clough from a couple of paragraphs ago? Well, the story of Nottingham Forest’s success is the story of Clough, a few years after his dismissal from Leeds. He led the club to its first ever championship in 1978, their first year in division 1 since 1972.
What followed was even more incredible: Forest won the European Cup in 1979, beating Malmo 1-0 with a Trevor Francis goal, and then won it again in 1980, beating Hamburg (with Kevin Keegan) 1-0 after an early John Robertson goal.
Forest remained in the top flight until the 1992-1993 season (first Premier League year), relegated that season. During that stretch, they finished third three times, the last time in 1989. Clough the manager’s son, Nigel Clough, was the team’s star in the second half of the 1980’s.
Forest returned in 1994 for three more seasons, and against in 1998 for a one-and-done season. Since then, they’ve been in the second tier most of the time, but did drop to League one for three seasons. Since 2008, they’re in the championship, missing out on the playoffs since 2011.
Stade de Reims
Like Leeds, Reims didn’t win the European Cup, only making the final; twice, in fact. Once in 1956, losing in Paris to Real Madrid 4-3, with Alfredo Di Stefano scoring one of the goals in the first European Cup final ever. Michel Hidalgo scored one of the goals for Reims, and midfield star Raymond Kopa later transferred to Real Madrid. Reims made the final again in 1959, this time held in Stuttgart, losing 2-0 to Real Madrid. Di Stefano scored again.
Reims won the Ligue 1 championship six times, but the last of them came in 1962. Two years later they were shockingly relegated, finishing 17th, which led to most of their prominent players leaving the club although Kopa, back with Reims at this point, stayed with them until 1967.
The club sunk further, and was liquidated in 1992, already in division 3 at the time. The team was reborn in July 1992 under the name Stade de Reims Champagne. In 2012 the club returned to Ligue 1, lasting four seasons until their 18th place finish, one point behind a spot that would have kept them in Ligue 1 for another season.