Independiente were there when the first season of professional football was played in Argentina, but were relegated for the first time in history this weekend, leaving Boca as the only team to have played in every season since that inaugural season in 1931, and one of the few clubs around the world to have never suffered relegation to a lower division.
Among the clubs that haven’t been relegated from the top flight in their history, there is one difference: The teams that have been in the top flight from its first season, with the history books usually counting only from the inception of the first professional national league, and those who made their way up there and staying there ever since, which gives us a much broader spectrum of survivors, which we mostly didn’t include.
There’s a tendency in England to consider only what happened since the inaugural season of the Premier League as worthy of including in history, but the football league was formed in 1888, and there hasn’t been a club which has played in the top flight that didn’t suffer at least one dropping season. Arsenal have been in the top flight since 1919, longer than anyone else, while Everton are next, being part of the first division since 1954. Along with Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Tottenham, they form the seven that have been part of all 21 Premier League seasons.
Professional football was introduced in France only in 1930 and oficially implemented in 1932. No club that was in the top flight during the inagural season made it until now (80 years) without suffering one relegation at least. Paris Saint-Germain, one half of a split club that was formed in 1970, reached Ligue 1 in 1974, and are the longest serving team in the top flight.
Before the Bundesliga, there were five regional Oberligen (from 1949, when part-time (semi-) professionalism was introduced), followed by a playoff system and a final match to decide the national champion. The Bungesliga’s first season was in 1963-1964, and Hamburg are the only team of that top flight to remain there until this day. Bayern Munich, for example, only joined in 1965, only not facing relegation since. Bayer Leverkusen haven’t been relegated since making it to the Bundesliga for the first time in 1979, and Wolfsburg have been in the top flight since 1997.
The Serie A was formed in 1929 (From 1898 to 1922 the competition was organised into regional groups, and since then, Inter are the only team to spend all 84 years in the top flight. Juventus were famously relegated in 2006 due to the Calciopoli scandal, the only time in team history they played in Serie B. AC Milan did play one season in the second division, in 1982-1983, coming back after one year.
The La Liga was formed in 1929, and since then, three clubs have been in the top flight consecutively. The obvious choices, Real Madrid and Barcelona, are obviously two, and Athletic Bilbao, who have seen some close calls in recent years, are the third. Getafe, making it to the top flight for the first time in 2004, haven’t been relegated as well.
In Austria, both Austria Wien and Rapid Wien have been in the top flight since the first football league was formed in 1911. In Greece, the first proper national league was introduced in 1959, called the Alpha Ethniki, although it only turned into a fully professional league in 1979. Olympiacos, Panathinaikos and PAOK have been in the top flight since 1959, with two more clubs, Skoda Xanthi (1989) and Asteras Tripoli (2007) not being relegated since reaching the top flight for the first time.
In the Netherlands, professional football was first introduces in 1957 with the forming of the Eredivisie. Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV have all been in the top flight since the inagural season, while Utrecht, which began its run in the top flight 13 years later, have also avoided relegation for the last 43 years. In Poland, Legia Warszawa are the only team to spend every season since the reintroduction of the Polish Ekstraklasa after the war in 1948.
In Portugal, three teams, the easiest to guess, have been in the top flight since the start: Sporting, Porto and Benfica. In Romania, both Dinamo and Steaua Bucharest have been in the top flight since its inaugural season. In Russia, FC Dynamo Moscow are the only club to spend its entire run, both in the Soviet league (since its inception in 1936) and the Russian Premier League, in the top flight. Spratak, Lokomotiv, Samara and CSKA have never been relegated from the Russian league.
In Scotland, Celtic are the only team to spend its entire time since 1890 in the top flight. Aberdeen joined the top flight in 1905, and have avoided two relegations on a technicality since, the last of which in 2000). In Turkey, the Milli Lig was formed in 1959, and four clubs have been there since the beginning: The Istanbul big three of Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahce, joined by Trabzonspor.
In the Ukraine, Dynamo Kyiv is the only team to be part of the Soviet league for every season and avoid relegation, not to mention the Ukrainian league. Shakhtar reached the top Soviet flight for the first time in 1972, never facing relegation since. Dnipro have done the same, but were introduced to the Soviet league in 1980.
Rest of the World
Argentina – Boca Juniors, the only team from the foundation of the professional league in 1931 that has never been relegated. Bolivia – Oriente Petrolero & The Strongest. Brazil – The Brazilian league has been in its current format since 1971, and five clubs have been there since the start: Cruzeiro, Flamengo, Internacional, Santos and Sao Paulo. Chile – Colo-Colo. Colombia – Indepediente Medellin, Atletico Nacional, Deportivo Cali, Junior, Millonarios, Santa Fe.
Ecuador – Barcelona, although there is a story behind it. From wikipedia: they have not played every season of the Serie A. In 1967, a system of promotion/relegation was initiated with the creation of the Segunda Categoría (the then second level of football in Ecuador). Prior to that season, teams qualified to the Serie A (then known as the Campeonato Ecuatoriano de Fútbol) through their performance in one of two regional leagues. The 1964 season was the only time Barcelona did not participate in the national tournament because teams from Guayas, Barcelona’s regional league, declined to participate.
Paraguay – Guarani, Cerro Porteno and Olimpia. Peru – Sporting Cristal and Universitario. Uruguay – The big two, Nacional and Penarol. Mexico – Chivas, Toluca, America, Pumas and Cruz Azul. China – The league only became professional in 1994. Beijing Guoan, Dalian Shide, Shandong Luneng and Shanghai Shenhua have been there from the start. Japan – Since 1992, the formation of the J. League (the first professional league), Yokohama F. Marinos, Nagoya Grampus, Kashima Antlers and Shimizu S-Pulse have been there from the start.
Uzbekistan – FC Pakhtakor Tashkent, Navbahor Namangan and Neftchi Farg’ona. Saudi Arabia – Al-Hilal, Ittihad FC, Al-Ahli SC and Al Nassr. Egypt – Al-Ahly, Zamalek. Zimbabwe – Dynamos FC.