The Angle

Chutes & Ladders: Races to Watch in the European Lower Divisions

by on 28 April 2017

As European domestic leagues wind toward a close, there are some notable promotions and relegations about to happen within the lower tiers. In England, a former Premier League mainstay is back after a season away and an impressive streak came to an end. In Germany, relegation is a possibility even for a mid-table team with a kindergarten in its stadium. Let’s take a look at who’s going up and who’s headed down.


Championship Teams
to Watch:

The automatic promotion spots have already been filled in the Championship, so we know that Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United will be back in the Premier League along with Brighton & Hove Albion. The Seagulls return to England’s top flight for the first time in 34 years and have a chance to win the Championship outright, sitting four points ahead of Newcastle with two games left to play.

On the other end of the table, three recent Premier League residents are locked in a fight to stave off relegation to League One. Wigan is almost certainly doomed and needs two wins to have a chance to stay up. Birmingham and Blackburn are also fighting to avoid the final relegation spot.

In League One, one automatic promotion spot has been clinched by Sheffield United, but the second is subject to a tight race between Bolton Wanderers and Fleetwood Town. The latter was playing outside the Football League just 10 years ago and is now two points from promotion to the second division with one game to play.

League One Teams
to Watch:
Bolton Wanderers
Fleetwood Town

At the bottom of League One, Coventry was relegated. The Sky Blues have long lived in the purgatorial ends of English football having not finished in the top six of their league since the 1969-70 season.

Leyton Orient’s only season in the top division came in 1962-63, but the team has been in the Football League since 1905. That 112-year run has come to an end with relegation to the National League, sealed last Saturday. Taking Leyton’s spot in League Two will be Lincoln City; capping off a season that also saw the Imps make it to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup.


Ligue 2 Team
to Watch:
Red Star FC

The difference between first place and seventh place in Ligue 2 is just seven points. Strasbourg and Brest sit in the top two spots, both with 59 points. Nîmes occupies the third promotion spot with Lens, Amiens, Troyes, and Reims all within three points and four games still to play.

At the bottom of Ligue 2, Parisian club Red Star FC is in danger of relegation a year after missing out on promotion to Ligue 1 by two points. With four games left, Red Star is two points from safety.

There’s an almost identical situation in the league below, as well. The Championnat National ‘s second and 10th places are separated by just six points with four matches remaining. Dunkerque presently holds the second automatic promotion spot on goal difference over Chateauroux, but with so many teams within so few points of each other, anything could happen in the next month.


Bundesliga champions only a decade ago, VfB Stuttgart is close to a return to the top flight. Die Schwaben maintain their three point lead over Eintracht Braunschweig and Hannover 96 in the 2. Bundesliga, but quite a bit of movement could happen with four games still to play.

2. Bundesliga Teams
to Watch:
Eintracht Braunschweig
FC St. Pauli

Hannover was relegated from the Bundesliga last year and could make its return next season, tied on points and one goal behind rival Eintracht Braunschweig. The Lions from Braunschweig have seen the first division just once since the German Reunification, being promptly relegated after finishing 18th in 2012-13. One of those spots could be taken by 1. FC Union Berlin which is three points back and has never been to the first division in the post-Reunification era.

Find out why kindergarteners love FC St. Pauli here.

The bottom of the 2. Bundesliga is just as tight; the distance between 10th and 17th place is six points. Kindergartener and hipster favorite FC St. Pauli is holding on to 11th place but sits a mere two points from a relegation position.


It has been nearly two decades since Real Oviedo tasted the offerings of La Liga. In the time since, the club fell into a deep economic malaise and came close to extinction in 2012. Thanks in part to the help of billionaire Carlos Slim, the club emerged with a fan-ownership model. In 2015, the club returned to the second division and is now on the cusp of a potential return to the Spanish top flight. With seven matches left, Real Oviedo occupies the final playoff position.


Even in Italy, very few fans knew much about the Venetian club, Venezia. But thanks to the American lawyer Joe Tacopina, the new iteration of the club (reformed in 2015 after Football Club Unione Venezia went bankrupt) just clinched promotion to Serie B. Venezia has become something of a darling for hip American fans thanks to its English-friendly media campaign.

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