You may hear the terms double and treble frequently in relation to football and also with regards to betting on it. In this article, we are not concerned with the latter usage, where a double is a bet with two selections and a treble one with three. Instead, our focus is on what these terms mean with regards to a club winning multiple pieces of silverware in the same season.
What Is a Double in Football?
Traditionally, in order to “do the double” in English football, a side had to win the top-flight league title and FA Cup in the same season. That is what most football fans understand by the term and is what some may call a “true”, “real” or “proper” double. The first side to ever achieve this feat was Preston North End, way back in 1889. Before we look at that feat, it should also be noted that “doing the double over” a team is another commonplace football phrase. This refers to when one side beats another both home and away in the league.
Returning to Preston, and not only did the Lancashire side manage the double in the first-ever season of league football, they also went the whole season unbeaten. As such, not only are they the original double team, they are also the first “Invincibles” – sorry Arsenal fans. It was only a 22-game campaign admittedly, the inaugural season of the Football League seeing just 12 teams compete. Even so, PNE won 18 of their matches, drawing four, to win the league by a massive 11 points – truly impressive considering it was just two points for a win and only achieved over 22 games.
In that year’s cup final, played at Kennington Oval in front of 27,000 fans, Preston dismissed Wolves 3-0 to claim their first FA Cup. They had been runners-up in 1887/88, the FA Cup being much older than the league and having first been contested in 1871.
Since then a number of sides have completed the double, with Aston Villa hot on the heels of North End in 1896/97. After that there was a very long wait for the next double, with Spurs completing their own when Bill Nicholson’s great side beat Leicester 2-0 in the FA Cup final having sealed the league almost a month earlier in the 1960/61 season. All English doubles can be seen below, with Man United and Arsenal the only clubs to have managed the feat on more than one occasion:
|3||Arsenal||1970/71, 1997/98, 2001/02|
|3||Man United||1993/94, 1995/6, 1998/99|
|1||Preston North End||1888/89|
Doubles Achieved by Other Nations
Of course, the concept of the double is not unique to English football and exists in most countries around the globe. In any league, the term simply means a season where the same side won the top tier of the league and also the country’s principle cup competition. Much as English fans might bemoan the dominance of the big clubs, in actual fact English football is very competitive compared to many leagues around the world. This is nicely illustrated by the number of teams that have achieved a double in other nations, and how many doubles some clubs have managed in those leagues.
|Nation||Team with Most Doubles||Number Achieved||Number of Other Teams Who Have Won The Double|
|Germany (Bundesliga era)||Bayern Munich||13||3|
|Portugal||Benfica||11||2 (those 2, Porto and Sporting, have a further 15 doubles between them)|
|Scotland||Celtic||19||2 (Rangers have won 18 doubles)|
What About the Treble in Football?
In the truest, strictest sense of the term, the treble refers to a remarkable season where a club completes the double, as above, but then also adds the top-tier continental trophy to their haul as well. Though not a concept restricted to European football, in the terms of that continent it means a team winning the European Cup/Champions League in addition to the double as detailed.
Manchester United are the only English side to have ever achieved this feat, doing so in dramatic fashion in 1999. Having already won the Premier League and the FA Cup they faced Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. Trailing 1-0 in stoppage time, their treble dreams appeared shattered but in a remarkable final they notched twice in added time to win 2-1.
They were not the first British side to win all three of the biggest trophies available to them though. Celtic managed that in 1966/67, becoming the first side in European football to do so. Inter Milan, PSV Eindhoven and Ajax have also won the treble, whilst Barcelona and German giants Bayern are the only clubs to have managed to do so twice, in 2008/09 and 2014/15, and 2012/13 and 2019/20, respectively.
Elsewhere, trebles have been achieved by sides from New Zealand, Mexico, Japan, Ghana (the brilliantly named Hearts of Oak) and many other countries. Interestingly, no South American side has achieved the feat. This is partly explained by the fact that the double is, for whatever reason, quite uncommon in the continent’s top footballing nations. Only Boca Juniors (twice) have managed it in Argentina, there have only been two doubles in Brazil, and only three Uruguayan clubs have managed to win the domestic league and cup in the same season.
What About “Other” Doubles?
Language evolves and terms that started life meaning one thing often change to mean something subtly different, or are used simultaneously in various ways. And, so it is with the double, which is often used, perhaps with a modifier, to describe any time a side wins two competitions in the same season.
Typically, certain pieces of silverware are excluded, at least unless you are Jose Mourinho. As such a team that lifted the Community Shield and the league would not normally be said to have done any sort of double. Usually the excluded trophies are ones that are won through one-off games contested between teams who won certain competitions the preceding season. As such the European Super Cup and other domestic super cups are also normally not considered eligible for inclusion in a double.
Despite these exclusions, winning a double of this less specific nature is, naturally enough, more common. A side need not win two specific trophies out of two, but simply any two out of four they take part in. As such many sides have completed some sort of double over the years. Sticking with English football only, the following are just some of the doubles that have been achieved over the years (not including any traditional league and FA Cup ones).
Note that different terms may be used to describe the various possible doubles but most are fairly self-descriptive. Where this is not the case we provide further information on the trophies involved below. We also include here doubles that formed part of a wider non-standard treble, of which more below.
|Type of Double||Club||Year(s) Achieved|
|League and League Cup||Man City||2014, 2018, 2018, 2021|
|League and League Cup||Chelsea||2005, 2015|
|European Double (Champions League/Premier League- including forerunners of both)||Man United||1999, 2008|
|European Double (Champions League/Premier League- including forerunners of both)||Liverpool||1977, 1984|
|League and UEFA Cup||Liverpool||1973, 1976|
|League and Cup Winners’ Cup||Everton||1985|
|Domestic Cup Double (FA Cup and League Cup)||Liverpool||2001, 2022|
|Domestic Cup Double (FA Cup and League Cup)||Arsenal||1993|
|Domestic Cup Double (FA Cup and League Cup)||Chelsea||2007|
|European Cup Double (any European trophy plus any domestic cup)||Liverpool (League Cup and European Cup)||1981|
|European Cup Double (any European trophy plus any domestic cup)||Chelsea (FA Cup and Champions League)||2012|
|European Cup Double (any European trophy plus any domestic cup)||Nottingham Forest (League Cup and European Cup)|
|European Cup Double (any European trophy plus any domestic cup)||Man United (League Cup and Europa League)||2017|
In addition to these doubles, there have been various sub-elite dual wins. For example, in 2014/15 Bristol City won the title in the third tier of English football and also landed the Football League Trophy. Even further down the pyramid, Altrincham won the Conference (fifth tier) and the Conference League Cup in 1980/81. Obviously for the fans and clubs involved these represent huge achievements, even if most supporters of Premier League sides remain entirely unaware of them!
In much the same way that double is now used to refer to a club winning any two major competitions in the same season, the term treble is now also used even if the three successes are not the highest level league, domestic cup, and European cup available. As with a double that consists of any two pieces of silverware, a treble made up of three, non-specific trophies, is rather easier to come by.
In English football, a treble means winning any three out of the Premier League, the FA Cup, the League Cup, or any major European competition (currently the Champions League, the Europa League or the Europa Conference League – which could just about be described as major!). Most recently Man City achieved the domestic treble, landing all three available English competitions in 2018/19. They pipped Liverpool by a point in the league, hammered Watford 6-0 in the FA Cup final and edged Chelsea on penalties in the League Cup. Alas, they were knocked out of the Champions League by Spurs on away goals in a thrilling quarter final.
Prior to that, Liverpool managed their own version of a treble back in 2001 when they completed a cup hat-trick. Their wait for a league title would go on much longer as they finished third under Gerrard Houllier but the 2000/01 season was truly remarkable nonetheless. They lifted the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup, beating Alaves 5-4 after extra time in the thrilling final of the latter.
That was not the first treble for the Reds though, the Anfield icon Joe Fagan guided them to three pieces of silverware in the 1983/84 campaign as well. They exited the FA Cup at the fourth-round stage but won the league and the League Cup (they won the latter four years in a row starting in 1981), beating city rivals Everton in the final of the cup in a replay. They completed their first treble by beating Roma in the European Cup final, in Rome, after a penalty shootout.
Trebles are even more common in certain leagues where there is real dominance from one or two sides. Glasgow giants Celtic and Rangers both have seven trebles to their name, with all of those coming thanks to a clean sweep of the domestic honours. Amazingly the Bhoys achieved the feat four years in a row from 2016 to 2019. Elsewhere PSG have also won all three of their domestic competitions on multiple occasions, doing so in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2020.
Bayern Munich also landed a hat-trick in 1999/00, whilst it has also been achieved in Brazil and in Spain. Many trebles have also been won in smaller footballing nations, including ones as diverse as Australia, Lebanon, Guadeloupe, Fiji, Hong Kong, Wales and Iraq.
What About the Quadruple?
We have mentioned that the above “lesser” doubles and trebles entail winning any two from four competitions. Four competitions: what about the quadruple then? Such has been the brilliance of Man City and Liverpool in recent seasons that the “Q-word” seems to get whispered earlier and earlier each season. As one, or even both, of these superb sides seemingly edge closer to a possible clean sweep of major honours, fans and pundits start to believe they might just do it.
In 2021/22, Jurgen Klopp’s Reds came very close to completing a historic treble. That might seem a strange thing to say given they only won the two weakest competitions, the two domestic cups (completing their own double in the process of course). However, they made the final of the Champions League and came incredibly close to winning the Premier League too. They were pipped by Real Madrid in the former and missed out on the league thanks to a crazy Man City fightback on the final day.
In making the final of all three cups they entered, they played every single game they possibly could that campaign. That was not the only time that had happened though, with Jose Mourinho achieving it twice with Porto. In addition, Middlesborough also featured in every game possible in 1996/97, though with rather less success than The Special One. Boro were not in Europe but lost both domestic cup finals and, even worse, were relegated from the Premier League!
The Lions of Lisbon
There is another team who played every game they possibly could and they are the only team to have won the (as in the main, full, or “proper” one) quadruple. And that is Celtic, who, in 1966/67 completed a still-unprecedented clean sweep of the four biggest honours available to them.
The famous Lisbon Lions beat Inter Milan in the final of the European Cup and actually won all five competitions they entered that term, including the less prestigious Glasgow Cup. That last trophy was won by beating Rangers, Queen’s Park and Partick Thistle (all 4-0), so should not be entirely discounted. In the Scottish Cup they bettered Aberdeen 2-0 in the final, whilst they beat Rangers 1-0 in the League Cup showpiece.
In what was a remarkable season they lost just three games, including two in the league, winning that competition with 26 wins and six draws from their 34 games, ahead of Rangers. Including their 12 strikes in the Glasgow Cup, Jock Stein’s side scored an amazing 196 goals that season!
Relatively few nations have two domestic cups of any real importance and so the quadruple is not necessarily available to all clubs. Even so, Celtic’s achievement has to stand as one of the greatest in football and it will take a monumental effort by Man City, Liverpool or anyone else to match it.