The Football League: 125 years old and still going strong

125 years of football league

THE English Football League celebrates its 125th anniversary this month.

Officially formed in March 1888, it has proved a worthy model for all successive competitions of its kind and is clearly, and officially, recognised as the greatest League competition in world football.

Following a circular, penned by William McGregor, an official of Aston Villa, which was sent to a number of clubs from the north and central areas of England, an informal meeting was held at Anderton’s Hotel in Fleet Street, London on 22 March 1888.

There, the proposal to form a League was accepted and four weeks later, on April 17, the first official and formal meeting took place at The Royal Hotel, Manchester when it was agreed that a new competition – The Football League – would commence in five months time, in early September.

Fifteen clubs had applied for Football League status – eight from the north, namely Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, Everton, Halliwell, Preston North End and Sheffield Wednesday, and seven from the Midlands, Aston Villa, DerbyCounty, NottinghamForest, NottsCounty, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Of these, Halliwell, Sheffield Wednesday and NottinghamForest failed to gain entry.

Those selected – the original 12 as they were known – were obliged to complete a pre-arranged 22-match programme. All agreed to an annual subscription of £2.2s (£2.10) and that players would be registered with the ‘League’ at least two weeks before the start of the competition.

Further meetings were held, a fixture list drawn up, 10 referees and 20 linesmen were appointed and everything was set for an official start on Saturday, September 8, 1888.

Five of the first six scheduled fixtures took place on that date, and ended: Bolton Wanderers 3 Derby County 6 (att. 3,000); Everton 2 Accrington 1 (10,500), Preston North End 5 Burnley 2 (6,000), Stoke 0 West Bromwich Albion 2 (4,500), Wolves 1 Aston Villa 1 (2,500). A crowd of 5,000 saw NottsCounty draw 3-3 with Blackburn Rovers shortly afterwards.

The first League goal was scored by Kenyon Davenport for Bolton (v. Derby), the first own-goal was conceded by Aston Villa full-back Gersom Cox (at Wolves), West Bromwich Albion were the first team to top the table (on goal-average) and unbeaten Preston were the first champions with 40 points, from 18 wins and four draws.

Stoke finished bottom with 12 points.

Preston who completed the double in 1888-89, retained the title the following season.

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