Welcome back once again to our WordPress.com weekly special. Origins of Football is a blog where by a series of posts we are analysing and tracing back through the history of British football, discovering where exactly ‘the beautiful game’ has come from and developed.

Last week’s edition saw Notts County, who are the oldest professional football club in the world and this week, we are going to take a look at the formation of The Football League. The Football League is the oldest structured competition in the world, preceding all other leagues around the world. Having been founded in 1888 The Football League became the top flight of English football for over a century before the advent of the Premier League in 1992.

With football’s popularity ever on the increase and more and more men playing the sport to a high standard the Football Association had to decide whether the game could be allowed to go professional or not. Four years of meeting son the subject followed before in 1885, the Board of Directors agreed that professional in football should be legalised.

Mr William McGregor who was a director at Aston Villa Football Club at the time, was the man who took the initiative after the legalisation and decided to start and create a league whereby clubs would be guaranteed fixtures and regular income. On the 2nd of March, 1888, McGregor made his first move and made contact with the executive boards at Aston Villa, as well as five other clubs; Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End and West Bromwich Albion, Stoke F.C.  

Having studied American sporting structures in some detail McGregor had devised the plan that each team would earn point based on the result, playing each opponent both home and away before the winner is crowned, the team with the most points. This structure is almost an exact replica in most sports nowadays, but it originated from the American Football system in US colleges.

If you are ever visiting Manchester, why not take a visit to The Royal Buildings in Market Street? That is exactly where you would find a commemorative red plaque in the place where The Football League was officially named and started on the 17th of April. However, it is known that the league was created and formed by McGregor and company at Anderson’s Hotel in London on the 23rd of March 1888, the day before the FA Cup final.

A few months passed by before the first ever official football league in the world was scheduled to begin. By this time, twelve clubs had joined and The Football League was set to begin with their first ever season starting on the 8th of September 1888. The twelve clubs which competed in the inaugural season were; Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke F. C., West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

So with the scene set the season went ahead as planned and winning teams earned two points for a victory, losers none and a draw would earn teams one point each. Also each team would play each other twice, once at their home ground and once away from home. After twenty-two weeks of competition the first ever official football league season was over and Preston North End ran away victors, not losing a match all season and in turn won the first ever league and cup double, winning The Football League and the FA Cup.

It did not take long for The Football League’s popularity and reputation to flourish. By 1892, only four years after the league’s formation the directors of The Football League took the decision to create a Second Division with the absorption of the rival Alliance League as well as it being able to make room in order to accommodate all of the clubs who wanted to play in the official Football League. Nottingham Forest, The Wednesday, and Newton Heath were added to the new First Division, and Darwen were reallocated to the new Second, bringing the First Division total to 16 clubs. With the addition of Northwich Victoria, Burslem Port Vale and Sheffield United the Second Division of the football league began with twelve teams, totally the whole league to twenty-eight professional clubs.

The league continued to grow as the next season saw six more professional clubs join the system; as Burton, Leicester, Liverpool, Middlesborough, Newcastle and Woolich Arsenal all moved into The Football League. After ten years of The Football League it was decided that there was going to be automatic promotion and regulation for the top and bottom two clubs of the league system. This ruling was brought in after the old, Test Match structure brought the game into disrepute when Stoke and Burnley colluded in the final in order to allow both sides to play in the First Division the following year.


The Football League has continued to expand for a long period of time and today’s structure sees seventy-two different teams play across three divisions. When the top twenty teams in the country took the decision to break away from The Football League and form the FA Premier League, now the Barclays Premier League after various rebranding, The Football League also commercialised and became a sponsored league. Having taken sponsorships of the league for the previous decade, the breakaway made by the ‘elite’ clubs did not affect the financial position of The Football League.

Today, The Football League is The Npower Football League after a massive new sponsorship deal saw the energy company take over from Coca-Cola as the league’s sponsors. Queen’s Park Rangers and Nottingham Forest are currently occupying the premium places in The Npower Football League, sitting the two automatic promotion places which would earn them a place in The Barclays Premier League for the 2011/12 season.


Thank you very much for reading this week’s edition of Origins of Football.

I hope you have enjoyed this latest post, feel free to leave any comments; any feedback would be much appreciated.

I look forward to seeing you for next Friday’s instalment when we analyse how football developed and maintained its status through the years of war.

Have a great weekend, The Npower Football League has a full weekend of fixtures for you to enjoy as the world’s oldest official football league still lives, 123 years on after its formation.