SOME OF THE STORIES.....
 

 

 
   
THE FORMATION of the FOOTBALL LEAGUE in 1888
 

The 1880s witnessed a major change in football in England with a northwards shift in the power-base of the sport. No longer was the FA Cup - the only national football competition - being won by southern sides like the Wanderers and Oxford University but by clubs with a more familiar name to us now - Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa to name but two. The reason for the change was simple - the working masses of the Midlands and the North had more money and time on their hands (yes many now had Saturday afternoons off work!) and they attended football matches in ever-increasing numbers. That level of support enabled the leading clubs from the North and Midlands to adopt professionalism - which was only legalized in 1885 - something the southern clubs were reluctant to do. Then, as now, professional sportsmen generally get the better of amateur ones and as a result power shifted northwards.

Professionalism did bring a major problem. Before the days of television it was almost entirely turnstile receipts that paid the wage bill. However a fixture list of FA Cup and local cup matches plus friendly matches that were prone to being called off at short notice did not guarantee the regular income that was needed to support the expense of a professional set-up. Nor did it provide the crowds with the regular excitement of competitive matches. To us it might seem obvious that a league was needed but at the time sporting leagues were certainly not the norm - cricket's County Championship being the notable exception in this country - and it was to take a man of vision to start the ball rolling.

That man was William McGregor. A Scot from Perthshire, he bought a drapers shop in Birmingham. The shop was close to Villa Park and although he was never a footballer in his youth, he joined the Aston Villa committee. Keen to formalise the fixture list - a 'fixity of fixtures' he called it - on March 2nd 1888 he contacted Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End and West Bromwich Albion as well as the scretary of his own club and asked them to consider playing regular home-and-away fixtures each season.

The idea developed and after meetings held at Anderton's Hotel in London's Fleet Street on March 22nd 1888 and at the Royal Hotel, Manchester on April 17th the basis of a League competition was agreed. Membership was limited to 12 clubs given the available number of Saturdays to complete the fixtures (no floodlights in those days) and invitations went to six clubs from Lancashire - Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Everton and Preston North End - and six from the Midlands - Aston Villa, Derby County, Notts County, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers. No clubs from the south were invited - because there were no professional clubs south of Birmingham at the time.

William McGregor was elected president, Harry Lockett of Stoke was appointed secretary and Major William Sudell of Preston North End was the first treasurer. The annual subscription for each member club was set at 2 guineas (£2.10).

The first results were -

Saturday September 8th 1888
Bolton Wanderers 3 - 6 Derby County
Everton 2 - 1 Accrington
Preston North End 5 - 2 Burnley
Stoke 0 - 2 West Bromwich Albion
Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 - 1 Aston Villa
         
Saturday September 15th 1888
Aston Villa 5 - 1 Stoke
Blackburn Rovers 5 - 5 Accrington
Bolton Wanderers 3 - 4 Burnley
Derby County 1 - 2 West Bromwich Albion
Everton 2 - 1 Notts County
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 - 4 Preston North End
         

The first goalscorer on the opening Saturday was believed to be Preston's Jack Gordon. About 25,000 people attended the first Saturday's fixtures, the highest attendance was 10,000 at the Everton v Accrington match.

   

 
   

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Question:
'Wayne Rooney's on a hundred grand a week. Mind you, so was I until the police found my printing machine.' That's a favourite after-dinner joke given by a former Welsh international who played for Manchester United in an FA Cup final before being sentenced to 18 months in prison for his part in a counterfeit currency scam. Who?

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