8 September 1888: First Football League matches played

After messing about with friendlies, 'Tests' and cup matches for the last couple of decades, football got serious today in 1888, with the start of the world's first football league.

For the first couple of decades after 1863, when the game was first codified, football was an amateur game, played by foppish toffs in public schools, with a penchant for calling the game “soccer” to distinguish it from “rugger”.

Then northerners got in on the game – and they wanted paying. So, in 1885, the Football Association bowed to the inevitable, and legalised professionalism, after some of its biggest teams threatened to form their own breakaway association.

Clubs played in cup competitions and friendlies. But the organisation was chaotic. Teams would often cancel games, or just not turn up. The professional teams wanted a reliable income. So in 1888 William McGregor, secretary of Aston Villa FC, sent a letter to four other clubs inviting them to form a league where "ten or twelve of the most prominent clubs in England" could "combine to arrange home-and-away fixtures each season", and asking for their suggestions for which other clubs to invite.

And so it was that Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion, and Wolverhampton Wanderers came together to form the Football League – the first national league in the world.

The first matches were played on this day in 1888. Over 10,000 spectators headed to Anfield – then home to Everton – to see their team beat Accrington 2-1. And at Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa's Gershom Cox scored the league's first own goal, with the game ending in a 1-1 draw.

Preston beat Burnley 5-2, and would end the season as champions, going unbeaten for 22 games. It was a feat that would not be repeated until 2003-2004, when Arsenal ended the season without defeat.

Stoke lost 2-0 to West Brom, and ended the season at the bottom of the table, but were re-elected for the following season. Bolton lost 3-6 to Derby, while Blackburn and Notts County wouldn't meet until the following week.

The league proved so successful that in 1892 it was expanded to 28 teams, and split in to a 16-team first division and a 12-team second division.

Recommended

1 April 1999: The minimum wage is introduced in Britain
This day in history

1 April 1999: The minimum wage is introduced in Britain

On this day in 1999, the national minimum wage was introduced in Britain, bringing an instant pay rise to 1.9 million low-paid workers.
1 Apr 2021
27 February 1900: The launch of the Labour Party
This day in history

27 February 1900: The launch of the Labour Party

Responding to the need for a single political party to represent the trade unions, the Labour Party was formed on this day in 1900.
27 Feb 2021
24 February 1981: Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer announce their engagement
This day in history

24 February 1981: Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer announce their engagement

On this day in 1981, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer made their engagement official in front of the world's press at Buckingham Palace.
24 Feb 2021
24 February 1809: Drury Lane theatre burns down
This day in history

24 February 1809: Drury Lane theatre burns down

On this day in 1809, celebrated playwright Richard Sheridan was effectively ruined when the Drury Lane theatre went up in smoke.
24 Feb 2021

Most Popular

“Joke” cryptocurrency dogecoin goes to the moon. What’s going on?
Bitcoin

“Joke” cryptocurrency dogecoin goes to the moon. What’s going on?

Dogecoin – a cryptocurrency created as a joke – has risen by more than 9,000% this year alone. Saloni Sardana looks at how something that began as an …
19 Apr 2021
China owns a lot more gold than it’s letting on – and here’s why
Gold

China owns a lot more gold than it’s letting on – and here’s why

In a world awash with money-printing, a currency backed by gold would have great credibility. And China – with designs on the yuan becoming the world’…
21 Apr 2021
Why investment advice could be about to get a lot cheaper
Investment strategy

Why investment advice could be about to get a lot cheaper

Vanguard, the world’s second-biggest asset manager, is launching its own cut-price financial advice service. It’s something the industry badly needs, …
20 Apr 2021