The History Of The Football League
Few would have imagined that the actions of a Perthshire-born draper would lead to the creation of the greatest football competition in the world and set the standards for everyone else to follow.
The Football League was the brainchild of William McGregor, a portly and genial Scotsman who became a director at Aston Villa after being attracted to the club by the fact they had three of his countrymen in their side.
McGregor had moved to Birmingham to seek his fortune and opened a linen draper's shop near Villa Park. His love of football then took over and allowed him to change the course of the national game.
With the onset of the age of professionalism in 1885, football had become a disorganised shambles with games constantly being called off because clubs had arranged more lucrative matches elsewhere.
McGregor decided that football needed order and he wrote to the leading clubs of the time putting forward a proposal that they should combine to arrange home and away fixtures each season - and thus the seeds of The Football League were sown.
The plans were announced at a meeting at Anderton's Hotel in Fleet Street on 22 March 1888, and the first league kicked off on 8 September 1888 with12 member clubs: Preston North End, Bolton Wanderers, Everton, Burnley, Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Notts County, Derby County and Stoke.
Jack Gordon of Preston is widely regarded as scoring the first goal of the new competition - although this is disputed in some quarters due to claims that North End's game kicked off 45 minutes later than others that day. But what is not disputed is the fact that North End went on to claim the first Football League Championship without losing a game, and win the FA Cup without conceding a goal.
After Preston had repeated their success the following season the remainder of the century was dominated by McGregor's beloved Aston Villa and Sunderland (a replacement for Stoke in The League), who won eight titles between them before the end of the century.
Minor changes to the rules drawn up at the first meeting of the clubs were made along the way, including the introduction of goal nets and penalty kicks in 1891, and promotion and relegation introduced after the league expanded to two divisions of 18 teams in 1891.
The powerbase shifted to Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester United at the start of the new century, but southern sides were gradually finding a foothold in the previously northern dominated league. Woolwich Arsenal, Tottenham, Clapton Orient and Chelsea, with the legendary 6ft 2in, 22 stone Bill 'Fatty' Foulke in goal, were all elected to the league during the first decade of the 20th century.
The Great War interrupted the progress of the League for four years, but not before the north had continued its dominance with title wins for Blackburn (twice), Sunderland and Everton in the four years preceding the onset of hostilities.
The post war period saw major changes in the rules and composition of the league. The first and second divisions were expanded to 22 teams immediately after the war and within two years the Third Divisions North and South were introduced.
Perhaps more notable was the change to the offside rule which came into effect in 1925 with the number of opponents needed to keep a player onside reduced from three to two. This resulted in a huge increase in the number of goals scored, from 4,700 in 1924 to 6,373 in the first season under the new law.
One of the main beneficiaries of the new law was the incomparable Everton forward Dixie Dean who set a league record of 60 goals in the 1927-28 season.
The 1920's also saw the emergence of one of the greatest managers in the history of the game - Herbert Chapman.
The Yorkshireman led Huddersfield to two consecutive titles before he moved south to take charge of Arsenal, who had just avoided relegation the previous season, and led his new side to second place - five points behind his old club who claimed an unprecedented third title in a row.
But Chapman's ability to create a winning team was to reinforced in the 1930's as, despite his death from pneumonia in 1934, the Gunners dominated the League claiming five titles during the decade, including the matching of Huddersfield's record of a hat-trick of titles.
The Highbury giants' success ended the north's dominance after it had claimed the first 38 titles on offer.
Chapman's success allowed him to exert a huge influence on the game and he was the first to put forward the idea of floodlit games, numbered shirts (which were officially introduced in 1939), white balls and all-weather pitches.
The League was suspended at the end of the 1939 season at the onset of the Second World War and returned to huge crowds on Saturday 31 August 1946.
Aggregate crowds in that first season were 35,604,606 and they were to keep on rising.
The first two seasons saw normal order resume with Championship successes for Liverpool and Arsenal before a new face emerged in the unlikely guise of Portsmouth. The south coast club, playing to the tune of the now familiar 'Play up Pompey' chant, claimed back-to-back titles in 1949 and 1950 - the club's only successes to date.
But at the end of the 1940's a new force was emerging which was to provide the highest and lowest points of the coming decade - Manchester United and the Busby Babes.
Busby took over at United in 1945, when the Reds were playing their matches at Maine Road due to extensive bomb damage at Old Trafford, and they finished as runners-up in the Championship in four of the five seasons after the war.
That young United side, led by the incomparable Duncan Edwards, went on to claim three titles during the 1950's. But the team's success was brought to a tragic end when the plane carrying them home from a European Cup tie in Yugoslavia crashed on take off at Munich airport, killing 23 people, including eight players.
United's League success was matched by that of Stan Cullis's Wolverhampton Wanderers, who won the title in 1954, 1958 and 1959 playing with what critics called a 'kick and rush' style. Wolves were also crowned unofficial world champions - by their own manager - after excellent victories against Moscow Spartak and a Honved team containing many of the Hungary side that had humbled England 6-3 at Wembley - the first time England had lost there to continental opponents.
The decade threw up famous names such as Billy Wright, of Wolves, who was the first player to earn more than 100 caps for England, Stanley Matthews, the 'Wizard of Dribble' at Stoke and Blackpool and Nat Lofthouse, Bolton's powerhouse centre-forward.
Herbert Chapman's dream of floodlit football, which came from watching a game in Austria played under the illumination of car headlights, came to fruition on 22 February 1956 when Portsmouth entertained Newcastle at Fratton Park and midweek football at night became the norm.
The 1960's arrived in swinging style and became a decade when football moved forward yet again producing new competitions, new legends and new pay deals.
Football League secretary Alan Hardaker came up with the idea for a new cup competition and the
League Cup was born in 1961.
The competition was open to the 92 clubs in The League and the first two-legged final in 1961 saw First Division Aston Villa beat Second Division Rotherham 3-2 after extra time.
Some of the bigger clubs initial apathy towards the competition soon evaporated and by 1967 the final had become a one-off affair and moved to a new home at Wembley.
The teams of the decade were undoubtedly Tottenham Hotspur - who in 1961, under the coaching of Bill Nicholson and captaincy of Danny Blanchflower, won the first League and FA Cup double since Aston Villa in 1897 - Manchester United, Liverpool and Leeds.
Manchester United were rebuilt after the Munich disaster and won League Championships in 1965 and 1967 before going on to claim the European Cup with a 4-1 win against Benfica on an emotional night at Wembley.
Meanwhile Bill Shankly was creating a Liverpool side that won the Championship in 1964 and 1966 and would go on to dominate the Football League during the 1970's.
Leeds emerged from near relegation to the Third Division to storm to the League title in 1969 after winning the League Cup and European Fairs Cup the previous year. Revered coach Don Revie created a side that was full of skill but also epitomised the manager's 'win at all costs' attitude.
The likes of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, George Best, Rodney Marsh, Dave Mackay, Billy Bremner, Ian Callaghan, Johnny Giles, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Jimmy Greaves became household names as the League's success continued.
And the players suddenly found life in the Swinging 60's a lot more rewarding as the maximum wage of £20 per week was scrapped after a campaign led by then PFA chairman Jimmy Hill.
The major rule change of the decade saw the introduction of substitutes, initially in 1965 for injuries, and then a year later for any reason.
The 1970's started with Arsenal repeating North London rivals Tottenham's feat of completing the League and Cup double. The Gunners beat Liverpool in extra-time to clinch the FA Cup before travelling to Spurs of all places in their final league game and clinching the win with a late Ray Kennedy goal.
But the rest of the decade was a tale of two managers with very different personalities and approaches to the game.
Brian Clough had proven himself as an outstanding centre-forward, scoring an incredible 251 goals in 274 games for Middlesbrough and Sunderland, before injury cut his career short. He then started his managerial career with Hartlepool before moving on to Derby where he earned his first success.
His abrasive manner brought him into conflict with the authorities, but by 1972 he had led the Rams to the League Championship. But Clough's manner created problems with the Derby board and he resigned in 1973 and joined Brighton, before an ill-fated 44 days in charge at Leeds, a team he had openly criticised in the past.
He linked up again with coach Peter Taylor at Nottingham Forest and went on to secure the League title and League Cup in 1978, and the European Cup and League Cup again a year later.
But on Merseyside the Liverpool hot-seat had seen a quiet transition from Bill Shankly to his assistant Bob Paisley who, in his own down-to-earth style, went about creating one of the greatest teams in the history of the League.
The Mighty Reds would claim the League title on four occasions before the end of the decade plus the FA Cup in 1974 and European Cup in 1977.
The major rule change saw the scrapping of the two-up and two-down promotion and relegation system to three-up and three-down in the 1973/74 season.
The 1980's continued with Liverpool still the team to beat.
Although Aston Villa won the Championship in 1981 and the European Cup a year later, Liverpool would claim six of the next nine titles, including a hat-trick to equal the record held by Arsenal and Huddersfield. For good measure they also won the League Cup on four consecutive occasions. In fact the decade was one of Merseyside domination as Everton picked up two titles to break up the Liverpool run.
Even with three different managers - Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish - the Anfield express sped majestically along on the domestic front. But the European campaign - and that of English clubs generally - was brought to a halt by the deaths of 39 Juventus supporters at the 1985 European Cup Final between Liverpool and the Turin giants.
A UEFA ban followed this latest outrage in what had become known as the 'English Disease' - hooliganism.
Before the Heysel Stadium tragedy the First Division had become one of the most powerful leagues in the world with Football League clubs winning seven European Cups in nine years.
Despite the influx of money into the game through sponsorship deals with Canon, the Today newspaper and Barclays Bank backing the League, and Littlewoods and the Milk Marketing Board supporting the League Cup, the game was perhaps at its lowest ebb.
Attendances were falling, club's finances were spiralling out of control, hooliganism was a national problem and the best players were beginning to be attracted by the lure of foreign leagues.
Rule changes, such as the introduction of three points for a win in 1981, had made football more attack-minded. And the relegation and promotion play-offs introduced in1987 (in part to reduce the First Division to 20 clubs over two seasons) made for excitement for many clubs right until the end of the season.
Other changes including the introduction of the so-called 'plastic pitches' at QPR, Luton, Preston and Oldham and automatic promotion from the Conference caused controversy, while major developments in football stadia were proposed following the Heysel disaster and the fatal fire at Bradford's Valley Parade, which claimed 56 lives.
The game was receiving even greater coverage through live television - but changes were still needed.
Going into its centenary season in 1988 the League was forced to stave off a threat by 10 of the leading teams to break away and form a Super League in the hunt for more television money.
But the lure of more money, and the arrival of Sky TV, was to change football dramatically and the 1990's would see football explode into the major entertainment business it is today.
On the pitch Liverpool and Arsenal exchanged the Championship for four years in the late 80's and early 90's - including the Gunners dramatic last minute clincher at Anfield in 1989 - before Leeds claimed the final First Division title in 1992.
On the terraces changes were also taking place following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 in which 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death during the club's FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. All-seater stadiums with levels of comfort unheard of in the past were becoming the norm thanks to the extra money coming into the game via TV revenue.
But rumblings of discontent had started in 1991 with the FA's unveiling of their 'Blueprint for Football' which put forward the idea of a Super League of 18 clubs. The Football League strongly resisted the proposals, but on June 14, 1991 16 First Division clubs signed a document of intent to join the newly named Premier League.
Eventually all 22 First Division clubs tendered their resignation from the League and, after months of financial wranglings and threats of a players' strike, the FA Premier League became official on September 23.
The FA agreed to continue with three up and three down promotion and relegation, vowed to reduce the Premier League to 20 and struck a record five-year £304 million television deal with Sky and BBC.
ITV failed to get High Court injunctions against the new deal, but did seal a £24 million package with The Football League for live coverage of its games.
The main aspect of football in the 90's was that, while the Premiership title seemed to take up constant residence at Old Trafford, the cup competitions and League threw up a succession of different winners.
Aston Villa were the only side to win the League Cup on more than one occasion while, despite early doubts that the League would be left behind by the new Premiership, First Division teams became stronger and stronger throughout the decade and handled promotion better.
And the replacement of the promotion and relegation play-offs with one-off promotion finals at the end of the 1990 campaign created an end of season spectacle that has produced some of the most dramatic football occasions ever.
Charlton's dramatic penalty shoot-out success against Sunderland in 1998, Bolton's come-from-behind win against Reading in 1995 and Manchester City's win on penalties against Gillingham in 1999, after being 2-0 down with just four minutes left, are just three examples of classic Play-Off Finals.
And when the finals (including the Worthington Cup) moved to Cardiff's spectacular Millennium Stadium in 2001 the drama continued unabated.
But the 2001/2002 season proved to be a momentous one for The Football League for the wrong reasons.
Off the field issues dominated headlines and the fact that the aggregate attendances for the season surpassed 15 million, the highest figure for more than 30 years, was lost.
There was a threatened strike by the Professional Footballers Association over its share of television income from football's governing bodies, a proposed breakaway by First Division clubs that failed to materialise, attempts by Scottish giants Rangers and Celtic to join the Nationwide League, Wimbledon FC were given permission to relocate 60 miles away from the clubs historical home and the ITV Digital deal collapsed.
The latter plunged the League's clubs into serious financial trouble and defeat in a court case against ITV Digital's owners Carlton and Granada, aimed at reclaiming the £130 million left outstanding from the deal, prompted the resignation of League Chief Executive David Burns and Chairman Keith Harris.
On the plus side a new four-year television deal worth £95 million was signed with Sky and it was agreed that promotion and relegation between the League and the Nationwide Conference would increase to two up-two down.
The League made great efforts to bring financial assistance in for clubs and secured £20 million of funding via the Football Association, Premier League and Football Foundation.
This provided short-term help but the appointment of Sir Brian Mawhinney as League Chairman in January 2003 was the catalyst for a drive towards good governance and a raft of measures to control club finances.
During the next 18 months The League pioneered a host of measures, some of which have been adopted by other footballing bodies.
· A Salary Cost Management Protocol was adopted in Division Three during season 2003/04 which saw clubs restricted to spending no more than 60% of their turnover on players' wages;
· A regulation making it mandatory for clubs to indicate in player contracts of more than one season duration remuneration levels for all Divisions a player might play in during the term of the contract.
· A 'Sporting Sanction' for clubs entering administration of ten points.
· New regulations that sought to bring transparency to clubs dealings with agents were approved at a League EGM in September 2003 and came into effect on Jan 1, 2004. The new regulations made it compulsory for clubs to register with The League all payments made to agents in player transactions. The League undertook to publish aggregate figures for each club on a twice-yearly basis.
· A 'Fit and Proper Persons' test for club directors and majority shareholders
· An independent Non-Executive Director (Ian Ritchie) to the League Board.
In addition to these Good Governance measures Sir Brian announced at The League's AGM in 2003 that the organisation would be undertaking a re-branding exercise. Twelve months later Sir Brian outlined to his fellow Chairmen a bold new vision for the future of League football.
The re-brand aims to deliver an imaginative re-branding that would challenge the football public and commercial marketplace to re-think their perceptions of The Football League.
The initial steps saw the renaming of The League's divisions. In re-naming Division One 'The Championship' The League has re-claimed its heritage and delivered a new dynamic presence to League Football. This reflects The Championship's status as one of Europe's leading competitions in terms of the standard of football being played, the high quality of stadia and the numbers of supporters attending.
Joining 'The Championship' in the lexicon of the English game are 'League 1' and 'League 2' - the new identities for the former Divisions Two and Three.
Beyond revitalised names and identities The Football League re-branding aims to deliver a tangible re-positioning of League football. League clubs are the very embodiment of community and in most cases are the single biggest communal activity in the towns and cities they represent. The League intends to explore further this relationship between football club and community, so as to enhance the value of clubs to the families that live locally.
During the next twelve months and beyond The League intends to develop a series of imaginative community initiatives in conjunction with its clubs and potential commercial partners.
In practice, this will mean identifying the very best community work currently being conducted at club level and implementing it across The League in partnership with new and existing sponsors. The aim being to:
· Strengthen links between clubs and their communities.
· Enhance relationships between clubs and supporters.
· Encourage more people to attend games at their local club.
· Increase the number of children playing football.
· Deliver new commercial revenues for League clubs.
A new three-year title sponsorship with Coca-Cola - the biggest in The League's history - accompanied the announcement, an early indication of the commercial appeal of The League.
With ever-increasing attendances, excellent football and competitive competitions The League looks set to go from strength to strength.
1885 Professionalism legalized
1888 Football League founded
1891 Goal nets introduced, penalty kick introduced
1898 Promotion and relegation introduced
1925 New offside law
1938 Laws re-written
1939 Player numbers
1951 White ball first used
1956 First floodlit game - Portsmouth v Newcastle
1960 League Cup launched
1961 Maximum wage removed
1965 Substitution allowed for injuries
1966 Substitution allowed for any reason
1973 3 up and 3 down promotion and relegation introduced
1981 3 points for a win
1982 League Cup sponsored - Milk Cup
1983 League sponsored by Canon
1986 League Cup becomes Littlewoods Cup; League sponsored by Today newspaper
1987 League sponsored by Barclays Bank
Play-offs (promotion and relegation)
1990 League Cup becomes Rumbelows Cup
1992 First Division breaks away to form Premier League
League Cup becomes Coca-Cola Cup
1993 League sponsored by Endsleigh Insurance
1996 League sponsored by Nationwide Building Society
1998 League Cup becomes Worthington Cup
2002 ITV Digital collapse
2003 League Cup becomes Carling Cup
2004 Divisions 1, 2 and 3 renamed The Championship, League 1 and League 2
League agrees biggest title sponsorship in its history with Coca-Cola