Football League Formed
The 22nd of March 1888 AD
In spite of the 12 founding members of The Football League all coming from Lancashire and the Midlands, the meeting that sealed the foundation of that league took place in London , at Andersonís Hotel. This was convenient because the great and the good of the football world then as now were gathering for the FA Cup Final the following day.
Football initially was a gentlemanly pursuit, clubs formed by public school old boys, regimental associations and university alumni dominating the game in its early years. But the increasing popularity of the sport, and the fact that Saturday afternoon was fast becoming a half-day off for the working man to enjoy himself, led to changes: northern clubs sprang up; and free of the Corinthian ethos pervading the posher teams, these clubs used money to draw good players to them Ė professionalism was established in many.
This professionalism meant money had to be raised to pay the players, and so the lure of a league was obvious: regular games against teams of similar stature; and a competition adding spice to the games, and thus numbers to the crowds.
Oddly the father of the English league was in fact Scottish: William McGregor, a successful draper who was on Aston Villa ís board. On March 2 1888 he wrote to Blackburn Rovers , Preston North End , Bolton Wanderers and West Bromwich , and the secretary of his own club, mooting the idea of a league. Bolton and Blackburn in particular got behind it, and the suggestion that other clubs be invited to a meeting was made.
For ease of travel, and because of the lingering split about professional players (a century and more later one begins to see they had a point) the new league consisted of clubs from Lancashire and the Midlands: Accrington , Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley , Derby County , Everton , Notts County , Preston North End, Stoke , West Bromwich Albion, and Wolverhampton Wanderers .
A few missed out on the new competition: Sunderland , Sheffield Wednesday , and Nottingham Forest were the better known sides not allowed to join in spite of applying; those modern day footballing giants Darwen and Bootle also had membership refused.
Intriguingly too Old Carthusians, the only southern club attending the Andersonís Hotel gathering, were not included in the league, just as in 1863 though they attended the meeting at The Freemasonís Tavern in Londonís Great Queen Street that formed The Football Association they declined to join that organisation. The word elitist does spring to mind here.
For the record, Preston went on to win the inaugural league, not losing a game in the process and thus earning the honorific The Invincibles. They won the 1888/89 FA Cup too, without conceding a goal throughout the competition, though for some reason further nicknames like The Impregnables, or The Rock Solid Defence, or The Team that Defends from the Front failed to be taken up.
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