League football 125 years old this weekend

This Sunday marks the 125th Anniversary of the world’s first ever league matches.

The first season of The Football League - the world’s original league football competition - kicked-off on 8th September 1888, a sunny late summer afternoon.

There were five matches played on the opening Saturday with matches kicking off between 3.30pm and 4.25pm.  Two clubs, Blackburn Rovers and Notts County, had to wait a further week to make their league debuts.

The match of the day was at Bolton Wanderers' Pikes Lane ground where visitors Derby County came back from three goals down to win a thrilling match 3-6.  Bolton took the lead in the second minute of the match with winger Kenny Davenport claiming the honour of scoring the first ever league goal.

Match information from the local newspaper for Villa versus Wolves (left) and the first League goalscorer, Kenny Davenport (right)

At Deepdale, Preston North End triumphed 5-2 in their Lancashire derby with Burnley.  Preston Captain, Fred Dewhurst, scoring after two minutes to delight the home crowd of more than 6,000.

The first 10,000 attendance was recorded for Everton’s 2-1 win over Accrington at Anfield – the club’s original home before its relocation across Stanley Park.  The game kicked off around 4.25 pm after the visitors arrived 20 minutes late.  

West Bromwich Albion's 2-0 victory at Stoke’ Victoria Ground meant they would have headed the league table(had such a concept existed at that point) on goal average - goal difference was not introduced until 1976.  Also in the Midlands, Aston Villa's Gershom Cox scored what has gone down as The Football League's first ever own goal, as his side drew 1-1 with Wolverhampton Wanderers at Dudley Road.

Results – 8th September 1888

Bolton Wanderers 3-6 Derby County (3.45pm- Pikes Lane)

Everton 2-1 Accrington (4.25pm - Anfield)

Preston North End 5-2 Burnley (3.50pm - Deepdale)

Stoke 0-2 West Bromwich Albion (3.30pm – the Victoria Ground)

Wolves 1-1 Aston Villa (3.30pm Dudley Road)

The games themselves looked very different to today.  The referee stood on the touchline, acting as time-keeper and arbitrating between the two umpires (one supplied by each club) when they could not agree.  

At half-time players stayed on the pitch for their five minute break.  There were no numbers, goal nets or substitutes and goalkeepers wore the same kit as their outfield colleagues.

At that stage the rewards for the victors were unclear, as agreement wouldn't be reached on a points system for several months with some clubs wanting no points awarded for draws. Eventually two points for a win and one for a draw would find favour and remain in place until 1981 when The Football League pioneered three points for a win. 

Preston's 'Invincibles' were the League's first champions going unbeaten for the entire season.  The Lancashire club also lifted the FA Cup to become the first ever 'double' winners. 

An official record of the first Football League season, compiled by R.H. Richards, who made a mistake as Notts County lost to Derby County 5-3, not 5-2.

Later this month (Sep 20), The Football League and the National Football Museum will launch an exhibition entitled Game Changers: 125 Years of The Football League.  The Exhibition will  tell the story of the origins of the professional game and its place at the heart of our nation’s sporting culture.  The exhibition brings to life the personalities and events that have shaped league football, both on and off the pitch, and features items contributed by all 72 Football League clubs.

The Football League today

- 72 clubs – the largest single body of fully professional clubs in world football

- Football League clubs generate more than £600m of revenue annually and contribute more than £250m to the exchequer

- More than 20,000 full-time and part time staff are employed by Football League clubs

- There are more than 10,000 full-time, apprentice and schoolboy footballers on the books of Football League clubs

- Crowds in the modern era at their highest levels for 50 years and have more than doubled since the introduction of the Play-Offs

- The Football League’s flagship league competition, the Sky Bet Championship, is the fourth most watched league in European football

- Crowds for League 1 and 2 regularly outstrip crowds for matches played at the same level in other European nations by a significant margin.

- Since the Taylor Report, more than £800m has been invested in new and improved stadia with more than 20 brand new purpose built stadiums.

- Football League clubs invest more than £60m on Youth Development every season as part of the world’s largest centrally co-ordinated youth development programme.  

- Around a third of players registered in The Football League are under the age of 21.  Between 200 and 250 of these players make their first team debut each season.

- Television coverage of Football League matches is watched by more than 20m in the UK every year and is viewed in 167 countries around the world.

- The Football League generates more than £100m of commercial revenue every season.

- Football League clubs, under the auspices of The Football League Trust, engage with more than 1.5m people in their local community every season 

Best attended leagues in Europe (2012/13 aggregate crowds):

1.England (Premier League) - 13.6m  

2.Germany (Bundesliga) - 13.0m

3.Spain (La Liga) 10.7m

4.England (The Football League Championship) - 9.7m

5.Italy (Serie A) - 8.8m

6.France (Ligue 1) - 7.3m

7.Netherlands (Eredivisie) – 6.0m

8.Germany (Bundesliga 2) - 5.3m

Best attended third-tier leagues in Europe (2012/13 average crowds):

1.England (League  1) – 6,316

2.Germany 6,160

3.France – 1,986

4.Italy – 1,920

5.Russia – 1,578

Best attended fourth-tier leagues in Europe (2012/13 average crowds):

1.Scotland – 5,572

2.England (League 2) – 4,391

3.Germany – 1,022

4.Italy – 730

5.France – 385


Source: www.european-football-statistics.co.uk.