“When it all started”

The evening before the FA Cup Final of 1888 between Preston North End and West Bromwich Albion at the Oval representatives of Aston Villa, Notts County, Blackburn Rovers, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Burnley, Stoke and West Bromwich Albion held a successful meeting and invited Preston North End, Everton, Accrington, Bolton Wanderers and Derby County to join them in formalising affairs and arranging fixtures for season 1888-89 at the Royal Hotel, Manchester on Tuesday April 17th 1888.  William McGregor a committee man from Aston Villa suggested “Football Union” as a title but that was swiftly overruled in favour of Preston North End’s preferred title of the “Football League”.

The twelve clubs who competed for the first Football League championship were:

Before the founding of the League there had been a rather haphazard approach to organised soccer.  Games were subject to last-minute cancellations or delay almost at the whim or interest of the players.  Spectators sometimes turned up to find a match called off because a club could not raise a team or their opponents had simply failed to arrive.

The League was an immediate success and increased from 12 to14 clubs in 1891-92 before introducing a Second Division the following year as well as once again expanding the First Division to 16 clubs.  Darwen, Newton Heath, Burslem Port Vale, Woolwich Arsenal, Burton Swifts and Northwich Victoria were some of the new names to appear in the ever popular Leagues.

As the new League progressed so did the development of rules, tactics and formations.  The throw-in from touch at first was done with one hand but so expert did some players become at reaching the goalmouth that it was decided in the 1880’s first to make the thrower use two hands and then to make him throw with his hands above his head from a standing position and when cross-bars replaced tapes, years of argument finally ended.  Nets were invented and patented in 1890 by J A Brodie of Liverpool.  Up to 1891 there were no linesmen; each side provided an umpire and the referee was only called upon to arbitrate in case of dispute.  The referees who had used whistles since 1878 were eventually given control in 1891 and the Referees Association was formed in 1893.

The first floodlit football match was held at the Bramall Lane, Sheffield, on October 14th 1878 between teams chosen by the Sheffield Association from local clubs.  Electric light was still a novelty in the provinces and the fixture, in the words of an observer at the time, “attracted much attention”.  The official attendance was 12,000 (the Cup Final only attracted 5,000) but many more were thought to have been present.  The lamps were erected on 30 foot wooden towers, one in each corner of the ground.  The electric power was generated by two portable engines, one behind each goal.  The power of each lamp was 8,000 standard candles.  Two weeks later at the Lower Aston grounds, a Birmingham representative side beat Nottingham Forest 2-1 under illumination provided by twelve electric lights spaced around the pitch.

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Design: David Ainsworth