Football League

The English Football League is the original of all football leagues and a model of leagues in general. The Football League was formed in 1888 and its first season took place the same year including twelve clubs. The first radio broadcasted live commentary from league games occurred in 1927 and the first live televised broadcast happened in 1960; four years later, the popular BBC production Match of the Day was introduced.

Basic facts

Founded: 1888
Country: England
Organizer: The Football Association (FA)


Football League (1888-1992)
Premier League (1992-)

League records

Most championships: Manchester United (20, Football League is included)
Most played seasons: Everton (116, Football League is included)


The Football League was established as a way to organize the fast-growing football activity in England. In the 1880s, the fixtures were often chaotic and a central organization was needed. The initiative was taken by William McGregor, an industrialist located in Birmingham and club dirrector of Aston Villa.

The idea was to gather the best team in the country in a league format that included home and away fixtures in the extent of a season. The original twelve clubs forming “The League” were Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Everton, Preston North End, Aston Villa, Derby Country, Notts County, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The team selection reflected the skewed geographical concentration of football clubs in the country and only represented clubs from North West England and the midlands. An effect of this was the introduction of the Southern League in 1894, which became a competitor to the Football League that included the dominant clubs in the southern part of the country.

Many teams in other part of the country were still left out and many of these had joined the alternative league The Combination (that included 20 teams). The Football League would, however, soon be expanded by a second division, making the league encapsule 28 teams.

In 1920, a third division was established and most of the clubs in the Southern League would now join the original League. The league had also grewn before when the numbers of teams in each division was set to 20 in 1905.

Promotion and relegation

The expansion into several division was enabled the conditions for the introduction of promotion and relegation in 1898. Teams placed at the top could be promoted to a higher division and, vice versa, teams plated the bottom would be relegated to a lower division. The format would be copied by football leagues in Europe and is since long a standard in football.

League system

Premier League is since the 1992-1993 season the top tier of the English football league system (before that Division One had the same function). The next three tiers are incorporated in the so-called English Football League (EFL). When follows two additional tiers, which are part of the National League. An overview of the current league system in England is presented in table 1.

The modern divisions

Table 1 shows the modern league system in England.

Table 1. English football tiers since season 2004-05
Club Tier
Premier League 1
Championship 2
League One 3
League Two 4
National League 5
National League North / South 6

The old divisions

Table 2 shows the old league system in England.

Table 2. English football tiers before season 2004-05
Club Tier
Division One 1
Division Two 2
Division Three 3
Division Fourth 4

The second division was created in 1892, the third in 1920 and the fourth in 1958.


Statistics of English football clubs.

Football League titles

Statistics of all English clubs that have won the Football League Division One with Premier League titles not counted. Number of titles and the first winning seasons concerning the period 1888-1992.

Table 3. Clubs and League titles
Club Titles 1st title
Liverpool 18 1900-01
Arsenal 10 1930-31
Everton 9 1890-91
Aston Villa 7 1893-94
Manchester United 7 1907-08
Sunderland 6 1891-92
Sheffield Wednesday 4 1902-03
Newcastle 4 1904-05
Huddersfield Town 3 1923-24
Wolverhampton 3 1953-54
Leeds United 3 1968-69
Preston North End 2 1888-89
Blackburn 2 1911-12
Burnley 2 1920-21
Manchester City 2 1936-37
Portsmouth 2 1948-49
Tottenham 2 1950-51
Derby 2 1971-72
Sheffield United 1 1897-98
West Bromwich 1 1919-20
Chelsea 1 1954-55
Ipswich Town 1 1961-62
Nottingham Forest 1 1977-78

In total, 23 clubs have been FA Football League Division One champions.

The first ever season (1888-89) was contested by 12 teams and won by Preston, which went through the season undefeated. Liverpool has the record of collection most points in a season with two points for a win: 68 points (30 wins 8 draws) season 1978–79. Since the numbers of teams in the Division One has vary during the years, the records of this sort tends to be somewhat unfair.


By Oscar Anderson

Football League timeline

1888 Football League is established as the first football league in the world.
1892 The league is expanded when Division Two is established.
1905 The number of teams in Division One is expanded to 20.
1915 The 1915-16 season is cancelled due to the WWI.
1919 The league is restored after the war.
1919 The number of teams in Division One is expanded from 20 to 22.
1920 The league is expanded when Division Three is established.
1939 The ongoing season is abandoned due to the WWII.
1946 The league is restored after the war.
1958 The league is expanded when Division Four is established.
1981 From the 1981-82 season, wins are awarded three points instead of two.
1986 The number of teams in Division One is reduced from 22 to 20.
1991 The number of teams in Division One is expanded from 20 to 22.
1992 The Division One is renamed as Premier League.

The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football – David Goldblatt (2008)