Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Football League
The Football League is an organisation representing 72 professional football clubs in England and Wales, and runs the oldest professional football league competition in the world. It also organises two knockout cup competitions. The Football League was founded in 1888 with 12 member clubs, but steady growth and the addition of more divisions meant that by 1959 the League had 92 clubs. Financial considerations led to a major shake-up in 1992 when, in a step to maximise their revenue, the leading members of The Football League broke away to form their own competition, the FA Premier League. The Football League therefore no longer represents the top 20 clubs who belong to this group, although promotion and relegation between The Football League and the FA Premier League continues.
The Football League's 72 member clubs are grouped into three divisions: the Football League Championship, Football League One, and Football League Two. Each division has 24 clubs, and in any given season a club plays each of the others in the same division twice, once at their home stadium and once at that of their opponents. This makes for a total of 46 games played each season.
Clubs gain three points for a win, one for a draw, and none for a loss. At the end of the season, clubs at the top of their division may win promotion to the next higher division, while those at the bottom may be relegated to the next lower one. At the top end of the competition, three Championship clubs win promotion from The Football League to the FA Premier League, with the bottom three Premier League clubs taking their places. At the lower end, two League Two clubs lose their Football League status with relegation to the Conference National division of the Football Conference, while two teams from Conference National join League Two of The Football League in their stead.
|Directly Up||Via Playoff|
|The Championship||Top 2 clubs||One from 3rd-6th
|Bottom 3 clubs|
|League One||Top 2 clubs||One from 3rd-6th
|Bottom 4 clubs|
|League Two||Top 3 clubs||One from 4th-7th
|Bottom 2 clubs|
Promotion and relegation are determined by final league position, but to sustain interest for more clubs over the length of the season one promotion place from each division is decided according to a playoff between four clubs, which takes place at the end of the season. It is therefore possible for a team finishing sixth in the Championship or League One, or seventh in League Two, to be promoted rather than the clubs finishing immediately above them in the standings.
Three professional football clubs from Wales, Cardiff City, Wrexham, and Swansea City, play in The Football League. This disqualifies them from participation in the League of Wales and the Welsh Cup, and so also deprives them of the chance to qualify for UEFA competitions by this route. One English club, Berwick Rangers, plays in the Scottish football league system.
Reserve teams of Football League clubs usually play in the Pontin's Holidays League (for the Midlands and North) or the Pontin's Holidays Combination (for the South), though some play in the national FA Premier Reserve League .
The Football League organises two knockout cup competitions, the Football League Cup, currently called the Carling Cup, and the Football League Trophy, currently the LDV Vans Trophy. The League Cup was established in 1960 and is open to all Football League and FA Premier League clubs, with the winner eligible to participate in the UEFA Cup. The Trophy is for clubs belonging to League One and League Two and certain Football Conference clubs.
After four years of debate, The Football Association finally legalised professionalism on 20 July 1885. Before that date many clubs made illegal payments to "professional" players to boost the competitiveness of their teams, arousing the contempt of those clubs abiding by the laws of the amateur Football Association code. As more and more clubs became professional the ad-hoc fixture list of FA Cup, inter-county, and 'friendly' matches was seen by many as an unreliable stream of revenue, and ways were considered of ensuring a consistent income.
A Scottish draper and director of Aston Villa, William McGregor, was the first to set out to bring some order to a chaotic world where clubs arranged their own fixtures. He wrote to the leading clubs and organised the founding meeting of The Football League on 22 March 1888. The first season of The Football League began a few months later on 8 September with 12 member clubs: Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Each club played the other twice, once at home and once away, and two points were awarded for a win and one for a draw. This points system was not agreed upon until after the season had started; the alternative proposal was one point for a win only. Preston won the first league title without losing a game, and completed the first league-cup double by also taking the FA Cup.
The early years of the League saw the addition of more clubs, and a new Second Division was formed in 1892 with the absorption of the rival Football Alliance. The bottom clubs of the lower division were required to apply for re-election to the League at the end of each season. Automatic promotion and relegation for two clubs was introduced after the League expanded to two divisions of eighteen in 1898; this came into effect when the previous system of test matches between the bottom two clubs of the First Division and the top two clubs of the Second Division was brought in to disrepute when Stoke and Burnley colluded in the final match to ensure they were both in the First Division the next season. During this period the League was dominated by northern clubs, with the likes of Sunderland, Newcastle United, and Manchester United joining the League and having success. Liverpool won the first of their record 18 League titles in 1901. It was not until the early years of the new century that southern clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur established themselves in the League, and there would be a further wait until 1931 before a southern club, Arsenal, would win the League for the first time.
The League was suspended for four seasons during World War I and resumed in 1919 with the First and Second Divisions expanded to 22 clubs. The following year, 1920, leading clubs from the Southern League joined the League to form a new Third Division, which in 1921 was renamed the Third Division South upon the further addition of more clubs in a new Third Division North. One club from each of these divisions would gain promotion to the Second Division, with the two relegated clubs being assigned to the most appropriate Third Division. To accommodate potential difficulties in this arrangement, clubs in the Midlands such as Mansfield Town or Walsall would sometimes be moved from one Third Division to the other.
Following this burst of postwar growth, the League entered into a prolonged period of relative stability with few changes in the membership, although there were changes on the pitch. A new offside law in 1925 reducing the number of opponents between the player and the goal from three to two led to a large increase in goals. Numbers on shirts were introduced in 1939 and white balls in 1951. The first floodlit game was played between Portsmouth and Newcastle United in 1956, opening up the possibility of midweek evening matches.
The League was suspended once more in 1939 with the outbreak of World War II, this time for seven seasons. The Third Divisions were expanded to 24 clubs each in 1950, bringing the total number of League clubs to 92, and in 1958 the decision was made to end the regionalisation of the Third Divisions and reorganise the clubs into a new nationwide Third Division and Fourth Division. To accomplish this the clubs in the top half of both the Third Division North and South joined together to form the new Third Division, and those in the bottom half made up the Fourth Division. Four clubs were promoted and relegated between these two lower divisions, while two clubs exchanged places in the upper divisions until 1974, when the number increased to three.
A new cup competition open to all the members of the League, the Football League Cup, was held for the first time in 1960-61 to provide clubs a new source of income. Aston Villa won the inaugural League Cup and, despite an initial lack of enthusiasm on the part of some of the bigger clubs, the competition became firmly established in the footballing calendar.
Substitutes were first allowed for injured players in 1965, and for any reason the next year.
Beginning with the 1976-77 season, clubs finishing level on points began to be separated according to goal difference (the difference between goals scored and goals allowed) rather than goal average (goals scored divided by goals allowed). This was an effort to prevent overly defensive play encouraged by the greater advantage in limiting goals allowed. In the event that clubs had equal points and equal goal differences, priority was given to the club that had scored the most goals. There has been only one season, 1988-89, when this level of differentiation was necessary to determine the League champion and this was the occasion of one of the most dramatic nights in League history, when Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield in the last game of the season to win the League on this tiebreaker.
Another important change was made in 1981 when it was decided to award three points for a win instead of two, a further effort to increase attacking football. In a similar vein, playoffs to determine promotion places were introduced in 1987 to prolong hope for more clubs to the end of the season, and at the same time to aid in the reduction over two years of the number of clubs in the First Division from 22 to 20. At the same time, automatic promotion and relegation between the Fourth Division and the Football Conference was introduced for one club, replacing the annual application for re-election to the League of the bottom four clubs and linking the League to the developing National League System pyramid. Emblematic of the confusion that was beginning to envelop the game, the number of clubs at the top of the league would return to 22 for the 1991-92 season, before once more dropping to 20 for 1995-96. The issues creating the uncertainty in the game all centered on money.
The increasing influence of money in English football was evident with such events as the first £1m transfer in the game, that of Trevor Francis from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest in February 1979. The first £2million player was Tony Cottee (West Ham United to Everton, July 1988). The first £3million player was Alan Shearer (Southampton to Blackburn Rovers, July 1992).
Since the creation of the Premier League, the record fee paid by English clubs has been broken almost every season. It rose to £3.75million in June 1993 (Roy Keane, Nottingham Forest to Manchester United), £5million in July 1994 (Chris Sutton, Norwich City to Blackburn Rovers), £7million in January 1995 (Andy Cole, Newcastle United to Manchester United), £7.5million in June 1995 (Dennis Bergkamp, Inter Milan to Arsenal), £8.5million in July 1995 (Stan Collymore, Nottingham Forest to Liverpool), £15million - world record - in July 1996 (Alan Shearer, Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle United), £19million in May 2001 (Ruud van Nistelrooy, PSV Eindhoven to Manchester United), £28.1million in July 2001 (Juan Sebastian Veron, Lazio to Manchester United) and the record since July 2002 has been the £29million which Manchester United paid Leeds United for Rio Ferdinand. So the creation of the Premier League has seen the record fee paid by English clubs broken 10 times in the first 10 seasons. Alan Shearer's £15million record lasted nearly five years in England, although his worldwide record was broken within a year. Rio Ferdinand's record has so far lasted nearly three years.
Beginning in 1983 the League has accepted lucrative sponsorships for its main competition. Below is a list of who the sponsors have been and what the League was called under their sponsorship:
- 1983-1986: Canon (Canon League)
- 1986-1987: Today (newspaper) (Today League)
- 1987-1993: Barclays Bank (Barclays League)
- 1993-1996: Endsleigh Insurance (Endsleigh League)
- 1996-2004: Nationwide Building Society (Nationwide Football League)
- 2004-2007: Coca-Cola (Coca-Cola Football League)
The League's cup competitions have different sponsors.
The other major source of money, and by far the most important one, is television. The 1980s saw competition between terrestrial broadcasters for the rights to show League matches, but the arrival on the scene of satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting (Sky TV), eagerly searching for attractive programming to build its customer base and willing to pay huge sums, changed the picture entirely. The League's top tier clubs had been agitating for several years to be able to keep more of the League's revenue for themselves, threatening to break away and form their own league if necessary. In 1992 the threat was realised as the First Division clubs left to establish the FA Premier League and signed a contract for exclusive live coverage of their games with Sky TV. The FA Premier League agreed to maintain the promotion and relegation of three clubs with The Football League, but The Football League was now in a far weaker position - without its best clubs and without the clout to negotiate high revenue TV deals. This problem was exacerbated with the collapse in 2002 of ITV Digital, holder of TV rights for The Football League, which cost League clubs millions of pounds in revenue.
The new, slimmed down League, 70 clubs until 1995 and 72 clubs since, renamed its divisions to reflect the changes. The old Second Division became the new First Division, the Third Division became the Second Division, and the Fourth Division became the Third Division. The financial health of its clubs has become perhaps the highest League priority due to the limited resources available. However there are some promising signs for the future, as the League plans to announce new initiatives beginning with the 2004-05 season, coinciding with the start of a new sponsorship agreement with Coca-Cola. The first of these changes was a rebranding of the League with the renaming of the First Division to The Championship, the Second Division to League One and the Third Division to League Two.
Past League winners
When The Football League was first established, all clubs played in just one division:
|Season||Football League Championship|
|1888-89||Preston North End|
|1889-90||Preston North End|
In 1892 The Football League absorbed the rival Football Alliance, meaning it now had enough clubs to form another division. The existing division was renamed the First Division and the new division was called the Second Division.
|Season||First Division||Second Division|
|1896-97||Aston Villa||Notts County|
|1898-99||Aston Villa||Manchester City|
|1899-1900||Aston Villa||The Wednesday|
|1901-02||Sunderland||West Bromwich Albion|
|1902-03||The Wednesday||Manchester City|
|1903-04||The Wednesday||Preston North End|
|1906-07||Newcastle United||Nottingham Forest|
|1907-08||Manchester United||Bradford City|
|1908-09||Newcastle United||Bolton Wanderers|
|1909-10||Aston Villa||Manchester City|
|1910-11||Manchester United||West Bromwich Albion|
|1911-12||Blackburn Rovers||Derby County|
|1912-13||Sunderland||Preston North End|
|1913-14||Blackburn Rovers||Notts County|
|1915-19||League suspended due to World War I|
|1919-20||West Bromwich Albion||Tottenham Hotspur|
In 1920 the Football League admitted the clubs from the first division of the Southern League (the Southern League continued with its remaining clubs) and Grimsby Town, who had failed to be re-elected to the Second Division the season before and been replaced by Cardiff City (of the Southern League). The clubs were placed in the new Third Division:
|Season||First Division||Second Division||Third Division|
|1920-21||Burnley||Birmingham City||Crystal Palace|
After just one season under the old format, the League expanded again. This time it admitted a number of clubs from the north of England (to balance things out as the last expansion brought mainly clubs from the south). The existing Third Division was renamed the Third Division South and the new division was named the Third Division North. Grimsby Town transfered to the new northern division. Both divisions ran in parallel, with clubs from both Third Divisions being promoted to the national Second Division at the end of each season:
Following the breakaway of the clubs in the First Division to form the FA Premier League, The Football League no longer included the top clubs in England. The Second Division was renamed the First Division, the Third Division became the Second Division, and the Fourth Division became the Third Division.
|Season||First Division||Second Division||Third Division|
|1992-93||Newcastle United||Stoke City||Cardiff City|
|1993-94||Crystal Palace||Reading||Shrewsbury Town|
|1994-95||Middlesbrough||Birmingham City||Carlisle United|
|1995-96||Sunderland||Swindon Town||Preston North End|
|1996-97||Bolton Wanderers||Bury||Wigan Athletic|
|1997-98||Nottingham Forest||Watford||Notts County|
|1999-2000||Charlton Athletic||Preston North End||Swansea City|
|2000-01||Fulham||Millwall||Brighton & Hove Albion|
|2001-02||Manchester City||Brighton & Hove Albion||Plymouth Argyle|
|2002-03||Portsmouth||Wigan Athletic||Rushden & Diamonds|
|2003-04||Norwich City||Plymouth Argyle||Doncaster Rovers|
In 2004, the Football League renamed its divisions: the First Division became the Football League Championship, the Second Division became Football League One and the Third Division became Football League Two. As the inaugural season under the new names is still taking place, there are as yet no winners.
Football League clubs
Below are listed the member clubs of The Football League for the 2004-2005 season. There are 24 clubs in each division. Note: The 20 Premier League clubs are not included as they are no longer part of the league; however it is still common practice to refer to them along with the 72 Football League clubs as the 92 league clubs.
Former Football League clubs
This list does not include clubs currently playing in the FA Premier League, all of which were formerly members of The Football League.
Note: R indicates that the club was relegated from The Football League.
|Club||Years in League||Notes|
|Barnet||1991-2001R (will return 2005)|
|Bradford (Park Avenue)||1908-1970|
|Burton United||1892-1907||Burton United was known as Burton Swifts until|
1901, at which time the club merged with Burton
Wanderers to form Burton United.
|Burton Wanderers||1894-1897||See Burton United.|
|Exeter City||1920-2003R||First club to be relegated after finishing second|
from bottom of The Football League.
|Gateshead||1919-1960||Known as South Shields until 1930.|
|Glossop||1898-1915||Known as Glossop North End until 1899.|
|Only club to have been relegated from The|
Football League twice.
|Loughborough||1895-1900||Also known as Loughborough Town.|
|New Brighton Tower||1898-1901|
|Rotherham Town||1893-1896||Would merge with Rotherham County in 1926 to|
form Rotherham United.
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