History of English football

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England is home to, amongst others, the world's oldest association football club (Sheffield F.C.), the oldest national governing body (The Football Association), the first national team, the oldest national knockout competition (the FA Cup) and the oldest national league (The Football League). Today England's top domestic league, the Premier League, is one of the most popular and richest sports leagues in the world,[1] and is home to some of the world's most famous football clubs.

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Association football is a national sport in England, where the first modern set of rules for the code were established in 1863, which were a major influence on the development of the modern Laws of the Game. With over 40,000 association football clubs, England has more clubs involved in the code than any other country.

England is home to, amongst others, the world's oldest association football club (Sheffield F.C.), the oldest national governing body (The Football Association), the first national team, the oldest national knockout competition (the FA Cup) and the oldest national league (The Football League). Today England's top domestic league, the Premier League, is one of the most popular and richest sports leagues in the world,[1] and is home to some of the world's most famous football clubs.


History of English football

For more details on this topic, see History of English football.

The modern global game of association football was first codified in 1863 in London.[2] The impetus for this was to unify English public school and university football games.

Football was played in England as far back as medieval times. The first written evidence of a football match came in about 1170, when William Fitzstephen wrote of his visit to London, "After dinner all the youths of the city goes out into the fields for the very popular game of ball." He also went on to mention that each trade had their own team, "The elders, the fathers, and the men of wealth come on horseback to view the contests of their juniors, and in their fashion sport with the young men; and there seems to be aroused in these elders a stirring of natural heat by viewing so much activity and by participation in the joys of unrestrained youth." Kicking ball games are described in England from 1280.[3]

In 1314, Edward II, then the King of England, said about a sport of football and the use of footballs, "certain tumults arising from great footballs in the fields of the public, from which many evils may arise."[3] An account of an exclusively kicking "football" game from Nottinghamshire in the fifteenth century bears similarity to association football.[4] By the 16th centuries references to organised teams and goals had appeared. There is evidence for refereed, team football games being played in English schools since at least 1581.[3] The eighteenth century Gymnastic Society of London is, arguably, the world's first football club.

The Cambridge rules, first drawn up at Cambridge University in 1848, were particularly influential in the development of subsequent codes, including association football. The Cambridge Rules were written at Trinity College, Cambridge, at a meeting attended by representatives from Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester and Shrewsbury schools. They were not universally adopted.[2] During the 1850s, many clubs unconnected to schools or universities were formed throughout the English-speaking world, to play various forms of football. Some came up with their own distinct codes of rules, most notably, Sheffield Football Club (the world's oldest club), formed by former public school pupils in 1857,[5] which led to formation of the Sheffield & Hallamshire Football Association in 1867. In 1862, John Charles Thring of Uppingham School also devised an influential set of rules.[6] His brother, headmaster of the school Reverend Edward Thring, was a proponent of football as an alternative to masturbation, seen as weakening the boys, and through football hoped to encourage their development of perceived manly attributes which were present in the sport.[7] ( These ongoing efforts contributed to the formation of The Football Association (The FA) in 1863, which first met on 26 October 1863 at the Freemasons' Tavern in Great Queen Street, London.[2] The Sheffield FA played by its own rules until the 1870s with the FA absorbing some of its rules until there was little difference between the games. A match between Sheffield and Hallam F.C. on 29 December 1862 was one of the first matches to be recorded in a newspaper.[3]

With the modern passing game believed to have been innovated in London [3][8] and with England being home to the oldest football clubs in the world dating from at least 1857, the world's oldest football trophy, the Youdan Cup, the first national competition, the FA Cup founded in 1871, and the first ever association football league (1888) as well as England having the first national football team that hosted the world's first ever international football match, a 1-1 draw with Scotland on 5 March 1870 at The Oval in London,[9] England is considered the home of the game of football.

The Royal Engineers AFC (1872): the first passing side

On 8 March 1873, the England national team's 4-2 win over Scotland at the Oval was the first ever victory in international football.[10] The late nineteenth century was dominated by the growing split between the amateur and professional teams, which was roughly aligned along a North-South divide. Northern clubs were keen to adopt professionalism as workers could not afford to play on an amateur basis, while Southern clubs by the large part stuck by traditional "Corinthian" values of amateurism. Eventually, in 1885 the FA legalised professionalism, and when Aston Villa director William McGregor organised a meeting of representatives of England's leading clubs, this led to the formation of the Football League in 1888. Preston North Endwere inaugural winners in 1888-89, and were also the first club to complete the double of both winning the league and the FA Cup. Aston Villa repeated the feat in 1896-97.

The League expanded over the next 25 years as football boomed in England, from one division of twelve clubs in 1888, to two divisions by the 1892-93 season, with a total of 28 clubs and with the gradual addition of more clubs, a total of 40 by 1905-06. It remained at 40 until the league was suspended after the 1914-15 season with the outbreak of World War I. During this time clubs from the North and Midlands dominated, with Aston Villa, Sunderland,Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle United all winning three or more league titles in the period leading up to World War I. During the war, competitive football was suspended. However, an unofficial "Wartime Football league" was played from 1915–16 to 1918–19, although the FA Cup was suspended until after the war.

In the 1920–21 season the Football League was expanded, with the new Third Division, which expanded the league south of Birmingham. Each division had 22 clubs. The next season the league was again expanded with the Third Division divided into North (with 20 clubs) and South (with 22 clubs) sections, making a total of 86 clubs in the Football League. In the 1923–24 season the Third Division North was expanded to 22 clubs, making a total of 88 league clubs.

The national stadium at Wembley was opened in 1923, with the "White Horse Final" being the first FA Cup final to be played there.

The inter-war years were dominated by Huddersfield Town, Everton and Arsenal, who won eleven of the eighteen league titles contested between them, with Huddersfield and Arsenal each grabbing a hat-trick, and Arsenal taking five in total, as well as two FA Cups.

By the turn of the 1930s the national side often played against other national teams from outside the British Isles.[10] However, the FA's resignation from FIFA in 1928 meant that England did not contest any of the first three World Cups. The 1939–40 season was abandoned in September 1939 following the outbreak of World War II. However, as with World War I, a special wartime league was played throughout the war years, with the FA Cup again suspended. Ten regional "mini-leagues" were initially established in 1939 as well as the Football League War Cup which ran six seasons from 1939 to 1945 with West Ham United, Preston North End, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers winning the trophy while in 1943-44 Aston Villa and Charlton Athletic shared the trophy after drawing 1-1. Various leagues and cups were organised throughout the war years for five seasons until the FA Cup resumed in 1945–46. The Football League returned the following season.

The post-war years were dominated first by Manchester United with three titles and an FA Cup and Wolverhampton Wanderers with three titles and two FA Cups. Although Manchester United's progress was halted by the 1958 Munich air disaster. However, during this time English football was being outstripped abroad. England lost 1-0 to the United States at the 1950 World Cup, and then lost 6-3 to Hungary at Wembley in 1953. The only notable international success at club level were the victories of Wolverhampton Wanderers in a series of high profile exhibition matches in some of football's first live televised games, which included a pride-restoring 3-2 win over Hungarian league champions Budapest Honvéd.[11] However, English teams would make little immediate impact in the European club competitions that were to be set up. The FA and the Football League persuaded the 1954–55 league champions Chelsea against participating in the first European Cup competition which took place in 1955-56. Chelsea's successors as champions, Manchester United ignored such advice and went on to reach the semi-final of the 1956–57 European Cup, where they lost to the eventual winners Real Madrid. In the following seasons European Cup, United defeated Red Star Belgrade in the quarter final only to be decimated in the air disaster atMunich when eight players died returning from the second leg match in Belgrade. Their patched-up team managed to beat A.C. Milan in the home leg at Old Trafford in the semi-finals, but went out of the competition when they lost the return leg 4-0. In the 1958–59 European Cup Wolverhampton Wanderers went out in the first round. However, the following season they managed to reach the quarter final, where they lost to Barcelona. Two English teams reached the finals of the first two Inter-Cities Fairs Cup tournaments. In the 1955–58 Fairs Cup, which took place over three seasons, and which allowed only one team from each participating city, a London XI made up of players from various London clubs, reached the final where they lost 8-2 to over two legs to Barcelona. The next Fairs Cup also took place over three seasons from 1958 to 1960, and Birmingham City reached the final where they also lost to Barcelona, 4-1 in a one-off final.

The Football League was re-organised for the 1958–59 season with Third Divisions North and South discontinued. The top half of each regional Third Division from the previous season formed a new Third Division, while the lower halves formed the new Fourth Division.

Modernisation followed in the 1960s, with revolutions in the game such as the George Eastham case allowing players greater freedom of movement, and the abolition of the maximum wage in 1961. Tottenham Hotspur became the first club to win the Double in the 20th century in 1960-61, and the first English club to win a European trophy, the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1962-63 when they beat Atlético Madrid 5–1 in the final. The most marked success of the era, however, was Alf Ramsey's England team, which won the 1966 FIFA World Cup on home soil after controversially beating West Germany 4-2 after extra time, the only time the national team has won the trophy. In the late 1960s English clubs dominated the last years of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. In 1966–67Leeds United reached the final where they lost 2–0 to Dinamo Zagreb. The following season they went one better, beating Ferencvárosi 1-0 in the final. Newcastle United won the 1968–69 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup beating Újpest 6-2 in the final. The following season Arsenal made it a hat-trick of English triumphs beating Anderlecht 4-3 in the final. In the last Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1970–71, Leeds United again were winners once again, when they beat Juventus on away goals.

Manchester United became the first English club to win the European Cup in 1967–68 when they beat Benfica 4–1 at Wembley in the final. However, it was Liverpool who dominated the game in England from the early 1970s onwards, for nearly two decades. They won eleven league titles and four European Cups between 1972 and 1990. Other successful clubs in the 1970s and 1980s included their rivals Nottingham Forest, who won a league title and two European Cups in the late 1970s, and Everton, with two titles in the mid-1980s, and Aston Villa with a European Cup triumph in 1982. However while club sides thrived in European competition, the national team struggled, failing to qualify for both the 1974 and 1978 World Cups.

By this time serious problems had surfaced. The rise of football hooliganism marred the game throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with attendances dipping. In August, 1974, a Blackpool fan was stabbed to death at the back of the Spion Kop, Bloomfield Road at Blackpool's home match with Bolton Wanderers[12] It was widely reported as being the first hooligan death at an English football match and together with Manchester United fans behaviour, during their one season in the Second Division that year, it ushered in a dark era of hooliganism in England. The nadir came in 1985, when Liverpool fans hooliganism, combined with poor policing and infrastructure, led to the deaths of 39 Juventus fans before the European Cup final, in the Heysel Stadium disaster. English clubs were banned from Europe for five years as a result. England's ageing and poorly-built stadiums were responsible, along with other factors, for two disasters, one at Bradford in 1985 and the other at Hillsborough in 1989, killing 56 and 96 people respectively.

Up until the 1985–86 season there was no direct promotion and relegation between the Football League and non-league football, with the bottom four clubs in the Fourth Division each year having to apply for re-election for the following season. A few non-league clubs were successful forcing league clubs to leave the Fourth Division, such as Hereford United. However, in 1986–87 automatic promotion and relegation was introduced, with the bottom club in the league being relegated to the Conference. Eventually this was increased to two clubs in 2002–03. In the 1980s, play-offs were introduced throughout the Football League for promotion each season, with one club each season being promoted via the end of season play-offs in addition to those clubs promoted automatically.

The post-Hillsborough Taylor Report forced the conversion of major stadia to all-seater. At the same time, the money from television coverage was increasing rapidly. These, combined with England's relative success at the 1990 World Cup, reaching the semi-finals only to lose on penalties to West Germany, and a concerted effort to drive out hooliganism reinvigorated the national game. In the spring of 1992, the 22 clubs in the First Division resigned en masse from the Football League, forming a new top-level competition, The FA Premier League, overseen by The FA, largely to capitalize upon their status as the biggest and most wealthy clubs in the country, and negotiate more profitable television rights. The Football League was consequently re-organised, with the Second, Third and Fourth Divisions renamed as the First, Second and Third Divisions respectively. Thus, the First Division, while still the top level of the Football League, became the second level of the entire English football league system with the top clubs inheriting the promotion playoff system from the old Second Division.

The Premier League came to be dominated by Manchester United in its first decade, who won eight titles and four FA Cups (including two Doubles) and a Champions League title between 1993 and 2003. Although this boom brought wealth to the game, clubs' financial success also became more polarised, particularly after the collapse of ITV Digital in 2002, which led to some lower-division clubs being put into administration and others facing near-bankruptcy. This polarisation has occurred even within the Premier League, with it becoming dominated by Manchester United, Arsenal (winning two doubles in 1997–98 and 2001–02, then in 2003–04 they won the league without losing a single league game the entire season), and Chelsea (who were bought by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich in 2003) and who then won back-to-back titles in 2004–05 and 2005–06. By comparison, Leeds United who reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2001 have suffered from financial difficulties which saw them narrowly avoid going into administration in the 2003–04 season but ended up losing most of their top players and were relegated. They went into administration in the 2006–07 season and consequently were deducted 15 points and were relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time in the club's history.

Despite the success of the domestic game, and a resurgence in fortunes for English clubs in Europe (Liverpool won the Champions League again in 2005 as did Manchester United in an all-English final in 2008), the national team's fortunes have been decidedly mixed. They missed the '94 World Cup entirely. They had their best post-1990 performance in Euro 96, where they were knocked out in the semi-finals on penalties by Germany. Penalty shoot-out defeats went on to haunt England at the 1998 World Cup, Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup as well. England also failed to reach the finals of Euro 2008, with manager Steve McClaren being sacked as a result in November 2007 and the appointment of Fabio Capello.

The Premier League also has the highest total attendances of all football leagues throughout the world based on the 2007-8 season with 13,676,390. The Championship, despite being the second tier in English football, is the fourth most watched league with a total of 9,396,144, behind only the Premier League the Bundesliga in Germany (11,815,215) and La Liga in Spain (11,067,020), but ahead of every other top-flight league including Serie A in Italy, Ligue 1 in France, the Primera División in Argentina and the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A in Brazil. League One with 4,133,928 was also ahead of a large number of top-flight leagues including the Scottish Premier League, Major League Soccer in the United States and the Belgian Pro League in Belgium. Even League Two with a total of 2,281,416 had higher total attendances than the top-flights in a lot of countries including Ukraine, Russia and Norway.

[edit]League system

Main article: English football league system

The Football League, established in 1888 by Aston Villa director William McGregor, was the first professional football league in the world. Since its founding, however, many other leagues have been founded in England. Over the years there has been an increasing effort to link all these leagues together in a Pyramidal structure allowing promotion and relegation between different levels. The primary motivation for this drive is to maintain the possibility that any club in England may dream of one day rising to the very top, no matter what status they currently hold. In a study made by FIFA in 2006 there are around 40,000 clubs registered with the FA, which is 11,000 more than any other country, the closest being the Brazilian Football Confederation who have 29,000 registered clubs. Even without taking relative population into account, England has more football clubs than any other country in the world.[13]

[edit]Premier League

The Premier League was founded in 1992 after England's top clubs broke away from the Football League in a successful effort aimed at increasing their income at the expense of clubs in the lower divisions. Links with The Football League were maintained, and each season the bottom three clubs are relegated from the Premier League and replaced by three from the Championship. The Premier League is contested between 20 clubs each season. Each club in the Premier League in any given season owns one twentieth of a share in the league itself, meaning that they are all supposedly equal owners with equal rights and responsibilities.

[edit]The Football League

Although the oldest league in the world, The Football League now ranks second in the hierarchy of English football since the split of England's top clubs in 1992 to form the FA Premier League. The Football League has 72 member clubs evenly divided among three divisions, currently named the Championship, League One and League Two. Despite the organisational split, promotion and relegation of clubs still takes place between the Premier League and the Football League.

[edit]Non-league football

Main article: Non-league football

Below the Football League is what is commonly known as "non-League football". This term can be confusing, as it refers to those clubs outside the Football League, although they still play in organised league competitions. In recent years, the top few levels have been consolidated into the National League System, operated by the FA. Most clubs in the Conference National division are fully professional, the remainder are semi-professional.

There is automatic promotion and relegation between League Two and the Conference National, and for several levels below the Conference, although this becomes more irregular further down the league system. The non-League system is often known as the "pyramid", because the number of leagues at each level begins to increase the further down through the levels, with each league covering a smaller geographic area.

[edit]Amateur football

Although the FA abandoned a formal definition of "amateur" in the early 1970s, the vast majority of clubs still effectively play as amateurs, with no financial reward and the leagues are not part of the National League System.

The various County Football Associations, which are based roughly on the historic county boundaries, are the local governing bodies of football in England. They govern all aspects of Sunday league football. Not all County Football Associations are run on county basis. Each armed service has one, for instance such as the Army Football Association which administers football within the British Army.

The Amateur Football Alliance (AFA) is the largest organised amateur competition, being particularly strong in the London area. The AFA is also a County Football Association and as such governs leagues such as the Arthurian League which contains two former FA Cup winners, Old Etonians who won the FA Cup twice, in 1879 and 1882 as well as Old Carthusians who were FA Cup winners in 1881.

Sunday league football in England tends to be lower level amateur football, which is also sometimes referred to as Pub League due to the number of public houses who field teams in Sunday leagues. Each local County Football Association governs all aspects of Sunday league football.

Smaller-sided versions of the game such as Five-a-side football are popular. Futsal is also a growing sport in England. These are often played informally, but there are many competitive small-sided leagues running across the country.

[edit]Reserve leagues

The top division for reserve teams of professional clubs is the Premier Reserve League, which was founded in 1999 and is split into Premier Reseve League North and Premier Reserve League South, both with ten participating teams.

Beneath that operate the Central League for Football League clubs reserve teams in the Midlands and North of England, and the Football Combination for clubs from the South of England and Wales.

The Central League was formed in 1911 and currently has 28 teams, split into three divisions - Central, North and South. The winners of each division and the best runner-up compete in the end-of-season play-offs to decide the league champions. Whilst the Central League is for Football League reserve teams, The West Division contains a Manchester City side which uses a mix of reserve team and youth team squad players and in 2007-08 they were Central League champions. The Central League also organises the Central League Cup, although not all clubs enter the cup.

The Football Combination was formed in 1915 and currently has 30 teams. The Combination is also split into three divisions - East, Central and Wales & East. Whilst the majority of teams are Football League reserve teams, the Combination also currently has the reserve teams of three Conference clubs - Forest Green Rovers, Lewes,and Salisbury City. The Football Combination also organises the Combination Challenge Cup, although not all clubs enter the cup.

There is no promotion and relegation between the reserve team leagues. When a first team is relegated from the Premier League, their reserve team withdraws from the Premier Reserve League to either of the other two leagues and is replaced by the reserve team of the club promoted from the Championship.

Below the professional club reserve leagues, many clubs also operate reserve teams, which play in separate Reserve leagues, such as the Lancashire League. Some lower leagues, such as theNorth West Counties Football League organise their own reserve leagues. And, at some lower levels of the pyramid, reserve teams play against first teams.

[edit]Youth leagues

Many club sides have youth teams. The top level of youth football is the Premier Academy League, founded in 1997, which is for all Premier League and Football League clubs that have Academy sides. The league, which currently has 40 clubs, is divided into four groups each with ten teams. The winners of each group contest the end-of-season play-offs to decide the league champions.

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