Made in Manchester: The Birth of the Football League

Towards the latter part of the 19th century, the Royal Hotel in Manchester saw its name written into the history books following a meeting of minds that ushered in a new dawn in world football.

Before 17 April 1888, there wasn’t a single professional football league in existence on Earth, but that all changed when William McGregor – a Scotsman who was a director of Aston Villa Football Club – gathered together representatives from 11 different teams located across the Midlands and Lancashire to unveil his vision at the Royal Hotel.

Prior to the meeting, McGregor had already made it his mission to bring about some order to what was a chaotic set-up, where English clubs had to arrange their own fixtures and cup competitions. In March 1888, McGregor wrote to the committee of his own club, as well as to those of Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End and West Bromwich Albion – suggesting the establishment of a league competition that offered a guaranteed number of home and away fixtures for its member clubs each season, along with a steadier revenue stream. This initial correspondence led to an inaugural meeting at the Anderton Hotel in London on 23 March, which was the day before the FA Cup Final between West Bromwich Albion and Preston North End (Baggies fans will be pleased to know that WBA won 2-1).

With the groundwork laid in London, the finishing touches were applied in Manchester – and in attendance at the Royal Hotel were more club representatives who wanted in on this exciting concept, which brought the number of teams participating in the first ever Football League up to 12.

They were (in alphabetical order):

  • Accrington
  • Aston Villa
  • Blackburn Rovers
  • Bolton Wanderers
  • Burnley
  • Derby County
  • Everton
  • Notts County
  • Preston North End
  • Stoke (as the team was then known; the ‘City’ was added in 1926)
  • West Bromwich Albion
  • Wolverhampton Wanderers

The moniker ‘Football League’ was actually proposed by Major William Sudell – representing Preston North End – at the Manchester meeting after McGregor’s own submission of ‘Association Football Union’ was deemed to be too similar to ‘Rugby Football Union’, which had been founded in 1871.

So now that the teams had been identified and a suitable competition name agreed upon to play under, it was soon down to business… The first season of the Football League kicked off later that year on 8 September, with Preston North End emerging the eventual title winners (equally impressive was that the Lilywhites remained undefeated throughout the campaign).

The rest, as they say, is history, with a myriad of competitive football league competitions eventually coming into being all over the globe, but what became of the Royal Hotel? Sadly, it was demolished in 1908, but the site’s role in footballing history has been preserved thanks to a commemorative plaque erected by Manchester City Council in 1996.

As a business with strong Mancunian ties, IQ are proud that the city played such a prominent part in the structural development of the modern game we adore.

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