Monday, 26 April 2021

FURY AT BIRTH OF LEAGUE - Sunday Mirror article of 25 April with Simon Mullock



ASTON VILLA might have expected an invitation into the European Super League - given they are one of only five English clubs to have lifted the European Cup.

Yet when the midlands club played a key role in the formation of the Football League 132 years ago, it became clear that profits and politics would always come first in football.

A statue of William McGregor stands outside Villa Park. A draper by trade, the 42-year-old Scot had become a committee member at his local club in Aston in 1877.

Eleven years later, he became the driving force behind the Football League after realising it was the only way forward following the game's turn towards professionalism.

Cash was needed to pay the players – and high-profile FA Cup ties and friendly matches were not going to meet the bills.

McGregor took his inspiration from the baseball leagues in the United States and so in April 1888 a meeting was convened at the Royal Hotel in Manchester to formalise the Football League.

The 'Cricket and Football Field' sporting newspaper reported that “a dozen association clubs, who style themselves the pick of the talent have joined hands for their own mutual benefit, apparently without a care for those unhappily shut out in the cold.”

Sound familiar?

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez may have even taken his inspiration from McGregor when he asked Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham to join the ESL last weekend.

Both men certainly wanted more bang for their buck.

McGregor decided that the Football League would be based around the railway network of the midlands and north west to meet transport needs.

He spent months working undercover to gauge opinion before putting his plan in motion.

Bolton Wanderers jumped on board immediately – and Trotters secretary John Bentley proposed another eight clubs to go with the five already invited by McGregor.

The Villa administrator had decided on a one-town, one-club policy.

That meant Villa's Birmingham-based rivals Mitchell St George’s were out.

McGregor's view that gate money should be divided by both clubs was immediately dismissed and replaced by a guarantee that visiting clubs would be paid £15.

Derby County were admitted despite having little kudos at the time.

And it was decided that Everton would represent the city of Liverpool ahead of local rivals Bootle because their Anfield stadium was reserved for football and not shared with a cricket club.

In Nottingham, three teams vied for inclusion – but Notts County occupied Trent Bridge and were given the nod ahead of the stronger teams at Forest and Notts Rangers.

Stoke's invitation ahead of rivals Port Vale may have had something to do with their secretary Harry Lockett being already lined up to become the Football League's first secretary.

Halliwell missed out to Bolton – despite recently beating their neighbours 4-1.

And with Sheffield's rail service considered poor, there was no room for The Wednesday.

So Accrington, Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Derby, Everton, Notts County, Preston, Stoke, West Brom and Wolves became founding members of the Football League.




Some additional info that was not included in the article:-

In 1887, professionalism was only legally two years old

On the eve of the 1888 FA Cup Final, which saw West Bromwich Albion surprisingly beat Preston North End, seven clubs met.

Then on 17 April 1888 at the Royal Hotel, Manchester the twelve clubs concerned formalised affairs.

In Nottingham, County were weaker than Forest and Notts Rangers but they occupied Trent Bridge. This promised a better gate.

Bolton Wanderers had been well beaten 4-1 in March 1888 by neighbours Halliwell who should have been Bolton’s League representative especially as they were also superior to Blackburn Rovers, FA Cup winners in 1884, 1885 and 1886.

Once the 12 announced their plans, Forest, Halliwell and the Wednesday, which suffered because Sheffield at the time had a poor train service, wrote asking to join the League. They were left disappointed, rejected on grounds that it was impossible to find sufficient dates for additional fixtures.

Forest and Sheffield Wednesday became part of an extended league system in 1892-93. No such fortune for Halliwell who went bust in May 1889.

And of the original 12, only one is no longer in existence – Accrington, who folded in 1896.


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