The first season of The Football League – the world’s original league football competition – kicked off on September 8th 1888, a sunny late summer afternoon.
There were five matches played on the opening Saturday, with matches kicking off between 3.30pm and 4.25pm. Two clubs, Rovers and Notts County, had to wait a further week to make their league debuts.
The match of the day was at Bolton Wanderers' Pikes Lane ground where visitors Derby County came back from three goals down to win a thrilling match 6-3. Bolton took the lead in the second minute of the match, with winger Kenny Davenport claiming the honour of scoring the first ever league goal.
At Deepdale, Preston North End triumphed 5-2 in their Lancashire derby with Burnley. Preston captain, Fred Dewhurst, scored after two minutes to delight the home crowd of more than 6,000 fans.
The first 10,000 attendance was recorded at Everton’s 2-1 win over Accrington at Anfield – the club’s original home before its relocation across Stanley Park. The game kicked off around 4.25pm after the visitors arrived 20 minutes late.
West Bromwich Albion's 2-0 victory at Stoke’s Victoria Ground meant they would have headed the league table (had such a concept existed at that point) on goal average – goal difference was not introduced until 1976. Also in the Midlands, Aston Villa's Gershom Cox scored what has gone down as The Football League's first ever own goal, as his side drew 1-1 with Wolverhampton Wanderers at Dudley Road.
Results – September 8th 1888
Bolton Wanderers 3-6 Derby County (3.45pm - Pikes Lane)
Everton 2-1 Accrington (4.25pm - Anfield)
Preston North End 5-2 Burnley (3.50pm - Deepdale)
Stoke 0-2 West Bromwich Albion (3.30pm - Victoria Ground)
Wolves 1-1 Aston Villa (3.30pm - Dudley Road)
The games themselves looked very different to today. The referee stood on the touchline, acting as time-keeper and arbitrating between the two umpires (one supplied by each club) when they could not agree.
At half-time, players stayed on the pitch for their five-minute break. There were no numbers, goal nets or substitutes and goalkeepers wore the same kit as their outfield colleagues.
At that stage the rewards for the victors were unclear, as agreement wouldn't be reached on a points system for several months, with some clubs wanting no points awarded for draws. Eventually two points for a win and one for a draw would find favour and remain in place until 1981 when The Football League pioneered three points for a win.
Preston's 'Invincibles' were the League's first champions, going unbeaten for the entire season. The Lancashire club also lifted the FA Cup to become the first ever 'double' winners.
Later this month (September 20th), The Football League and the National Football Museum will launch an exhibition entitled Game Changers: 125 Years of The Football League. The Exhibition will tell the story of the origins of the professional game and its place at the heart of our nation’s sporting culture. The exhibition brings to life the personalities and events that have shaped league football, both on and off the pitch, and features items contributed by all 72 Football League clubs.
To find out more about The Football League’s 125th Anniversary visit www.fl125.co.uk