125 years of the Football League

On this exact day (Sunday) Bolton played their first ever Football League game

This Sunday marks 125 years to the day since Bolton Wanderers played their first ever Football League fixture.

On 8 September 1888, playing as one of the 12 founding members of the Football League, Bolton faced Derby County at Pikes Lane.

The game kicked off at approximately 3.45pm, with Bolton winger Kenny Davenport netting the first ever Football League goal with the game just two minutes old. Despite taking a three-goal lead that day, Bolton were eventually defeat 6-3.

In total five matches were played on the opening day, with Blackburn Rovers and Notts County having to wait a further week to make their league debuts.

Results – 8 September 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 – the 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 (Sep 20), 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.

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