The 1888–1889 Football League was the first edition of the Football League, which ran from the autumn of 1888 until the spring of 1889. It was also the first national football league anywhere in the world.
The twelve original members were Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers who agreed to play a twenty-two game format whereby each team would host each of their eleven rivals once with two points awarded for a win and one point awarded for a drawn game. The team with most points at the completion of the season would be declared Champions of England while the team with the fewest points would be forced to seek re-election to the league for the following season.
Preston North End completed their twenty-two game programme without defeat and were declared the inaugural champions while Stoke finished with the fewest points, although their application for re-election proved successful.
Preston North End also won the FA Cup in 1889, becoming the first team in the world to complete a league and cup double.
At the beginning of the season it was decided that whichever team won the most games would be champions. A few weeks in this was deemed unfair as it made drawing no better than losing, so the League decided to award points: 2 for a win, 1 for a draw. In the end, this rule change made little difference; had it stayed in the "most wins" format, the only change would have been the move of Accrington to 10th and the elevation by one place of Everton, Burnley and Derby County.
During the first five seasons of the league, that is until the season 1893–94 re-election process concerned the clubs which finished in the bottom four of the league.
Key: P = Matches played; W = Matches won; D = Matches drawn; L = Matches lost; F = Goals for; A = Goals against; GA = Goal average; Pts = Points
Match results are drawn from The Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation website and Rothmans.
1 ^ The home team is listed in the left-hand column.
Colours: Blue = home team win; Yellow = draw; Red = away team win.
Ten of the twelve teams took part in the first ever round of Championship fixtures on Saturday, 8 September 1888 and although no league table was published in any of the newspapers of the time West Bromwich Albion would have been the very first table toppers. By modern-day calculations, Derby County would have been the first ever table toppers because of their superior goal difference which was +3 after the first game. Albion won 2-0 at Stoke in front of 4,500 spectators and would have headed Preston North End, Derby County and Everton by virtue of no goal average as they kept a clean sheet. Goal Average was the number of goals scored divided by the number of goals conceded. Goal Average was used to separate teams who were tied on points at that time. Preston defeated Burnley 5-2, Derby were 6-3 winners at Bolton and Everton secured the points in a 2-1 victory over Accrington. Aston Villa defender Gershom Cox was thought to have earned the distinction of scoring the first ever league goal with an unfortunate own goal in a 1-1 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Fred Dewhurst opening the scoring minutes later at Preston with the first intentional goal. However the post-match reports of relative kick-off times show most games were delayed allowing for crowds to assemble. A goal by England and Bolton winger Kenny Davenport 2 minutes into the match against Derby County was scored comfortably before any other and is now regarded as the first ever football league goal.
Preston North End took over from West Bromwich Albion at the top of the table in their second game on Saturday 15 September 1888 when they won 4-0 at Wolverhampton Wanderers with Archie Goodall scoring on his Preston debut. Albion also won 2-1 at Derby County but the victory gave them an inferior goal average while Everton were the only other club to secure maximum points from their opening two games. Both Blackburn Rovers and Notts County made their respective football league debuts. Rovers were held 5-5 by Accrington while Notts County lost 1-2 at Everton.
A 2-6 defeat for West Bromwich Albion at Blackburn Rovers and a 1-2 defeat for Everton at Aston Villa left Preston as the only team with a 100% record after three games when they defeated Bolton Wanderers 3-1 at Deepdale. Stoke recorded their first ever league victory 3-0 over Notts County, who themselves replaced Stoke at the foot of the table. County had lost both their opening two fixtures while Bolton had yet to secure a point from three.
Preston’s 100% record was maintained when they won 3-2 at Derby County while second placed Aston Villa set a record victory up to that time when they defeated bottom club Notts County 9-1. Bolton recorded their first ever league victory at the fourth attempt, 6-2 against Everton.
Richard Whittle marked his Preston debut with a goal in their 7-0 victory over Stoke to take their perfect start to five games. Their lead at the top was doubled to two points when Aston Villa suffered their first defeat of the season 0-2 at Everton. West Bromwich Albion moved up to second after beating Derby County 5-0 while Notts County secured their first ever point at the fourth attempt in a 3-3 draw with Blackburn Rovers yet remained at the foot of the table.
West Bromwich Albion visited Deepdale for the first ever league clash between teams occupying the top two positions at kick off. Albion trailed Preston by two points and required a six-goal victory to overtake the leaders on goal average but Preston stretched their perfect start to six games with a 3-0 victory. Aston Villa moved back into second place, three points behind Preston on the same day when they defeated Blackburn Rovers 6-1. Notts County became the last team to secure a victory when they defeated Everton 3-1 in what was their fifth game.
Accrington became the first team to gain a point against Preston when they held the league leaders to a 0-0 draw in what was their seventh game of the season. Aston Villa won 3-2 at Bolton to reduce Preston’s lead to two points.
Preston North End extended their unbeaten start to the season to eight games when they defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers 5-2 at Deepdale with John Goodall scoring a hat-trick. Alex McKinnon earned the distinction of being the first player to score a league hat-trick for Everton in their 6-2 victory over Derby County who fell to the bottom of the league as a result of a sensational 6-1 victory for Notts County over Burnley. Blackburn Rovers also enjoyed a comprehensive 5-2 victory over Stoke to climb to sixth in the table.
Preston stretched their unbeaten start to the season to nine games when Jack Gordon and John Goodall both scored hat-tricks in a 7-0 victory at Notts County. This was Goodall’s second hat-trick in consecutive games and took Preston three points clear of Aston Villa who were held 1-1 at Stoke. Blackburn Rovers also scored seven goals away from home at Burnley, who did manage a goal in reply.
When Aston Villa visited Preston North End on Saturday 10 November 1888 it was both teams tenth game of their twenty-two game programme and the second time in history that two teams had played a fixture while occupying the top two positions in the league. Villa went into the game trailing Preston by three points but a 1-1 draw maintained the status quo. Aston Villa were the only team to stop Preston North End winning every home game this season. The Villa also went on to win every home game except one which was against Preston.
Preston’s completed the first half of their programme unbeaten when they won 3-0 at Stoke in the only fixture played that day. The result took Preston five points clear of second placed Aston Villa who held one game in hand.
Preston increased their lead to seven points with a 2-0 defeat of Accrington while Aston Villa were beaten 1-5 at Blackburn Rovers.
Blackburn Rovers completed a run of five straight victories when they won 2-0 at bottom club Derby to move into third place, eight points behind leaders Preston whose unbeaten start increased to thirteen games with a 5-2 victory at Bolton.
Bottom club Derby travelled to unbeaten league leaders Preston having not won in nine games, the last seven of which had all ended in defeat. Jock Inglis made his Preston debut and scored in their 5-0 victory
Preston North End were held to a draw for only the third time at the fifteenth attempt, 2-2 at Burnley. Their nearest challengers, Aston Villa were unable to make any impact into the seven-point deficit though as they too were held 1-1 at Accrington.
Preston’s 3-0 defeat of Everton took their unbeaten start to the season to sixteen games.
The top club met the bottom club for the second time in a month as Derby travelled to Preston on Boxing Day. The league leaders repeated the 5-0 score they had achieved in the reverse fixture and, with Aston Villa not playing, they established a nine-point lead having played two games more.
A 1-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers on 29 December took Preston North End into the new year still unbeaten with just four games remaining. Their first game of 1889 would be at home to Notts County in a game that would see them crowned champions of the inaugural league with three games to spare provided Aston Villa also lost at Burnley. Notts County arrived at Deepdale having failed to win in seven outings, the last five of which had all ended in defeat and rarely threatened as Preston ran out 4-1 winners. Aston Villa slumped to a 0-4 defeat at Burnley which saw Preston crowned champions. The Deepdale club remained unbeaten in their final three games to complete their league programme unbeaten.