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The First Twelve Football League Clubs

Updated on October 26, 2011

The First Twelve

The Football League was formed in 1888 by Aston Villa director Charlie Fossey.

Notts County

Notts County is the oldest of the League clubs, and in the early days many of the leading players were county cricketers. William Gunn, who played also for Nottingham Forest, was the first man to Play both soccer for England against Scotland and cricket in a Test match against Australia.


Stoke (now Stoke City) was founded only a year after Notts County, by old boys from Charterhouse ; but in its first years it played a kind of football half-way between soccer and rugby. When professionalism began, the club paid its players half a crown a match -and the team went on strike when they found that one of the stars was getting five shillings!

Aston Villa

Aston Villa was founded by a group of young men who attended the Aston Villa Wesleyan Chapel at Lozells, a Birmingham suburb. At first it was a cricket and football club, but the cricket was soon dropped.

Bolton Wanderers

Another club was founded by the teachers and scholars of the Christ Church Schools at Bolton, and was called Christ Church, the Vicar being president. Later the club changed its name to Bolton Wanderers and it has never changed since.

Blackburn Rovers

There was a club called Cob Wall in Blackburn in the early days of football, but a group of ex-schoolboys in the town decided to form a club of their own. It became Blackburn Rovers. At first it had to play on opponents' grounds, and when the Rovers at last got a pitch it was a field with a pond in the middle, which had to be covered with planks and turf.

West Bromwich

When a group of lads in West Bromwich wanted to buy a football they found that there was no such thing on sale in the local shops, so they had to walk to Wednesbury to get one. When they walked back they got together and called themselves the "West Bromwich Strollers" ; less than ten years later, when they won the F.A. Cup, all England know them as West Bromwich Albion.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolverhampton Wanderers was founded by the boys of St. Luke's School, at Blakenhall. Like West Bromwich Albion, the Wolves boasted that they were an English team, without any imported Scots, and when they won the Cup in 1893 they called themselves "eleven true-born Englishmen."


The "St. Domingo Cricket Club" was formed by some youths who attended the Congregational Chapel at St. Domingo Vale, in Liverpool. In order to keep fit during the winter they decided to kick a football about, and became the Everton Football Club.

Preston North End

Preston North End was formed by a few lads who played cricket first at Moor Park and then at Deepdale. Later they took up rugby, and then went over to soccer. Preston was one of the first clubs to take on Scots, and they led the struggle for professionalism. When they were known as the "Invincibles" only four members of the team were Englishmen.


Some Y.M.C.A. lads founded the club that started off as Burnley Rovers but entered the League as plain Burnley. They meant to play rugby, but after seeing those other Rovers at Blackburn play soccer they decided to do the same.

Derby County

Derby County, like Notts County, was given its name because it was meant to be a county side. Again, it was started by cricketers, and the first matches were played on the County Cricket Ground. Later the club moved to a ground where a Derby businessman had tried to introduce American baseball into England. The game did not catch on, but Derby County still play on the Baseball Ground.


Accrington was founded only two or three years before the start of the Football League. The club remained in the League for five seasons, and then dropped out. Nearly thirty years later it reappeared in the Third Division North as Accrington Stanley.

So what has happened since 1888?

Of these twelve clubs that started the Football League, not one has remained in the First Division without a break. Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers were the last to lose their First Division membership, both clubs being relegated for the first time in 1936. Within two seasons the Villa returned to the First Division, and they have held their place ever since.

Everton have won the Championship nine times, Aston Villa seven times. Of the other original members, Blackburn Rovers won the First Division three times and the Premier League once making four in total and Wolves have won three times. Preston North End have won the Championship twice, being the first two season and have not won since. Derby County and Burnley have won twice and West Bromwich Albion just once.

Stoke City, Bolton, Notts County and Accrington have never won.


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    • samtenabray profile image

      samtenabray 6 years ago from uk

      I was wondering where Sheffield FC were, the oldest football club in history. But then i realised they weren't in the Football League. Very good article!