Football League Second Division

The Football League was the brainchild of William McGregor. The draper moved to Birmingham from Scotland in 1870 after completing his apprenticeship, and became involved with local football club Aston Villa, who played at Aston Park, close to his business premises. His interest in Villa stemmed from the large Scottish contingent playing for the club, their exciting playing style and the club’s link to a Methodist chapel.  During his long association with Villa, the devout Christian helped secure their finances and was instrumental in establishing them as one of the leading clubs in England. In 1888, frustrated by the regular cancellation of Villa’s matches, McGregor sent the following letter to four other clubs on 2 March 1888, that led to the formation of the world’s first league football competition.

“Every year it is becoming more and more difficult for football clubs of any standing to meet their friendly engagements and even arrange friendly matches. The consequence is that at the last moment, through cup-tie interference, clubs are compelled to take on teams who will not attract the public.

I beg to tender the following suggestion as a means of getting over the difficulty: that ten or twelve of the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home-and-away fixtures each season, the said fixtures to be arranged at a friendly conference about the same time as the International Conference.
This combination might be known as the Association Football Union and could be managed by representative from each club. Of course, this is in no way to interfere with the National Association; even the suggested matches might be played under cup-tie rules. However, this is a detail.
My object in writing to you at present is merely to draw your attention to the subject, and to suggest a friendly conference to discuss the matter more fully. I would take it as a favour if you would kindly think the matter over and make whatever suggestions you deem necessary. I am only writing to the following – Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End, West Bromwich Albion, and Aston Villa, and would like to hear what other clubs you would suggest.
I am, yours very truly, William McGregor (Aston Villa F.C.)

P.S. How would Friday, 23 March 1888, suit for the friendly conference at Anderton’s Hotel, London?”

The date to discuss McGregor’s plan was deliberately chosen as it was the day before the FA Cup Final between West Bromwich Albion and Preston North End. The name ‘The Football League’, was agreed at a further meeting on 17 April at Manchester’s Royal Hotel. The inaugural season kicked off on 8 September 1888 with 12 member clubs – six from the Midlands and six from the north of England:

Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The League was limited to 12 clubs mainly because of the number of available Saturdays for fixtures without encroaching too much on summer sports. It was not until mid-November, with the season well underway that two-points-for-a-win, one-point-for-a-draw system was adopted. An alternative system considered was simply to award one point for a win. Interestingly out of the five games played on the opening day, only one kicked off at 3:00 pm. Although teams often arrived late, and incorrect scores were recorded, the first season was an incredible success, with Preston North End – the “Invincibles” – winning both the FA Cup and the inaugural Football League. They won 18, drew 4, and lost none out of 22 League games played. A second division was formed in 1892-3 by absorbing the rival competition, the Football Alliance. The original members were: Ardwick (now Manchester City), Bootle, Burton Swifts, Crewe Alexandra, Darwen, Grimsby Town, Lincoln City, Northwich Victoria, Port Vale, Sheffield United, Small Heath (now Birmingham City), and Walsall. Relegation and promotion between the two divisions were determined by end of season Test Matches. Similar to the current Play-Off system they involved the top sides of the Second Division against the bottom sides of the First Division. Football League rules also allowed direct election of clubs into the First Division. The last club to benefit from this were Arsenal in March 1919.

For the first few years, there was no automatic promotion to the First Division. Instead, the top few teams in Division Two, including the winners, contested a series of test matches against the bottom teams in Division One. Small Heath, Second Division champions in 1892–93, were denied promotion after losing in test matches to Newton Heath. However, runners-up Sheffield United beat Accrington to become the first team to win promotion to the First Division. Test matches were abolished in 1898 after Burnley and Stoke conspired to deliberately draw their test match 0–0, which resulted in Burnley being promoted and Stoke being saved from relegation. Relegation to the Football League Third Division was in place in the season before the latter even started, as Grimsby Town (last place in 1919–20) made way for Cardiff City and formed the new Third Division with southern clubs. For subsequent seasons, two clubs were relegated into either the Third Division North or Third Division South depending on their geographical location. When the Third Division was reunified in 1958–59.

Leicester became a member of the Football League in 1894. After a couple of mediocre seasons in Second Division, the Fosse earned promotion to the First Division in 1908; however, their first season in the top flight proved to be a disaster. Due to a financial scandal, the club was reformed as Leicester City in 1919. Led by Arthur Chandler, the club’s top goalscorer of all time (with 273 goals in 393 appearances), Leicester returned to the First Division in 1925 and finished as runners-up to Sheffield Wednesday by a single point in 1929. The club then spent decades of yo-yoing between the top two divisions, managing to claim fourth place in the First Division in 1963. After several more promotions and relegations to and from the First Division/Premier League until they suffered another relegation in 2008, this time to League One (old Third Division). This would prove to be their only season in the competition. Leicester returned to the Championship old Second Division) the very next year. In 2016 Leicester surprised the whole of the football world by a remarkable performance by becoming Premier League Champions. However, just 7 years later they then found themselves back in the second tier of English Football.

After winning the league title in 1894–95, Loughborough were elected to the Football League Second Division after Millwall Athletic turned down an invitation to join. The club struggled in the Second Division, never finishing higher than 12th (out of 16). In 1900 the club finished bottom of the League, conceding 100 goals in 34 games, winning only a single game and collecting only 8 points of a possible 68, arguably the worst record in the history of the League—only Doncaster Rovers have an equally low points record, set in 1904–05, but they had a somewhat better goal average. This season saw their record League defeat, 12–0 at Woolwich Arsenal; due to financial constraints the team consisted of four professionals and seven amateurs and their travelling expenses were paid for by Arsenal. After failing to gain re-election to the League in 1900, the club applied for acceptance back into the Midland League, but failed to turn up for the fixtures meeting on 9 June. On 29 June a meeting was held when it was decided that the club was defunct.

Football League Second Division Winners & Runners-Up





Small Heath

Sheffield United



Birmingham City


Notts County

Leicester Fosse 4th out of 16


Manchester City

Leicester Fosse 8th out 16

Loughborough 12th out of 16

Notts County

Newton Heath

Leicester Fosse 9th out 16

Loughborough 13th out of 16


Newcastle United

Leicester Fosse 7th out 16

Loughborough 16th out of 16

Manchester City

Glossop North End

Leicester Fosse 3rd out of 18

Loughborough 16th out of 18

Sheffield Wednesday

Bolton Wanderers

Leicester Fosse 5th out 18

Loughborough 18th out of 18