This weekend the Football League celebrates its 125th birthday – what better excuse do we need to present a “starting 11” of lesser-known facts about the oldest competition in world football.
1. Of all 64 teams ever to make it to the top flight of English football, Glossop North End are the smallest, the worst ever performing and the only one never to register an away win. In their single 1899/1900 season, their chairman and money man was one Sir Samuel Hill-Wood, who famously went on to fill the same seat at Arsenal, as did his son and grandson, the latter of whom, Peter, has only just stood down.
2. Preston North End was the venue for the first ever league match on the opening day of the inaugural season on 8 September, 1888, and to date the Deepdale ground has hosted 2,342 league matches. That’s a record, although Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane is the oldest major Football League ground in England.
3. Only three grounds used in that first Football League season remain in regular use. PNE still play at Deepdale, Burnley are still at Turf Moor and the other ground is Anfield, despite the fact that Liverpool FC were not in that first ever competition. The home team were Everton.
4. All 12 founding teams played in the second season in 1889-90, meaning that the first “regulated” team were Stoke City in 1890/91, replaced by Sunderland.
5. After the foundation of the Football League, it was Ireland, Scotland and Netherlands who quickly followed suit, while Spain waited 41 years before forming Le Liga.
6. The founding father of the Football League was a Scotsman, William McGregor. He was also a teetotaller.
7. Arsenal fans may well want to rethink their famous “1-0 to the Arsenal” chant, as it’s the most common result right across the board. A whopping 16 per cent of all league matches have finished 1-0 either way, or 28,169 times.
8. As the Football League edges closer to it 40,000th player, the most common surname is Smith, with one in every 79 players to date sporting that surname.
9. Of all 12 founding members of the Football League still active, Stoke City are the only club never to have won the FA Cup or the top league title. Accrington – not to be confused with Accrington Stanley – are the only member of the dozen no longer in existence.
10. Founding member Aston Villa were formed 14 years before the Football League, and enjoyed a bizarre first official fixture in 1874 against Aston Brook St Mary’s. Why so strange? Well, in the first half they played rugby, and in the second half they played football.
11. The smallest attendance in the history of the Football League belongs to the lesser-spotted Thames AFC, who posted a gate of 469 people in 1930, as they plated Luton Town in a League Three South game. That gave each punter the choice of around 256 standing positions, as West Ham Stadium could hold up to 120,000 people.
Substitute fact: 448 players have came on as substitutes in the Football League, and have never played another match again. The ultimate one-game wonders!
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