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The EFL: Who we are

The EFL: Who we are

The EFL is the world’s original league football competition. Its 72 Member Clubs embody the unique heritage, pride and passion of the communities that they represent, providing the game with a platform to become a global national and international success. 

Founded in 1888 by 12 visionary Clubs under the direction of pioneer William McGregor, it has spent 130 years going from strength to strength. 

“I beg to tender the following suggestion: that ten or twelve of the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home and away fixtures each season.” - William McGregor, founder of the Football League.


The Formation


On 17 April 1888 at the Royal Hotel, Manchester, the Football League was formally created and named. 

The twelve founder members of the Football League are Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke (as they were known at the time), West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers. 

Preston North End were the very first winners of the league in 1889 and today is the city that the EFL calls home. 

For 130 years, the EFL has overseen countless moments that will never be forgotten, providing league and cup memories for millions of fans across the world. It is proud of its heritage but certainly not afraid to look to the future as it continues to develop the world’s first football league in a modern, progressive and global competition.



While proud of its heritage and tradition, the EFL continues to change and evolve and has been at the forefront of innovation since the earliest years.

1888 – The Football League is formally created

1889 – A disallowed goal between Everton and Accrington inspires John Alexander Brodie, an engineer from Liverpool, to invent goal nets.

1889 - First professional black footballer in The Football League as Rotherham Town sign goalkeeper Arthur Wharton

1891 - Penalty kicks were introduced to the game for the first time 

1892 - Second Division formed as The Football League expands to 28 clubs

1893 - Creation of the retain-and-transfer system that tied players to clubs

1898 - Automatic promotion and relegation introduced 

1920 - Introduction of a Third Division with expansion to 66 clubs

1925 - New offside law introduced that transforms goal scoring rates

1927 - The BBC broadcast the first football match live on radio on January 22. 

1928 – Arsenal & Chelsea become the first teams to play games with shirt numbers on August 25.

1938 – The first televised match between league Clubs Huddersfield Town and Preston North End is screened. 

1950 - The Football League expands from 88 to 92 clubs

1956 - First floodlit Football League game - Portsmouth v Newcastle United at Fratton Park

1957 - Alan Hardaker is appointed Secretary of The Football League.  He continued to work for The League through to his sudden death in 1980

1960 – The Football League Cup is introduced with Aston Villa as the inaugural winner, beating Rotherham United in a two-legged final. 

1961 - 18 January – Abolition of football's maximum wage (£20 a week).

1965 - Substitutions introduced - one allowed per game for injuries.  Keith Peacock of Charlton becomes the first Football League player to come on as a substitute on 21st August 1965 in a Division Two match against Bolton Wanderers.

1969 - The first game broadcast in colour is shown on Match of the Day as Liverpool play West Ham United at Anfield in November

1973 - Three up and three down promotion and relegation is introduced 

1977 – Shirt sponsorship introduced to football clubs.  

1979 – Trevor Francis becomes the first British footballer to be sold for a £1million transfer fee

1981 – The Football League Cup becomes the first major cup competition to bear the name of a sponsor – The Milk Cup – following a ground breaking deal with the National Dairy Council. 

1981 – The Football League are the first organisation in the world to introduce three points for a win. It wasn’t until 1995 that FIFA formally adopted the system. 

1983 – Canon became the first ever sponsor of the Football League.

1983 – Introduction of the Football League Trophy

1986 - The Football League and PFA launch ‘Football in the Community’, the first football community organisation in world football

1987 - Automatic promotion/relegation with Football Conference introduced

1987 – The Play-Offs are introduced to the league for the first time. They have since provided many stand out moments culminating with a showpiece final at Wembley Stadium. 

1987 - Two substitutes per team permitted.

1992 –The Premier League is formed following the decision of Clubs in the Football League First Division to break away from the Football League. 

1995 - The Football league expanded to 72 clubs

2004 - Football League rebranded.  Divisions One, Two & Three renamed The Championship, League One & Two

2012 - The Football League introduces Financial Fair Play

2016 – The Football League is rebranded the English Football League 



The EFL is the largest single body of professional Clubs in European football, ranging from two-time European Cup winners Nottingham Forest to League Two side Harrogate Town, who in 2020/21, embarked on a season in the fourth tier of English football for the first time in their 107-year history.

EFL Clubs span the breadth and depth of England and Wales and it is not only on the pitch that our Clubs continue to thrive, with each club becoming the heart of their respective local communities and providing innovative and ground-breaking programmes through their Community Trust.

The traditional league format, or pyramid as it is often referred to, is envied the world over as a system that allows all teams to prosper, with millions of supporters, both domestically and internationally, watching the drama unfold each season.

Promotion and relegation means that every eventuality is available to all Clubs, while knockout competitions such as the Carabao Cup and the Papa Johns Trophy offer supporters the chance of tasting the cup final experience at the country’s National Stadium, Wembley. 



The EFL is home to some of the most successful Clubs in English football, from European Cup triumphs to unrivalled domestic success, the competitive nature of our competitions embodies that mentality, with 12 of our Clubs to have been crowned champions in England’s highest division.

Nottingham, a City with a mere population of under 350,000, was the envy of world football in the late 70’s and remain just one of eight teams to claim the prestigious European Cup - Club football’s premier competition - in back-to-back seasons.

Managed by Brian Clough, the team were dubbed the ‘miracle men’, with Peter Shilton, Viv Anderson and Gary Birtles some of the famous names lining up for Forest, and that’s without forgetting Trevor Francis, the world’s first million pound player who featured in the 1979 Final.

EFL Clubs also have a long tradition of breaking down barriers in areas of inclusion and diversity and have played a pivotal role in shaping the modern game and wider society. 

Walter Tull is rightly remembered as one of the country’s first black professional footballers and his achievements in making more than 100 appearances for Northampton Town are commemorated by a memorial to Walter which stands proudly outside Sixfields Stadium. 

Walter was a trailblazer for black footballers in the Football League and pathed the way for such players as Brendon Batson, Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis who famously graced the West Bromwich Albion side of the 1970s.