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5 March 1892: the Southern Alliance formed, leading to Arsenal joining the Football League

The original Football League was formed in 1888 consisting of 12 clubs from the Midlands and the North West of England.  It wasn’t completely organised from the off, for it is reported that the clubs took some time after the season had begun, to agree how a league table should be drawn up – when finally the two points for a win and one for a draw procedure was developed.

Thereafter there were moves to set up a similar league in the south, but this proved more troublesome, with clubs agreeing to join a league and then dropping out.  One attempt at a league involved leaving the clubs to set up the fixtures themselves, but this foundered after many of the games of the season were simply not played, the clubs being unable to agree dates.

Having had their own proposals for a Southern League rebuffed Arsenal decided to turn their attention to the idea of extending the Football League into the south of England, something the Football League felt positive about, in order to see off the rival leagues and establish themselves as the main league across the whole country.

Then a “Southern Alliance” league was formed in the south, but as with other attempts this only last one season.  Woolwich Arsenal, the only fully professional team in the south (Luton are reported to have paid a handful of players, but not the whole squad) felt that being in a league was essential to their financial well-being, and so they returned to discussions with the Football League over the value of a London club in the League.

Meanwhile Arsenal played friendlies, both against local sides and professional teams.  For many years the annual Arsenal handbook ran a history section in its opening pages which reported that during this period Arsenal suffered severe financial hardship because local clubs refused to play against Arsenal on the grounds that the professionalism Royal Arsenal had embraced was wrong.

But a quick glance at the fixture list shows how false this notion was.  In fact the London amateur clubs knew that Arsenal was by far and away the biggest draw of the season in terms of crowds, and queued up to get a fixture against them.  Where the author of Arsenal’s handbook got his information from is unknown, but it gave a completely false picture of the situation in the club’s early years which the club’s lack of serious knowledge of its own history perpetuated.

Finally on 5 March 1892 The Southern Alliance was formed but by this time Arsenal had had enough of the endless agreements and subsequent backtracking by local clubs and was in discussion with the Football League about bringing professional football to London. Arsenal were right: the Southern Alliance went the same way as so many other proposals and lasted only one season leaving the way clear for Arsenal finally to join the Football League for the 1893/4 season.


The Arsenal History Society is part of the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association – a body which gives positive support to the club, and has regular meetings with directors and senior officials of the club to represent the views of its members to the club.  You can read more about AISA on its website.


100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.

Details of other series can be found on our home page and on the column on the right side of this page.   In particular you might like to note…

Henry Norris at the Arsenal:  There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.

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