Football 1.0 – what did it look like?

Football 1.0 is a shorthand way of defining the organisation of clubs at the start of the professional era.

The defining moment was January 1884 when Preston NE played Upton Park in the FA Cup, and following a complaint from Upton Park that Preston paid their players, Preston were ejected.

Other clubs were also informally paying players but this was not officially recognised until the Football League started.

The resultant football model – a model which was still very much in place in 1910, the year that is the heart of this web site – included

  • A maximum wage payable to players
  • A fee payable between clubs when a player moved from one to another
  • The ability of a club that held a player’s registration to refuse to sell him

These rules very much reflected the way that professional people employed working men at the time – the rights were with the owners and there was precious little to be had for the workers.

This was the basis of Football 1.0 and in one sense it seemed very stable.  The players had no power at all, and the working men who supported the team had little power other than to stop going to games.  That was it.

What started Football 1.0 mutating into Football 1.1 was money – and the inability of clubs to make ends meet.  From the start clubs fell into financial arrears, and indeed one of the reasons for this site existing is that in 1910 that is exactly what happened to Arsenal. We’re here to record what happened.

As I have described earlier it also happened to Leeds – and numerous other clubs.

This led to changes.   Most clubs could not readily increase the size of their grounds (although some did – and indeed it was rebuilding work on the ground that caused much of the problems for Leeds City), nor could they readily increase the number of games played.   With the wages of the working men fairly static, there was not much chance of putting up the prices either.

Of course not all new ground projects failed.  Manchester United’s move to the much bigger Old Trafford 100 years ago was a great success, as was the development of Chelsea’s large ground in 1905.  Again, the move from Woolwich to Highbury was also a success – both by having a larger ground, and being in a much more populous area.

But if ground building was not on there were only two ways left to develop the clubs.

First, the clubs could sell players – and this is what Woolwich Arsenal were certainly doing in 1910 – the turnover of players was huge.

Second, the clubs could buy players – in order to be more successful.  Success could equate with a good run in the cup (which would earn more money) and bigger crowds in the league games.  (There was of course no sponsorship or anything remotely like that.)

And this is how the clubs who could not or did not want to build a bigger ground divided up – they either went down the saving route, or they brought in better players with the aim to get higher up the league.

Woolwich Arsenal had done this, and had success by reaching the FA Cup semi-finals for two years running in first decade of the new century, but the success had stopped, and trophies at the top level were not to be found.

So the penny-pinching had started, and Arsenal’s results on the field in the 1909/1910 season suffered.   Football 1.1 had arrived.

You can read about what happened to Arsenal in 1910 and how the changes of that year led to the club becoming the super-club it is today in the book “Making the Arsenal.” There are reviews, extracts, a summary and ways of buying, all on

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