The Football League in 1909
One of the most remarkable things about the 1st division of the Football League in 1909/1910 was that all the clubs in the 1st division that year are still with us. Not a single one has fallen by the wayside.
This is indeed odd when we are thinking at the moment that some of these clubs might now slip out of existence because of their debts of the crazy activities of their owners, (whoever they might be).
Villa, Chelsea, Blackburn, Sunderland, Everton, Manchester U, Tottenham H… these clubs are not just with us but still in the top league. Others have been less fortunate – Notts County, Nottingham Forest, Bristol City, Preston NE were all First Division clubs 100 years ago.
Indeed we have to go back to the previous season to find a club in the 1st division that has since been lost – Leicester Fosse – although they reformed as Leicester City.
But there were differences in terms of the crowds that clubs could attract. While the Chelsea games against Woolwich Arsenal, and the Tottenham game, got crowds of 40,000 many others struggled along… Bury, Bristol City and Nottingham Forest were all making do on crowds of 5,000 or so.
In 1909/10 there were two divisions, with the standard relegation of the bottom two. There were twenty clubs in each division, resulting in 38 games, plus the FA Cup (the only other competition for the first team). First division clubs entered the competition in the first round – second division clubs joined in the “Supplementary” or “Qualifying” rounds.
The previous season (1908/09) had seen Manchester City and Leicester relegated with Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur being promoted.
There were goals around: Aston Villa who won the 1909/1910 first division scored 84 and let in 42. Arsenal were in fact the lowest scorers this season with 37 scored, 67 let in. Boring, boring Arsenal.
The current notion of needing to lose only two games in order to win the league would have made everyone amused 100 years ago. Villa won the league by a comfortable five points (remember two points for a win), but did it while losing eight games. Indeed around this time, the winning club lost eight or nine most seasons. The same was true in the second division – indeed in getting promotion in 1909 Bolton managed to lose ten games.
Perhaps the biggest difference we would notice is that the process of election to the league, rather than automatic promotion from a lower league. The pyramid of leagues is in fact quite a recent invention, although I can’t recall quite when it came in. In 1909 Lincoln were elected to division II in place of Chesterfield (although Blackpool who came bottom survived). In 1910 Grimsby were replaced by Huddersfield Town, while Birmingham City who were bottom survived.