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Football League: Whatever happened to...

When England’s Football League began play in 1888, twelve clubs competed. Preston North End won the title, going unbeaten in twenty two matches.

Since then, the English league system has grown tremendously. The Football League includes three divisions, whilst another division, the Premier League, sits above it, for a total of 92 clubs in league competition. The National League resides below the Football League, with various regional leagues below that. All told, there are ten official tiers in the pyramid of English football, made up of well over 6,000 clubs.

But where in this system, if anywhere, will you find those original twelve clubs? Let us now find out as we ask: Whatever happened to the founding members of the Football League?

PRESTON NORTH END

PNE completed the 1888-9 season unbeaten in both league and cup play, a feat not since matched by any English club. They won the league again the following season but have never again been champions of the top flight. The Lilywhites were relegated for the first time after the 1900-1 season. They were last in the top flight in the 1960-1 season, and they have dropped as far as the fourth tier, with two spells there in the 1980s and 1990s. They currently participate in the second tier, where they finished seventh last season.

ASTON VILLA

Villa finished second in the 1888-9 season and won the title for the first time in the 1893-4 season, kicking off a span of five championships in seven seasons. Since then, however, they have been top flight champions only twice, in 1909-10 and 1980-1. The Villans were relegated for the first time after the 1935-6 season and have dropped as far as the third tier, where they played two seasons before winning promotion again in 1972. They were founding members of the Premier League in the 1992-3 season and remained there until they were relegated two years ago. In all, they have played all but fourteen of their seasons in the top flight. They currently participate in the second tier, where they finished fourth last season and lost the promotion playoff final to Fulham on Saturday.

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS

Wolves finished third in the 1888-9 season and remained in the top flight until their first relegation after the 1905-6 season. They have been top flight champions three times, all in the 1950s. They have dropped as far as the fourth tier, where they played two seasons before winning promotion again in 1988 [and were further promoted to the second tier the following year]. Last season, Wolves won the title in the second tier, and with it promotion to the Premier League next season, returning after six seasons in lower tiers.

BLACKBURN ROVERS

The Riversiders finished fourth in the 1888-9 season and won the title for the first time in the 1911-2 season. They have been top flight champions three times, most recently in 1995, and were last in the top flight in the 2011-2 season. Rovers were relegated for the first time after the 1935-6 season and have dropped as far as the third tier, with one spell in the 1970s, a one season stay in 1979-80, and finally last season. They finished second in the third tier last season and won promotion to the second tier next season.

BOLTON WANDERERS

The Trotters finished fifth in the 1888-9 season, ahead of West Brom on goal average, and were relegated for the first time after the 1898-9 season. They have never been top flight champions, and were last in the top flight in the 2011-2 season. Bolton have dropped as far as the fourth tier, where they played the 1987-8 season before winning promotion again that same year. They currently participate in the second tier, where they finished 21st last season.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION

West Brom finished sixth in the 1888-9 season, behind Bolton on goal average, and were relegated for the first time after the 1900-1 season. They have been top flight champions once, in 1919-20. The Baggies have dropped as far as the third tier, where they played two seasons before winning promotion in 1993. They currently participate in the second tier, having finished last in the Premier League last season.

ACCRINGTON

Accrington finished seventh in the 1888-9 season. In 1893, they finished fifteenth, second from bottom, in the newly formed First Division. At the time, the bottom three clubs in the First Division had to play test matches against the top three clubs in the Second Division. After losing against Sheffield United, they chose to resign from the Football League rather than accept relegation to the Second Division. The club dissolved in 1896 whilst it was playing in the Lancashire Combination league.

EVERTON

The Toffees finished eighth in the 1888-9 season and won the title for the first time two years later. They have been top flight champions nine times, most recently in 1986-7. They have played all but four of their seasons in the top flight and have only dropped as far as the second tier, once for only the 1930-1 season, and once for three years before winning promotion again in 1954. The Blues currently participate in the Premier League, where they finished eighth last season.

BURNLEY

The Clarets finished ninth in the 1888-9 season and were relegated for the first time after the 1896-7 season. They have been top flight champions twice, in 1920-1 and 1959-60. The Clarets have dropped as far as the fourth tier, where they played seven seasons before winning promotion in 1992. They currently participate in the Premier League, where they finished seventh last season and earned a place in the Europa League qualifiers.

DERBY COUNTY

The Rams finished tenth in the 1888-9 season and were relegated for the first time after the 1906-7 season. They have been top flight champions twice, both in the 1970s, and were last in the top flight in the 2007-8 season. The Rams have dropped as far as the third tier, with spells of two seasons each in the 1950s and 1980s. They currently participate in the second tier, where they finished sixth last season and lost to Fulham in the promotion playoff semifinal.

NOTTS COUNTY

The Magpies finished eleventh in the 1888-9 season, ahead of Stoke on goal average. However, the club had been formed much earlier, in 1862, and remains as the oldest professional club that still plays today. They were relegated for the first time after the 1892-3 season. They have never been top flight champions. Notts were last in the top flight in the 1991-2 season, and they have dropped as far as the fourth tier, with five spells there starting in the 1960s. They currently participate in the fourth tier, where they finished fifth last season and lost to Coventry City in the promotion playoff semifinal.

STOKE

The Potters finished twelfth in the 1888-9 season, behind Notts County on goal average. However, the club had been formed much earlier, in 1863, and remains as the second oldest professional club that still plays today, after Notts. They finished last again in the 1889-90 season and failed to be reelected to the league, effectively their first relegation. The Potters returned to the Football League but resigned due to financial difficulty in 1908, only coming back after World War I, and changing their name to Stoke City a few years after that. They have never been top flight champions. They have dropped as far as the third tier, with a one season stay in 1926-7 and two spells in the 1990s and 2000s. They currently participate in the second tier, having finished second from bottom in the Premier League last season.

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