The father of the Football League was Aston Villa president William McGregor. The Scottish businessman had grown tired of Villa either having games called off due to Cup replays or having to play inferior local teams.
To allow for a guaranteed income, his idea was to have a programme of scheduled games amongst stronger clubs; originally 22 for each of the 12 founding members.
He arranged a preliminary meeting at Anderton’s Hotel in London’s Fleet Street on the eve of the FA Cup Final in March 1888. The first formal meeting took place on 17 April 1888 at the Royal Hotel in Manchester.
The original 12 members were Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Stoke, Preston North End, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Dominated by northern professional clubs, the Football League’s success led to the introduction of a Second Division in 1892 which helped to give impetus to the game in the south of England where, up to this stage, clubs refused to recognise professional players.
By the time of the latter years of the reign of Queen Victoria, football had gone through an enormous revolution from virtually nowhere to a national pastime in little more than 50 years.
The competition was suspended for four seasons during the First World War and resumed in 1919 with the First and Second Divisions expanded to 22 clubs.
In 1920, leading clubs from the Southern League joined to form a new Third Division, which in 1921 was renamed the Third Division [South] upon the further addition of more clubs in a new Third Division [North].
League activity was suspended again in 1939 for seven seasons with the outbreak of the Second World War. The Third Divisions were expanded to 24 clubs each in 1950, bringing the total number of clubs to 92.
Since 2004 the remaining 72 clubs of the Football League have been divided up into the League Championship, League One and League Two.
As part of a comprehensive corporate and competition re-branding, the Football League was re-named the English Football League (EFL) from the start of the 2016-17 season.