The Football League is a league competition featuring professional football clubs from England and Wales. Founded in 1888, it is the oldest such competition in world football. It was the top level football league in England from its foundation in the 19th century until 1992, when the top 22 clubs split away to form the FA Premier League. Since 1992 it has had 72 clubs evenly divided into three divisions, which are currently known as The Championship, League One, and League Two.
After four years of debate, The Football Association finally legalised professionalism on 20 July 1885. Before that date many clubs made illegal payments to "professional" players to boost the competitiveness of their teams, arousing the contempt of those clubs abiding by the laws of the amateur Football Association code.
As more and more clubs became professional the ad-hoc fixture list of FA Cup, inter-county, and 'friendly' matches was seen by many as an unreliable stream of revenue, and ways were considered of ensuring a consistent income. A Scottish draper and director of Aston Villa, William McGregor, was the first to set out to bring some order to a chaotic world where clubs arranged their own fixtures. On 2 March 1888, he wrote to the Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End, West Bromwich Albion and to the secretary of Aston Villa about the formation of a Football League.
The first meeting was held at Anderson's Hotel in London on 23 March 1888 on the eve of the FA Cup Final with the name of the Football League being settled at a further meeting on 17 April at Manchester's Royal Hotel. The first season of the Football League began a few months later on 8 September with 12 member clubs.
Each club played the other twice, once at home and once away, and two points were awarded for a win and one for a draw. This points system was not agreed upon until after the season had started; the alternative proposal was one point for a win only.
Preston North End won the first league title without losing a game, and completed the first league & cup double by also taking the FA Cup. Every one of the original 12 Football League club has at least one relegation in their history, unlike some European leagues such as Spain, Portugal, Scotland or the Republic of Ireland.