20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

League football might just be the greatest export of Victorian Britain. It seems scarcely credible that it was a little short of one hundred and twenty years ago that The Football League kicked off for the first time, so now feels like an appropriate time to celebrate the anniversary of a venerable institution which has time and again confounded its critics, both inside and outside of the game, and, in spite of the cultural domination of the Premier League and the Champions League, continues to thrive as one of the most watched football tournaments in Europe. The strength of the competition in depth is probably the single, defining feature of English football that sets it apart from the rest of the world, though this was a feature of the league that took decades to develop. The current format of it (or, since the formation of the Premier League in 1992, the current bastardised version of it) – of four national divisions with promotion and relegation between them – is also celebrating an anniversary this year. It’s fifty years old this year – more on that next month. In the first place, though there were only twelve clubs. The idea was the brainchild of William McGregor, a Scottish draper that had moved south and become a director of Aston Villa. The FA had legalised professionalism in 1885, but it took...

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