Sunderland’s first competitive fixture against Bolton was on 25 October 1890. It was the Wearsiders first League season and the match took place at the Pikes Lane ground around a mile outside Bolton town centre.
Bolton had moved in 1881 to Pikes Lane there after wandering - hence the name Wanderers - around seeking a permanent pitch since being formed seven years earlier. This was a notoriously muddy ground situated at the foot of a hill. Then a cotton manufacturing town, the population of Bolton was just over 90,000, making it big enough to support a successful Football League team.
The first season of League football saw dressing rooms installed at Pikes Lane, which was last used at the end of the 1894/95 season. The ground hosted the first Inter-League game on 11/04/1892 when Football League drew 2-2 with Scottish League. Housing now covers the site of Pikes Lane but there is also a plaque on a local factory as the most important goal ever was scored there.
It was scored at 3.47 pm on Saturday 8 September 1888. This was the very first day of League Football, a revolutionary move that changed forever the face of football and many other sports. Scotsman William McGregor was the man responsible. Following the introduction of professionalism the Aston Villa committee man recognised that clubs needed a guaranteed source of income if they were to have the funds to pay players.
High-profile friendly matches and cup competitions were one thing, but fans were being regularly forced to make do with one-sided contests or left frustrated at not knowing in advance who their side might face at the weekend. Attendances and income consequently suffered.
With support from fellow Villa committee members, McGregor searched for other clubs keen to back his new idea. By early March 1888, McGregor was confident enough to send a formal letter to five clubs: Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa.
He suggested clubs might overcome their current problems by proposing that “ten or twelve of the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home and away fixtures each season.” The five were asked to propose other clubs who should be invited to get involved.
On the eve of the 1888 Cup Final, held at the Oval between prospective members Preston and West Brom, representatives of Aston Villa, Notts County, Blackburn Rovers, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Burnley, Stoke and West Brom held a successful meeting and invited Preston, Everton, Accrington, Bolton Wanderers and Derby County to join them, at the Royal Hotel, Manchester, on Tuesday 17 April 1888, in formalising affairs and arranging fixtures for the 1888–89 season.
It is this meeting that marks the birth of competitive league football and on 8 September 1888 the first five matches took place, with Bolton facing Derby County at Pikes Lane. The match kicked off at 3.45pm and two minutes later Kenny Davenport had scored and a minute later he scored another. His first was the first ever League goal.
That fact though remained hidden for well over a century until extensive research by the author of this article and librarian Robert Boyling finally revealed Davenport’s feat in 2013.
Three years later Robert, myself and my son, Charlie, were joined by the PFA chef executive Gordon Taylor MBE, to unveil a plaque in the Pikes Lane area of Bolton that commemorates Davenport’s feat.
Locally born, Kenny Davenport played for Bolton Wanderers for eleven seasons, joining the club from Gilnow Rangers 1883. He was born in the Deane area of the town, a stone’s throw away from Pikes Lane. By the time League football commenced in 1888/89, Davenport was already an England international, the first in Bolton’s long history. He played once more, scoring twice in a 9-1 victory against Ireland in Belfast in 1890.
Normally an inside-left, Davenport made fifty-six League and twenty-one FA Cup appearances for Wanderers, scoring thirty-six goals and the most famous by far was the one he notched at 3.47pm on Saturday 8 September 1888. Nobody has scored a more important goal.
Davenport played in the match against Sunderland in October 1890. He failed to net as the away side, with Johnny Campbell smashing home 4, taking both points home in a 5-2 victory.
The Origins of the Football League: 1888/89 book by Mark Metcalf can be purchased here.