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What does English football owe to a decision made on Fawcett Street?!

We travel back to a pivotal meeting that took place on Fawcett Street in Sunderland in 1892, and look at how the decisions taken there would change the face of English football forever.

Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League Championship - Sunderland v Stoke City - Stadium of Light Photo by Mike Egerton - PA Images via Getty Images

On the 30th April 1892, Sunderland AFC completed the allocated fixtures of the 1891-92 campaign with a 2-1 victory at Burnley on our way to winning our first League title. In the fourth season since the inception of the Football League, and only the second season since Sunderland became a member, we had finished five points ahead of Preston North End to lift the title, after finishing a respectable 7th in our inaugural season.

At the same time as Sunderland AFC were living up to their billing as the ‘Team of All Talents’, with Johnny Campbell the star scoring 31 League goals and Ned Doig producing heroics in goal, a parallel football league was running simultaneously to the Football League that was named the ‘Football Alliance’.

The Football Alliance began in the 1888-89 season and started with twelve original members that geographically covered the North of England from east to west coast, and for the first two years had included Sunderland Albion.

John James Bentley who led the Football League meeting in 1892

Two weeks after Sunderland AFC had beaten Burnley to complete the season, the Football League held it’s fourth annual meeting to present the trophy to the champions and also to discuss decisions that would change the face of English football forever. In honour of the title winning side, the location of the meeting would be Sunderland, and so on the Friday 13th May 1892, the Queens Hotel on Fawcett Street would host one of the most important meetings in the institution's history.

The Football Alliance was considered the poor cousin of the Football League and had previously included clubs who had dropped out of the Football League to be replaced by newly elected sides, such as Stoke, who were removed so that Sunderland could take a place as a Football League side in 1890.

At the top of the agenda of the meeting was a discussion on expanding the entire structure to create a Second Division. This would mean merging the Football League with the Football Alliance and working out the details of how that would take place. This motion was very quickly passed, along with the decision to expand the First Division to sixteen teams from fourteen which in turn meant The Wednesday (Sheffield Wednesday), Newton Heath (Manchester United) and Nottingham Forest all moved from the Football Alliance straight into the new top tier.

West Bromwich Albion also managed to survive and cling onto a place in the top division by virtue of winning the FA Cup, so the final decision meant that the new First Division of the Football League consisted of the following sixteen clubs:

Aston Villa


Blackburn Rovers

Bolton Wanders

Bolton Wanderers

Derby County


Newton Heath (Manchester United)

Nottingham Forest

Notts County

Preston North End



The Wednesday (Sheffield Wednesday)

West Bromwich Albion

Wolverhampton Wanderers

The newly created Second Division began with twelve clubs that initially had the potential to include Sunderland Albion, but they withdrew an application along with Newcastle East End and Middlesbrough Ironopolis, who both declined a place in the original Second Division line-up due to the cost of travelling to away games.

Johnny Campbell who scored 152 goals in 215 games in Sunderland’s early years in the Football League

Liverpool also missed out on the Second Division for it’s opening season and had to wait until the following year to be let loose on the Football League, which meant the first season of the Second Division included the following twelve clubs:

Ardwick (Manchester City)


Burton Swifts

Burslem Port Vale (Port Vale)

Crewe Alexandra


Grimsby Town

Lincoln City

Northwich Victoria

Sheffield United

Small Heath (Birmingham City)

Walsall Town Swifts (Walsall)

John James Bentley - who presided over the meeting in the absence of William McGregor, who is regarded as the founder of the Football League - through illness, said of Sunderland:

Until a few years ago footballers did not exactly know whether it was in Durham or Northumberland.

Sunderland would go on to win a second consecutive title the following season extending the margin to eleven points at the top of the table, finishing ahead of Preston North End who had finished as runners-up for a second successive year.

This domination would hopefully result in more footballers of the age knowing exactly where Sunderland was geographically, and also in terms of our standing in the game. This second successive championship also gave Sunderland AFC the distinction of becoming the final title winners of the original Football League and the first winners of the newly created First Division.

Since that meeting the Football League has had 128 more years of history engrained in the psyche of the nation, and has now transformed into a global institution that still leads the way in many ways - a transformation that all began at that meeting on Fawcett Street in 1892.

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