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The First Division was the top division of The Football League between 1892 and 2004 and the highest division in English football until the creation of the FA Premier League in 1992. The secondary tier in English football has since become known as the Coca Cola Championship.


The Football League was founded in 1888 by Aston Villa director Charlie Fossey. It originally consisted of a single division of 12 clubs (Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Roversmarker, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke (now Stoke City), West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers) , simply known as The Football League. When the League admitted additional members from the rival Football Alliance in 1892, it was split into two divisions; the original League was expanded (the two best Alliance members joining) and renamed the First Division, while the rest of the Alliance members were admitted into the Second Division.

For the next 100 years, the First Division was the undisputed top professional league in English football. Then, in 1992 the 22 clubs making up the First Division elected to resign from the Football League and set up the FA Premier League. They did so largely to capitalize upon their status as the biggest and most wealthy clubs in the country, and negotiate more profitable television rights. The Football League was consequently re-organised, with the Second, Third and Fourth Divisions now renamed the First, Second and Third respectively. Thus, the First Division, while still the top level of the Football League, now became the second level of the entire English football league system, thus the top clubs inherited the promotion playoff system from the old Second Division.

The First Division was renamed as the Football League Championship prior to the start of the 2004-05 season, for commercial reasons. However, it remains as the second tier of English football.

First Division only clubs

Clubs who have competed in the top flight First Division, but not the Premier League, include: Accrington (the original, not today's Accrington Stanley), Blackpool, Bradford Park Avenue, Brentford, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bristol City, Bury, Cardiff City, Carlisle United, Darwen, Glossop North Endmarker, Grimsby Town, Huddersfield Town, Leyton Orient, Luton Town, Millwall, Northampton Town, Notts County, Oxford United, Preston North End, and Swansea City. Notts County and Luton were First Division members in the final season before the Premier League's creation. Burnley joined the Premier League for the first time in 2009–10.

Of these, Huddersfield and Preston have been English football champions; Accrington is defunct, and Bradford Park Avenue, Darwen, and Glossop have been non-League for many years so they are still several promotions away from the lowest tier of the Football League, Football League Two.

One-time runners-up

Nine clubs were top-flight First Division runner-ups (but not champions) once, and have not repeated that performance: Bristol City (1907), Oldham Athletic (1915), Cardiff City (1924), Leicester City (1929), Charlton Athletic (1937), Blackpool (1956), Queens Park Rangers (1976), Watford (1983) and Southampton (1984).


The First Division initially consisted of 12 founder clubs; since then it has undergone a series of expansions as football became more popular and the number of quality teams increased. There were also a series of contractions in the late 1980s, although they were soon reversed, as follows:

No. of teams From To
12 1888 1891
14 1891 1892
16 1892 1898
18 1898 1905
20 1905 1915
22 1919 1987
21 1987 1988
20 1988 1991
22† 1991 1995
24 1995 -
† as the second tier of professional football in England (from 1992)

The Trophy

The English Football League Championship trophy, designed and manufactured by Vaughtons of Birmingham in 1890, is the same one that England's champion team received until the English Premier League came into existence in the summer of 1992.

Known sometimes as “The Lady” because the lid bears the figure of a woman, the trophy has been presented to some of English football’s legendary teams. They include the great Huddersfield triple title winners of the 1920s and the Arsenal teams that won five titles in eight seasons in the 1930s. Manchester United’s Busby Babes carried off the trophy in 1956 and 1957 before the Munich air tragedymarker, and Liverpool collected the trophy 11 times in 18 seasons between 1972/73 and 1989/90. The last team to collect the trophy as English champions were Leeds United in 1991/92. Since then, as the prize of the second tier, no team can repeat a year with it due to being promoted to the Premier League.

The current holders are Wolverhampton Wanderers, who celebrated winning the Championship in May 2009.

Previous First Division champions


See List of English football champions.


See List of winners of English Football League Championship and predecessors. See also Football League Championship Play-Offs for playoff winners.

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