First Ever Football Matches and Goals

Football’s history is an interesting one, with the first written proof of the sport being played dating back as far as 1170. Shakespeare made reference to the game in some of his plays, whilst everyone knows of the famous Christmas Day truce in 1914 that saw German & English soldiers play together in the middle of no-man’s-land. But what was the first professional game played? And what of the re-invention of football with the Premier League? Who played there? We tried to find out so you don’t have to.

First Games in the English Football League

first matches
Preston North End 1888 - See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Believe it or not there has always been some debate over the first ever game played in the Football League after its formation in the 1880s. The first official Football League season began on the 8th of September 1888 when ten of the twelve teams of the newly founded division went up against each other. Unlike in the modern game, however, there was no particular structure to when times matches kicked off, with 3pm being a guide rather than a strict time.

A football historian named Mark Metcalf and his friend Robert Boyling, who worked in the British Library, spend many years investigating who was responsible for scoring the first ever goal in Football League history and, as a consequence, also discovered that the matches played on the 8th of September had accidentally staggered kick-offs. This was largely due to the teams waiting until their supporters had arrived at the ground before starting the games.

On the opening day of that inaugural season West Bromwich Albion beat Stoke 2-0, Preston defeated Burnley by five goals to two, Derby won 6-3 at Bolton and Everton beat Accrington 2-1. The final fixture of the five that were played on that historic Saturday was a 1-1 draw between Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

For many years it was widely assumed that the first goal scored in the Football League was an own goal by Aston Villa’s defender Gershom Cox, who put the ball into his own net thirty minutes into the game at Wolves. Research by Boyling and Matcalf revealed that that game didn’t start until 3.30pm, though, meaning that the goal wouldn’t have been scored until 4pm.

Other people have long argued that it was actually Fred Dewhurst, the Preston North End striker, who scored the first goal, with his strike against Burnley coming after just three minutes of the match at Deepdale. That game didn’t kick-off until 3.50pm, however, with Bolton’s game against Derby County starting at 3.45pm. Bolton winger Kenny Davenport scored after two minutes in that game, meaning that his was the first ever goal scored in a Football League match.

With Everton’s home game against Accrington kicking off at 4.25pm and Stoke v West Bromwich Albion starting at 3.30pm, we now know that there were actually two games that can be classed as ‘the first games of the football league’. Stoke against West Brom and Wolves versus Villa hold that distinction and go alongside Davenport in the history books as being the ‘firsts’ of the Football League.

First Premier League Fixtures

From 1888 until 1992 the Football League existed as a happy, content enterprise. Clubs all over the country competed in the different divisions and all was harmonious. Enter BSkyB and their millions of pounds, chucked at the top teams in a bid to destabilise them and encourage them to sever themselves from the leagues below them. Not long after that the members of the First Division resigned from the Football League as one and football was re-born.

Interestingly, despite the influence that television has over kick-off times and match arrangements nowadays, only two games were moved from the traditional Saturday 3pm slot on the Premier League’s opening weekend. The question is, then, are we interested in the first ever games of the new Premier League era or the first ever televised games, with the latter being more representative of the importance of kick-off times since 1992.

Here’s a list of the games that started at 3pm on Saturday the 15th of August 1992:

  • Arsenal v Norwich
  • Chelsea v Oldham
  • Coventry v Middlesbrough
  • Crystal Palace v Blackburn
  • Everton v Sheffield Wednesday
  • Ipswich v Aston Villa
  • Leeds v Wimbledon
  • Sheffield United v Man United
  • Southampton v Tottenham Hotspur

Technically, then, all of those games were the first ones played in the newly formed Premier League. the Manchester City v Queen Park Rangers game was moved to 7.45pm on the evening of Monday 17th of August, whilst the first game that Sky showed live was between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool. The two giants of game went head-to-head at the City Ground, with the home team winning 1-0.

Interestingly, Liverpool have featured in the first televised game in almost every era of football. Their match against Arsenal was the first broadcast on Match Of The Day in 1964. Five years later the Liverpool versus West Ham match at Anfield was the first shown in colour on Match Of The Day. In 2007 Setanta Sports were the first company to break Sky’s monopoly on Premier League matches when they showed the Liverpool game against Aston Villa. Then when BT Sport launched their new channel in 2013 the first match they chose to show live was Liverpool’s home game against Stoke City.

So there you have it, the mystery solved about the first goal scored in the Football League, the question about which was the first official professional football match played in England answered and plenty of information about television’s first live fixtures given over. The beautiful game continues to grow and develop and there may well be more ‘firsts’ to discuss in the future, so keep your eyes peeled for our other articles to find out more!