Tuesday, 23 Jul 2024

First Ever Football Matches and Goals

Football’s history is fascinating, with the first written proof of the sport being played dating back to as early as 1170. From Shakespeare referencing the game in his plays to the famous Christmas Day truce in 1914, where German and English soldiers played together in no-man’s-land, there are countless intriguing stories surrounding the sport.

In this article, we will explore the first professional football match ever played and delve into the reinvention of the sport with the Premier League. Join us on this journey as we uncover the origins and milestones that shaped the history of football.

First Games in the English Football League

Preston North End 1888
Image: Preston North End 1888

The first ever game played in the Football League, formed in the 1880s, has been a subject of debate. The inaugural season of the official Football League began on September 8, 1888, with ten of the twelve teams from the newly founded division facing off. Unlike today, there was no fixed kick-off time, with 3pm serving as a rough guideline.

Football historian Mark Metcalf and British Library employee Robert Boyling dedicated years to investigating the first ever goal in Football League history. They discovered that the matches played on September 8 had staggered kick-off times, as teams waited for their supporters to arrive at the grounds.

On that historic opening day, West Bromwich Albion triumphed over Stoke 2-0, Preston defeated Burnley 5-2, Derby won 6-3 against Bolton, and Everton beat Accrington 2-1. Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers settled for a 1-1 draw in the final fixture of the day.

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For years, it was widely believed that Aston Villa defender Gershom Cox scored the first goal in the Football League, an own goal 30 minutes into the game against Wolves. However, Boyling and Metcalf’s research revealed that the game didn’t start until 3.30pm, meaning the goal wouldn’t have been scored until 4pm.

Another argument suggests that Fred Dewhurst, the Preston North End striker, scored the first goal. His strike against Burnley came after just three minutes of the match at Deepdale. However, that game didn’t kick-off until 3.50pm, while Bolton’s game against Derby County started at 3.45pm. In Bolton’s match, Kenny Davenport scored after two minutes, making his goal the first ever scored in a Football League match.

With Everton’s home game against Accrington starting at 4.25pm and Stoke vs. West Bromwich Albion at 3.30pm, we now know that two games can be considered “the first games of the football league.” Stoke vs. West Brom and Wolves vs. Villa hold that distinction and stand alongside Davenport in the history books as the pioneers of the Football League.

First Premier League Fixtures

Premier League 1992-93 Season
Image: Premier League 1992-93 Season

From 1888 until 1992, the Football League operated as a content and harmonious enterprise. Clubs across the country competed in different divisions, forming the backbone of football in England. However, everything changed when BSkyB injected millions of pounds into the top teams, destabilizing them and pushing for a breakaway from the leagues below. Thus, the First Division members resigned from the Football League, giving birth to a new era of football.

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Interestingly, despite the influence of television on kick-off times and match arrangements today, only two games were moved from the traditional Saturday 3pm slot on the Premier League’s opening weekend. So, are we interested in the first ever games of the new Premier League era or the first ever televised games, which better represent the importance of kick-off times since 1992?

Here is a list of the games that kicked off at 3pm on Saturday, August 15, 1992:

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

Technically, all of these games were the first ones played in the newly formed Premier League. The Manchester City vs. Queen Park Rangers game was moved to 7.45pm on Monday, August 17. The first game televised by Sky was Nottingham Forest vs. Liverpool, with the home team winning 1-0 at the City Ground.

Liverpool has had the distinction of featuring in the first televised game in almost every era of football. Their match against Arsenal was the first to be broadcast on Match Of The Day in 1964. Five years later, their match against West Ham at Anfield was the first to be televised in color on Match Of The Day. In 2007, Setanta Sports broke Sky’s monopoly on Premier League matches by airing Liverpool’s game against Aston Villa. When BT Sport launched in 2013, they chose Liverpool’s home game against Stoke City as their first live match.

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In conclusion, we have solved the mystery surrounding the first goal scored in the Football League and answered the question of the first official professional football match played in England. We have also delved into the significance of television in broadcasting live fixtures. Football continues to evolve, and there will undoubtedly be more firsts to discuss in the future. Stay tuned for our upcoming articles to learn more.


  • When was the first ever football match played?
    The first written proof of the sport being played dates back to as early as 1170.

  • Who scored the first goal in the Football League?
    There is a debate surrounding the first goal in the Football League, with arguments for both an own goal by Gershom Cox and a goal by Fred Dewhurst.

  • Which teams played the first games in the Premier League?
    On the opening weekend of the Premier League in 1992, several teams, including Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United, played their first matches.


Football’s history is filled with remarkable moments, from the first ever games played in the Football League to the inception of the Premier League. Understanding the origins and milestones of the sport allows us to appreciate its growth and development. As the beautiful game continues to captivate fans worldwide, we can look forward to witnessing more historic moments in the future.

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