The Football Alliance was an association football league in England which ran for three seasons, from 1889–90 to 1891–92.

Football Alliance
Number of teams12



In 1888, the same year the Football League was founded, The Combination was established by clubs who had been excluded from the Football League, initiated by Crewe Alexandra secretary J. G. Hall, and announced at the Royal Hotel in Crewe. However, while the Football League quickly proved a success, the Combination lacked central organisation, with poor planning and unfulfilled fixtures, and failed to complete its first season, finishing in April 1889 without a winner.[1][2]



Several of The Combination founders met after the final Combination board meeting to discuss a new combination; four of those who agreed in principle to form a new league, South Shore, Burslem Port Vale, Notts Rangers, and Derby Midland, did not in fact do so, while Grimsby Town, originally considered too distant, was brought back into the fold.[3] The remaining clubs then established the Football Alliance, to begin in the 1889–90 season. The Alliance covered a similar area to the League, stretching from the English Midlands to the North West, but also further east in Sheffield, Grimsby and Sunderland. The president of the Football Alliance was John Holmes, also the president of The Wednesday who were the first champions winning fifteen games out of twenty-two.

The nine founder clubs (eight bolded in the table below) originally decided to form the Alliance, originally under the name of the Northern Counties League,[4] and considered applications from 6 clubs to fill the remaining three places. Crewe Alexandra, Nottingham Forest, and Walsall Town Swifts were elected in the ballot, with Long Eaton Rangers, Halliwell, and Witton missing out.[5] The clubs attended a meeting at the Midland Hotel in Derby in May 1889 to arrange fixtures, but, as Sunderland did not attend, it was assumed Sunderland did not intend to play; and Witton, South Shore, Burslem Port Vale, Derby Midland, Halliwell, and Long Eaton Rangers applied to join in its place. After Long Eaton Rangers and Witton tied in the voting, the casting vote of the chairman (Harry Mitchell of Mitchell St George's) was in favour of the Rangers.[6]

Alliance seasons


At the end of the Alliance's first season, in accordance with the rules agreed at the start of the season, the bottom four clubs - Walsall Town Swifts, Small Heath, Long Eaton Rangers, and Nottingham Forest - had to apply for re-election, and, unlike the rule in the Football League the previous season, they were not allowed to vote; seven clubs (Stoke, Witton, South Shore, Chester, Burslem Port Vale, Sheffield United, and Lincoln City) applied for admission. Stoke, who had just failed re-election to the Football League, was admitted in place of Long Eaton Rangers, and the other bottom four clubs were re-elected.[7] The prizes awarded to the champions included a blue silk flag, with a white border, 12 feet by 6 feet, with the words "Alliance Champions" on it.[8]

The following year, Stoke and Darwen, another Alliance club, were accepted into the Football League, taking its membership to 14 clubs. Stoke's biggest challenge in winning the title was the threat of expulsion from the Alliance, as Stoke had arranged a friendly with League club Notts County which clashed with an Alliance match at Nottingham Forest, and refused to pay the £10 fine imposed for so doing.[9]

At the end of the 1890-91 season, Sunderland Albion resigned in protest at having to pay half of the train fare of visiting clubs,[10] and the bottom four clubs were re-elected back into the Alliance. To fill the three vacancies, eight clubs applied; Ardwick, Bury, Burton Swifts, Gainsborough Trinity, Middlesbrough,[11] Northwich Victoria, Lincoln City, and Sheffield United. The successful clubs were Ardwick, Burton Swifts, and Lincoln City[12] - the last by one vote.

Merger into the Football League


In 1892 it was decided to merge the two leagues, and so the Football League Second Division was formed, consisting mostly of Football Alliance clubs; the only Alliance club not to apply to join the League was the insolvent Birmingham St George's.[13] The existing League clubs, plus three of the strongest Alliance clubs, comprised the Football League First Division.

Member clubs

Club Admitted Resigned
Ardwick 1891 18922
Birmingham St George's 1889 1892
Bootle 1889 18922
Burton Swifts 1891 18922
Crewe Alexandra 1889 18922
Darwen 1889 18911
Grimsby Town 1889 18922
Lincoln City 1891 18922
Long Eaton Rangers 1889 1890
Newton Heath 1889 18921
Nottingham Forest 1889 18921
Small Heath 1889 18922
Stoke 1890 18911
Sunderland Albion 1889 1891
The Wednesday 1889 18921
Walsall Town Swifts 1889 18922

1 Elected to Football League First Division
2 Elected to Football League Second Division

Football Alliance champions

Season Winners
1889–90 The Wednesday
1890–91 Stoke
1891–92 Nottingham Forest


  1. ^ Whittle, Paul (4 April 2020). "The Football Alliance: Teams Who Didn't Make the League". THE 1888 LETTER: Football Then And Now. Retrieved 30 November 2021.
  2. ^ Shury, Alan; Brian Landamore (2005) [2002]. "History of Newton Heath F.C.". The Definitive Newton Heath F.C. 'Definitive' Club Histories. with Allen Kristensen and Tony Brown (2nd ed.). Nottingham: SoccerData. p. 11. ISBN 1-899468-16-1.
  3. ^ "Football Notes". Birmingham Mail: 4. 8 April 1889.
  4. ^ "A Rival Football League". Derby Daily Telegraph: 2. 10 May 1889.
  5. ^ "A Rival Football League". Nottinghamshire Guardian: 3. 18 May 1889.
  6. ^ "The Football Alliance". Sheffield Independent: 8. 29 May 1889.
  7. ^ "Football Alliance". Sheffield Independent: 8. 12 May 1890.
  8. ^ "Sports and Pastimes". Nottingham Evening Post: 4. 14 August 1890.
  9. ^ "Threatened Expulsion of Stoke". Sheffield Independent: 7. 7 March 1891.
  10. ^ "Football Alliance". Liverpool Mercury: 7. 11 May 1891.
  11. ^ The Manchester Evening News uniquely suggests the applicant was Middlesbrough Ironopolis; in practice it may have been a joint application for both teams.
  12. ^ "The Football Alliance". Birmingham Daily Post: 7. 11 May 1891.
  13. ^ "The Football League". Sheffield Independent: 7. 14 May 1892.