What we do

The development of modern football in Victorian Britain was directly related to industrial and urbanization processes. The majority of the new working-class residents of Britain’s industrial towns and cities gradually abandoned traditional rural pleasures such as badger-baiting in favor of new forms of communal recreation. Beginning in the 1850s, as the likelihood of industrial employees having Saturdays off increased, many of them began to watch or participate in the new sport of football. Football leagues for working-class boys and men were formed by important urban institutions such as churches, unions, and schools. Growing adult literacy encouraged the media to cover organized sports, and transportation infrastructure such as railroads and urban trams allowed players and spectators to get to football games. 

The average attendance in England increased from 4,600 in 1888 to 7,900 in 1895, 13,200 in 1905, and 23,100 at the outbreak of World War I. Football's success has reduced public interest in other sports, particularly cricket. Despite the FA's amateurism regulation, leading clubs, particularly those in Lancashire, began charging admission to fans as early as the 1870s and were thus able to pay illegal wages to entice highly skilled working-class players, many of whom were from Scotland. Working-class athletes and clubs in northern England sought a professional structure that would compensate them for "broken time" (time away from other jobs) and the risk of injury. While remaining steadfastly elitist, the FA maintained an amateurism policy that protected upper and upper-middle class influence over the game. 

In 1884, the FA expelled two clubs for employing professional players, bringing the professionalism debate to a head in England. Despite early attempts to limit professionalism to compensation for lost time, player remuneration had become so common by that point that the FA was forced to regulate it a year later. As a result of their large fan bases and ability to attract superior players, northern clubs rose to prominence. As the impact of working-class players in football grew, the upper classes turned to other sports, particularly cricket and rugby union. Professionalism also inspired further modernization of the game with the establishment of the Football League in 1888, which allowed the top dozen clubs from the North and Midlands to compete against each other on a regular basis. 

A second, lower level was added in 1893, bringing the total number of teams to 28. The Irish and Scots established leagues in 1890. The Southern League was founded in 1894, but it was taken over by the Football League in 1920. During this time, however, football did not develop into a significant money-making industry. Professional sports teams formed limited liability organizations primarily to acquire property for the slow construction of stadium infrastructure. The majority of clubs in England were owned and managed by businesses, but the owners reaped little to no financial benefit; instead, they gained more respect from the community by managing the local club. 

Later national leagues outside of the United Kingdom adopted the British model, which included league championships, at least one annual cup competition, and a league hierarchy in which clubs that finished first in the standings were promoted to the next higher division and clubs that finished last were demoted to the division below them (relegation). A league was established in the Netherlands in 1889, but professionalism did not arrive until 1954. The first national championship season in Germany ended in 1903, but it took another 60 years for the Bundesliga, the country's comprehensive and fully professional national league, to emerge. A professional league was not established in France, where the game was first played in the 1870s, until 1932, shortly after Argentina and Brazil legalized professionalism.