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|Number of teams||12|
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.
Several of The Combination founders, with others, then established the 12-strong 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.
Nine clubs (eight bolded in the table below) originally decided to form the Alliance, originally under the name of the Northern Counties League, 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. Before the season started, Sunderland withdrew and Long Eaton Rangers took their place.
At the end of the Alliance's first season, the bottom four clubs - Walsall Town Swifts, Small Heath, Long Eaton Rangers, and Nottingham Forest - had to apply for re-election; 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, were admitted in place of Long Eaton Rangers, and the other bottom four clubs were re-elected. 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.
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.
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, 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, Northwich Victoria, Lincoln City, and Sheffield United. The successful clubs were Ardwick, Burton Swifts, and Lincoln City - the last by one vote.
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 existing League clubs, plus three of the strongest Alliance clubs, comprised the Football League First Division.
|Birmingham St George's||1889||1892|
|Long Eaton Rangers||1889||1890|
|Walsall Town Swifts||1889||18922|
Football Alliance champions
- 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.
- Shury, Alan; Brian Landamore (2005) . "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.
- "A Rival Football League". Nottinghamshire Guardian: 3. 18 May 1889.
- "Football Alliance". Sheffield Independent: 8. 12 May 1890.
- "Sports and Pastimes". Nottingham Evening Post: 4. 14 August 1890.
- "Threatened Expulsion of Stoke". Sheffield Independent: 7. 7 March 1891.
- "Football Alliance". Liverpool Mercury: 7. 11 May 1891.
- The Manchester Evening News uniquely suggests the applicant was Middlesbrough Ironopolis; in practice it may have been a joint application for both teams.
- "The Football Alliance". Birmingham Daily Post: 7. 11 May 1891.