The Combination was a league during the early days of English football. It had two incarnations; the first ran only for the 1888–89 season for teams across the Northern England and the Midlands, and was wound up before completion. The second was created for the 1890–91 season, but disbanded in 1911. The league comprised teams primarily from North West England and later Wales.
The league should not be confused with the other former Football Combination, a competition for reserve teams from the South of England, or with the Lancashire Combination, another minor league running around the same time.
The first Combination was set up in 1888, the same year the Football League was founded. It consisted of 20 teams, although this proved too many teams for each one to play the other once, let alone twice. Instead each club was to play eight others home and away, making 16 games in total. However unlike the League the Combination was not centrally organised, but left to individual clubs; as a result confusion ensued, as it was not clear whether many matches between clubs were friendlies or Combination matches. Many fixtures were left unfulfilled, and the Combination was wound up in April 1889.
Participating teams included Newton Heath, Grimsby Town, Lincoln City, Burslem Port Vale, Crewe Alexandra, Bootle, Small Heath and Blackburn Olympic. Newton Heath, Grimsby, Crewe, Bootle and Small Heath went on to co-found the Football Alliance the following year.
The second incarnation was founded in 1890. The twelve founder members were:
- Burton Swifts
- Derby St Luke's
- Gorton Villa
- Leek (not related to the current Leek Town)
- Macclesfield Town
- Northwich Victoria
- Stafford County (not related to the current Stafford Rangers)
- Witton (not related to the current Witton Albion)
Five of the founding teams would eventually go on to play in the Football League, although in the case of Macclesfield, this would not happen until 1997–98. Glossop North End, who joined in 1894, were also elected to the League (in 1898).
As the competition evolved, the nature of the teams changed, with many more Welsh teams being involved, as well as the reserve teams of the Football League clubs such as Everton and Crewe Alexandra. By the time the competition folded in 1911 none of the original members still participated, with the exception of Wrexham, who fielded their reserve team. It was succeeded by the Cheshire County League and later by the North West Counties Football League.
The champions of the league were as follows:
|1894–95||Ashton North End|
|1909–10||Crewe Alexandra Reserves|
- 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.
- "Sharpe's Card c 1890 depicting Jack Powell as captain of Newton Heath". Sharpe's Card c 1890 depicting Jack Powell as captain of Newton Heath.
- "England - The Combination". RSSSF.