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It Used To Be a Game in Bury and Bolton


Football is not to everybody's liking. Neither is Cricket. Both however, are the national games of Britain. For all the passion and success of other sports, Olympic Gold, upsurge of interest and including Rugby, football and cricket still stand alone as the two games most people play. Of the two, football is probably played by more, although what the numbers are has never really been clearly defined. What can be said with certainty is that even today, one can find kids kicking a ball about on a patch of waste ground and yes, using jumpers of one kind or another, for goals. The jumper might be a little different to what it used to be – it probably has a hood these days, but it’s still there, still serving in its multi-tasking capacity, this time and as always, a goalpost.

In summer what serves as the three stumps topped by bails to be struck by an accurately bowled ball is a little more difficult. Perhaps that may be one reason why football has been a shade more popular; all one really needs is something round enough and a wall. Perhaps not even the wall come to think of it - the needs of the cricketer require a little more than only a ball.

Cricket also falls someway behind football in terms of the numbers watching. Despite that, the summer game appears to be reasonably healthy and the stunning Ashes comeback by England ranks as one of the greatest. Football however, still reigns supreme. Only just perhaps, and no doubt any cricket aficionado will argue differently. As might fans of Rugby.

And it is football that has hit the headlines - again - and for all the wrong reasons this week, again, this final week of August 2019, with the expulsion of Bury Football Club from the English Football League, the EFL.

Yet right there is an indication of how football has changed immeasurably over recent years; not a long time ago, the EFL was simply named, ‘The Football League’. Everybody knew where it played its games, just as everybody knew that ‘The FA’ meant The Football Association and that it was the FA of England. No one needed to preface the title with ‘The English...’ or follow it with ‘...of England’.

No other country did it this way, not even Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. All three carry the name of their country in the title, as do their primary leagues. Only England did not.

It was so because England is the country where football was founded and everything else came along afterwards. Including rugby; who knows today of William Webb Ellis, the Rugby School student who picked up the ball and ran with it one day, 'with a fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time’. That’s how the game started, and where it got its name (1823 in case you wondered). This at least, is the evocative legend of rugby, whether true or not but still football came first.

And with it the great names of the game in England. The twelve founding members of the Football league; Preston North End, the first winners, never losing a game as they dominated the league’s early years. Derby County and just along the road, Notts County, in Nottingham. Aston Villa, Everton, Stoke, Blackburn Rovers, Burnley, West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Accrington Stanley. And Bolton Wanderers.

William McGregor was the man behind it, and yes, he was Scottish. After moving from Perthshire to Birmingham to set up business as a draper, McGregor became involved with Aston Villa. He served the club for over 20 years in various capacities, including president, director and chairman. In 1888, frustrated by the regular cancellation of Villa's matches, McGregor organised a meeting of representatives of England&#x