The Premier League is the highest level of the professional game in England. Prior to 1992, the competition was simply known as the First Division.
The league was founded in 1888, making it the oldest of its kind on the planet. Preston North End were the first ever champions, finishing 11 points clear at the top of the table after a 22-game season which involved each team playing all 11 others both home and away, as is the case today.
The size of the division has changed over the years: 12 clubs rose to 14 for the 1891/92 season and then increased to 16 between 1892 and 1898. Two more were added until 1905, when another two were included to make 20. That lasted until 1919, which brought about another expansion to 22 sides – that remained the number of participants each year up to 1987. The league then dropped to 21 clubs for a season and then down to 20 ahead of the 1988/89 campaign; it was back to 22 by 1991, though, before finally decreasing to 20 – its current number – in 1995.
Best ever teams
Manchester United are the most successful club in English football history, with 20 titles to their name. The Red Devils also jointly hold the record for most consecutive championship crowns in a row with three (1999, 2000, 2001 and 2007, 2008, 2009), alongside Arsenal (1933, 1934, 1935), Liverpool (1982, 1983, 1984) and Huddersfield Town (1924, 1925, 1926).
Sir Alex Ferguson’s various United sides are among the greatest teams to have graced the English top flight, as are the 1980s Liverpool, 1930s Arsenal and 1920s Huddersfield outfits mentioned above. Other contenders include Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, who went through the entire 2003/04 campaign unbeaten; the Tottenham Hotspur side who triumphed in 1961; Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, who won two titles in the mid-2000s; Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, who won the league once and the European Cup twice; the somewhat controversial Leeds United team of the late 1960s and early 1970s; and the Everton side who won the First Division in 1985. The most remarkable championship victory was probably Leicester City’s extraordinary success in 2015/16, when Claudio Ranieri’s side upset odds of 5000/1 to finish on top of the pile.
The complete breakdown of titles won is as follows: Manchester United 20, Liverpool 18, Arsenal 13, Everton 9, Aston Villa 7, Sunderland 6, Chelsea 6, Manchester City 4, Newcastle United 4, Sheffield Wednesday 4, Leeds 3, Wolverhampton Wanderers 3, Huddersfield 3, Blackburn Rovers 3, Preston 2, Derby County 2, Tottenham 2, Burnley 2, Portsmouth 2, Ipswich Town 1, Nottingham Forest 1, Sheffield United 1, West Bromwich Albion 1, Leicester 1.
The First Division/Premier League has provided a home to plenty of first-class footballers over the years. Seven players have finished in the top three of FIFA’s World Player of the Year award while plying their trade in the English top tier: Gary Lineker (third in 1991), Alan Shearer (third in 1996), Dennis Bergkamp (third in 1997), David Beckham (second in 1999 and 2001), Thierry Henry (second in 2003 and 2004), Frank Lampard (second in 2005) and Cristiano Ronaldo (third in 2007, first in 2008 and second in 2009).
There were plenty of stars who graced the division before the prize came into existence in the early 1990s, though, including Paul Gascoigne, Peter Shilton, Jimmy Greaves, Dixie Dean, Nat Lofthouse, Liam Brady, Kenny Dalglish, Gordon Banks, Graeme Souness, John Charles, Bryan Robson, Duncan Edwards, Geoff Hurst, Tom Finney, Jurgen Klinsmann, Ossie Ardiles, Ian Rush, John Barnes, Alan Ball, Danny Blanchflower, Stan Mortensen, George Best, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, Stanley Matthews, Kevin Keegan and Bobby Moore.
In the Premier League era, stars such as Luis Suarez, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Ryan Giggs, Peter Schmeichel, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Patrick Vieira, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Gianfranco Zola, Roy Keane, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Eric Cantona, David Ginola, Michael Owen, Robert Pires, Andy Cole, Nemanja Vidic, Robin van Persie, Ashley Cole, Tony Adams, Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba have all plied their trade in England’s top tier.
Shilton’s 849 outings make him the all-time highest appearance-maker in First Division/Premier League history. No player has made more appearances since the division’s rebrand in 1992 than Giggs (632), although Gareth Barry – who is still playing for Everton – is not far behind on 602.
The record goalscorer is Greaves (357), who represented Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham. Steve Bloomer is next with 314, followed by Dean (310), Gordon Hodgson (287) and Shearer (283). Everton striker Dean scored the most league goals in a single season with 60 in 1927/28.
Manchester United’s Giggs won a total of 13 league titles during his career, more than any other player.
Interesting facts and records (correct up to November 4, 2016)
- Everton have spent the most seasons in the top division altogether (113), while Arsenal have been in English football’s leading league for a record 90 consecutive campaigns.
- Glossop, Leyton Orient, Northampton Town, Carlisle United, Barnsley and Swindon Town have all experienced just a single term in the competition throughout their respective histories.
- Liverpool have recorded the most wins (1863), while Tottenham picked up the most victories in a single season (31 in 1960/61). Arsenal hold the record for the most triumphs in a row with 14 in 2002, while Sunderland lost 15 – more than any other team – fixtures on the bounce in 2002/03.
- The longest run without conceding a goal belongs to Manchester United, whose backline was not breached for a period of 1311 minutes in 2008/09.
- The record points tally for a season belongs to Chelsea (95) in 2004/05. The fewest points won in a season was 11 by Derby in 2007/08.
- Only two teams have gone through entire campaigns undefeated: Arsenal in 2003/04 and Preston in 1888/89.
- The oldest person to have played in the First Division/Premier League was Stanley Matthews, who turned out for Stoke City against Fulham aged 50 years and five days in February 1965.
- The youngest, meanwhile, was Matthew Briggs, who was aged just 16 years and 65 days when he represented Fulham against Middlesbrough in 2007.