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The Football League Founding Members in FM21

In 1888-89, the English Football League was formed. This article takes a look at how the twelve founding clubs look in FM21.

By on Nov 23, 2020   4292 views   0 comments
In 1888-89 the English Football League was born, with Preston North End lifting the first title aloft after the twenty-two game season. The twelve sides who made up the league that season, have all fared differently since. This article will do a deep dive into all twelve of those sides, and assessing why you should take on the challenge of one of the "Originals" in Football Manager 2021.



Premier League


Aston Villa

Background

Aston Villa, who finished as runners up in 1888-89, are currently in the top tier of English football. Having been promoted via the playoffs in 2018-19, Villa maintained their position in the Premier League by the skin of their teeth, mainly down to Jack Grealish. With the board backing manager Dean Smith in the shortened off season, the club have seemingly strengthened early on this season, with the signings of Ollie Watkins, Matty Cash and Emiliano Martínez, clearly making a difference.

Captain

Jack Grealish, leads the side, with his natural ability to play a number of positions, including on the left wing, center and attacking midfield. The twenty-four year old, is the highest paid member at the club, but it’s well deserved, with his ability clear to everyone. Grealish’s talent to bring the ball forward with his tricky dribbling matched with an elite amount of flair causes countless problems for the defenders. He will be a vital member of the squad to build around, but don’t be surprised if some of Europe’s elite become interested in his services.


Key Player

Apart from Jack Grealish, Villa have a number of talented players who can play a massive role for the club. One in particular who stands out is John McGinn, with the Scottish international a potential partner for Grealish in the midfield. McGinn who provides a nice defensive balance compared to the club captain, with his tackling and positioning attributes a great asset. The box to box midfielder will also provide you with a secondary attacking threat, with an ability to strike shots from long range, paired with an impressive finishing ability for a midfielder.

Young Star

Louie Barry, the English, striker has had a much different past to most English teenagers dreaming of playing football. Having begun his career at West Bromwich Albion, the then sixteen year old was signed by Barcelona. But after just one year he has returned back to England and is now on the books at Villa. With his potential clear, Barry will be a project, that if you get right, could see him be a key man in your future side.

Finances

As will be a feature of this list, finances have been hit hard by COVID-19, with Aston Villa sitting on a balance of £7,000,000. This is seen with a transfer budget of just £2,500,000 and a wage budget of £55,000. The lack of funds will mean bargain hunting will be needed early on.

Burnley

Background

Burnley, who conceded the second most goals in the 1888-89 season are now known for their defensive work. Since winning the Championship in 2015/16, led by Sean Dyche, Burnley have been up and down in the Premier League. Could you come in and turn Burnley into a European powerhouse?

Captain

The club are captained by center-back Ben Mee, with the defender possessing all the qualities that you should look for in a defender. A great header of the ball and the ability to mark and tackle his man successfully, Mee’s main downfall is his slightly undersized. But his teamwork and leadership skills, as well as his fundamentals make up for this, with Mee a key man in having any early success at the club.

Key Player

Having a top quality goalkeeper is vital to every team, and that is exactly what Burnley have in Nick Pope. The twenty-eight year old, who is just coming into his prime as a goalkeeper, won runner-up in last year's Premier League golden glove race, and his ability has been reflected in Football Manager. Standing at 6”5, Pope is a great communicator, whilst his handling, reflexes and one on one shot saving ability is of an elite level.

Young Star

Dwight McNeil is a product of Burnley’s improving youth academy, with the twenty year old having a breakthrough past couple of years. The left midfielder is already a top level, Premier League player, with plenty of room to develop. An impressive dribbling ability, as well as his passing and crossing talent make him a constant threat. McNeil is certainly the youngster to build around at Burnley.


Finances

Burnley are in a strong financial position relative to most clubs across the country, despite the COVID-19 impact. A balance of £61,000,000 sets you up nicely, with a transfer budget of £10,500,000 and a wage budget of £45,000 providing you funds to add to an already strong squad.

Everton

Background

Everton, hold the record for competing in the top division of English football, with an extraordinary 117 season. Missing just four seasons since the football league’s founding in 1888-89, Everton remain a constant in the Premier League to this day. A club that has always been seemingly a step away from pushing into Europe on a consistent basis, but just falling short, the Toffees ended last season in a disappointing twelfth place.With some good additions a strong core of players has been formed, could you be the manager to take them over the hump and achieve their potential?

Captain

Seamus Coleman has been at Everton for twelve years now, since joining from Sligo Rovers in 2008. The right-back has been ever present for the club, despite some troubling injuries holding him back at times. Coleman, who will be thirty-two by October, has some fresh faces challenging for his role at right-back but he still has the quality to play the role to a high standard. A good crosser of the ball, it’s his metals that truly stand out, with his leadership ability vital to the club.

Key Player

A number of players could be mentioned as Everton’s key man, with the likes of Richarlison, Lucas Digne, Allan and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all highly impressive footballers. However, one man stands out, James Rodríguez. The Columbian star doesn't have the physical ability he once did but his lack of speed and strength is made up for by his incredible vision and passing ability. The Attacking midfielder also possesses ridiculous flair, with the ability to pull off a long shot when needed. James, will cause trouble for any opposing defenders, and with his ability to unlock a defense, Everton are in safe hands for the immediate future going forward.


Young Star

At least six players in the academy teams are already good enough to contribute to the first team. The man I think could make the biggest impact in the long run being, Anthony Gordon. Gordon, who has already featured in eleven Premier League games, has tremendous potential and with a bit of development, could be a good rotation option on either the left wing, or as a center-attacking midfielder.

Finances

Everton begin with a balance of £51,000,000 and with their high summer spending, giving them a transfer budget of just £2,500,000 and a wage budget of £60,000. With an already impressive side, that could push for the European spots from the get go, you may not need to spend at all. But if there is a man you are desperate to sign to improve the squad, a number of assets could be moved on and replaced by the talented youngsters in the development squad.

West Bromwich Albion

Background

West Bromwich Albion are the latest side to enter the Premier League from the ‘Originals’ with their 1888-89 squad finishing bang on midtable, ending that season 6th. A 6th placed finish would be seen as a miracle for West Brom this season, with the club favourites to return back to the Championship, will you be the manager to keep them up?

Captain

Club captain, Jake Livermore is an England international, with seven caps to his name. The natural defensive midfielder is now in his thirties and has probably seen the last of his England caps, but his impressive displays in the Championship last season helped see his team promoted. Livermore, a very hard worker, isn’t the most natural leader in this list but his determination to work hard for his team is obvious. He will do whatever he can to help the group win games, which could prove vital early on.

Key Player

There are two players who will prove key to any survival bid for West Brom, in the first season. Matheus Pereira and Karlan Grant. The two attack minded players will be the clubs main source of creativity and goal scoring in season one, with Grant a top quality finisher. Pereira, who is dangerous whenever the ball is at his feet will cause problems for opposing fullbacks and suck defenders away from Grant. If you manage to get the pair working together, you may have a chance of surviving.

Young Star

Conor Gallagher is the clear young star of the West Brom squad, but he is only on loan for the first season. In the long run, his potential midfield partner, Rekeem Harper is the obvious choice. Harper, who has a single Premier League appearance to his name already, playing for the club in their 2017-18 campaign, before being relegated, is an exciting talent. The twenty year old, is a physical threat, standing 6”2 he also has an impressive level of flair. This matched with his dribbling will allow him to be a threat from deep to add to the attack. Giving Harper gametime early on, could see him become an incredible talent in a few years time.


Finances

Despite recently being promoted, the finances at West Brom have taken a major hit by the COVID-19 crisis as well as some big spending in the summer, they are left with a balance of just £3,000,000. This leaves the clubs transfer budget at just £1,000,000 and a wage budget of £40,000 and with no real assets to move on for big money, it could mean making the best of what you have at West Brom.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Background

Wolves are the final, current, top flight side from the ‘originals’ and finished the 1888-89 season in 3rd place, just behind rivals Aston Villa. In more recent times, Wolves have fared the best out of the group, with two seventh place finishes since their promotion in 2017-18 from the Championship. Could you be the manager to guide Wolves to the Champions League?

Captain

Former Liverpool academy graduate, Connor Coady is the current captain at Wolves, with his consistency in defense playing a major role in the clubs recent rise into the Premier League. Coady is the perfect leader, with his mental attributes impressing across the board, whilst his talent as a center-back is clear to see.


Key Player

The key man for me, is the star striker, Raúl Jiménez. The Mexican is a top class finisher and has the composure to match, allowing him to cooly finish off the majority of his chances. His work rate is also phenomenal, whilst his penalty taking ability is an added bonus to any team. Jiménez, despite his age, has the potential to fire you into the top four in the first few seasons, before he needs replacing.

Young Star

Luckily for you, that replacement is already there, with Fábio Silva, a Football Manager 2020 great, signing for the club in the summer. At eighteen, Silva is already impressive physically and standing at 6”1 he will be a dominant force. He will need to be developed with some areas of his game needing work still, but the youngster certainly has the potential to replace Jiménez in a few years time.

Finances

A balance of £11,000,000 isn’t an encouraging sign for Wolves, at the beginning of season one. Despite the balance, the board has been generous with a transfer budget of £17,500,000 and a wage budget of £120,000. With the squad that Wolves have to start with, you don’t necessarily need to spend, allowing you to improve the balance with whatever money you make in sales. However, if you do identify an area you’d like to strengthen you certainly have the money to spend in the COVID markets.

Championship


Blackburn Rovers

Background

A former Premier League winner, under Sir Kenny Dalglish, Blackburn Rovers haven’t fared as well of late. Blackburn, who drew their opening game of the 1888-89 season 5-5, with Accrington Stanley, currently play in the Championship, following promotion from League One in 2017-18. It’s a club that still has high quality facilities and with a squad brimming with potential, could you take them back to their Premier League days, and beyond?

Captain

Elliott Bennett was a £100,000 signing back in 2015-16 for Blackburn and since then he has gone on to play in over 150 league games for the club. The club captain is now thirty-one and his best days technically, may be fading, but a great leader, with an impressive work ethic, Bennett is a great player to have in and around the squad, especially as a mentor for the clubs future stars.

Key Player

England Under 21 capped striker, Adam Armstrong, is the star at Blackburn, with the striker one of the best in the league. The twenty-three year old has blistering pace, allowing him to get in and behind any defense and with his finishing ability he won’t squander many opportunities.

Young Star

As previously mentioned, the Blackburn squad is brimming with potential. John Buckley, Ben Brereton, Ryan Nyambe, Tyler Magloire and loanee Harvey Elliott could all play a major role in the squad in season one, with the potential to form the core of your squad in the next five to ten years. But the standout prospect is Tyrhys Dolan. Dolan may have to rotate with Harvey Elliott in season one, but with Elliott unlikely to be sold by Liverpool, Dolan will be the man for the future. An exciting prospect, with impressive dribbling ability and an incredible work rate, Dolan has the potential to be the star in the coming years.

Finances

Blackburn start in a promising financial position, with a better balance than the majority of the Premier League clubs mentioned so far. Despite this, the board would prefer you to save that balance and gain promotion with what you currently have, with a transfer budget of just £100,000 and a wage budget of £15,000. With a number of exciting free transfers available though, you could perhaps tempt an experienced player to come in and help get promotion to the Premier League.


Derby County

Background

Derby County began the 1888-89 season with a massive 6-1 win over Aston Villa, however, they then went on a ten game winless run, with the club finishing the season in tenth place. Most recently, Derby are famous for finishing bottom of the Premier League with a record low of just ten points in 2007-08. With stagnating in the Championship since then, the club is looking to turn it around, could you be the person to do just that?

Captain

England’s national team, all time top scorer, Wayne Rooney is the man who will lead your side from the start, following his arrival at Derby last season. Rising through the ranks as a teenager, playing as a striker, Rooney is now a natural throughout the center of the pitch, with the ability to play as a Defensive Midfielder all the way through to striker. Now aged thirty-four, don’t expect him to be sprinting onto through balls, buthis technical and mental abilities are still at an elite level.


Key Player

Rooney remains the standout player at Derby, despite his age, but away from him, Jordon Ibe could be a top player for the team. Ibe, who was once tipped for big things, has struggled since his move to Bournemouth from Liverpool in 2016-17 and eventually made his way to Derby on a free in the summer. Still only twenty-four, the winger still has the potential to grow into an impressive player and with the right development you could have a bargain of a player on your hands.

Young Star

The young star for Derby, has to be Louie Sibley, with the eighteen year old bursting onto the scene late last season. The central midfielder could provide the running for Rooney but he will also provide a second option with his own impressive attributes from the start. A talented dribbler, Sibley also has the ability to strike a shot from long range, to potentially catch the opposing goalkeeper off guard.

Finances

The finances at Derby look encouraging, with a balance of £35,600,000 however, with a transfer budget and wage budget at £0 at the start of season one, you’ll have to make do with what you have or move on some of your fringe players.

Preston North End

Background

The winners of the 1888-89 First Division title, as well as repeating the feat the following season, Preston North End haven’t won the English top division title since the 1890 season. They currently ply their trade in the Championship, England’s second tier having not been in the top tier for almost sixty years. Preston had a bright start to the oldest league in world football, can you take them back to the glory days?

Captain

Having played through numerous stints at the club, Paul Gallagher is the club captain at Preston North End. The thirty-five year old doesn’t have the physical ability you’d want in a player anymore, but he still has the technical ability of a top quality midfielder, especially at the Championship level.

Key Player

Having come through the Manchester United academy, before signing for Preston in 2015-16, Ben Pearson is the standout talent at the club. Since his arrival, the midfielder has been ever present, and at age twenty-five could be considered a Premier League talent. But his talent is known by other clubs too. Premier League clubs will almost certainly be sniffing around for your key man, can you keep a hold of him, and keep him happy?


Young Star

Academy graduate, Josh Earl, will be the youngster to pin your hopes on from the start, with the left back having the ability to start already, at just twenty-one. Mentally, he still needs to develop, which is to be expected with a young player, but physically and technically he certainly is ready for Championship football.

Finances

A balance of £4,200,000 is a good position to be in for Preston to start with, but the need to get into the Premier League as soon as possible is clear. With a lack of sponsorship money coming into the club, and not enough TV money in the Championship to stop the club projections to look worrying, promotion is needed. You will start with a transfer budget of £800,000 and a wage budget of £10,000.

Stoke City

Background

Stoke finished dead last in the 1888-89 season, winning just four of their twenty-two games. In recent years, Stoke have been more successful, being a Premier League side for ten years from 2008 - 2018, but have struggled since being relegated to the Championship. Two underperforming years have hurt Stoke’s odds of promotion but can you get them back up?

Captain

Ryan Shawcross is a man well associated with the club, joining them thirteen years ago. The club captain is thirty-two now but still a dominant center-back who can do a good job. It’ll be his leadership ability that makes him most valuable to you though, especially with a number of talented young defenders coming through the ranks who could learn from his tutelage.

Key Player

Star man at Stoke City, is surprise summer signing, John Obi Mikel. The former Premier League and Champions League winner with Chelsea, signed for the second tier club on a free transfer. Mikel is now into the twilight of his career, aged thirty-three but his incredible natural fitness means he hasn’t fallen off and is still a great talent. With years of experience his mentals are on an elite level and will have the quality to win points on his own in your first season.

Young Star

As previously mentioned, there are plenty of talented players coming through the Stoke City ranks, especially at the back. But the piece to build around is that of Nathan Collins. Aged nineteen, Collins has seventeen first team league appearances, and will be battling both Shawcross and James Chester for a starting role next to Kevin Wimmer this season.


Finances

The finances at Stoke are positive, with £8,800,000 in the balance, however, the board want to improve that further. No transfer budget and the need to cut the wages by £60,000 will provide you with an even tougher challenge off the bat. It’s certainly doable, with a number of players on high wages, but attracting interest in those players will be the hard part.

League One


Accrington Stanley

Background

Accrington Stanley, having been one of the founding fathers, left the First Division in 1892-93 and since then haven’t reached the second tier of English football. However, the club pulled off an incredibly unlikely promotion to League One in 2017-18 and then stayed up in the last two seasons. With a lack of resources compared to some teams playing at the same level, expectations are low with survival the immediate goal.

Captain

A former Ireland under 21 international, Séamus Conneely captains the League One side, having made the move from Sligo Rovers in 2014-15. It’s obvious why Conneely is the skipper to, with his leadership ability. Leading from the front, Conneely will likely be your starting central midfielder too, with the club coaches valuing him highly.

Key Player

Ross Sykes made his breakthrough aged, nineteen, starting twenty league games for the club in 2018-19 and has since then cemented his place as the number one center back at the club. Sykes is still young, aged only twenty-one and has the potential to be a good player at the level above. A center-back with good physical ability plus the key attributes, he will be a vital player in any survival and the potential rise through the leagues in years to come.


Young Star

Apart from Sykes, Toby Savin stands out as the brightest hope at Accrington Stanley, with the goalkeeper, the clubs number two behind loanee keeper, Nathan Baxter. Savin, who at just nineteen is very young for a goalkeeper and will have years to develop before he hits his peak years. Standing 6”4, he has the height required, and with some development could be in the side for a number of years.

Finances

Accrington begin with a £1,500,000 balance but once again the board are aware of the struggles the season will be and have given you a budget of zero. To bring some players in, you’re going to have to shift some out. Making use of your affiliation with Burnley and Blackburn, may be the best bet in season one.

League Two


Bolton Wanderers

Background

Bolton Wanderers averaged exactly a point a game in their 1888-89 football league season, scoring the third most goals with sixty-six. The club have been a prominent member of England's first division throughout their history, most recently, and memorably under Big Sam Alladyce. Having finished 6th in the Premier League in 2004-05, Bolton couldn’t reach the same heights and with relegation in 2011-12 the club have suffered four relegations in eight years, now playing in League 2.

Captain

Unlike the majority of clubs, Bolton’s club captain is a new arrival from this season, Antoni Sarcevic. The midfielder who scored ten goals for Plymouth last season, joined Bolton on a free and has been made captain immediately. A hard working central midfielder, Sarcevic is also the highest paid player at the club, but has the ability to put in some top quality performances at League Two level.


Key Player

Former Premier League defender, Alex Baptiste, will be the key man in the first season at the club, with his experience playing a vital role in the quest for promotion. Despite now being thirty-four, Baptiste is more than capable at this level and should provide a solid base to the team helping to keep the clean sheets at the back. Not as quick as he once was, his positioning and mental attributes will balance him out and allow his ability to shine.

Young Star

Dennis Politic certainly has the potential to be a star in the future for the club, however an injury will keep him out for up to sixteen months. Therefore, to begin with, all focus should go into developing Ronan Darcy, one of the few members of the squad to have played in the Championship at Bolton. Darcy, an attacking midfielder will provide flair from just behind the strikers, and with some improvement, should become an incisive passer.

Finances

Financially, Bolton have struggled of late, with administration and a twelve point deduction playing a major role in relegation last season.The balance for the mean time is healthy, with £900,000 in the bank. The board are certainly looking to keep it that way too, with a transfer budget of £0 and a wage budget of £2,000. It’ll be a matter of finding loanees without paying the cost of wages and cheap free transfers if you are to add any additional quality to the side.

National League


Notts County

Background

Known as one of the oldest football clubs in the world, Notts County were until a couple of years ago the oldest football league club in England. However, relegation outside of the football league, for the first time since it was founded in 1888-89 ended that run. Notts County currently play in the Vanarama National League, with COVID-19 cutting their promotion push last season, short. Will you be able to push them from the second lowest tier available in the game, right back to the top?

Captain

A one time capped Irish international, Michael Doyle captains the club. Having just turned thirty-nine, Doyle doesn’t have the same ability he once did that made him a constant Championship and League One quality player. However, he does have the experience of a twenty-two year career, with a strong leadership ability and team first ethic.

Key Player

Dutch winger, Enzio Boldewijn is the key player for Notts County, with the twenty-seven year old joining the club for £150,000 in 2018-19. Since then he has played seventy-three games for the club scoring thirteen goals. He will be vital to any promotion push this season, with his pace and dribbling ability a potential cause for concern for any opposing fullback.

Young Star

Miles Wallace, who starts in the clubs Under 18 side, could be a man to keep an eye on. The sixteen year old plays left back and according to the coaching staff, is the third best natural left back at the club. With four years until he turns twenty, the teenager has plenty of time to develop into a first team quality left back and could perhaps rack up some minutes from the get go if you prefer a development route.


Finances

A balance of £390,000 is strong for this level of football, however, the board understand the lack of income at this level, limiting you to a transfer budget of £39,000 and a wage budget of £0. Selling players will be the first way to generate some income, but a good cup run will also boost the clubs finances and it’s reputation.



Football is an ever growing sport, with teams up and down the footballing pyramid vying for promotion. There are the old school traditional sides who have been around for centuries and the recently formed teams making their way in recent years, such as Hashtag United.

This article has placed a focus on the ‘originals’, those that formed the world's oldest Football League back in 1888. Twelve clubs, all of whom are still in England's top five tiers, made up the very first season in English football. Will you take on one of the nations oldest clubs, and lead them to glory?

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