The Western League had its origins in the Bristol and District League, founded in 1892 (two years before the Southern League) by teams in and around Bristol. The league was dominated in its early years by Warmley who were champions four times in the first five seasons, including the first two seasons after it became the Western League in 1895. Reading, together with Swindon, first joined the league in the newly formed Professional Section in 1897. However they played for only one season before transferring to the United League and then to the Southern District Combination. By 1899, the Western League Division 1 had dwindled to just four clubs – Bristol City, Bristol Rovers, Swindon Town and Bedminster – a number that dropped still further when Bedminster merged with Bristol City.
In 1900 there was a major influx of Southern League teams, including Reading, into the Western League from the Southern District Combination. In effect it became a subsidiary tournament for Southern League teams, the fixtures generally being played mid-week. According to league rules, teams were meant to put out a full-strength team. However often weaker elevens or reserve teams were fielded, putting the clubs into conflict with the league. Growing fixture commitments caused the league to be divided into two sections in 1906, the two winners contesting a play-off to decide the league champions. This continued until 1909 when the first division was disbanded, leaving just the second division, containing some genuine West Country (and Welsh) teams, to continue.
|1894-951||Hereford Thistle||St George|
|1896-97||Warmley||Bristol South East|
|1897-98||Bristol City2||Swindon Town|
|1898-99||Swindon Town||Bristol St George3|
|1905-06||Queens Park Rangers||Southampton|
|1906-07||West Ham United6||Fulham|
|1908-09||Millwall8||Brighton & HA|
|1909-10||Treharris||Bristol City Res|
|1910-11||Bristol City Res||Bristol Rovers Res|
|1911-12||Welton Rovers||Barry District|
|1912-13||Bristol Rovers Res||Cardiff City Res|
|1913-14||Cardiff City Res||Bath City|
1 Bristol & District League|
2 Bristol City previously known as Bristol South East
3 Bristol St George previously known as St George
4 Bristol Rovers previously known as Eastville Rovers
5 Bedminster merged with Bristol City
6 West Ham beat Fulham 1-0 in play-off
7 Millwall beat Southampton 1-0 in play-off
8 Millwall beat Brighton 2-1 in play-off
The United League was founded in 1896 to provide additional mid-week fixtures for teams drawn from a number of leagues. The founder members were Arsenal and Loughborough from the Football League, Luton, Millwall and Tottenham from the Southern League, and Kettering, Rushden and Wellingborough from the Midland League. Reading joined the League for its third season, 1898-99, finishing in sixth place. They then joined a general exodus of the Southern teams to the Southern District Combination, leaving the United League with a rump of Midlands teams. A number of new teams were recruited, including the recently formed Northampton Town, and the less notable Desborough Unity and Finedon Revellers. The League struggled on in this form for three seasons, before being suspended in 1902.
The League was re-formed in 1905 solely as a secondary competition for Southern League teams, although membership soon dwindled. A Northern Section was formed in 1908, with the Southern champions, New Brompton (later to become Gillingham), beating the Northern champions, Rotherham Town (later to merge with Rotherham County to form Rotherham United), 4-1 in a play-off. However, this was the final curtain and the League folded.
|1896-97||Millwall Athletic||Luton Town|
|1897-98||Luton Town||Tottenham Hotspur|
|1900-01||Rothwell Town Swifts||Luton Town|
|1901-02||Irthlingborough Town||Rothwell Town Swifts|
|1906-07||Crystal Palace||Brighton & Hove A|
|1908-09||New Brompton1||Rotherham Town|
1 New Brompton beat Rotherham 4-1 in play-off
Southern District Combination
The Southern District Combination was founded in 1899 to provide additional mid-week fixtures for teams in the south of the country as an alternative to the United League. It lasted only one season, the champions being Millwall, before a mass exodus to the Western League.
|1899-00||Millwall Athletic||Tottenham Hotspur|