Football (or Soccer, whatever you like to call it) has a long, rich history. It was the most popular and followed sport in England during the mid 19th century, but there were different sets of rules for playing the game. Everyone just played the sport in the name of “football” in their own way until 1863, when some football organizations in England, in a meeting of The Football Association, came up with specific set of official rules regarding the different kinds of football played back then.
The football played in England during the 19th century basically followed two sets of codes: rugby football – played by passing the ball with hand and association football – played by passing the ball with foot. The inauguration of the FA led to a dispute between the then clubs who wanted players to run with the ball in their hands and the clubs who wanted players to kick the ball. And, from this point when one talked about football, they had to be specific regarding whether they meant rugby football or association football. By the turn of the 20th century, association football had surpassed rugby football as the most popular form of the game, and so people started to drop the term “association” and started calling the game simply “football.”
Given the long and rich history of the game, it was only around 1860 or so that professional football clubs started to appear. The history and formation of these clubs is of much interest to sports enthusiasts today, as the oldest football clubs are often disputed or claimed to have formed in different times or in different codes of the game. So, here’s to taking this history lesson a little further with a close look at some of the oldest football clubs in the world. The list includes only the stand-alone clubs; the ones associated in any form with institutions such as schools, universities, hospitals or the military are excluded. Furthermore, the clubs listed are ranked in terms of the year they started playing football, not according to their dates of establishment. This excludes currently active and popular clubs like 1860 Munich and more; 1860 Munich was founded in 1848 as a fitness club, but started playing football only since 1899.
Without further ado, here are the 10 oldest football clubs in the world. Of course, I am referring to the oldest football clubs from around the globe, but it turns out they’re all from the game’s mother-nation, England.
11. Sheffield Wednesday F.C. (1867)
Sheffield Wednesday, founded originally as a cricket club in 1820, playing matches on Wednesdays only(!), eventually came out as a football club in September, 1867. In 1889, they were one of the founding members of the The Football Alliance, and were crowned the champions that inaugural season. The club joined the Football League, albeit not as a founding member, in 1892. Sheffield Wednesday were one of the founding members during the Premier League’s inception in 1992. They are currently playing in the Football League Championship, having not made it to the top flight since the 1999/2000 season.
10. Wrexham F.C. (1864)
Wrexham F.C. is the third oldest professional club in world football, founded in 1864. Based in Wrexham, Wales, the club today holds the record for winning the Welsh Cup 23 times, more than any other team in Wales. Since joining the football league in 1921, Wrexham enjoyed a total of 87 years as members. Their most notable performances in history include beating the incumbent English champions Arsenal in the third round of the 1992 FA Cup and a 1-0 win over F.C. Porto in the 1984 European Cup Winner’s Cup. Wrexham are currently competing in the Conference Premier, the fifth tier in the English football league pyramid. They play their home matches in the Racecourse Ground which is the oldest international stadium in the world that still hosts international games.
9. Nottingham Forest F.C. (1865)
In the town of West Bridgford, Nottingham Forest F.C. was founded in 1865, and went professional in 1888. They won The Football Alliance in 1891-92 and the FA Cup in 1897-98. Having enjoyed many successful stints in English football’s top tier, Nottingham etched their team’s name by winning two European Cups in the 1978-79 and 1979-80 seasons. They are currently competing in the Football League Championship, and in this list, they are by far the most consistently successful club in the last 150 years of the FA.
8. Brigg Town F.C. (1864)
This small club from Brigg, North Licolnshire, was founded in 1864, and today BTFC stand as the oldest surviving football club in the city. In the non-league system, they are 4th oldest football club in the world, behind Sheffield, Cray Wanderers and Hallham. BTFC are currently playing in England’s Northern Premier League Division One South, which is the 8th tier in the English football league pyramid. But, looking at the way the football league system works in England, it is not “impossible” for the Zebras to make it to the top flight in as little as 7 exhilarating seasons!
7. Bradford Park Avenue A.F.C. (1863)
Not to be mistaken with the more successful Bradford City A.F.C., a side which contested in the top flight as recently as 2001; the Bradford Park Avenue A.F.C. was founded in 1863. They were for over 60 years a member of the Football League in England. Previously known as Bradford, the club went through reformations during the 1970s, and established itself as a new entity again in 1988. Currently, they are playing in the Northern Premier League Division One North.
6. Stoke City F.C. (1863)
The only club on this list and the oldest club currently playing in the Premier League; Stoke City F.C. were founded in 1863 as Stoke Ramblers F.C. They are the second oldest professional club in world football and the sixth oldest overall following the codes of association football. Over the decades since their founding, Stoke haven’t registered a major tournament title, and they qualified for the top flight finishing only runners-up in the 2007-06 season of English football league’s 2nd tier, the Football League Championship. For the foreseeable future, the “oldest Premier League club” title is up for grabs for Stoke faithfuls, should they manage to remain in the top tier.
5. Notts County F.C. (1862)
Notts County, founded in 1862, are the oldest professional team in the football world. In 1888, they were one of the 12 founding members of the Football League, and have been a part of the league ever since. Notts County reached the final of the FA Cup in 1891 and were crowned the champions in 1894. Between the 1888-89 and 2013-14 seasons, they played a total of over 4700 matches, more than any other English club. Currently, County are competing in the League One, the third tier in England’s football league pyramid.
4. Worksop Town F.C. (1861)
Worksop Town F.C. are a semi-professional football club in North-East Nottinghamshire. Founded in 1861, they are currently the fourth oldest club in world football, though there are several records showing football being played in the town since only 1873. Today, Worksop are playing in the Northern Premier Leauge, the 7th tier in the English football league system. They have never managed to climb up the 6th tier in the league pyramid, and have reached the last 64 of the FA Cup on only four occasions in their glorious 153 years of football.
3. Cray Wanderers F.C. (1860)
Cray Wanderer’s are the first football club from South of England, founded in 1860. Having made a successful start to club football in the early twentieth century winning the Kent League in 1901-02, the Wanderers then wandered about in the 1930s, dropping deep into various amateur leagues in the region. They regained their semi-pro status in the 1950s, winning two London League titles and finishing runners-up twice. Like the Worksop Town, Cray play in the Northern Premier Leauge, the 7th tier in English football league pyramid, and have never managed to come up the 6th tier.
2. Hallam F.C. (1860)
Hallam F.C. currently play in the Northern Counties East League Division. Originally founded as a cricket club in 1804, they were established as an association football club after 1860, and today remain as the second oldest football club of all time. The club competed in their first ever inter-club match, known as the earliest football tournament, in 1867, defeating fellow rivals Sheffield. To date, Hallham F.C. possess this historic football trophy and they play their home games at the more historic Sandygate, which has been recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest sport-ground in the world.
1. Sheffield F.C. (1857)
Sheffield F.C., based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, has been called the world’s oldest football club by both the FA and the FIFA. Founded in 1857, they played their first match against Hallam in 1867; the match is still played today as the Sheffield derby. Sheffield won the FA Amateur Cup in 1903-04 and finished runners-up in the 1977 FA Vase. The club today competes in the Northern Premier League Division One South, and are truly the heart of the globalized entertainment industry that the Premier League has been today. Sheffield F.C. have been honored with the FIFA Order of Merit and the English Football Hall of Fame.