Oldest Football Clubs
Football is not just a sport; it’s a reflection of societal values, shifts, and cultures. For some, it’s like a religion and each team represents a different ideology. From the mannerisms of fans in the stands to the ethos of clubs, football has mirrored the world’s evolution. At the heart of this reflection is the oldest active football club, whose history provides a unique lens to view the cultural progression of society through the world of football.
With the rise of football in the mid-1850s and 1860s in England, a number of teams were established. They went on to compete at a professional level and assert their dominance on the list of the world’s oldest football clubs. In this article, we will examine the enduring oldest football clubs that are still actively participating in this modern world.
10. Queen Park FC
Queen’s Park Football Club, located in Glasgow, Scotland, is a distinguished professional football team currently competing in the Scottish Championship, the second tier of the nation’s football hierarchy. This historic club holds the esteemed title of being the oldest association football club in Scotland, tracing its origins back to 1867. Globally, it ranks as the 10th oldest club in the sport.
Throughout its impressive 152-year history, Queen’s Park remained an entirely amateur club. Its iconic white and black hoops have adorned the players for the majority of their existence. For an extended period, the club stood as the sole fully amateur entity within the Scottish professional leagues, until a significant moment in November 2019 when its membership voted to relinquish that status. The embodiment of its amateur ethos is encapsulated in the Latin motto, ‘Ludere Causa Ludendi,’ signifying ‘To Play for the Sake of Playing.’
Notably, Queen’s Park stands as a unique Scottish football entity, having participated in the FA Cup Final in both 1884 and 1885. Moreover, the club boasts an impressive record of 10 Scottish Cup triumphs, a feat placing it third in the all-time rankings, trailing only Celtic and Rangers. However, the last of these victories dates back to 1893. With the distinction of being the inaugural Scottish Cup champions, Queen’s Park retained this honor for an astounding 51 years until Celtic secured their 11th victory in 1925.
Queen’s Park Football Club embodies a legacy rich in tradition, remarkable achievements, and a commitment to the core essence of the sport. With its historic milestones and ongoing evolution, this Scottish institution continues to leave an indelible mark on the realm of football.
9. Nottingham Forest FC
In 1865, a gathering of shinney players hailing from Nottingham, akin to the sport of hockey, convened at the Clinton Arms located on Shakespeare Street. In this very place, JS Scrimshaw’s proposition to transition to football gained approval, thus marking the beginning of Nottingham Forest Football Club.
Standing tall among the forgotten giants of English football, Nottingham Forest’s brilliance shines the brightest. Despite their absence from the Premier League throughout the entirety of the 21st century, Forest etched an indelible mark during their prime in the 1970s. Across their rich and captivating history, they clinched a League title, secured two FA Cups, and triumphed in four League Cups. Notably, amidst their domestic victories, Forest remains one of merely two British clubs to have clinched consecutive European Cups.
In their early days, Forest maintained a diverse sports portfolio encompassing bandy (initially named Nottingham Forest Football and Bandy Club) and baseball divisions. However, it was the football segment that had the most success. By 1892, they seized the Football Alliance league title before earning entry into the Football League. A pivotal triumph transpired in 1898, as they outshone Derby County in the FA Cup final to claim their inaugural major honor.
8. Wrexham FC
Wrexham AFC, a Welsh football club with a history spanning over 150 years, and has navigated through numerous triumphs and challenges. From clinching multiple national and international titles to grappling with financial difficulties and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, the club’s journey is a tale of highs and lows.
The roots of Wrexham AFC trace back to 1864, positioning it as one of the world’s oldest professional football clubs. Originally named Wrexham Football Club, it was founded by a cohort of young individuals who shared a passion for football within the local vicinity. The team’s inaugural match took place on October 22, 1864, where they clashed against a squad hailing from the nearby town of Oswestry.
Over the decades, Wrexham FC firmly solidified its standing as one of Wales’ premier teams, actively participating in regional tournaments and cup contests. A significant milestone occurred in 1890 when the club assumed the role of a founding member within the newly established Welsh Football League, an entity that would subsequently ascend to the ranks of the nation’s foremost professional leagues.
Wrexham boasts one of the world’s earliest football squads, gracing the oldest international ground globally. More recently, became a hot topic. Through an unexpected and unparalleled collaboration in sporting history, actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney took ownership of Wrexham AFC with aspirations of transforming the club’s fate and nurturing the local community. The remarkable twist of fate unfolded when, just two years later, in April 2023, Wrexham earned promotion to the Football League, culminating a 15-season journey within the semi-professional National League.
7. Brigg Town FC
The club, renowned as the “Zebras,” stands as the oldest surviving establishment in Lincolnshire and ranks among England’s most time-honored clubs, with its origins dating back to 1864.
Though football likely saw action in the Brigg vicinity earlier, the first documented mention of an organized match in the town surfaced in early January 1864 through the pages of the Lincolnshire Chronicle newspaper. The account details a match between the Gentlemen of Brigg and the Gentlemen of Lincoln, which had to be deferred due to the firmness of the field following bad weather. This incident occurred shortly after Mr. Tring, a schoolmaster, formalized the Cambridge Rules, and the Football Association unveiled its inaugural set of regulations merely five weeks prior, on December 1, 1863.
As football established itself within the town by the mid-1860s, it evolved into a traditional institution. Club members diligently honed their skills in preparation for consequential clashes in neighboring towns, and by the 1870s, matches extended to locales like Lincoln, Grimsby, and even across the River Humber in Hull. Brigg Town swiftly gained success as a formidable contender and was frequently sought out by other town clubs.
During this period, the club hadn’t yet adopted distinct colors, but a decision was reached in 1877 to embrace magenta and white as the official attire for its members.
Currently, the team competes in the Northern Counties East League Division One, a semi-professional English football league that ranks ninth within the nation’s football hierarchy. In 2001, they clinched victory in this competition, marking a significant achievement in the club’s history.
6. Royal Engineers
The club’s founding occurred in 1863 within Chatham, Kent, originating from a division of the British Army.
On the 16th of March, 1872, the inaugural FA Cup final took place at the Oval, drawing a gathering of fewer than 2,000 spectators. The Wanderers triumphed with a 1-0 victory. Looking forward to 2022, the Football Association is poised to honor the 150-year legacy of this inaugural FA Cup final.
Following that initial success, the Royal Engineers failed to secure further positions in FA Cup finals, leading in their last participation during the 1882-83 tournament. Their foothold among the dominant teams gradually eroded as they opted against transitioning into the world of professional football. Consequently, they have remained an amateur team, residing at a distance from the epicenter of British football’s spotlight throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
5. Stoke City FC
The football club, initially established in 1863 under the name Stoke Ramblers, became an integral part of the Football League upon its inauguration in 1888. However, after two years, Stoke faced the consequence of being outvoted and subsequently had to participate in the Football Alliance during the 1890-1891 season. Following this detour, they returned to the Football League in the subsequent season. Unfortunately, the year 1908 marked a dire turn of events as bankruptcy besieged the club, forcing them to exit the Football League once more. After multiple reapplications, their triumphant return transpired in 1919, marking over 105 years since their resurgence.
Stoke City Football Club’s re-entry into the Football League after a twelve-year hiatus due to bankruptcy holds a distinct position in history. It stands as a solitary instance where a club secured re-election to the Football League.
The club’s trajectory witnessed a pivotal upturn when they seized the Second Division title during the 1932–33 season, earning promotion to the esteemed First Division in the subsequent year.
The period by 1934 ushered in an average attendance of more than 23,000 fervent fans, equipping the club to augment transfer funds for the manager, Tom Mather. This investment propelled the club into a prominent position within the national football landscape, solidifying their status among the elite in the country.
4. Notts County
Notts County Football Club, often referred to as Notts or County and affectionately nicknamed The Magpies, stands as a professional football institution based in Nottingham, England. With its founding on the 28th of November in 1862, Notts County holds the distinction of being the world’s oldest football team presently engaged at the professional level.
Upon their establishment in 1862, Notts County initially indulged in a distinctive game of their own invention. However, as the Football Association took shape, they seamlessly transitioned to the realm of football. Swiftly thereafter, their full-back, Ernest Greenhalgh, left an indelible mark by participating in the inaugural international match: England vs. Scotland. In the year of 1888, Notts County stood shoulder to shoulder with 11 other teams as a founding member of the Football League, culminating their inaugural league season in the 11th position.
Yet, as the 1950s drew to a close, Notts County relinquished their grasp on the city’s premier club status, yielding it to Nottingham Forest. By 1957, they found themselves relegated to the Third Division and faced a subsequent tumble to the Fourth Division in 1959, marking a historic low. Throughout the 1960s, the club encountered ongoing struggles, with their primary objective revolving around evading the ignominy of re-election.
In the following years, the Magpies displayed commendable performances. Their return to the First Division in 1991 marked a significant achievement, albeit their swift relegation soon after. This occurrence marked the founding of a prolonged downward spiral, leading in their demotion to the fifth tier of English football in 2019.
3. Hallam FC
Following the establishment of Hallam Cricket Club in 1804 by the owner of the Plough Inn, the club underwent a remarkable transformation. By the 1850s, its ranks swelled to include over three hundred members. Many among these members, well-acquainted with the team football played by Sheffield FC (founded in 1857), aspired to cultivate a more inclusive club with a cricket-oriented leadership. Consequently, in 1860, the birth of Hallam FC became a reality.
On Boxing Day 1860, the inaugural challenge match against Sheffield FC at Sandygate Road occurred. This historic encounter remains widely recognized as the first-ever Inter Club game and continues to stand as the oldest documented instance that has persisted through time.
The year 2012 showed a much-needed rejuvenation for Sandygate, made possible through a posthumous bequest from a dedicated lifelong supporter who generously left a substantial sum of money for the club. In both 2016 and 2017, Hallam FC earned a spot in the Division One end-of-season play-offs. However, they faced elimination in the semi-finals on both occasions.
The appointment of Craig Denton as manager in 2020 instigated a notable upswing in outcomes and attendance figures. This resurgence reached its pinnacle in the 2021–22 season when Hallam clinched the Division One championship, consequently securing promotion to the NCEL Premier Division. Notably, Sandygate played host to record-breaking crowds exceeding 1,100 during this period of accomplishment.
2. Cambridge University
Established in 1856, Cambridge University Association Football Club (CUAFC) proudly stands as the football arm of the University of Cambridge and holds the distinction of being regarded as the world’s oldest football club, unofficially.
The team serves as the representative of the University of Cambridge and presently competes within the Midland 1A division of the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS), the authoritative entity governing university-level sports across the United Kingdom.
1. Sheffield FC
Competing actively in the Northern Premier League Division One, which occupies the seventh rung within the English football hierarchy, Sheffield FC boasts a founding year of 1857. Notably, FIFA recognizes them as the oldest football club, although this distinction is met with contention from Cambridge University AFC due to Sheffield FC’s delay in embracing the new FA rules until 1878.
Adjacent to Sheffield, Hallam FC was established in 1860. Remarkably, in the same year, the two clubs engaged in their inaugural Local Derby, a tradition that continues to be upheld to this day.
Formally becoming members of The Football Association on the 30th of November, 1863, Sheffield FC opted to adhere to their own set of rules. A significant stride was taken on the 2nd of January, 1865, when the club ventured beyond Sheffield to face Nottingham, playing under the Nottingham Rules with eighteen players on each side.
Concurrently, the club resolved to exclusively compete against teams outside Sheffield to pursue a greater level of competition. On the 31st of March, 1866, Sheffield FC confronted a ‘London’ team adhering to FA Rules at Battersea Park. This encounter, played with eleven players on each side, culminated in a victory for London by 2 goals and four touches down to nil. The contentious nature of rule discrepancies across the nation was effectively resolved when Sheffield FC opted to embrace the FA rules in 1878.