Legacy and history has always played an important role in football. Whether they are successful or not, all clubs pride themselves on how long they have been established and they always take the time to appreciate and celebrate where they came from. However, discussion and agreement on which clubs are the oldest isn’t easy, and it has been a topic of conflict for many sports historians. Records and documents from the period when football clubs started to become ‘properly’ established (the latter half of the 19th century) are hard to come by so exact dates aren’t always easy to agree on. Also, the term ‘football club’ was also applied to rugby and Australian football teams rather than just association football (soccer) clubs. While the exact formation of some clubs is (and probably forever will be) a point of contention, the English Football Association (the FA) and FIFA have officially recognised some of the following clubs as being the oldest. Some of them are now defunct while others are only active in the lower semi-professional leagues. Nonetheless, they played an important role in the formation of the great sport that we know and love today.
10. Civil Service F.C. (est. 1863)
One of the founding members of the FA, Civil Service F.C. are a club based in Chiswick, London. Interestingly, they are the only club from the original FA formation meeting in 1863 which is still playing football on a regular basis to this day (most of the other clubs at the meeting were rugby union clubs). Often referred to as the ‘War Office Club’ because they were represented at the first FA Meeting by a Mr. Warne from the War Office, Civil Service F.C. participated in the very first FA Challenge Cup in the 1871/72 season and the club played a hugely important role in the development of football across Europe. Touring continental Europe between 1901 and 1926 (before the bigger, professional clubs got involved), the club played against leading European clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona. Civil Service F.C. now plays in the Southern Amateur League (SAL).
9. Royal Engineers A.F.C. (est. 1863)
The Royal Engineers are a military-based club which represent the British Corps of Royal Engineers. They were early pioneers of the game and had a very strong presence in football during the 1870s. The club won the FA cup in 1875 and they were also finalists five times out of the first ten FA Cup seasons. The Royal Engineers have the honour of being the first ‘combination team’. Early football clubs relied heavily on the prowess of their player’s dribbling skills and the most common style of play during this period was to kick the ball ahead and charge ahead after it. The Royal Engineers were the first team to show the value of passing between players in order to advance up the pitch, and this tactic was a huge factor in making them a dominant team during the late 1860s to mid-1870s. Nowadays, The Royal Engineers do not play professional football but they do still participate in British Army competitions.
8. Stoke City F.C (est. 1863)
Originally called the Stoke Ramblers, Stoke City F.C. are one of the most successful oldest clubs in football. Currently playing in the Premier League (they won a promotion up from the Football League after the 2007/08 season), the club won the Football League Cup in 1972 and they have also won the Football League Trophy twice. They also reached the FA Cup final in 2011. Stoke City are the only club on this list who have still compete in European football and they most recently played in the UEFA Europa League during the 2011/12 season. Stoke City also has a surprisingly far-reaching fan base. Although most of the club’s supporters come from the local Stoke-on-Trent area, it also has fairly popular fan clubs in Scandinavia, USA, Russia and Australia.
7. Notts County F.C. (est. 1862)
The oldest football club currently playing at a professional level (they played the 2013/2014 season in League One, the third tier in English football), Notts County F.C. have played more matches (4710) than any other English team. The club has enjoyed considerable success throughout its long history and its crowning victory is winning the FA Cup in 1894. However, the club also holds the dubious honour of moving between the divisions of the Football League more than any other team. Notts County has been promoted thirteen times and relegated fifteen times between 1893 and 2014.
6. Worksop Town F.C. (est. 1861)
Another active club from Nottinghamshire with a proud history is Worksop Town F.C. The club played in the Midland League (and was champion three times) for most of its early existence until it became one of the founding members of the Northern Premier League in 1968. It is now the pre-eminent regional league for the North of England and Worksop Town currently play in its Premier Division.
5. Hallam F.C. (est. 1860)
Sheffield has a proud football history and one of its oldest clubs is Hallam F.C. The club has played at its original ground of Sandygate Road since 1860 which officially makes it ‘The Oldest Ground in the World’ by the Guinness Book of World Records. Along with Sheffield F.C., the club is part of the oldest rivalry in football and the very first football derby took place between Sheffield and Hallam in 1860. The club also participated in the Youdan Cup in 1867 which was the very first football tournament. Hallam F.C. now plays in the Northern Counties East League Premier Division.
4. Cray Wanderers F.C. (est. 1860)
Forget Chelsea, West Ham or Arsenal, the oldest London-based football club (and one of the oldest active clubs in the world) is Cray Wanderers F.C. Based in Bromley, Cray Wanderers was originally formed by railway workers who were building a line between London and Kent. They participated in the Kent League from 1894 (becoming champions in the 1901/02 season) before switching to the London League in 1934. They have won the London League twice and the Aetolian League once, but their strongest performance came in the 2005-06 season when they reached the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup.
3. Lima C.F.C (est. 1859)
Although there are no surviving documents which show that Lima C.F.C. was active prior to 1885, it is believed that the Peruvian club was founded many years before and it claims to have been established in 1859. Like the history of many other football clubs this is disputed, but if it is accurate it would make Lima C.F.C. the oldest club in Latin America. A multi-sport club, Lima C.F.C. practiced football as well as cricket, basketball, basque, fencing, rugby union and a whole host of other sports. Although football has been a popular sport with its members since the club was originally founded, Lima C.F.C. did not officially play a football match until 1893.
2. Cambridge University A.F.C. (est. 1857)
Although Cambridge University is in possession of a document which sets out rules for their football club dated circa 1856 (which, if accurate, would make them the oldest club), the club’s history and formation has been disputed by the FA and they are instead considered to be the second oldest club. Nevertheless, they still played an important part in the development of football with the drafting of the Cambridge Rules. These rules from 1856 introduced several important concepts such as the kick-off, the goal kick and forward passes, and these were adopted by the FA rules in 1867. Cambridge University now play in the BUSA Football League; a league for British Universities and Colleges.
1. Sheffield F.C (est. 1857)
Acknowledged by the FA and FIFA as the oldest club still playing football, Sheffield F.C. are a spirited club with a die-hard fan base. Founding members of the club Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest devised the Sheffield Rules code of football which introduced many concepts still used in football to this day such as free kicks, throw-ins and corners. These were eventually adopted by the FA in 1877. In 2004, Sheffield F.C. was awarded by FIFA the Centennial Order of Merit for its hugely important role in the formation of football and in recognition of their values for the game. They are one of only two clubs (the other being Real Madrid) to have received this honour. Sheffield F.C. currently plays in the Northern Premier League.