Association football, as a proper codified sport, first started to take shape in the 1840’s with the Cambridge Rules. That was followed by the Sheffield Rules in the 1850’s, before Ebenezer Cobb Morley penned the Laws of the Game on behalf of the Football Association in 1863 which remain the fundamental principles of the sport we know and love today, and it’s around this time that we should expect to see the first football clubs being formed.
I planned this video a while back but never made it, but it was recently a very popular idea suggested on another video, so I thought I’d dust it off and give it a go. To be clear, these are the first seven clubs founded playing association football, excluding army teams but not universities. There are many debates about how and when teams were formed, but I’ve tried to stick to the certified facts. So before someone points out 1860 Munich’s omission, it’s worth noting 1860 Munich were refounded in a merger of sports clubs in 1860, but didn’t start playing football at all until 1899, so they do no feature. With other omissions, there is likely to be good reasons behind them.
Here are the 7 oldest football clubs in the world: Where are they now?
7. Wrexham – National League
The oldest non-English football club on Earth, Wrexham were founded in October 1864, more than 155 years ago. The club was formed by members of the Wrexham Cricket Club who wanted a sport to play during the winter months. They joined the Football League in 1921, reaching the second tier, playing European football and defeating Porto during the 1970’s. Their 87-year stint in the Football League came to an end in 2008, when the club dropped into what was then the Conference and what is now the National League. The Welshmen came mightily close to returning to league action a few times, but just couldn’t quite get over the line, and they’re way down in 21st in the National League right now.
6. Stoke City – Championship
By far and away the highest ranked side in this seven, Stoke City are the oldest current Football League club. There is a little bit of debate about when Stoke City were actually founded, with evidence split between 1863 and 1868. 1863 is the year the club goes with, and it isn’t disputed by the FA or the EFL, so we will accept it for the purposes of this seven. Founding members of the Football League in 1888, Stoke finished fourth in 1935-36 and were just one game away from winning a top flight title in the 1946-47 season (as those of you who have read my book will know all too well!). Following almost a decade in the Premier League, Stoke were relegated in 2018, and have had a pretty miserable few years now. Despite having a side that looked stacked for the Championship last season, the club finished down in 16th, and they’re bottom of the division at the time of this recording.
5. Notts County – National League
Stoke City are the oldest club in the Football League, but only because Notts County dropped out of the Football League for the first time in their history last season. Founding members of the Football League, Notts County are still the oldest professional football club on Earth, and it was their black and white stripes that gave Italian giants Juventus their iconic colours. They twice finished third and won an FA Cup during the nineteenth century, and they still played top flight football as recently as the 1990’s. There was a general feeling of sadness at seeing such a historical club drop out of the Football League last season, and the Magpies find themselves in eighth place in the National League at the time of recording.
4. Hallam FC – Northern Counties East League Division One
Sheffield is a city which played a key role in the development of association football, and Hallam FC played a major role in that. Founded in 1860 by members of Hallam Cricket Club, the club played their first game on Boxing Day 1860. In 1867, Hallam won the Youdan Cup, the first association football tournament, predating the FA Cup by four years. The club was dissolved in 1886, but was reformed in 1887, and they now play in the Northern Counties East League Division One, which comes in at level ten in the English football pyramid.
3. Cray Wanderers – Isthmian League Premier Division
A little bit like Stoke, the exact date of Cray Wanderers formation is disputed. The club claims to have been founded in 1860, which would make them the third oldest club in the world, and there is some evidence for this. Cray Wanderers spent some time as a professional club, but never played in the Football League, and they now have semi-professional status. Kent League and London League champions on multiple occasions, the club now competes in the Isthmian League Premier Division, which is tier seven in England, having won promotion last season.
2. Cambridge University – BUCS Midland 1A
Again we have contention in second place, with Cambridge University AFC having been founded in 1856, 1857 or 1866 depending on which sources you believe. In 2016, the National Football Museum began recognising Cambridge University AFC as the oldest football club on Earth, and the 1846 Cambridge rules were the earliest codified form of the sport. Certainly football of sorts was being played at Cambridge possibly as early as the 1830’s, and Cambridge graduates were involved in the formation of Hallam FC. It’s difficult to downplay the influence of Cambridge University on the explosion in popularity and development of football, and they had some 24 England internationals in those early years. Today, there are no England internationals in the Cambridge University team, who compete in the BUCS (British University and College Sport) Midland 1A league, currently placed fourth out of six teams in the league.
1. Sheffield FC – Northern Premier League Division One South East
Founded in October 1857, Sheffield FC are widely regarded as being the oldest association football club in the world. Born out of members of the Sheffield cricket club who began kicking a ball about in 1855, the club predated the FA’s laws of the game, and continued to play Sheffield rules until 1878. Given that they were also the first club in the world, they had no one to play, so their matches would be inter-club affairs, such as professionals vs amateurs and married players vs singles, and proper games only really began when Hallam were formed. The club twice reached the FA Cup Fourth Round in the 1800’s, and they were awarded a FIFA Order of Merit in 2004 – the only other club to receive the award was Real Madrid. In 2007, during their centenary celebrations, Sheffield FC hosted Inter Milan at Bramall Lane, in a match attended by Pele. They now play in the Northern Premier League Division One South East, which is the eighth tier of English football.