• As football became organised in the 19th century, the first clubs sprang up in England.

  • Many of these clubs laid the foundations for what became the world’s most popular sport.

  • Amazingly, many survive to this day and remain vital members of their community.

The history of association football is long and illustrious and dates to the middle of 19th century England.

A select number of clubs that were formed at the time shaped how the game would be played, and their influence is evident to this day.

Here we pay our due respects to the oldest clubs in the world, and acknowledge how their founding provided inspiration for millions.

1) Sheffield FC – 1857

Both FIFA and the English FA recognise this club to be the oldest in the world, even if others may disagree.

It was founded over 160 years ago by two men – William Prest and Nathaniel Creswick – and the importance of the club cannot be underestimated, as its founders created the Sheffield Rules.

From this were devised the first set of laws for football as we know it today.

Sheffield FC and another club on this list, Hallam FC, played the first ever football fixture, and they maintain a rivalry known as the Rules Derby.

In 1878 the club adopted the FA’s own rules, but they continued to have a profound impact on the sport around the world, their stature recognised when introduced into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2007, and when awarded FIFA’s Order of Merit in 2004. 

2) Cambridge University AFC – 1857

Another club that may have claims to be the oldest is Cambridge University AFC, as historical evidence points to them being formed around 1856 to 1857.

The city had notable football links during this period, after the Cambridge Rules were devised in 1846 by university footballers, setting the foundations for much of the laws adhered to in the modern era.

The club was additionally at the forefront of the advancement of tactics and their immense contribution to the national game cannot be understated.

Almost fifty of their players have been promoted to the England team and they still hold a seat on the Football Association Council.

3) Lima CFC – 1859

Both a football and cricket club, Lima CFC are comfortably the oldest club in Peru and the Americas.

English immigrants who spread the sport to the continent led to the club’s creation, and they still exist as a member of a local league in the Peruvian capital, the club participating in a wide range of sports.

Their first recorded match was not actually until 1892, though many games will surely have been played prior to that date.

It is over a century ago since their glory days, when they won two national titles, though they have had success more recently at a lower level.

4) Hallam FC -1860

They may not be the oldest club in the world, but Sandygate Road their beloved home, is recorded as the oldest active football ground in the world.

Another club from Sheffield, one of the best football cities for shaping the modern game, they were founded in Crosspool in 1860 by John Charles Shaw, and play in the Northern Counties League.

Hallam won the first cup competition, the Youdan Cup, in 1867, and defiantly remained an amateur outfit when much of football turned professional.

5) Cray Wanderers – 1860

The precise date when this London club was born is not known but is thought to be between 1858 and 1860.

Workers kicked a ball around in their free time in the village of St. Cray and in due course a team was formed, their first games being played on a piece of land that is now a cemetery. These days they cohabit with Bromley.

The Wanderers began the 2021/22 season in the Isthmian League Premier Division, as a semi-professional outfit, and have been a force in county football throughout their existence.

6) Notts County – 1862

County are a well-known name in English football, with their famous black and white striped kit proving an inspiration for Juventus, making their retro football shirts a popular choice for many footy fans.

The team has played its home games at Meadow Lane, in Nottingham since 1910.

The club was formed in 1862 and has a long-standing rivalry with fellow founding club Nottingham Forest. After a tough few years on and off the pitch, in 2019 they fell out of the Football League for the first time in their history.

7) Stoke City – 1863

Stoke City FC are one of the most successful football clubs on this list, with recent Premier League experience. Founded in 1863, they did not add the ‘City’ to their name until 1925.

As one of the twelve founding members of the Football League in 1888, they played at the Victoria Ground for much of the 20th century, moving to their new stadium in 1997.

With recent good form in the Championship, Premier League odds suggest they could be back in the top tier of English football soon.

8) Royal Engineers Association FC – 1863

Sadly, no longer a familiar name to many, this club was formed as an army team, representing their engineers, or “sappers”.

It had plenty of success in its early days, winning the FA Cup in 1875, and reached four finals in the first seven years of the cup’s existence.

They were pioneers of the “beautiful” game, beginning a lineage that is steeped in pure genius, from Hungary’s ‘Mighty Magyars’ to Liverpool’s ‘pass and move’ sides of the Seventies and Eighties. 

9) Civil Service FC – 1863

One of the original eleven clubs that founded the Football Association in a London tavern in October 1863, the Civil Service FC have the rare distinction of also being instrumental in the forming of the Rugby Football Union as both pursuits were enjoyed there.

They proceeded to be founding members of some of the oldest amateur leagues in the world and have played at their current ground, Duke’s Meadow in Chiswick, since 1925.

Their early influence and touring teams ensured they were pivotal in spreading the footballing word across Europe and beyond, helping the sport became a global attraction.

10) Wrexham FC – 1864

After being bought and owned by globally-known actors, Wrexham are rarely out of the news these days but beyond the Hollywood glamour the ‘Red Dragons’ have a rich and proud history.

They are the only club from Wales to appear on this list but have played in English leagues since 1921, while their home stadium, the Racecourse Ground, is the world's oldest stadium that still hosts international games.

With their new financial backing, those who enjoy football betting online may wish to back a sharp rise back up the football pyramid for one of the world’s oldest football clubs.

*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to AP Photo*


FIRST PUBLISHED: 20th December 2021

About the Author
Ste Tudor

Stephen Tudor is a freelance football writer and fantasy football enthusiast who only knows slightly less about the game than you do.

A contributor to FourFourTwo and Forbes, he is a Manchester City fan who was taken to Maine Road as a child because his grandad predicted they would one day be good.