The history of the oldest football clubs in the world is a fascinating topic of discussion for all fans of the beautiful game. In addition to legendary players, stadiums and the contents of trophy cabinets, the age of a football club is one of the more intriguing aspects of its identity.
Very few of the oldest clubs in the world receive the attention of those at the elite level of the game, namely because many of them are local sides plying their trade in the lower leagues of their respective regions.
The United Kingdom is widely considered to be the birthplace of association football, although nowadays the sport has spread to every corner of the globe including the rest of Europe, South America, Africa and Asia. The first official match is recognised to have taken place on December 19th, 1863 in London, which lends to the fact that many of the oldest clubs in existence were formed within England, Scotland and Wales.
Whether amateur, semi-professional or professional, these are the 20 oldest active football clubs in the world, and even the most knowledgeable of fans will be hard-pressed to have come across all of them.
First up is Abingdon Town, a club based in the Oxfordshire country in south central England near the River Thames. The club began playing competitive football under its original name of Abingdon FC when it joined the Oxford & District League for the 1892-93 season. The Culham Road outfit has tasted success sporadically over its 145-year history, but is now a member of the 13th tier of the English system following its relegation from the Hellenic Football League in 2013-14. With barely two kilometres separating their respective grounds, the Abbotts have a fierce rivalry with Abingdon United.
Led by the first captain of England, Cuthbert Ottaway, Marlow FC became one of the original competitors in the inaugural FA Cup competition in 1871-72. Although it’s renowned for being the only club to have applied for entry to the famous tournament every season since its inception, Marlow has participated in the FA Cup on only one other occasion in the 1910-11 season. In 1984, the Blues turned down the opportunity to join the Southern League in order to remain an amateur club, allowing Tottenham Hotspur to take their place instead. Nowadays, Marlow competes in Southern League Division One South & West, playing home matches at the Alfred Davis Memorial Ground.
Founded in 1870, Stranraer FC is one of the oldest football club in Scotland. The Trotters played exclusively within the Southern Counties until 1949 when the club was granted a place in the C Division of Scottish football. Located in the Dumfries and Galloway area, the club’s home venue is the 6,250 capacity stadium Stair Park, which opened in 1907. Currently vying for promotion from the Scottish League One, Stranraer will have their work cut out for them as they sit in second last place.
Kilmarnock FC, commonly referred to as Killie, is one of the most successful behind Glasgow Rangers and Celtic FC. The Scottish Premiership club has qualified for European competitions nine times through its 146-year history, and is one of the only Scottish teams to have played in the European Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Cup. Killie’s home turf is in the center of Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, a ground capable of holding 18,128 spectators.
Formed under the original name of Harefield Victoria in 1868, Harefield United is the oldest club is Middlesex and a result of a merger with Harefield FC in 1934. The 147-year-old Hares, who play their home games at the 1,500 capacity Preston Park, fell agonizingly short of gaining promotion from the Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division in the 2006-07 and 2008-09 campaigns when they finished as runners up on goal difference on both occasions.
One of the oldest amateur football clubs in the world, Fordingbridge Turks FC was founded in 1868 and named in honor of the bravery of Turkish forces during the Crimean War. The Turks, whose home ground is the Recreation Ground in Fordingbridge, merged with nearby junior club Fordingbridge Town FC in 2014. The Fordingbridge Turks’ claim to fame is their ownership of the fifth-oldest football trophy in the world, the Basingstoke Cup, which they won three times in the late 19th century.
Sheffield Wednesday FC was founded by the members of a cricket club in 1867, making it the fifth-oldest professional football club in England. The Owls play their home games at Hillsborough in an area of Sheffield that used to be known as Owlerton. Sheffield Wednesday has been competing in the Championship since finishing second and gaining promotion from League 1 in 2011-12 campaign. The South Yorkshire club’s last piece of silverware came in the memorable 1991 Football League Cup final when it defeated Manchester United 1-0 at Wembley Stadium.
Queen’s Park FC is credited as the catalyst of Scottish football. The Glasgow outfit became the first Scottish club to exist when in was founded in the south of the capital during 1867. Queen’s Park is and always has been an amateur club. Even today, its players follow the motto: “Ludere causa Ludendi” — meaning to play for the sake of playing. The club’s home, Hampden Park, is also the home of the Scotland national team, fitting for the only club in the country to have played in the FA Cup final.
It’s a shame to witness clubs with history as rich and successful as 150-year-old Nottingham Forest endure constant setbacks. Following a decade of successive top half finishes in the old Division 1 competition, Forest seemingly capitulated after the inception of the Premier League in 1992-93. The club was relegated to what is now known as the Championship and despite returning to the Premier League the next year, it has since struggled to maintain top-flight status with only four appearances in the last 21 campaigns.
Formed in 1864, Brigg Town FC plays in the Northern Counties East League Premier Division, the ninth level of the English football pyramid. Brigg Town was relegated from the Northern Premier League Division One South at the end of the 2014-15 campaign and has a fight on its hands to stay up this season. Commonly referred to as the Zebras, the 151-year-old club plays at The Hawthorns in Lincolnshire and last lifted a trophy in the form of the FA Vase at Upton Park during the 2002-03 season.
Wrexham FC is the oldest club in Wales and the first outside of England and Scotland to feature on this list. Despite being of Welsh origin, the Reds were elected as members of England’s Football League in 1921 and the supporter-owned club is now a member of the fifth-tier National League. Founded in 1864, Wrexham plays its home fixtures at the Racecourse Ground, which is officially regarded as the oldest active international football stadium in the world.
Formed and based in London during 1863, Civil Service FC is the last surviving entity of the original 11 clubs that founded the English Football Association. Having played in various amateur league competitions throughout its 152-year history, the club is currently a member of the Southern Amateur Football League. Civil Service FC’s home is at the Civil Service Sports Ground in Chiswick, a district in the west of the English capital.
The Royal Engineers Association FC represents the Corps of Royal Engineers of the British Army. Founded in 1863, the 152-year-old club enjoyed a golden period during the 1870s, winning the FA Cup in 1875 and reaching four of the first seven installments of the competition. Nicknamed the Sappers, the club is based in Gillingham, a town in the English shire of Dorset, and plays its home fixtures at the Kings Bastion in Brompton.
Stoke City FC, the oldest football club in the Premier League, is the only top-flight English club to feature on this list. Founded under the name of Stoke Ramblers in 1863, the club changed its name to Stoke City after Stoke-on-Trent was granted city status in 1925. One of the founding members of the Football League, the 152-year-old Potters’ home ground is the Britannia Stadium, which opened in 1997 following their move from the Victoria Ground.
Although it fails to top this list, Notts County holds the title of being the oldest professional football club in the world. Formed in 1862, the club often referred to as the Magpies plays its home fixtures at Meadow Lane in Nottingham, which was built and opened in 1910. Notts shares an intense rivalry with Nottingham Forest with barely 300 meters separating the two teams. The 153-year-old club lifted its last title in 2009-10 after earning promotion from League Two, the competition it currently plays in after it was relegated in the 2014-15 season.
Hallam FC was formed three years too late to be the oldest football club in the world, but its 211-year-old home, Sandygate Road, is recognized as the oldest active ground in the world. The club is also believed to have won the world’s first cup competition, the 1867 Youdan Cup, which remains in its possession after the trophy was lost for a number of years until 1997. Formed in 1860, the Countrymen currently play in the Northern Counties East League Division One, the 10th level of the English football system.
Hidden by the shadow of the five Premier League sides based in London, the 155-year-old Cray Wanderers survive as the oldest club in the English capital. Formed in the Greater London borough of Bromley during 1860, the Wands play their home fixtures at Hayes Lane and compete in the Isthmian League Division One North. Despite its long history, the club has only progressed as far as the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup on one occasion in 2005-06, a year before it clinched successive Kent League titles.
Regarded as the oldest football club in Peru, Lima Cricket and Football club is the only non-British outfit to feature on this list. The club, supposedly founded by English immigrants in 1859, is based in the capital of the South American nation and currently a member of San Isidro District local league. Still operating as a multi-sorts club, the 156-year-old Lima CFC currently has two national titles in its trophy cabinet, the Peruvian Primera Division, won more than 100 years ago in 1912 and 1914.
If the University of Cambridge’s proclamation that its team was formed in 1856 is accurate, Cambridge University AFC would be oldest football club in the world. However, as the club’s year of foundation is disputed by other organisations, it would be an injustice to claim it should top this list when others entries have significant evidence to back up their true age. Cambridge University AFC, which currently participates in the British Universities and Colleges Sport Premier South division, plays its home matches at either Grange Road Stadium or Fenners’ Pitches at the university.
Tied atop this list with Cambridge University AFC, Sheffield FC was also founded in 1857. The 158-year-old club is more likely to be the oldest association football club in the world, with FIFA commemorating their 150th anniversary by awarding it an Order of Merit in 2007. The South Yorkshire outfit currently competes in the eight-tier Northern Premier League Division One South and plays its home fixtures at the Coach and Horses Ground in Dronfield, Derbyshire. The club, currently managed by former English footballer Andy Kiwomya, has a proud history and is arguably the more deserving holder of the oldest football club in the world.