Revealed: Oldest football club in the world today

One of the reasons so many people around the world adore football is the rich tapestry the sport has woven in its hundred-plus years of formal existence. There are a wealth of tales to be told about almost every club around.

England is the birthplace of professional football as we know it. Centuries of rather more rugged ball games had existed in the nation for centuries prior, but the 1846 Cambridge Rules created the first standardised set of rules that resembled what we know today as modern football.

The FA Cup is the oldest competition in the world, but who is the oldest football club? – Photo by Icon Sport

The establishment of the Football Association in 1863 set in course the chain of events that led to professionalisation, a Football League, and, eventually, the Premier League 129 years later.

The English, then at the heart of the world’s greatest empire, spread the game all around the world. Millions fell in love with the beautiful game.

But as the birthplace of football, England is home to all five of the world’s oldest football clubs.

The oldest football club in the world: the top five

4= Royal Engineers

League: British Army competition

Established: 1863

A very unique club kicks off our top five. Formed by Major Francis Marindin as a way for soldiers in the British Army’s Corps of Royal Engineers to spend their spare time, the club were a major force in the early years of football.

Drawing on their military camaraderie and fitness, the Royal Engineers appeared in four FA Cup finals between 1872 and 1878, winning the famous old trophy in 1875.

As a subsidiary of the British Army, the club never professionalised, so were eventually left behind. But the Engineers’ place in history is irrevocable, and they still play today in competitions organised by the Army Football Association.

Stoke City were in the Premier League as recently as 2018 – Photo by Icon Sport

4= Stoke City

League: EFL Championship

Established: 1863

Football was brought to Stoke by Henry Almond, a former student at Charterhouse, who had played one of the games that were association football’s progenitors during his studies.

Stoke were one of the first 12 clubs to take part in the first Football League, formed in 1888.

The Potters won the League Cup in 1972, the second division twice and reached the FA Cup final as recently as 2011. They also had a prolonged spell in the Premier League very recently too, between 2008 and 2018.

Notts County are the oldest football club in the EFL
Notts County returned to the Football League last season – Photo by Icon Sport

3: Notts County

League: EFL League Two

Established: 1862

Originally formed as Nottingham Football Club, Notts County are the oldest football club currently in the English Football League. 

Notts County won the FA Cup in 1894, and have been near ever present in the Football League, barring a short spell in the fifth tier between 2019 and 2023.

The club has a famous link with Italian giants Juventus too. After the Old Lady’s original pink strips had faded from years of use, an Englishman playing for them at the time, John Savage, was asked if he knew of a place to get more durable shirts. Savage had a friend back home, who, as a Notts County fan, sent him black and white striped shirts. 

Juventus have worn the shirts ever since, and even invited Notts County to be the first team to play at their new stadium in 2011.

2: Cray Wanderers

League: Isthmian League Premier Division

Established: 1860

The oldest club in London, Cray Wanderers hail from Sidcup, near the border with Kent.

Historians believe the formation of the club is linked to the construction of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway between 1858 and 1860, when day-labourers kicking a ball around during their leisure time decided to formalise their fun.

Cray have always toiled in the lower leagues, but have won a good number of minor honours in their time, such as the Isthmian League Division One, the London Cup and Kent League.

Brazilian great Pele came and visited this legendary Sheffield club – Photo by Icon Sport

1: Sheffield FC

League: Northern Premier League Division One South 

Established: 1857

Topping our list are Sheffield FC. Officially recognised by the FA and FIFA as the oldest club playing association football, the club from the city of steel hold a truly unique place in world football.

Along with many clubs of the time, Sheffield FC were an outcrop of a longer-established cricket club. In 1855, members of a Sheffield cricket club enjoyed their informal kickabouts so much that they decided to start playing proper matches among themselves, and eventually against other teams.

Though the club have never been a giant of the English game, with their greatest achievement being the FA Amateur Cup in 1904, though it was a very prestigious trophy at the time.

But Sheffield have been honoured for their unique status in the history of the world’s greatest game. They are one of just two clubs to have received a FIFA Order of Merit, along with Real Madrid, and their 150th anniversary celebrations in 2007 were something to behold.

Memorably, they played friendlies against European giants Internazionale and Ajax, and opened an exhibition on the origins of football alongside Pele.

Check out our top five list of the clubs who have won the most trophies.

William Evans is a football and politics fanatic. A first-class graduate of UEA's Broadcast and Digital Journalism MA course, he also achieved a first class degree in politics and media studies during his time at UEA.