Vintage Football in Long Grass

What is the Oldest Football Club in England?

England has long had a rich history of various ‘football’ teams from across the country with evidence pointing to some originating as early as the 15th century. Football back then did not remotely resemble the game we see played today though (there was certainly no VAR!). It was only in the latter half of the 1800s that modern ‘association football’ began to take shape, something helped by the foundation of the English Football Association in 1863. This helped spark the creation of many teams, lots of which are still in existence today.

Before we look at the oldest clubs in England that are still running, it should be noted that histories are often disputed. As such, wherever there is a serious dispute over when a team was initially formed, summaries of both sides of the argument will be included. For our very first entry through, there is very little controversy as Sheffield FC are almost universally accepted as being the oldest club in the world.

Chart That Show's England's Oldest Football Clubs as of 2022

Sheffield FC

  • Year Founded – 1857
  • Disputed? – No
  • Division (as of 2022/23) – Northern Premier League

Nicknamed, The Club, Sheffield FC are the oldest side in the world still to be playing football with their date of birth being 24th October 1857. This is a claim FIFA themselves recognise and it is why football’s governing body presented the club with an Order of Merit in 2004. Three years later and Sheffield FC appeared in the English Football Hall of Fame to celebrate their 150th birthday. Ultimately, their age is the only reason why so many people have heard the South Yorkshire outfit. The club has never played at a high level and their only national piece of silverware came when winning the FA Amateur Cup back in 1904.

Crystal Palace FC

  • Year Founded – 1861
  • Disputed? – Yes
  • Alternative Year Founded – 1905
  • Division (as of 2022/23) – Premier League

Sheffield FC are not a professional team, so this means the title for the oldest professional side still in existence remains up for grabs. This is a crown that Notts County have proudly claimed for many years but recently they have faced a challenge from South London outfit Crystal Palace. The case for Palace being the oldest active professional team though is not overly compelling though. Even on their own website they use quite weak wording of “Crystal Palace can draw an established link back to the Crystal Palace football team established in 1861”.

The main issue is the lack of continuity between the club formed in the 19th century and the one still playing at Selhurst Park today. Evidence indicates that the original side’s registration with the Football Association expired in 1876 and newspapers reported Crystal Palace as a brand new club in 1905. This birth year of 1905 remains the consensus among historians and an earlier foundation has not been recognised by the EFL or the FA.

Notts County

  • Year Founded – 1862
  • Disputed? – No
  • Division (as of 2022/23) – National League

Notts County may have suffered relegation to the National League in 2019, the first time they ever dropped out of the Football League, but they remain a professional club. The plaque outside the George Hotel in Nottingham calling Notts County the world’s oldest professional league club still stands true, therefore, despite Crystal Palace claiming otherwise.

For a club so old, they have not won an awful amount of silverware, particularly not in recent years. Their only trophies since 1950 have been three League Two titles and one Anglo Italian Cup, a now-defunct competition. For all their recent struggles though, they do at least retain the honour of being one of 44 teams to have lifted the FA Cup, doing so in 1894. How many other sides in the fifth tier of English football can say that?

Stoke City

  • Year Founded – 1863
  • Disputed? – Yes
  • Alternative Year Founded – 1868
  • Division (as of 2022/23) – Championship

Stoke themselves seem determined for it to be known that 1863 was their official foundation year. They have used this date for their anniversary celebrations and it is even the year that features on the club crest. Given this, you think they would be quite certain that there were formed in this year but the claim is heavily disputed. Supporting the assertion is the 1905 edition of the ‘Book of Football’, which names four founding players for Stoke and a date of 1863.

Others however believe that Stoke City can only be traced as far back to Stoke Ramblers who were first up and running in 1868. Wade Martin, who was commissioned to carry out research on the Potters, found an 1868 Field Magazine that stated, “at Stoke-upon-Trent a new club had been formed for the practice of the Association Rules”. Additionally, Martin could find no evidence supporting the 1863 claim so it seems Stoke could do with updating their crest.


  • Year Founded – 1864
  • Disputed? – No
  • Division (as of 2022/23) – National League

Given that our sole focus is on the oldest clubs in England, you may be wondering what a Welsh team, Wrexham, is doing on our list. They do have a genuine claim to be here though given that they play in the English football league system and have done consistently for over a century. There is little disputing their age either as fairly recently unearthed evidence shows the club dates back to 1864, making them one of the oldest professions clubs in the world. Most often you will see them called the third oldest, behind Notts County and (controversially) Stoke.

It is also worth noting that Wrexham play their home matches at the Racecourse Ground, something they first started doing in 1864. It is one of the oldest football stadiums still active in the world, and the outright oldest international football ground still in use. Admittedly, the Welsh National side play matches at the Racecourse Ground increasing infrequently but they did visit to play a 2019 friendly against Trinidad & Tobago. Prior to this there had not been an international match in Wrexham since 2008.

Nottingham Forest

  • Year Founded – 1865
  • Disputed? – No
  • Division (as of 2022/23) – Premier League

Nottingham have another entrant to our list here, showing just how much this city is steeped in footballing history. Notts County’s local rivals were founded just after the world’s oldest professional club although the precise date is unknown. This is not at all unusual as finding exact dates from so long ago is not easy. We do have confirmation of the year at least though as the 1870s Alcock’s Football Annual stated 1865 was the year Forest were founded and this counts as fairly conclusive proof.

Other, less reliable sources suggest Forest might be a year older but 1865 is their official birth date. As there are records of them playing matches throughout 1866, this is something that is not questioned. When rivals Notts County were relegated from the English Football League, this made Forest the Football League’s oldest club. Although Stoke claimed otherwise, an email from the EFL, an email seen by the Nottingham Post that Forest are the older of the two.

Sheffield Wednesday

  • Year Founded – 1865
  • Disputed? – No
  • Division (as of 2022/23) – League One

Ensuring Sheffield FC are not the sole Yorkshire residents on our list we have another Sheffield side, only one rather larger in stature. The club was founded in 1867 as The Wednesday Cricket Club decided to branch out into football. Officially established in September of that year, Wednesday had their first practice session a month later and their first competitive match followed on 1st February 1868. Back in these times, there were not known as Sheffield Wednesday but rather the Wednesday Football Club.

Recent years have not been overly kind for Wednesday supporters but they have enjoyed some degree of success over the decades. Inaugural champions of the Football Alliance in 1889, they have also won the English top flight on four occasions, the last coming in 1929-30. In addition to this, the Owls have three FA Cups to their name and one League Cup, the latter being their last piece of silverware, which they lifted in 1991.


  • Year Founded – 1871
  • Disputed? – No
  • Division (as of 2022/23) – Championship

The foundation year of Reading is not a source of great debate but there is some element of doubt. The official line is that the club was first formed around Christmas time in 1871 following a meeting at Bridge Street Rooms. As the precise date is not known with certainty though, it is feasible that the club was technically formed at the very beginning of 1872. Either way though, this makes no difference to how high they feature on this list.

We do know that the Royals played their first game on 21st February 1872, a goalless draw against Reading School. Seven years later they collected their first trophy, the Berks & Bucks Senior Cup. They have never won a ‘major’ honour during their history but have won the Championship title twice and won the Full Members’ Cup, which briefly ran between 1985 and 1992. Incidentally, when winning the latter, the Royals were relegated the same year meaning they were unable to defend their crown as the competition featured teams from the top two tiers.

Aston Villa

  • Year Founded – 1874
  • Disputed? – No
  • Division (as of 2022/23) – Premier League

The year of Aston Villa’s creation is not debated but the month is. Some argue it was March, others state November. If the latter is true, this would bump them one place further down our list but, much more importantly, Villa would still remain ahead of arch-rivals Birmingham who were founded in 1875. The club owes its foundation to four members of the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel. It was not that football was their passion, more than these keen cricketers wanted a way of staying fit over the winter months.

Villa were quick to establish themselves as one of the biggest clubs in the Midlands, largely thanks to a talented Scotsman George Ramsay who introduced the ‘passing game’ to the club. He is largely seen as setting the foundation of Villa’s early success, something that saw the Midlands outfit lift the First Division title five times between 1894 and 1900.

Bolton Wanderers

  • Year Founded – 1874
  • Disputed? – No
  • Division (as of 2022/23) – League Two

The last club to feature is Bolton Wanderers, who were initially named, or rather christened, Christ Church FC. Their exact birth date is unknown but some time in June 1874 appears to be the most likely option from the evidence available. The club were one of the 12 founding members of the Football League back in 1888 and by this point they were known as Bolton Wanderers following a name change in 1877. The inspiration for the name change was that the club faced many difficulties in finding a permanent home ground, forcing them to travel (wander) around a lot. In just a four-year spell they ended up playing at three different grounds.

Dissolved Clubs

Shut Down Red Stamp

Our focus here has been on active clubs because an entity can only really be ‘old’ if it still exists. We did want to briefly mention some of the oldest clubs that have come and gone however. One of these is Darwen FC who were formed in 1870 and who adopted football association rules in 1875. Four years later they become the first northern England team to reach as far as the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. They did not manage this without controversy though as they had been playing two professionals, a first for the English game.

They even went on to join the Football League in 1891-92 as it expanded to feature 14 teams. Less than a decade later though they wanted out, eventually joining the Lancashire League in 1899. They spend much of their time after this at county level before being dissolved in 2009. Two years prior to that, Scarborough FC bit the dust after racking up debts of £2.5m, which is a hell of a lot of money for a team that was playing in the English sixth tier.

The Seadogs, as they were known, date back to 1879 and were perhaps best known for being relegated by a last-second goal from Carlisle keeper Jimmy Glass on the final day of the 1998/99 season. Lastly, we have Macclesfield Town, founded in 1874, who are another club that had to dissolve due to overwhelming financial problems. It was these financial woes that saw The Silkmen deducted 17 points in the 2019/20 season, relegating them from League Two in what would be their final ever season.