English soccer supporters will proudly boast of having the most senior football leagues in the world. A glance at the birthdates of the country’s current top-flight clubs certainly supports their unrivaled ancestry. Arsenal came into existence in 1886, while Manchester United was founded in 1878. However, these heavyweight pairs have been significantly outlasted by Sheffield FC, the world’s oldest football club, celebrating its 165th anniversary in 2022.
A remarkable milestone, such longevity represents a stunning achievement for an outfit now competing in the Northern Premier League. This is the eighth tier of the English Football League system.
The First Team Of The World
Kick-around was first played in 1855 by members of a local cricket club, which was enjoyable if somewhat chaotic because there were no regulations. These impromptu games continued over the next couple of years, but it was not until May 1857 that this pastime took on a more serious tone.
William Prest and Nathaniel Creswick were cricket enthusiasts, but they had one conspicuous drawback: it was exclusively a ‘summer sport. During the winter months, the men desired a sport that would enable them to keep up their fitness levels and quench their thirst for competition. Association football, they decided over a lengthy, late-night chat, was the answer.
Sheffield FC Formation
Consequently, plans were drawn up to form a football club, and Sheffield FC was formed on 24 October 1857. A potting shed and greenhouse served as its headquarters initially. Creswick was appointed captain and secretary, and he and Prest established a set of rules that would allow for the activity’s progression.
It was an arduous task but based on other guidelines from football and influences from other sports. They fine-tuned what became known as ‘Sheffield Rules.’ When the English Football Association was instituted in 1863, it adopted and modified this code of conduct.
Given that they were also the first soccer club globally, they had no one to play with. The initial Sheffield FC affairs would be inter club games. Club members would split themselves and play ‘professionals versus amateurs’ or ‘married players versus singles’. Proper games only really began when Hallam FC was formed.
Becoming The Home Of Football
The oldest football club in the world quickly became popular, and matches between its members, which took place between teams based on occupation, age, or marital status, began to stimulate interest within the local community. Before long, several teams in and around the Sheffield area were formed. There were 15 teams by 1862, including Hallam Football Club, with whom Sheffield FC share the ‘oldest football derby in the world.’
On 30 November 1863, they joined The Football Association (The FA) but continued to use their own rules. As the club predated the FA’s laws, they continued to play Sheffield Rules until 1878.
It was not until 2 January 1865 that the club played its first game away from Sheffield. The match was played at the Meadows Cricket Ground. At this time, Notts County was known as Nottingham Football Club. There were 18 players per side playing under “Nottingham Rules.” Sheffield recorded a victory, winning 1-0.
Pioneers Of Soccer
Sheffield FC has been behind many innovations over the years. Besides their rules, which initiated the use of a solid crossbar instead of rope, free-kicks, corners, and overhead throw-ins, they were also fathers of the aerial game, which was unheard of in the south of the country until they traveled down to The Oval to take on a London XI.
The sight of their opponents heading the ball provoked fits of hysteria from the London players, but the next time they got together, they spent their time practicing the art, which would become a trait of English football.
Sheffield FC also helped with the 1889 founding of Sheffield United, who, along with Sheffield Wednesday, once represented the city in the English Premier League.
As for the Ancients, as they are sometimes known, they have since tumbled from the heights of English football, failing to appear in the FA Cup proper since the 1880s. The club twice reached the FA Cup Fourth Round in 1877-78 and 1879-80.
However, under the guidance of new chairman Richard Tims, the world’s first football club has undergone a recent resurgence. Financially, they are in a more stable position than ever, and they also own ground, now based in Dronfield, Sheffield for the first time in their remarkable football history.
How Old Is Sheffield FC
Undoubtedly, the evolution of this great sport owes much to the English, whose disciples have spread football’s popularity from its infancy. There is, however, no doubting Sheffield’s founding role in this process.
England’s inaugural league was launched 30 years after Sheffield FC was founded. By the time Alexander Hutton emigrated to Argentina and established an English school and the Argentinian Football Association, the club was 31 years old. When Charles Miller traveled from Southampton to Sao Paulo and popularized football in Brazil, Sheffield Football Club was 37 years old. By the time William Paats introduced Paraguay to soccer, Sheffield FC was 47 years old.
Sheffield Football Club was 65 years old when the old Wembley Stadium was opened and 108 years old when England won the World Cup. It is a testament to what a special club Sheffield FC is that they are still going strong for over a century and a half.
A FIFA Order of Merit was awarded to the oldest soccer club in 2004. Only one other club had received this honor, Real Madrid. The 150th anniversary of Sheffield FC included a match at Bramall Lane attended by Pele, during which the club hosted Inter Milan.
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!