Football League's oldest clubs
Notts County may be the oldest professional club in England, but their relegation from League Two last season means they can no longer claim to be the oldest in the Football League. In this slideshow, we count down the longest-standing sides in the country…
40. Shrewsbury (1886)
Shrewsbury Town came into being in 1886, formed as a replacement for the notorious Shropshire Wanderers, whose reputation for foul play preceded them. The Shrews weren’t elected to the Football League in 1950 and rose as high as the second tier in the 1980s.
39. Plymouth (1886)
Founded in 1886 as Argyle Football Club, Plymouth added the name of the city to their moniker when they became professional 17 years later. Argyle continue to play at Home Park, which has served as their home since 1901.
38. Arsenal (1886)
As Tottenham fans like to remind supporters of their arch-rivals, Arsenal were initially a south London club. They moved from Woolwich to Highbury in 1913, 27 years after their birth, and over the next century became one of the most successful sides in the history of the English game.
37. Southampton (1885)
Southampton were formed in November 1885, when the St Mary's Church of England Young Men's Association decided its members would benefit from having a football team. Initially referred to as St Mary’s Y.M.A, they adopted the Southampton FC name in 1896.
36. Millwall (1885)
One of London’s oldest clubs were originally known as Millwall Rovers after they were set up by factory workers in the capital’s East End in 1885. They joined the Football League in 1920, having spent the previous 16 years participating in the Southern League.
35. Luton (1885)
Luton first began the search for a new stadium way back in 1955, but the club remains at Kenilworth Road more than six decades on. Town first moved into their current home in 1905, eight years after their first taste of Football League action.
34. Lincoln (1884)
Lincoln City were formed in 1884, although several other football teams had represented the city in the previous two decades. The club turned professional in 1891 and helped to form the Football League’s second division the following year.
33. Tranmere (1884)
When local cricket teams Lyndhurst Wanderers and Belmont decided in 1884 that their football branches deserved a club of their own, Tranmere Rovers were formed. They didn’t join the Football League until 1921 and had to wait until the 1990s for their first post-war experience of the second division.
32. Leicester (1884)
Leicester City were initially known as Leicester Fosse, with former students of Wyggeston School creating the club in 1884. They moved to Filbert Street seven years later and then joined the Football League in 1894, before reaching the top flight in 1908.
31. Derby (1884)
Derby County were set up in 1884 by players of Derbyshire County Cricket Club, who were looking to continue their sporting endeavours in the winter. One of the 12 founder members of the Football League in 1888, they later won two top-flight titles in the 1970s.
30. Coventry (1883)
It’s no surprise that Coventry adopted their current name early on in their existence, deciding in 1889 that Singers FC would no longer cut it. They moved to Highfield Road just before the turn of the century in 1899, before joining the Football League 20 years later.
29. Bristol Rovers (1883)
Founded in 1883, Bristol Rovers spent the first four years of their existence playing friendly matches, before taking part in the Gloucestershire Cup. They accepted a place in the Football League in 1920, eventually winning promotion to the second tier in the 1950s.
28. Queens Park Rangers (1882)
Queens Park Rangers held talks with Wimbledon in 2001 over a potential merger, but combining the two London teams was never likely to happen. However, QPR are actually the outcome of an 1886 merger involving Christchurch Rangers and St Jude’s Institute, although their official founding date is four years earlier to mark Christchurch’s formation.
27. Tottenham (1882)
Bobby Buckle, a member of Hotspur Cricket Club, was the man chiefly responsible for the foundation of Tottenham in 1882. Spurs turned professional 13 years later, before winning the FA Cup in 1901 and a spot in the Football League in 1908.
26. Burnley (1882)
When the Football Association drew up the Laws of the Game in 1863, they were doing so in an attempt to clearly define the differences between football and rugby. The Clarets initially had links with the latter sport, with members of Burnley Rovers Rugby Club responsible for the creation of the football club in 1882.
25. Watford (1881)
Watford Football Club wasn’t formally founded until 1888, but the club traces its roots back to the creation of Watford Rovers seven years earlier. The Hertfordshire outfit joined the Football League in 1920 and moved to Vicarage Road two years later.
24. Preston (1880)
Preston North End was born in 1863, but the original sports club only played cricket. Football was added to the timetable in 1880, enough time for the Lancastrians to become founder members of the Football League eight years later. Preston were the dominant team early on, winning the first two league titles and remaining one of only two teams to complete an English league season unbeaten.
23. Manchester City (1880)
Manchester City did not adopt their current name until 1894, having initially been known as St Mark’s and then Ardwick Association Football Club. Elected to the Football League in 1899, City won the FA Cup five years later and moved into Maine Road in 1923.
22. Swindon (1879)
Reverend William Pitt was the key man behind Swindon’s formation, setting up the club in 1879. It took 15 years before they turned professional, with Town initially joining the Southern League and then the Football League in 1920.
21. Sunderland (1879)
Sunderland’s foundation date is disputed: the idea to create the club came from a man named James Allan in 1879, but some suggest it wasn’t formally set up until the following year. However, October 1879 remains the official birth month of the club which joined the Football League in time for its second season in 1890/91.
20. Fulham (1879)
Fulham are London’s oldest club, having come into being as long ago as 1879. Craven Cottage, English football’s quaintest stadium, became their home in 1896, with Fulham joining the Football League 11 years later.
19. Doncaster (1879)
Doncaster Rovers were founded by railway workers in 1879 and quickly became the primary team of the Yorkshire town. They won election to the Football League in 1901 and immediately finished seventh in the Second Division, which remains their highest ever position more than a century on.
18. West Brom (1878)
One of the Football League’s founder members in 1888, West Brom were established 10 years earlier by workers of a local manufacturing firm. They moved into The Hawthorns at the turn of the centry and won the title for the first and only time in their history in 1920.
17. Manchester United (1878)
Founded as Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Football Club in 1878, the club sensibly changed its name to Manchester United in 1902. Initially joining the Football League in 1892, they are currently the most successful team in the competition’s history with 20 top-tier titles.
16. Ipswich (1878)
Founded in 1878 as Ipswich AFC, the football club merged with Ipswich Rugby Club a year later to create the side we know today. However, they did not turn professional until 1936, before earning election to the Football League in 1938.
15. Grimsby (1878)
Grimsby returned to League Two in 2016, allowing them to again claim their place as one of the oldest current Football League club. Formed in a pub in 1878, the club was initially known as Grimsby Pelham in recognition of the Earl of Yarborough’s family name.
14. Everton (1878)
No club has competed in the top division of English football for more than Everton’s 116 seasons. Formed as St Domingo in 1878, they were founder members of the Football League 10 years later and won their first of their nine titles in 1891.
13. Wolves (1877)
Like many other clubs, Wolverhampton Wanderers has founding links with both cricket and the church. Initially known as St Luke’s in 1877, they were part of the Football League’s inaugural season and became one of England’s dominant teams in the 1950s.
12. Crewe (1877)
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a club nicknamed the ‘Railwaymen’ was set up by local railway workers. Crewe Alexandra joined the Football League Second Division in 1892 and moved into Gresty Road in 1906, by which time they were competing in the Birmingham and District League.
11. Port Vale (1876)
Port Vale’s official founding date is 1876, although local historian Jeff Kent claims the club didn’t actually exist for another three years. The Valiants hold the record for having played the most Football League seasons without ever reaching the top flight – 108.
10. Macclesfield (1876)
Founded after a merger between the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers and the Olympic Cricket club, Macclesfield were established in 1876 – making them one of the 10 oldest sides currently in the top four divisions. They didn’t become members of the Football League until 1997 but made up for lost time by winning promotion in their debut campaign.
9. Middlesbrough (1876)
Middlesbrough were born in 1876 but didn’t permanently turn professional until 1899, which delayed their election to the Football League until the turn of the century. In 1903 Boro took up residence at Ayresome Park, which remained the club’s home until the mid-1990s.
8. Blackburn (1875)
Founded by old school friends John Lewis and Arthur Constantine in 1875, Blackburn helped form the Lancashire Football Association three years later. Founder members of the Football League, they won the First Division title in 1912 and 1914 – as well as in the third season of the Premier League in 1994/95.
7. Birmingham (1875)
Founded as Small Heath Alliance midway through the 1870s, Birmingham became the inaugural champions of the Football League Second Division in 1892. St Andrew’s, which was originally able to hold 75,000 fans, became the club’s home in 1906,
6. Bolton (1874)
Bolton were created by Reverend Joseph Farrall Wright in 1874, which explains their original ‘Christ Church FC’ name. Members of the Football League in its debut season, Bolton have remained part of the organisation ever since.
5. Aston Villa (1874)
The oldest of the 20 clubs currently in the top flight, Villa rank fifth in the overall ranking. Established in 1874, they were one of the Football’s League founder members, and have played their home games at Villa Park since 1897.
4. Reading (1871)
Reading were founded on Christmas Day 1871 but didn’t join the Football League until 1920, instead spending the early years playing in the Southern League system. They won promotion to the top flight for the first time in 2006, and went on to finish eighth in the Premier League the following year.
3. Sheffield Wednesday (1867)
Sheffield Wednesday were founded on – you guessed it – a Wednesday. The club came into existence in September 1867, making them one of the oldest professional outfits around. However, they weren’t the first club in their city, with amateur side Sheffield FC predating the Owls by a decade.
2. Nottingham Forest (1865)
Nottingham Forest may have already been in existence for almost 25 years, but their application to join the Football League was rejected in 1888. They eventually won admission three years later, and have spent all but five seasons since then in the top two divisions.
1. Stoke (1863)
Stoke didn’t have much to cheer last season, with the Potters marking their return to the Championship with an underwhelming 16th-place finish. They did, however, become the oldest current Football League side by virtue of Notts County’s relegation from League Two.
Formed as Stoke Ramblers in 1863, the club were founder members of the Football League, although they were forced to drop into non-league after going bankrupt in 1907.
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