English football supporters will proudly boast of having the most senior football league in the world. A glance at the birthdates of the country's current top flight clubs certainly supports their unrivalled ancestry. Arsenal came into existence in 1886, while Manchester United were founded in 1878. However, this heavyweight pair have been significantly outlasted by Sheffield FC, the oldest football club in the world, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2007.
A remarkable milestone, such longevity represents a stunning achievement for an outfit now competing in the eighth tier of the English Football League system.
In 1855, members of a local cricket club began to partake in kick-arounds, which were enjoyable if somewhat chaotic due to the absence of fixed 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 the sport had one conspicuous drawback: it was exclusively a 'summer' sport. The men desired a sport that, during the 'winter' months, 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.
Henceforth, plans were drawn up to form a football club and on 24 October 1857, Sheffield FC was born - its headquarters located in a potting shed and green house. Creswick was appointed captain and secretary and he and Prest went about establishing 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 become known as 'Sheffield Rules'. When the English Football Association was instituted in 1863, it adopted and modified this code of conduct.
Sheffield FC 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 a number of teams in and around the Sheffield area were formed. In fact, there were 15 by 1862, including Hallam FC, with whom Sheffield FC share the oldest derby in the world.
Sheffield FC have been behind a number of 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 travelled 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.
However, under the guidance of chairman Richard Tims, Sheffield FC has undergone a recent resurgence. Financially, they are in a more stable position than ever and they also own a ground for the first time in their remarkable history.
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.
Incredibly, Sheffield FC were 30 years old when the inaugural league got underway in England; 31 by the time Glaswegian Alexander Hutton emigrated to Argentina and founded an English school and then the Argentinian Football Association; 37 when Charles Miller travelled from Southampton to Sao Paulo and began to popularise football in Brazil; almost 50 when Blackburn-born Daniel Woolfall became the second FIFA President; 65 when the old Wembley Stadium was opened and 108 when England won the FIFA World Cup™.
It is a testament to what a special club Sheffield FC is that, over a century-and-a-half on, they are still going strong.