England’s Oldest Football Clubs 1815-1889:

A new chronological classification of early football (Folk, School, Military, County, Rugby, & Association).

This book should now be seen as the definitive source on the subject”

This is the sort of book that the FA should have produced long ago”

Five years ago, I saw for the first time a book called the ‘Football Annual’ that ran from 1868 to 1908. It was started in 1868 as ‘John Lilywhite’s Football Annual’, edited by the FA Secretary, Charles W. Alcock and ‘Published with the sanction of the Football Association’. In each edition Football Secretaries were invited to apply for forms which had to be returned before May in each year, which included information such as when the Club was formed, where the Club Ground was situated and whether they played by Association or Rugby rules; so it included all Football Clubs, be they Association or Rugby Clubs. To ensure that I missed no football clubs I then cross referenced and added clubs that were not listed in the ‘Football Annuals’ but had entered either the FA Cup or were founder members of their local County FA. This gave me a total of 299 English Rugby-playing clubs and 768 English Association-playing clubs, as well as numerous school and military organisations; a lot of which was previously unseen data.

At the end of five years’ research, I was left with over 5,000 pages of data and in 2017 I decided to extract all the research that applied purely to Sheffield and published a book called ‘A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889: Speed, Science and Bottom’, which is now in its second edition and is available to purchase from this website. Two years later I published my 620 page distillation of the remaining data and ‘England’s Oldest Football Clubs 1815-1889: A new chronological classification of early football (Folk, School, Military, County, Rugby, & Association)’ was born. This edition has now sold out and in the summer of 2020 I produced an updated 640 page second edition, and that is what is now for sale from this site. As well as a print version I took the decision to also publish my data as a (cheaper) E-book PDF providing a live search function and the ability to click straight through to online resources. (If you choose  the PDF option you can open the book on as many devices as you wish and also to print off pages that you find interesting. You will not be able to forward the book in its entirety in order to protect my copyright). If however you prefer the feel of a printed book then that includes the PDF option free of charge.


“This is a remarkable piece of scholarship which will provide a foundation for future studies of local and regional football. Given your upfront discussion and clarification of your methods and assumptions (all I am pleased to note are evidence based) there will be no need for anyone to retread the ground that you have so assiduously covered. If I were younger I could envisage using this as a base for a research project to investigate the various waves of club formation in different geographic areas and identifying which types of clubs were at the forefront of the developments”.
Professor Wray Vamplew
Emeritus Professor of Sports History, University of Stirling
Global Professorial Fellow, University of Edinburgh Academy of Sport
Senior Special Projects Editor, International Journal of the History of Sport

“What an excellent source book. You have managed to compile so much original documentation…it will be a necessity for all football historians. I am a bit too rough and ready in my preparation to segregate clubs in the way that you have done and would have probably lumped them all into geographical regions rather than segregating them according to the type of football they played. I checked a couple of clubs – such as Fordingbridge Turks and was pleased to find them. It seems nothing escapes your spying eye! This is the sort of book that the FA should have produced long ago, collecting all the clubs and documentation together. I will get a lot of use out of your work, a constant reference source”. Adrian Harvey author of Football: The first 100 years. The untold story.

“My main problem in attempting to review this new publication has been to decide exactly what it is I am reviewing. That may sound a trivial observation, but the reality is that this has been a very difficult task given the breadth of the subject matter, and the complexity of the analysis contained within the volume.
As a specialist book collector, I am in awe of many of the major works celebrating overall association football history which were produced in times gone by. “Famous Footballers” (1895/96), “The Book of Football” (1905/06), the four volume “Association Football and the Men Who Made It” (Gibson & Pickford, also 1905/06), and “The Story of the Football League” (Sutcliffe et. al, 1939) are all pre-WWII books which have been described as the classics of football literature.
Post WWII, further excellent books such as Geoffrey Green’s “The History of the Football Association” (1953), Fabian and Green’s four volume “Association Football” (Caxton, 1960), and Simon Inglis’s “League Football and the Men Who Made It” (1988) have added further detail and depth to the genre. Then came “England’s Oldest Football Clubs 1815 – 1889” by Martin Westby, a work which expanded on his previous publication “A History of Sheffield Football ‘…speed, science and bottom’” (2017 & 2018).
The subject book is a monumental piece of work! It should rightly take its place alongside the other major classics of association football literature.
I concluded that a significant part of the difficulty I referred to earlier is based on the fact that this isn’t a book at all! It is (at least) SIX books in one. It covers the history of football rules and laws; the early history of football in schools and universities; the same in terms of the military and the volunteer movement; the history of the founding of the County Football Associations; the early history of Rugby clubs; and finally the main theme, namely the chronological classification of English Association football clubs.
This is not a glossy volume full of coloured illustrations like the other new books mentioned earlier. Nor is it a narrative work of fiction or non-fiction which should be read from start to finish. It is now THE major reference work for anyone who wants to investigate the history of any of the six topics mentioned in the paragraph above.

That subject reminds me that many people, once they learn I have a book collection, ask me one simple question, “Have you read them all?”. The answer is of course “No I haven’t”, as a large proportion of them are books for reference, which can be dipped into on a continuous basis when exploring the history of the game. This volume now forms a key cornerstone and first point of call in my library for any further research work into the early history of football clubs.
As the author mentions, this is only a start. The astonishing level of detail within each chapter has been the result of his extensive (exhaustive, and exhausting I imagine) research activity over a five-year period. Yet there are bound to be errors, and there are bound to be many facts that will need revision once later research unearths new information. It is the base for decades of future enhancement.
One key element in the book’s Introduction is the author’s definition of the Classification Rules used to sequence clubs in order of their foundation dates etc. That is a very complex subject, and this is the first time that well-structured rules have been proposed for such an effort. For example, one rule in the case of “Reforming Clubs, Mergers and Continuity” is that the maximum gap to accept continuity between an old club closing and a replacement club being founded should be one year. This is of course a judgement call, but one year seems eminently reasonable. These Classification Rules should be accepted globally as definitive, unless and until they can be evolved by common consent.
The suitability of that particular rule was brought home to me recently when discussing a project with associates of one club who were attempting to claim continuity between an older amateur club and a later professional club of the same name. The main problem for me was that there was a 30-year gap between the old club vanishing and the new club being founded. QED!
In summary, I can only repeat an opinion that I have already communicated elsewhere.
The thoroughness of this work and the quality, depth and breadth of the content plus the sound logic of the rules of engagement mean that ‘England’s Oldest Football Clubs 1815-1889: New chronological classification of early football (Folk, School, Military, County, Rugby, & Association) must now be accepted as the definitive global source on this subject”.

Phil Martin (the custodian of a modest little football book collection) Phil Martin is very modest. He is Britain’s (if not the world’s) leading custodian of Association football literature from the very beginnings in 1874 until the present day. He shares the images of his collection on Twitter using the handle @notinSeddon. Martin Westby

“The book has been extremely well researched and appears to be a sound comprehensive history of the days before any regulation and the setting up of The Association.It also provides an accurate account of the early formation of Clubs, The FA Cup and a compendium of results and data”.
Official FA review

“The study of ‘firsts’ is one that it is taken very seriously by sporting historians. The World Rugby Museum regularly receives correspondence from all over the world from clubs seeking approval for their claim to having been the first, either in their country or region. It is an endeavour that is often clouded by contradictory evidence and unsupported claims, which makes the drawing up of lists very difficult. No sooner has one been compiled then a dusty piece of microfilm reveals another long-forgotten claim, Brighton Shoeflies are forced to adjust their website and a scuffle breaks out on Wikipedia. Undaunted Martin Westby has nonetheless boldly entered into this minefield of research in his book ‘England’s Oldest Football Clubs 1815-1889’. Westby’s previous book ‘A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889: ‘…Speed, Science and Bottom’, shone a light on Sheffield Football Club and the wider role of the city of Sheffield as incubator of the Football Association (FA) game. In his new book Westby expands his field to include clubs that became affiliated with the Rugby Football Union (RFU), in recognition that these clubs were simply football clubs too, until the distinction between the two codes led to introduction of ‘Rugby’ as suffix to the latter.
Westby sensibly utilises the Football Annuals of Charles W Alcock which came into print in 1868 as ‘John Lillywhite’s Football Annual’. Alcock himself was a crucial figure in the development of both codes and later corresponded with the RFU Secretary each year to ensure that the rugby clubs listed in his book included the year in which they became affiliated with the union. A good example of the difficulty in establishing foundation dates is that not all clubs chose to become affiliated in the year that they were founded. Since the RFU was only established in 1871, a number of clubs pre-dated it by several years, as indeed did Alcock’s Annual.
Westby makes reference to this and also dispels some of the more persistent myths around club foundation dates. That he does makes this a very useful reference book on the subject. It now takes its place, along with other publications, such as Dick Tyson’s ‘London’s Oldest Rugby Clubs’, as the starting point for future analysis”.
Phil McGowan, Museum Curator, World Rugby Museum, Twickenham Stadium

“Once again Martin Westby takes us on a journey into the depths of football history where no other historian has dared to go. We are indebted to his ambition and dedication tell the full story of of footballs’ origins and pay homage to the long forgotten teams and men who laid the foundations for the our beautiful game to become what we know today.With an ever growing interest in football’s early history Martin has truly positioned himself as one of the most important football historians of our time”. Clive Nicholson Author of ‘Flying over an Olive Grove The Remarkable Story of Fred Spiksley’.

“Martin has already written one of my favourite books about the history of football, focusing mainly on Sheffield and its key role in the development and evolution of football, and it looks like he’s produced something even more special here.  This is a book which looks at the question of which were the first football clubs in an unquestionably impartial and logical way.  The amount of time, effort and rigorous research which has gone into the project is clear to see from the first page to the last.  Whilst being a masterpiece of academic research the resulting read is certainly not dry or impenetrable for anyone who has even a passing interest in football and its origins.  With the recent relegation of Notts County from the Football League the question of the foundation dates of the oldest clubs has been somewhat of a hot topic and this book should now be seen as the definitive source on the subject, and I would hope the FA and all football historians will adopt it as such.  There are many football clubs who have ‘creation myths’ around their history but hopefully Martin has now advanced any debate to a point where all discussion can be based on verifiable facts instead of just legends which have taken on the appearance of truth over time.  Brilliant stuff Martin and I would happily recommend this as a must read to anyone.” Andy Dixon Sheffield Football Club’s official historian.

‘The book is a gold mine for anyone interested in the time when the Association game evolved from a mix of public school rules to what we know today…. more detailed than I know from any other book. Brilliant! ‘

Petra Tabarelli Full review at  https://bit.ly/2VR3qcR

“I didn’t think Martin could better his previous book but his latest contribution to the early history of football is an exhaustive overview that answers many questions from the Victorian era for the first time”.Mark Metcalfe Football Fanatic and Historian

Martin Westby must be commended for producing such a thoroughly researched work of English football during its formative development in the 19th Century. The seven chapters deal with distinct elements of English football but in a manner that ensures they are interlinked. This allows for the reader to follow the flow and contextualise the themes of the book. I would argue this work goes beyond being a chronological classification. It is a significant addition to the greater knowledge and understanding of the history of English football due to the detailed explanations that go beyond many of the facts and figures. The reader is presented with many facets of the game from its early rules, the influence of public schools, to the formation of County FAs and the development of the football club structure that we know today. Of particular significance to the Football and War Network, is the chapter that deals with military teams including a section on the Volunteer Movement. It covers a number of teams including the Royal Engineers and Aldershot FC. The chapter contextualises military football through the key conflicts of the period covered such as the Crimean and Boer Wars allied to societal developments. Of significance, are the quotations from a variety of civilian and military documents and publications that give the reader a feel for how sport and in particular football was and would become a significant aspect of military life. For example, the Royal Engineers FA Cup performances resulting in a number of Cup Final appearances.

In my view, this classification acts as one of the key texts that should be required reading for students interested in the history of football.

Dr Alex Alexandrou, Co-Founder and National Convenor of the Football and War Network

An excellent piece of research, that creates a fascinating picture of football’s pioneers”. Phil Sammons Essex County Schools FA Gen. Sec.

The story behind the birth of modern association and rugby football has long been shrouded in myth and mystery, and among those who value the history of the game, there is great interest in the clubs that were central to its growth from pastime to global spectacle. In his new book, England’s Oldest Football Clubs, Martin Westby has used every resource available to best uncover the precise details of each of these clubs, many of which were previously just names in the history books. His book is a treasure trove of information for the curious and an essential companion for the football historian or reporter. It also clears up a number of the inconsistencies that have occurred in previous writing on this era by investigating and presenting the many conflicting sources that have led to such confusion. Who knows? You may, like me, find new information about long-lost clubs in your own local area’.

Dominic Bliss. Author of Erbstein: The Triumph and Tragedy of Football’s Forgotten Pioneer. Ambassador for proudly reformed in 2018 after more than 70 years and the Egri Erbstein Tournament.


Introduction to the Classification.

Chapter One: The Search for Association Rules 1500-1886. A Chronological history of Football Rules and Laws.

Chapter Two: A Chronological history of Association playing Schools, Colleges and Universities (1815-1888). Featuring a section on Old Boys’ Clubs and State Schools.

Chapter Three: A Chronological history of Association playing Military teams (1844-1888), featuring a section on the Volunteer Movement.

Chapter Four: A Chronological history of the English County Football Associations (1867-1888).

Chapter Five: A Chronological history of English Rugby clubs (1839-1888), also features influential Rugby playing schools and colleges.

Chapter Six: A Chronological Classification of Association football clubs (1857 -1889).

Chapter Seven: Clarification and detail on a selection of prominent English Association Football Clubs.

Dingley Dell FC (1858-1864)

Crusaders FC (1859-1870)

Mincing Lane FC (1859-1876)

Crystal Palace FC (1861-1875)

Notts County FC (1862-present)

Stoke City FC (1868-present)

Great Marlow FC (1870-present)

Ipswich Town FC (1870-present)

Darwen FC (1871- 2009)

Worksop Town FC (1873-present)

West Bromwich Albion FC (1874-present)

Burnley FC (1874-present)

Hanover United FC (Polytechnic FC) (1876-present)

Middlesbrough FC (1876-present)

Clapton FC (1878-present)

Blackpool FC (1878-present)

Sunderland AFC (1880-present)

Manchester City FC (1880-present)

Derby County FC (1881- present)

Watford FC (1881- present)

Tranmere Rovers FC (1881- present)

Corinthian Casuals FC (1882- present)

Tottenham Hotspur FC (1882- present)

Queens Park Rangers FC (1882- present)

Royal Arsenal FC (1886-present)

Cray Wanderers FC (1886-present)

Notes on the revised and updated June 2020 edition
When the first edition of this book came out in the summer of 2019, I hoped that it would start a new debate surrounding the foundation dates of English football clubs. It was an impossible hope that every detail of the 1,191 clubs that I analysed would be correct, not least because the British Newspaper Archive (BNA) continues to upload hundreds of new pages of content every week. I hoped that local research would be unearthed and that could also be fed into my original classification and I’m pleased that seventeen clubs have had their details changed in this edition as a result of readers contacting me with their findings. For many years, club histories in print and online just repeated the same historical facts that had been passed down through the years, with little scrutiny. With the new information gleaned from Alcock’s Football Annuals and the new club histories written with the help of the BNA, historians are now revisiting old facts and re-examining their accuracy. The following clubs’ information has changed in this edition and the people who produced this new information are gratefully acknowledged at the end of the book:

Barton Town FC
Bury St. Edmunds FC
Chester St Oswald’s FC
Darlington FC
Davenham & Hartford FC
Eastbourne FC
Eagley FC
Grimsby District FC
Harwich FC
Hatfield FC
Lymington FC
Nelson FC
Newton Heath FC/Manchester United FC
Over Wanderers FC
Shankhouse FC
Stockport FC
Wimborne FC
Workington AFC

Summary: Our Future lies in our Past