Crystal Palace have launched a shock claim to be crowned the oldest professional football club in the world in a move that will have Stoke City, Nottingham Forest and Notts County on alert.
Stoke, founded in 1863, are currently the oldest club in the Football League, although they are only holding the candle until Notts County – relegated from League Two last spring but founded in 1862 and still a professional club – can fight their way out of the National League.
Some Nottingham Forest fans have also tried to temporarily claim the crown. Their club was formed in 1865 but argue there is a lack of evidence for Stoke running before 1868.
There are even older clubs in non-league, led by Sheffield FC, who can trace their roots back to 1857.
Now Palace, who have been historically considered to have got off the ground in 1905, are highlighting new research that they could in fact go all the way back to 1861 and playing a first match in March 1862.
Author Peter Manning has been looking back at the origins of the club, which arose from the Crystal Palace Company, set up in 1852 to manage the giant cast-iron and glass structure moved from Hyde Park to South London after the Great Exhibition.
The firm had sports clubs, with cricket in the summer – starting in 1861 – and football in the winter – established in 1861 and playing a first game against Forest FC on March 15, 1862. They had representation at the Football Association’s inaugural meeting in 1863.
The amateur club carried on until 1900, when it merged with WG Grace’s London County Cricket Club.
The professional football club came into being in 1905 – and the Crystal Palace Company bought 1,700 shares for a controlling interest.
A statement on the Palace website reads: “And therein lies Crystal Palace’s claim to be the oldest professional football club in the world.
“When the professional club published its first handbook in 1906, having joined Division Two of the Southern League, it listed some of the internationals who had previously represented the club, including Alex Morten in 1873 and Arthur Savage and Charles Eastlake Smith in 1876, showing that they recognised themselves as a continuation of the original amateur team.”
Palace are celebrating the new claim and are already preparing to mark a 160th anniversary next year.
Manning said: “The Crystal Palace was the world’s first major theme park. It was owned and run by the Crystal Palace Company. Everything within the Palace and its grounds was part of the Crystal Palace’s and the Crystal Palace Company’s business, including the Crystal Palace Cricket Club, set up in 1857, the emergence of the football club in 1861, through to the setting up and the taking of a majority share stake in the professional football club in 1905.
“Without the Crystal Palace and the Crystal Palace Company there would have been no Crystal Palace Football Club. It was always one club and always part of the Crystal Palace Company’s business. As the founding of the football club dates back to 1861, it can claim to be the oldest professional league club in the world.
“It’s ironic that today the one surviving remnant of the Crystal Palace Company, Crystal Palace Football Club, is now the big crowd puller, the big money earner that the Crystal Palace Company always wanted it to be. I’m sure it would have been extremely proud of what it has now achieved as a football club.”
A Crystal Palace tankard presented in the 1873/4 season sparked Manning’s research and is reported to be the oldest association football club trophy in existence.
Palace chairman Steve Parish said: “As a lifelong supporter of Crystal Palace, it’s amazing that we have a legitimate claim to be the oldest professional league club still in existence, that we were in the very first FA meetings, and that our history dates all the way back to the Victorian cricketers of 1861 at the Palace even involving the great W.G. Grace.
“I would like to thank Peter Manning for the incredible work he has undertaken researching the definitive history of the club. It’s a fascinating tale and one I hope supporters will very much enjoy seeing brought to life in this film.”