The World’s Oldest Catholic Association Football Clubs
According to multiple sources, the world’s oldest Catholic association football club is Celtic Football Club, which was founded at the Catholic St. Mary’s Church Hall in Calton on 6 November 1887. It is likely that they are the oldest Catholic football still playing, as, although there are earlier Catholic association football teams playing in South America, they were initially formed by British citizens.
Recent research has rediscovered many extant football clubs in Sheffield, a current total of 178 clubs formed between 1857 and 1875, all confirmed and evidenced. Therefore, it is no surprise to discover that the first and oldest Catholic clubs in the world were formed in Sheffield. St Vincent’s, formed as a church team at least as early as 1869 may be the first Catholic association club in the world.
However, as we cannot be sure that St Vincent’s was exclusively Catholic, the Surrey Club, formed in 1870 as the Surrey Catholic club, is officially the first. The Surrey Catholic Football club was probably formed from a school team linked to St Mary’s (Marie’s) school which opened in 1853.
Surrey comes from one of the Norfolk family titles, The Earl of Arundel and Surrey was also a pub close to the Sheaf House, Bramall Lane and Olive Grove Grounds, where the Wednesday would change before games. In terms of Sheffield Heritage this provides a symbiotic relationship between our most famous footballing resident, Mary Queen of Scots, and Sheffield’s USP, as the FIFA recognised crucible of the modern game.
M J Ellison, a colossal figure in the history of Sheffield football, cricket and athletics, was the inspiration behind the growth of Catholic football in the steel city. Ellison, a catholic born in Worksop in 1817, but a long term resident of Sheffield, held the powerful position of Land Agent to the Catholic Duke of Norfolk, overseeing his considerable land-holdings in Sheffield and its immediate surroundings, as his father had done before him. The Duke of Norfolk, who was not afraid of philanthropy if it was twinned with profit, trusted Ellison’s remarkably imaginative and astute financial brain to consistently deliver the latter and gave him considerable autonomy.
Ellison created Bramall Lane out of his own imagination, a multi-purpose sporting arena hosting cricket, football, bowls and athletics away from the smoke, smut and smog of the city. He raised money to pay for it from subscriptions and rent from the United Cricket Clubs of Sheffield. The ‘United’ part of the name would be adopted by the Sheffield United club, and others, including Manchester United who re-branded from Newton Heath in 1902.
It is the oldest professional football ground in the world, having hosted its first match as far back as 1862. Sheffield United has been playing at Bramall Lane since its establishment in 1889. The stadium has also hosted several significant matches, including the final of the world’s first football tournament, first floodlit match, and several matches between the Sheffield and London Football Associations that led to the unification of their respective rules.
In 1866 Ellison was elected as President of Yorkshire CCC, whose headquarters were effectively at Bramall Lane. He remained Yorkshire President until his death in 1898. He was also involved as a player and administrator with Sheffield FC from the beginning of the story and a key protagonist in the foundation of Sheffield United, becoming Sheffield United’s first president. In his spare time. he played county cricket for Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire and was a diligent and inspirational leader of the Catholic community.
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