Sheffield FC marks its 150th anniversary as oldest "football" team

Manchester United and Real Madrid, who have claimed just about every major title in club soccer, can't match with Sheffield FC - the oldest "football" team in the world.

The little-known amateur side in northern England plays eight divisions below the Premier League and celebrated its 150th anniversary on Wednesday.

"We have got a claim no one else can ever have," Sheffield manager David McCarthy said. "There can always be a bigger club, a richer one and a more successful one, but they can't be the first and we were."

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was among the dignitaries at a church service in Sheffield Cathedral and a lavish dinner to laud the pioneers who helped start the world's biggest sport.

"Every football club developed from this one and every supporter should pay homage because of this one," Sheffield chairman Richard Timms said.

Describing the club as the "first member of the FIFA," Blatter said its widely acclaimed program to send soccer boots to Africa should be an inspiration to clubs around the world.

"It is a historical moment for the international football family," said Blatter, who also met with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday. "The basis of our organization is the clubs and this is the first and it is an example for the world, even if it is an amateur club."

Soccer was played throughout Britain with different rules until October 1857, with some games having 500 players and often ending in violence. Then two passionate cricketers, William Prest and Nathaniel Creswick, set about unifying the laws and Sheffield FC was born.

"They don't claim to have invented football, but the first organization with the specific intention to play it," Timms said.

Prest and Creswick wrote the first set of rules, adopting free kicks and introducing a cross bar.

Being the first team, finding an opponent to play was the most obvious challenge. For three years, Sheffield played among itself, including married men against unmarried men, until Sheffield persuaded the nearby Hallam cricket club to form a rival.

By 1862, 15 other clubs were established in the Sheffield area - famous for its steel industry - and organized themselves under the auspices of the Sheffield Club, the forerunner to the Football Association, which was formed in 1863.

In 1889, Sheffield helped to form Sheffield United, which now plays in the League Championship along with Sheffield Wednesday.

Sheffield continued as a separate club and won its biggest honor - the national Amateur Cup - in 1904.

After struggling to survive in a city dominated by United and Wednesday, Sheffield moved in 2001 to nearby Dronfield, a small village in the Derbyshire countryside.

"To be the oldest club in the history of football deserves recognition," Sheffield United manager Bryan Robson said. "The way the game has come on shows how much people love the game and how much they enjoy participating in it as well as supporting it."

Despite its unique status, few soccer fans will be aware of Sheffield's existence and its 1,500-capacity Bright Finance stadium.

Sheffield will play an exhibition match on Nov. 8 against an Inter Milan team featuring younger players.

Brazil soccer great Pele will attend the game at Sheffield United's Bramall Lane and will also unveil the original set of rules from 1857.

Sheffield FC knows it can never reach the heights of the Premier League, but it's aiming to rise from the Northern Premier League Division 1 South to the Blue Square Premier Division - the semiprofessional league which is one step from the Football League.

"I don't think we will ever compete with Sheffield United or Sheffield Wednesday, but you've got to have an ambition," McCarthy said.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova