- FIFA President Sepp Blatter among guests marking Sheffield FC’s 150 years
- English side Sheffield FC recognized as the oldest football club in the world
- Club is one of two to win FIFA’s Order of Merit — the other is Real Madrid
LONDON, England (CNN) — Football dignitaries gathered in Sheffield, northern England, on Wednesday to kick off the 150th birthday celebrations of Sheffield FC — the sport’s oldest club.
Guests of honor at a service at Sheffield Cathedral included Sepp Blatter, president of football world governing body FIFA, and Massimo Moratti, president of Italian giants Inter Milan who are scheduled to play a friendly against Sheffield FC next month.
Other guests attending a dinner in the club’s honor included Real Madrid President Ramon Calderon and England and Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton.
Pele — widely recognized as the greatest footballer ever to play the game — is also due in town next month to attend Sheffield FC’s clash with Inter.
Blatter was unveiling a bust of the club’s co-founder William Prest — one of two cricket fans who founded Sheffield FC, then known simply as Sheffield Club, on October 24, 1857 after deciding they needed a new sport to keep them active during the winter.
Many more football clubs soon sprung up and by 1862 there were said to be 15 in and around the Sheffield area.
The Football Association — which codified the basic rules of the modern game — was established in London the following year.
Sheffield FC was instrumental in developing set rules for the game. The club studied existing rules and laid down a code of laws, which formed the foundation of the first commonly-accepted set of rules for the sport, according to the Sheffield FC Web site.
The team was also responsible for several innovations in the game — including heading, which was unheard of until 1875, when Sheffield traveled to London for a game.
According to the team’s Web site, the sight of the Sheffield players using their foreheads in addition to their feet reduced the London crowd to hysterics.
Other innovations attributed to the team include the solid crossbar on the goal, corner kicks, free kicks for fouls, and playing a match under floodlights.
Despite its celebrated place in the history of the world’s most popular sport, Sheffield FC has never played at a professional level. The club currently competes in the Unibond League’s First Division South, seven divisions beneath the English Premier League.
The city of Sheffield has two professional clubs — United and Wednesday — who both currently play in English football’s second tier, the Coca-Cola Championship.
Sheffield FC’s proudest achievement on the pitch came in 1904 when the team beat Ealing 3-1 to win the FA Amateur Cup in front of 6,000 people.
But 100 years later in 2004, Blatter presented Sheffield FC with FIFA’s “Order of Merit” — an honor previously awarded only to the nine-time European champions Real Madrid.