First of Their Name: Introducing the Club of Pioneers

Whether as a curious byproduct of Wrexham AFC’s recent high-profile exposure, or simply a point of interest within the vast mythos of footballing history, the term “Club of Pioneers” may be familiar to you.

But what may be less clear is the purpose, definition, and membership list of this special—and highly exclusive—organisation.

So, whether the term itself piques your curiosity, or you’re simply looking for some groundhopping inspiration, here’s what you need to know.

What Is the Club of Pioneers?

The Club of Pioneers was founded in 2013 by the oldest association football club in England (and, indeed, the world): Sheffield FC.

It is intended to be a formal network of each FIFA nation’s oldest surviving club, with a focus on preserving and promoting football’s rich global history across the professional, semi-professional, and amateur game.

To “join”, prospective members must be able to prove that they are the oldest active club within their FIFA-recognised national jurisdiction. They must also:

  • Still be competing (at any level, professionally or otherwise) today
  • Have existed continuously as a sporting organisation since inception (gaps due to external interruptions, such as war, are allowed)
  • “Live and support the values of the game and amateur football: integrity, respect, and community”

At the time of writing, there are 26 members of the Club of Pioneers spread across five continents.

The Club of Pioneers Tournament

Membership of the Club of Pioneers isn’t just an honorary title, either. As well as commemorative friendlies and, increasingly, virtual face-offs, official tournaments between club members are played on an ad-hoc basis. These regularly feature staff, fans, and former players of the participating teams, with Chris Waddle, Carlton Palmer, and John Beresford all among previous attendees.

FK Sveikata, the Lithuanian representative of the Club of Pioneers, celebrating their victory at the Pioneers Cup tournament in 2019.
FK Sveikata of Lithuania celebrate victory at the most recent Pioneers Cup tournament in 2019. Credit: Club of Pioneers

To date, there have been five previous iterations of the tournament:

YearHost GroundWinnerOther Participants
2013Home of Football Stadium (Sheffield, England)Sheffield FC (England)Recreativo de Huelva (Spain), Genoa (Italy)
2014Sportpark Spanjaardslaan (Haarlem, Netherlands)Sheffield FC (England)Koninklijke HFC (Netherlands), Royal Antwerp (Belgium)
2014Nuevo Colombino (Huelva, Spain)Recreativo de Huelva (Spain)Koninklijke HFC (Netherlands), Genoa (Italy)
2016Bosuilstadion (Antwerp, Belgium)Koninklijke HFC (Netherlands)Royal Antwerp (Belgium), Fola Esch (Luxembourg)
2019Sportpark Spanjaardslaan (Haarlem, Netherlands)FK Sveikata (Lithuania)Koninklijke HFC (Netherlands), Royal Antwerp (Belgium)

However, according to Richard Sheldon, club secretary at Sheffield FC, there are no plans in place for any upcoming tournaments.

Who Is in the Club of Pioneers?

Although only seven clubs have taken part in the Pioneers Cup so far, there are currently 26 recognised members. They are:

ClubCountryFoundedGroundCurrent Tier
Sheffield FCEngland1857Home of Football Stadium (Sheffield)8
WrexhamWales1864The Racecourse (Wrexham)5*
Queens ParkScotland1867Ochilview Park (Falkirk)**2
Kjøbenhavns Boldklub***Denmark1878Peter Bangs Vej (Copenhagen)5
St GallenSwitzerland1879Kybun Park (St Gallen)1
Koninklijke HFCNetherlands1879Sportpark Spanjaardslaan (Haarlem)3
CliftonvilleNorthern Ireland1879Solitude (Belfast)1
Royal AntwerpBelgium1880Bosuilstadion (Antwerp)1
Savages FCSouth Africa1882Collegians (Pietermaritzburg)?
Hong Kong FCHong Kong1886Hong Kong FC Stadium (Happy Valley)1
Yokohama C&ACJapan1886YC&AC Field (Yokohama)?
North Shore UnitedNew Zealand1887Allen Hill Stadium (Auckland)2
Académica de CoimbraPortugal1887Estádio Cidade de Coimbra (Coimbra)3
BFC GermaniaGermany1888Sportsplatz Götzstrasse (Berlin)10
Mohun BaganIndia1889Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan / Mohun Bagan Ground (both Kolkata)1
Recreativo de HuelvaSpain1889Nuevo Colombino (Huelva)4
St George’s FCMalta1890Centenary Stadium (Cospicua)2
Albion FCUruguay1891Estadio Parque Dr. Enrique Falco Lichtemberger (Montevideo)1
Tvoroyrar BoltfelagFaroe Islands1892Við Stórá Trongisvágur (Tvøroyri)1
Santiago WanderersChile1892Estadio Elías Figueroa Brander (Valparaiso)2
GenoaItaly1893Luigi Ferraris (Genoa)2
Odds BallklubbNorway1894Skagerak Arena (Skien)1
First ViennaAustria1894Hohe Warte (Vienna)2
Fola EschLuxembourg1906Stade Émile Mayrisch (Esch-sur-Alzette)1
FK LjubotenNorth Macedonia1919AMS Sportski Centar (Tetovo)3
FK SveikataLithuania1919Kybartai Stadium (Kybartai)3

* – Although Welsh, Wrexham plays in the English football pyramid.
** – Temporary home for 2022/23 season.
*** – KB merged with B 1903 in 1991 to form FC Copenhagen. However, KB still play as an amateur organisation in the Danish fifth tier.

Who Else Can Join?

Entry to the Club of Pioneers is open to anyone who meets the eligibility criteria, although claims must be substantiated by clear proof. In Europe, for instance, the following clubs could be eligible:

CountryClubYear (Claimed)
ArmeniaArarat Yerevan1935
Bosnia & HerzegovinaZrinjski Mostar1905
BulgariaDorostol Silistra (Disputed)1902
CyprusAnorthosis Famagusta1911
Czech RepublicSlavia Prague1892
CroatiaHNK Rijeka / HNK SegestaBoth 1906
FranceLe Havre1872
GeorgiaShevardeni Tbilisi1906
GreecePanionios (Disputed)1890
HungaryMűegyetemi / III. KerületiBoth 1897
Republic of IrelandAthlone Town (Disputed)1887
IsraelMaccabi Tel Aviv1906
RussiaZnamya Truda1909
SerbiaFK Bačka1901
SlovakiaTatran Prešov1898
SwedenÖrgryte IS1887

* – AEK Athens (Istanbul), Panionios (Izmir), and Apollon Smyrnis (Izmir) were each formed in Turkey prior to Kurtuluş, but all relocated to Athens in the 1920s following the Greco-Turkish War.