The 20 “Most Important” Football Clubs In The World

120 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   February 24, 2009  |     112

It doesn’t do any of us any harm to occasionally remind ourselves of the sheer blustering pomposity of the biggest clubs in football. Tonight’s ambassadors for “giving the fans what they want” (as ever, a thin mask for “making more money for ourselves”) are Milan, who had some very important opinions to give on the subject of a European Super League. “”I still believe a European league will be an unavoidable step, though it may take more time than expected,” said the Milan director Umberto Gandini. “Between the 50 most important continental clubs, none would give up playing in their respective countries”.

Disregarding the increasingly popular opinion that perhaps the “most important” clubs should perhaps be expelled from all other competitions, packed onto a space shuttle with anyone that likes the idea of Milan playing Manchester United every week for the rest of eternity and sent to Jupiter so that they can get on with it there without inflicting it upon the rest of us, the use of the phrase “most important” which is the giveaway. The winding up of G14 and subsequent inclusion of the biggest clubs into the European Clubs Association was supposed to put an end to all of this, but it was simplistic to assume that the more atavistic tendencies of the biggest clubs would vanish merely because Michel Platini invited them for tea and biscuits at UEFA’s top table.

However… “most important”? I beg to differ. Even if you don’t necessarily believe in the “all creatures great and small” view of the world, this idea that (with all due deference to George Orwell) all football clubs are created equal, but some are more equal than others is a pretty repugnant one. So, with tongue planted firmly in cheek (before anyone starts complaining), here are the real twenty most important clubs in the history of world football. And Milan aren’t even on it. After all, Milan aren’t even Inter’s biggest rivals. As any Milanese football afficianado will tell you, Inter’s true local derby is the Derby D’Italia, played against Juventus. Five years without a Scudetto seems to be affecting the judgement of those running the Rossoneri.

1. Sheffield FC: The oldest football club in the world. They may not have won anything of note since the FA Amateur Cup in 1904, but Sheffield FC are the only club in the world besides Real Madrid to have been awarded the FIFA Order of Merit. Other winners of this award include Nelson Mandela, Henry Kissinger and the Uruguay Football Association.

2. Queens Park FC: The Glasgow amateur club remain the only side ever to have reached the finals of both the English and Scottish FA Cups, and were ten times winners of the Scottish FA Cup. Their passing style of football revolutionised the way that football was played worldwide, and their home stadium, Hampden Park, was the biggest football stadium in the world until the Maracana was built for the 1950 World Cup.

3. Darwen FC: When this unassuming club from Lancashire signed two players, Fergie Suter and James Love, from Partick Thistle in 1879, they became the first English club to pay their players. The days of the amateur gentlemen were numbered and professionalism had arrived. Within ten years, all of the best clubs paid their players.

4. Preston North End FC: “The Invincibles”. The first winners of the Football League went their entire season unbeaten in 1888/89 (a record that wouldn’t be equalled until Arsenal managed it in 2004), and won the FA Cup into the bargain. The year before, they had set another record, beating Hyde 26-0 in the FA Cup, a record which does survive to this day.

5. U.S. Pro Vercelli Calcio: Italy’s oldest club, U.S. Pro Vercelli Calcio were founded in 1892. They won the Italian championship five times in six years between 1908 and 1914, and were also the club of Silvio Piola, widely credited as the inventor of the bicycle kick. One of their current players, curiously, is the former Italian international and Serie A stalwart, Maurizio Ganz. They play in the fourth division of Italian football.

6. Sport Club Rio Grande: Sport Club Rio Grande are the oldest club in Brazil, and one of the oldest in the whole of South America. They may have only won two regional championships in their 109 year history, but they were instrumental in the development of the game in the country that is now commonly regarded as its natural home.

7. Exeter City: Exeter’s footnote in the history of football is a very significant one. They were one of the first English clubs to go on a high profile trip abroad when they toured South America in 1914. One of their matches on this tour was played at the Laranjeiras Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, and was the first ever match played by the Brazilian national side, who won 2-0.

8. Torino: The Superga air crash in 1949 immortalised the Torino side known as “Il Grande Torino”. They  won five successive league championships and are still held up as possibly the greatest Italian club side of all time. They regularly made up eight of the eleven places in the Italian national team and were also one of the first sides in the world to play a 4-4-2 formation, which is to this day the most commonplace team formation in the world.

9. Wolverhampton Wanderers: In the early 1950s, during the nascent days of floodlit football, Wolves were innovators in taking on all-comers in a series of friendly matches. After beating Honved, Racing Club of Argentina, Rangers , Real Madrid and Spartak Moscow, their manager Stan Cullis declared them to be the “champions of the world”, a statement that riled French journalist Gabriel Hanot so much that he led a campaign for a floodlit, pan-European cup competition. By 1955, the European Cup was born.

10. Real Madrid: No team has ever dominated European football the way that Real Madrid did in the first years of the European Cup. Winners of the competition nine times (including the first five years in a row), they were also involved in possibly the greatest European match of all time, a 7-3 demolition of Eintracht Frankfurt in front of a 130,000 crowd at Hampden Park in 1950. They’ve also won the Spanish championship a record thirty-one times.

11. AFC Ajax: The sudden explosion of Dutch football in the late 1960s again changed the way that the game was played worldwide. They were possibly the first club to properly introduce an academy system, bringing through Johann Cruyff, Johann Neeskens, Arie Haan and Ruud Krol at the same time, and winning the European Cup for three consecutive seasons at the same time. No other country has had such a rapid rise up the football ladder as the Netherlands did in the early 1970s and stayed there, and no other club had as much of an influence in that sudden explosion of talent as AFC Ajax.

12. New York Cosmos: Later dismissed as a gimmick, New York Cosmos were actually phenomenally successful during the late 1970s, and laid a considerable amount of the groundwork for the success that Major League Soccer has had in starting to embed itself into the national conciousness over the last twelve years or so. Football: the final frontier, indeed.

13. Al Ahly: Africa’s biggest side, Al Ahly (from Cairo) are said to have fifty million supporters in Egypt. They have been the champions of Africa three times in the last four years and, if FIFA ever gets around to bringing in a meaningful world club championship, they will be arguably the only African side capable of launching a serious bid to be the world champions.

14. Penarol: Supported by forty-five per cent of the entire population of Uruguay, Penarol are one of South America’s most successful teams, having one the Copa Libertadores five times and the champions of Uruguay forty-six times. Along with Montevideo rivals Nacional, they provided the backbone of the Uruguay teams that won the World Cup in 1930 and 1950.

15. Benfica: Benfica have fourteen million supporters worldwide and, with 160,000 members, are recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest registered supporters club in the world. In terms of their importance, well, Benfica gave European football one of its first black superstars in Eusebio, and they were also the club which broke Real Madrid’s stranglehold on the European Cup, winning it in 1961 and 1962.

16. Flamengo: With an estimated thirty-five million supporters, Flamengo are (somewhat inexplicably, considering their comparative lack of success) Brazil’s most popular club. They may have been a basket case both on and off the pitch, but they make this list because their alumni is little short of a who’s who of Brazilian football. Socrates, Junior, Zico, Garrincha, Alair, Romario and Bebeto are just a few of the players to have worn the Flamengo shirt.

17. Boca Juniors: Twenty-four Argentine championships and six times the champions of South America, Boca are arguably South America’s biggest club. They also gave the world Diego Maradona – possibly the greatest footballer of all time.

18. Kazhima Antlers: The youngest club on this list, Kashima Antlers have been the biggest success story in the short history of The J-League, which has established Japan as a potential force in the international game. Kashima have won six of the fifteen J-League championships since the competition’s formation and are, on a global scale, one of Asia’s most famous clubs.

19. Olympique de Marseille: Although their most successful years were blighted by fraud and financial irregularity, OM remain, in a country that has a curiously ambivalent attitude towards club football, an institution. With an average home crowd of over 50,000 and a list of former player list that includes Chris Waddle, Marcel Desailly and Claude Makelele, OM’s eight Championnat wins starts to look somewhat perplexingly light.

20. Enfield Town: You may have expected me to put AFC Wimbledon or FC United of Manchester in here, but Enfield Town are the grandfathers of the movement that uses supporters trusts for fans to create their own destinies and break free of the madness of some football clubs. Infuriated by a chairman that sold their ground and squandered the money, Enfield Town were formed by supporters of the former non-league giants, Enfield FC. They recently reached an agreement to move back into a renovated stadium near their old home, after eight years away.

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Ian

Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

Comments
  • February 25, 2009 at 1:12 am

    Michael

    As important as a fourth division Italian club is that hasn’t won a title in 95 years (despite their importance of being Italy’s first club) and the bicycle kick is to the game, I would argue for another club as its replacement: Liverpool FC.

    Qualifications (good and bad)
    England’s most successful football club and most trophies in English football (5 European Cup titles, 3 UEFA Cup titles, 18 league titles, 7 FA Cup titles)
    5 league tiles in 7 years (1940-1947) and 4 European cups in 8 years (1977-1984)
    5 year ban of English clubs from UEFA competition due to involvement in Heysel Stadium disaster, one of the worst cases of hooliganism in world football
    Hillsborough Stadium Disaster, whose 96 deaths led to the removal of standing terraces and stand barriers from English football stadiums

  • February 25, 2009 at 2:25 am

    Michael Wood

    I cannot believe you missed Melchester Rovers off the list.

  • February 25, 2009 at 9:25 am

    Paul Grech

    In reality, it is all a bit academical: for each one of us the most important club is the one that he or she follows.

  • February 25, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Niall Kennedy

    Darwen FC: the two players were signed from Partick FC not Partick Thistle FC.

  • February 25, 2009 at 9:43 am

    Chris Taylor

    I would arguely that FC United’s NWCL win (and beyond) was more important than any pan-Continental, Penarol, trophy win.

    Wrongly, like. But I’d still argue it.

    The real top twenty:

    1. My lot.
    2. Kris Stewart’s lot.
    3. Your lot.
    4. Let them eat cake.

  • February 25, 2009 at 10:33 am

    Dave

    What about Blackburn Olympic? They won the 1883 FA Cup and so ended the dominance of the public schools; from then on, the latter were in decline and the force in the land was the northern industrial teams who would buy and pay players and play a passing game influenced by the Scots.

    You’re right that Darwen were a bigger team (indeed, Olympic also won the East Lancashire Cup against Darwen the same year and considered that result a far better and more important one (as did the punters – the attendance was greater) but the version of football represented by them triumphed when Olympic won the Cup.

    Olympic represented the artisans of the town, and after one more hurrah the following year, soon collapsed; Rovers represented the middle classes and professionals and could pay more, and the club’s best players were poached.

  • February 25, 2009 at 10:39 am

    Linda

    Nice to see Darwen FC there after all their problems. We are the town’s online news source and we have followed every step of their troubles. Happy to report following all publicity that crowd numbers are up after dwindling to just a handful over the years.

  • February 25, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Martin Drake

    I’d have Brian Lomax’s Northampton Town instead of the Enfield Town quitters myself ;o)

  • February 25, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Jon Bon Blade

    What about Sheffield United..? I know they’re rubbish, they always have been rubbish and, more than likely, they always will be rubbish, but they are the team I support. I can only speak for myself, so any list of ‘most important’ teams will always have The Blades at number one..!

  • February 25, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Rusty Blade - Rotherham

    I think they missed “United” from between Sheffield and FC for number 1.

  • February 25, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Ron Merlin

    Great to see Enfield Town there rather than the new Wombles. Excellent!

  • February 25, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Tim Standbrook

    Great to hear the boys are back home in (near?) Southbury Road.

    Back to the glory days before the club was trashed, I have a photo of my brother and me holding the FA Amateur Trophy that Enfield won in 1967 against Skelmersdale. The boys shared an evening at the Cambridge pub, Edmonton (on the Great Cambridge Roundabout, North Circular Rd – sadly now an underpass), with one of the best Tottenham sides there ever was that won the FA Cup in May 1967, and we had the two cups in the same bar. May the glory days return! OK – maybe next season.

    Incidentally – how about Tottenham – the only ever non-league side to win the FA Cup – 1901 (and the first side to win the double – 1961)? Bring on 2011.

  • February 25, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    admin

    Tim: Enfield Town have entered (or are entering) into an agreement with the local council to redevelop the QE2 Athletics Stadium, on the other side of the playing fields to the old Southbury Road site. I wasn’t born until several years after 1967, so I can’t claim to remember that – I was at the 1982 and 1988 FA Trophy finals, though.

  • February 26, 2009 at 1:29 am

    Dan Clough

    Great tp see some recognition for Darwen FC here in a good article. It’s been tough for them recently, having only just avoided liquidation. It’s nice to see someone looking back to the days when football was made, up north where it all matters ;-p

    To add to Dave’s point – Rovers almost folded when Olympic won the 1883 FA Cup. They went on to win it three times in a row, however, and the rest is history. SUPER ROVERS!

  • February 26, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Manchester United Look East for New Sponsor, The Football Glossary to End All Football Glossaries, Rafa Signed Raul, and more

    […] help further aid your football knowledge, here’s an excellent piece for the football history buffs out there, and a fine lesson to those who think only the big clubs […]

  • February 26, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Manchester United Look East for New Sponsor, The Football Glossary to End All Football Glossaries, Rafa Signed Raul, and more | Football Parade!

    […] help further aid your football knowledge, here’s an excellent piece for the football history buffs out there, and a fine lesson to those who think only the big clubs […]

  • February 26, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    CTT

    Wot no West Auckland Town?

    And us instead of bloody Exeter, surely?

  • February 26, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Iain Waugh

    What about the might Aston Villa? Our Director William McGregor founded the English Football League in 1888, have won it along with the FA Cup 7 times, and of course are one of the few to have won a European Cup.

    Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Arsenal and Chelsea fans.

  • February 27, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    Peter Taylor

    I would imagine that Preston North End(1889) & Aston Villa(1895)followers would be fairly upset at the suggestion that Spurs were the first tean to achieve the “double”.

  • February 28, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Manchester United Look East for New Sponsor, The Football Glossary to End All Football Glossaries, Rafa Signed Raul, and more | Footy Freak - Football News

    […] help further aid your football knowledge, here’s an excellent piece for the football history buffs out there, and a fine lesson to those who think only the big clubs […]

  • March 3, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    john hunter

    manchester united are obviously the most important club, anybody who thinks differently is in denial

  • March 11, 2009 at 3:24 am

    Breno

    Damm man..this list sucks. ok. sheffield can be the most but..flamengo an basket case?? come on.ask liverpool about it….the team with more supporters in the whole world..and you forgot Santos FC.. this team has won everything when Pelé played there

  • March 12, 2009 at 11:27 am

    AC

    Obviously every list has arguable ins and outs and different favourites or bias but how on earth did Marseille get in there? Each of the rest at least gets a line or two to justify it but Marseille appear ot have 50,000 fans and used to have CHris Waddle on the teamsheet!

  • March 27, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    Jai

    Mohan Bagan—-definitely dis team is missing here….

  • June 17, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Mark

    Rangers FC – the world’s most successful club.

  • July 29, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Jack

    Celtic were crowned European champions after a heroic 2-1 win over Inter Milan, when a team managed by Jock Stein, all born within 30 miles of Glasgow. Although other teams may have won the European cup, no other have done it with a fully home grown team. Worth a mention. Glasgow is the real home of football!

  • August 1, 2009 at 6:27 am

    Goose

    What about Rangers ? Surely being Scottish champions a world record 52 times deserves to be mentioned ?
    I agree also with Jack’s comment that Glasgow is the TRUE home of football !!!

  • August 18, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    Justin

    Interesting list. But Boca Juniors didn’t really give el Diego to the world. Argentinos Juniors produced him, and he played 5 full years there before going to Boca for one solitary season.

  • August 19, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    ecky

    DID YOU KNOW THAT RANGERS & CELTIC ARE THE ONLY !! “2” CLUBS THAT ARE NOT ,ALLOWED TO PARADE THRU THE STREETS IN ANY SHAPE OR FORM , WITH A TROPHY. THEY ONLY PARADE IN THERE OWN STADIUM (VIOLENCE)

  • August 22, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    WOLVES FAN

    wot aload of tosh the only club on that list that didn’t buy manipulate or cheat anybody was the Mighty Wolves!!1

  • October 28, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    Mark

    What about Sheffield Wednesday for being a laughing stock TEE HEE

  • October 29, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Dan Airey

    Everton

    Founder members of the Football League in 1888

    Founder members of the FA Premier League in 1992

    First club to be presented with the League Championship trophy

    First club to present medals for winning the Championship

    First club to play officially in Blue and White (1901)

    First club to stage an FA Cup final 1894, Notts County v Bolton Wanderers

    First club on Merseyside to win the FA Cup 1906

    First club to go on an overseas football tour

    First club to construct a purpose built football stadium

    First club to have a four-sided stadium with two tier stands

    First club to have a stadium with a three tier stand

    First club to issue a regular match programme for home fixtures

    First club to have a player (William Ralph Dean) score 60 league goals

    First club to wear numbered shirts from 1-11 (1933 FA Cup final)

    First club to have a church attached to its stadium

    First club to install dugouts

    First club to install undersoil heating

    First club to win a penalty shootout in the European Cup 1970 v Borussia Moenchengladbach

    First club to play 4000 top-flight games

    First club to amass 5000 League points

    First club to play 100 seasons in the top-flight

    First club to stage a World Cup semi-final in Britain

    First club to have the youngest Premiership goalscorer in two consecutive seasons with two different players

    First club to pay a £100,000 transfer fee when Alan Ball moved from Blackpool in 1966.

    First club to be featured in a TV game in August 1936 v Arsenal. Not live (pre-recorded).

    First club to have scoreboard half time/full time facility

    First club to have its own podcast

    First club to have its own online social networking site.

    First club to sell tickets via text message.

    First club to use nets

  • November 22, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    David

    Where Are Celtic Fc? First British Team To Win The European Cup.

  • January 8, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    bluebells lanzarote

    Glasgow Rangers are officially the most successful club side in world football. First club to reach over 100 major honors.
    This is surely worth a mention. W.A.T.P

  • January 15, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    scottandbryanreadinpish

    First (AND ONLY) club in the WORLD to win 52 League Titles!!! EVER!!! Glasgow Rangers – WATP!!

  • January 17, 2010 at 11:40 am

    doing the bouncy stevie fae oz

    the figures don’t lie,man who? liverpool,chelsea,arsenalmbarca real madrid the list goes on with brilliant clubs even that other mob but we all know that GLASGOW RANGERS ARE SIMPLY THE BEST , you all just got to deal with it ,and we also have the best old firm derby in the world no questions about it,glasgow is the home of football.

  • January 17, 2010 at 11:42 am

    doing the bouncy stevie fae oz

    W-A-T-P

  • January 17, 2010 at 11:43 am

    doing the bouncy stevie fae oz

    the figures don’t lie,man who? liverpool,chelsea,arsenal,barca real madrid the list goes on with brilliant clubs even that other mob but we all know that GLASGOW RANGERS ARE SIMPLY THE BEST , you all just got to deal with it ,and we also have the best old firm derby in the world no questions about it,glasgow is the home of football.

  • January 19, 2010 at 7:36 am

    Andrew

    AEK ATHENS BY FAR…WHY? For 3 reasons (the 3rd one is the real important one

    1) It’s the Big Club of the Greek Refugees of Constantinopole (istanbul) along with paok…The badge of the team is the two headed eagle symbol of the Byzantine Empire…so you have the symbol (it’s not a random badge with a ball and a crown for example)

    2) It’s a Club that has won 12 HEROIC Greek Championships against the dictatoric duo of Panathinaikos and Olympiacos (they control almost everything in Greek sports)

    3)7/4/1999 Serbia , NATO’s bombing, one club breaking into the bombings and playing a friendly match against Partizan
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PBqmLzO4FI

    Thank you

  • January 19, 2010 at 8:04 am

    Andrew

    Football is not only contracts – signings – money – sponsors

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YB4NFGVL9Bk

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YELnwVsat8k

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZhr8uuwqy0

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6-xQDJBruQ

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhSMTHRwyto

    On that Last Video Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople
    (he is like the Pope of the Orthodox World) says AEK is mostly an idea and ideas never die…

    If you have the mood and the patience check out these videos..
    (oh and just for the record..even though panathinaikos is the most “succesfull” greek club in europe, AEK Athens is the only Greek club to have participated in the quarter-final round of all three European competitions at least once,AEK Athens is the only Greek club to have reached the semi-final of the UEFA Cup (1976-77).
    AEK Athens is the only Greek club to have participated in the Champions League without losing a single game (2002-03).

    Thanks for the hospitality of this site

  • April 8, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Dylan Brown

    Rangers FC, Most successful club in the world, 111 major trophy wins

  • April 8, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    jay

    WHERE ARE EVERTON LIKE ? CARNT BELIVE EVERTON R NOT ON THAT LIST !

  • April 26, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    tombo

    Are there any site rules?

    The only thing that we ask is that you keep the comments decent and that you disagree with us (which you are more than welcome to do), you keep your criticism constructive. Abusive messages will be deleted without appearing on the site and this extract from the site FAQ will appear in place of them, so you may as well not bother.

  • May 1, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    david storrier

    rangers founded 1872 won 53 league titles world record also counting all major trophies 113 the only team in the world to do so i rest my case people who open sites like this should tell the truth,we are the peole,127 years of magic

  • May 13, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Alan

    Rangers might have won the most titles, but it’s in the SPL. That needs to be taken into consideration. Half their amount of titles in England, Spain or Italy is worth far more.

  • May 27, 2010 at 7:21 am

    Dick Trombone

    Crikey these Rangers fans are thick. (Celtic ones are too mind you). Neither of the clubs should be in the most important 20 football clubs because they are not important.

  • June 12, 2010 at 3:50 am

    bob

    sport club not is a big club in brasil
    they selected “club dos 13″ club of 13
    flamengo
    vasco
    botafogo
    fluminense
    palmeiras(champion century in brazil)
    sao paulo
    corinthians
    santos
    gremio
    internacional
    bahia
    vitoria
    i belive palmeiras the best club in brazil
    So many times champion

  • July 8, 2010 at 10:51 am

    jonny taylor

    watp fuckin english cunts tell me the last time any club takes a quater of a million people 2 a euro final

  • July 15, 2010 at 3:50 am

    John G

    well said jonny taylor by the way rangers – first british club to reach a european final – 53 league titles – WORLD RECORD !!! – 113 overall . how the fuck were not on this list is madness man. WATP

  • July 20, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Ali

    how the hell can someone miss United from this list…they are truely the worlds best and the most succesful club!!

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