The 20 “Most Important” Football Clubs In The World

120 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   February 24, 2009  |     95

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
  • July 20, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Johnny

    Aston Villa founded the football league (with 2 other teams) and founded the Premiership. Pretty important to football id say.

  • July 20, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Johnny

    And Totenham were not the first team to do the ‘double’ it was blackburn and then Villa

  • August 15, 2010 at 9:56 am

    BigBluenose

    Without a doubt has to be Glasgow Rangers as the most important club and have to give Glasgow Celtic their fair share of credit also. I hate all these people saying “yea but its the SPL”. Before 1992 when Sky started throwing money at the PL, Rangers or Celtic would have easily gave any of the top teams a run for their money. So for Alan up above, those league titles are just as important as any other. WATP, Glasgow, TRUE home of football.

  • September 8, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Kyle T

    Linfield FC (Northern Ireland) should be on this list as they’ve won 49 leagues and over 50 cups easily the most successful team in Britain perhaps even Europe..

  • September 11, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Ahmed

    el3abbb ya ahlay

  • October 1, 2010 at 1:24 am

    Duncan Edwards

    How Aston Villa Football Club,are not included in this list is absolutely absurd.It was there associates/directors whom,were responsible for forming the football league in the motherland of football,so think on ! That fact and achievement,alone,is a more than adequate criteria to be named in the top twenty greatest football club’s in the world.Your failure to include the club,really is quite shocking.

  • October 1, 2010 at 1:25 am

    Duncan Edwards

    ‘Their’ not there,a far lesser crime/mistake than not including Aston Villa in the list.

  • October 2, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    gjjkh

    And what about Liverpool????????!!!!!!!! They are the most successful f.c. in the history of England.

  • October 14, 2010 at 6:11 am

    robert

    Wheres Rangers fc?? they have won more trophies than any other team in the world!!

  • October 28, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Rich

    wheres Manchester Unied Fc they are a great team. i love real madrid the best Galacticos. WOOO|HOOO

  • November 14, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    Scratch

    Cardiff City FC, the only club to take the FA Cup out of England.

  • November 17, 2010 at 10:55 am

    SHUBHAM M

    LIVERPOOL FC IS THE BEST EVER CLUB THAT I HAVE SEEN SO IT SHOULD BE ON TOP OF THE TABLE

  • December 14, 2010 at 3:21 am

    ThisIsAnfield

    Liverpool should be included… They played the best game in football history along side AC Milan.. 25th May 2005, at The Ataturk Stadium, Istanbul, Turkey.. UEFA Champions League Final.. and they are the most decorated club in england..

  • December 23, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Andy

    It’s not about success, it’s about IMPORTANCE. I think they got this one right.

  • January 3, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Mark

    Glasgow Rangers should easily be on this list as they are THE most successful club in the world as they have won ’53’ scotish championships, ’33’ scottish cups and ’26’ scottish league cups with a uefa cup winners cup 1972.

  • January 4, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Soares Sebastiao Gomes dos Santos

    O Real Madrid de Espanha é sem sombras de dúvidas o melhor Clube do Mundo mais bem sucedido a seguir está o S.L.Benfica de Portugal… Os dados que levam-me a esta estatistica é o número de títulos ganhos a nível interno e Internacionais para os dois clubes e como se não bastasse, o número ded adeptos e sócios que têm…Ninguem conseque parar esses clubes!

  • January 10, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    KOFI BEN

    I understand why BARCELONA FC skippid your mind because BARCA is more a team.Forget about the histories and talk about how BARCA is saving the lives of football lovers.

  • January 18, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Wigster

    Aston Villa founded (not just founder members but founded) the football league – the first of its kind in the world and the basis for all others.

    Their exclusion makes this list an absolute joke.

  • February 4, 2011 at 8:29 am

    Matthew Keenan

    its not about who is the most successful.therefore no need for boring lists that just have united and liverpool on top. (by the way, United are the most successful club in england now in terms of silverware and profile NOT liverpool) yes maybe aston villa should be in there as league founders but in that case so should clubs like everton. Maybe even nottingham forest for retaining the european cup. But i can see what this list is getting at and tend to agree with it

  • February 4, 2011 at 10:40 am

    oheneba

    why wasnt chelsea part it is the greatest club ever

  • February 6, 2011 at 1:39 am

    stephen

    what about Juventus!?

  • February 10, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    Robert Maxwell

    What about Oxford united! Milk cup winners in 1986 legendery team!!

  • February 23, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Christy

    how the f**k are Liverpool FC not there! there the most succesful team in Braitan! 18 leagues and 5 UCL cups! WTF

  • March 10, 2011 at 12:04 am

    Sons

    Dumbarton FC should be on the list. Football was in it’s infancy and Dumbarton were Scotlands first champions and went on to beat Englands champions Blackburn. In 1988 Dumbarton beat WBA in a centenary challenge match to retain the first FIFA World Cup. Originally the World Cup was a club championship won by the Dunbartonshire side Renton.

  • March 12, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Tierney Talib

    You forgot Sporting CP
    With the best accademies in the world where were born players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Simão Sabrosa, Luis Figo, João Moutinho, Pedro Pauleta and so on.

  • April 2, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Gavin

    Maradons only played 40 games for Boca, Argentina Juniors “gave the world Maradona”

    id say Santos should be on the list, heard of Pele

  • April 4, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Matt Stevenson

    Man Utd and Aston Villa should be on this list. Villa for the reasons previously stated, but Man Utd are the most supported club in the world. Approximately 5% of the world’s population support Man Utd. 5% doesn’t sound like much, but think about how many clubs there are out there. I’d be extremely surprised if there is another club that has 2% of the world supporting them. Marseille get on the list just for being the biggest team in France, similar situation with NY Cosmos for America. Thats hardly something revolutionary. If Penarol can get on for being widely supported in Urugauy, then surly Man Utd should get on for being the most supported club, not just in football, but world sport.

  • April 27, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Les

    Clapton Football Club from Forest Gate, London E7 are acknowledged by the Football Association as being the first English club to play on the continent when they beat a Belgian XI at Antwerp 7 – 0 in 1892. Surely surpassing Exeter City at number 7.

  • May 3, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Jermain Defoe

    A lot of people are forgetting that this list is the 20 most important football clubs, not the ‘best’ or ‘most successful’. Besides, any list of this sort will be down to opinion.

    I think this is a pretty good selection anyway. Pro Vercelli are the best =D

  • May 7, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Teddybear

    Hi

    I think the the list is pretty fair as it is but i do have to stress that Rangers FC Initated the CL as it is today, they held talks with UEFA officals of the structure and propossed a new Struture that would generate a wealthy flow of cash for competting teams regarding position, also i thinka mention should be given to Celtic FC they were the first British Team to win the CL and did it with all the players growing up within 30miles of each other a feat that has never nor will be achieved.

    Thanks for reading.

  • May 12, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    Evertonian

    Everton FC:
    Built the world’s first purpose made football ground, and also created Anfield.
    They were the first to host international matches at two separate grounds.
    They introduced the goalnet.
    They have had more seasons in the top-flight than any other club.
    Founder member of the league.

  • May 12, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    Evertonian

    Exeter were superseded by Everton and Spurs who toured South America in 1909, introducing Football in a big way to Argentina.

    A club named Everton is in Chile because of this impressive tour. They won their league as well.

  • May 15, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Matt Little

    Us Millwall fans are too humble to suggest we should be on it; but, along with Arsenal we did pioneer professional football in the south. As a Millwall fan I think we only deserve a sidenote, rather than a place. Good list.

  • May 17, 2011 at 1:43 am

    Fidel

    Bias speaking here, but how about Arsenal. Lol. Chapman basically pioneered the use of the center-back and laid the ground-work for the concept of counter-attacking. Chapman’s Arsenal were at the very least important tactically speaking.

    Very good list though, not faulting it one bit.

  • June 25, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Jamie

    Glasgow Rangers should really be on this list. The most succesful club in the world.

  • July 5, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Angus

    You’ve included Wolves for beating a few good teams in pre-season (which throws out your ‘most important’ argument by the way) but haven’t included the two most successful and most supported clubs in England. Astonishing.

  • July 25, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    paulista

    FLAMENGO, OF COURSE !!!

  • September 18, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    jon snow

    Flamengo’s lack of sucess! and still are the team with most supporters in Brazil only because the main TV support then a lot.

  • October 3, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    alzoon

    liverpool,sure they have a great team and they always had

  • October 9, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Arka-ic

    Love the list and agree with every last one. But I’d still like to add Chelsea to the list. First club to use numbers on their shirts and also the first to fly to an away game.
    :)

  • October 27, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Jacko

    Thanks for this. Lists are great for creating debate. Yet I’ve learnt stuff here – on that basis alone I like it. Some people make interesting cases for other important teams, not all.

    I could make case for own team, Tottenham (last amateur team to win FA Cup; as Evertonian says, toured Argentina, picking up original ‘sick parrot'; reintroduced ‘double winning’ in 1961; first established ‘home of Football’ in wider international game, becoming first British club to win a modern multi-national competition in 1963; equally, established international players as fixture of the English game, with Ardilles and Villa; re-introduced ‘big shorts’ to world game in 1991 even?). But, as Matt Little wisely says, perhaps still only amounts to side note?

  • November 3, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    william

    i will base on the world’s richest team to nominate manchester united as the most successful club in the world

  • November 24, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    hector

    the list is not complete,club like juventus should have a place in this order cos its the only club that has won all european organised club competition and also that of the world club competituion.

  • December 6, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Wes

    What about

  • December 6, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    wES

    What about Birmingham City FC? we were the first ones to make our team eat shredded wheat in the morning!…but honestly, some people are delusional, some of the reasons why they “should” be one of the most important clubs in the world ever are just plain silly. Liverpool and United fans are just moaning because there’s a “Top 10 or 20″ list that they’re not in, because they quite obviously have a god given right to be on every one of these lists don’t they. And as for the Villa…you’re havin’ a laugh aren’t you? With that argument, half the clubs in England that existed before 1900 should be on the list. Notts Forest have a good argument about their lack of inclusion however…

  • December 7, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    NELLY M

    forsure you are unfair to the sparkling clubs now in that you dont give them credit at all. not even manchester united?

  • December 13, 2011 at 11:13 am

    syed taha

    What about manchester united?

  • January 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    jim brown

    what team could take 250,000 supporters to a football match .only glasgow rangers uefa cup final in manchester.god bless the rangers

  • January 22, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Richy

    Notts county are the oldest club in the world. not sheffield

  • January 22, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    john hunter

    how can anyone take this website serious when it excludes a club like man utd the biggest most famous in the world the website must be run by a portsmouth fan haha

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