Several major football clubs have uncertain origins, and none more so than Stoke City. Even the official club website says "details remain sketchy". However, Stoke have a strong claim for being the oldest current Premier League club.
Both Association Football and the Men Who Made It and The Book of Football say Stoke were formed in 1863, the same year in which the FA was formed and the Laws of the Game were created. However, as venerable as those two Edwardian books are, they are known to contain mistakes.
The Book of Football in particular gives an account of the club being formed by a group of Old Carthusians (former pupils of Charterhouse school), including one named Armand, in 1863. However, there does not seem to be any contemporary evidence of that club existing, and The Field newspaper subsequently reported that an association football club had been formed in Stoke by former Charterhouse pupils, including one named Almond, in 1868. Investigations by the Before the D football blog conclude that the 1863 claim is an error, and that "Armand" was actually "Almond".
It is known that Stoke Ramblers, as the club was known, played a match on 17 October 1868 at the Victoria Cricket Club ground, drawing with EW May's team 1-1. The Stoke goal was scored by Henry Almond, the Old Carthusian who can be considered the club's founder.
Ten years later, in 1878, Stoke Ramblers merged with Stoke Victoria Athletic to become Stoke Football Club. Stoke entered the FA Cup for the first time in 1883, and became founder members of the Football League in 1888, under influential secretary/manager Harry Lockett. Star man Bill Rowley was one of the best goalkeepers in the game. He won two caps for England and was Stoke's first international player.
Stoke struggled in the Football League, finishing bottom of the 12-team single tier competition in both of the opening two seasons, then failing to win re-election, and being replaced by Sunderland. Stoke went on to win the Football Alliance, before being swiftly re-elected into the Football League when it expanded to include 14 clubs in 1891.
They survived "test match" play-offs twice over the following decade, and retained their Football League and First Division status. However, financial difficulties in the Edwardian era saw the club struggle. They were relegated to the Second Division in 1907, then resigned from the Football League in 1908.
The club subsequently folded due to the financial difficulties. However, a new club, also called Stoke FC, was immediately formed. The official club history regards this new club as a continuation of the new one - in a similar line of thinking taken by several major clubs. However some sources, including again Before the D, say that, as the new club had no formal connection to the old one, the new club is the origin club, and therefore Stoke City were formed in 1908.
What is undisputed is that the "new" Stoke FC took ownership of the Victoria Ground in 1919, and won (re-)election to the Football League Second Division in 1921. It was following the granting of city status to the town in 1925 that Stoke FC were renamed Stoke City.
Above: Stoke FC 1877-78, from The Book of Football
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