Aston Villa with the FA Cup, 1887
Which was the most successful football club of the Victorian era? In the earliest days of the association game there were no cups or leagues with which to measure success. Football's first competition was the Youdan Cup, a Sheffield-based tournament won in 1867 by Hallam FC. But it wasn't until 1871/72 that the FA instigated its national Challenge Cup, with the first final won by Wanderers. The Football League kicked-off in 1888/89, with Preston North End the first winners.
Our table, below, ranks Victorian football clubs according to total FA Cup and Football League wins from season 1871/72 to 1899/1900. The cup was considered much more prestigious than the league at the time, so where clubs have an equal number of total wins, those with more cup wins are given priority.
Aston Villa won eight major honours during the Victorian era – three cups and five league titles. Blackburn Rovers and Wanderers each won five FA Cups. Only three clubs – Aston Villa, Preston North End and Sheffield United – won both the cup and the league in the Victorian era. Preston North End and Aston Villa both won 'the double' in a single season – in 1888/89 and 1896/97 respectively.
There is no place in the table for Manchester United (then called Newton Heath) or Liverpool, the two most successful football clubs of the 20th century. Chelsea didn't exist in the Victorian era, Arsenal weren't successful until the 1930s, and the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Newcastle United didn't win major honours until the Edwardian era.
The table only includes English clubs (although Scottish, Welsh and Irish clubs did participate in the FA Cup). Queen's Park won the Scottish Cup on ten occasions in Victorian times, so they can perhaps make an alternative claim to be the most successful British club of the era.
Based on entries in the Victorian Football Miscellany, a brand new collection of trivia, facts and anecdotes from football's earliest years, by Paul Brown.
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