ZTE traces its roots back to 1912, at the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its first match was a 4–2 defeat to a team from Vasvár. The team was first composed of members of a literary and debating society. ZTE flourished under coach József Vadász, but World War I halted its progress. In 1920, Zalaegerszegi TE, or "Gymanistics Club of Zalaegerszeg," was born. They were defeated in their debut match, losing 2–1 to AK Szombathely on August 21, 1920, but were motivated by a crowd of over 2,000 fans.
ZTE's league history began in 1924, when they joined the Hungarian second division. The club won the title a decade later and entered the top flight in 1934. However, the start of World War II under the regime of AdmiralMiklós Horthy saw ZTE's field and equipment confiscated. After the war, in 1957, ZTE merged with two other local teams, signalling the rebirth of the club.
From then on to the 1990s, however, ZTE did not really challenge the Hungarian title much. The league was dominated by Budapest club Ferencvárosi TC. In 1994, ZTE managed to gain a solid foothold on the Hungarian first division.
Róbert Waltner scored 92 goals for Zalaegerszeg having become one of the most iconic and prolific figures of the club
Imre Gellei managing Zalaegerszeg between 1983-86 and 2004-05
In the 2000s the club reached their zenith by winning the Hungarian League for the first time in the club history. In the 2001–02 season Zalaegrszeg finished second in the first stage of the championship gaining 61 points while Budapest rivals MTK Budapest FC 64 points. In the championship play-off Zalaegerszeg could secure their first title by gaining 71 points.Péter Bozsik's team could overtake Budapest rivals Ferencváros and MTK Budapest. Krisztián Kenesei and Gábor Egressy were the key figures of the title-winning team by scoring 37 goals. In the 2002–03 Zalaegerszeg could not finish in the first six teams of the first stage of the Hungarian League therefore they could play in the relegation play-off as reigning champions. They finished first in the relegation play-off but it was a real disappointement for the former champion. In the following seasons ZTE came 9th, 6th and 11th, respectively.
In the 2002–03 UEFA Champions League qualifying phase Zalaegerszeg defeated Croatian champions NK Zagreb on away goals. The first match was played in Zalaegerszeg and the club won it by 1–0. The only goal was scored by Darko Ljubojević. In the second leg Zagreb was winning by 2–0 when in the 87th minute Zalaegerszeg was awarded a penalty which was scored by Flórián Urbán. ZTE beat Zagreb on away goals. In the third qualifying round Zalaegerszeg faced with the English giant club Manchester United. In the first leg, ZTE provided a stunning shock by winning 1–0 in Hungary with a last minute goal from Béla Koplárovics. However, in the return leg at Old Trafford, Man United won a convincing 5–0 victory.Ruud van Nistelrooy scored in the 5th minute and in the 75th minute then David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ole Gunnar Solskjær scored. The English side progressed to the first group stage with a 5–1 aggregate victory. In the 2006–07 season after nine rounds Zalaegerszeg was on the top of the league table. At the end of the season the club finished third securing a place in the European competitions of the Intertoto Cup 2007. In the spring of 2009 János Csank was appointed as the coach of the club. The success coach has already won two Hunagrian League titles with Vác and Ferencváros.
In the 2010–11 season Zalaegerszeg was competing for the Europa League position with Budapest rivals Ferencváros but ZTE finished fourth and could not secure a place for the qualifiers. In the 2011–12 season Zalaegerszeg started the season with five consecutive defeats which resulted the dismissal of János Csank. He was replaced by former Ferencváros coach László Prukner. The first half of the 2011–12 Hungarian League season was a nightmare for the club since they finished last gaining only 6 points without any victories. On April 21, 2012 Zalaegerszeg were relegated to the second division of the Hungarian League after the defeat against titleholders Videoton.
On 15 May 2014, former Zalaegerszeg player Gergely Kocsárdi was elected as director of the club. It was also announced that the company called Pharos '95 gained more than 50% of the shares of the club for about 16 million HUF.
Zalaegerszeg play their matches in the ZTE Arena. The stadium is able to host 14000 people. Due to the increased attention Zalaegerszeg played their 2002–03 UEFA Champions League match against Manchester United at the Ferenc Puskás Stadium.