The club was founded during a public meeting at the French-Arabic school on Laroussi Zarrouk Street, in Sousse. Chedli Boujemla was elected as the first chairman of the multi-sport club. La Soussienne and La Musulmane ("The Muslim") were rejected as club names in favor of L'Étoile Sportive. Club members eventually settled on L'Étoile Sportive du Sahel to reflect the goal of representing a broader region than Sousse alone. The Protectorate administration officially recognized the club on July 17, 1925. In March 1926, Ali Larbi became chairman of the soccer section of the club, which entered the Fédération Tunisienne de Football.
Its first team members were Mohamed Bouraoui, Abdelkader Ben Amor, Abdelhamid Baddaï, Sadok Zmentar, Sadok Chalouat, Ali Guermachi, Mohamed Mtir, Benaïssa Hicheri, Béchir Dardour et Tahar Kenani.
Bouha, the official mascot of the club
ESS's first major honour was the Tunisian Ligue Professionnelle 1 title in 1950, but they had to wait 8 years to pick it up again. They won their first Tunisian President Cup in 1959, and completed a league and cup double in 1963 – becoming one of the first Tunisian teams to do so. But ESS struggled throughout the 1970s and 1980s, although they did manage to win back-to-back league titles in 1986 and 1987. In 1995 Etoile won their first continental trophy, winning the CAF Cup. 2 years later in 1997 they completed a league and African Cup Winners' Cup double, and they continued to impress on the continental stage – they won the African Super Cup in 1998 and the CAF Cup (for the 2nd time) in 1999. But Sahel's problem was that they struggled domestically – a perfect example was when they won the league in 1987 and failed to win it again until 10 years later. It was exactly the same in 1997. They won the African Cup Winners' Cup (for the 2nd time) in 2003, and made it to their 1st ever African Champions League final a year later, but lost to Nigerian outfit Enyimba on penalties. ESS lost in the final of the same competition the following season, being defeated by Egyptian giants Al-Ahly 3-0 over two legs. Although, they did have some success that year – winning the Tunisian League Cup for the first time in their history. In 2006 Etoile won the CAF Confederation Cup for the first time, but continued to struggle in the league. But the 2006–2007 season proved to be possibly the greatest season in the club's history – they won the CLP 1 title and the African Champions League title (for the first time). The final of the Champions League that year was a memorable one, as ESS played Al-Ahly in a repeat of the 2005 final. The first leg finished 0-0 in Sousse, and with ESS huge underdogs, they won 3-1 in Egypt to take the trophy. But despite this they missed out on the league again the following campaign (after losing on the last day of the season) and then in 2008–2009 they finished 3rd, which meant manager Gernot Rohr was sacked. Lofti Rhim then became manager but just till October 2009, Lotfi Rhim resignition held Dr Hamed Kammoun (Vice president at that time and currently president) to call the club son Khaled Ben Sassi who did a good performance till the winter of 2009. On December 22, Piet Hamberg became General manager and the first Dutch who take a such position in a Tunisian club. Hamberg could not finish the season and was fired after a defeat against historical rivals club africain 3-0. Coach assistant Mohamed Mkacher and the youth team trainer Naoufel Team were appointed for the rest of the season. A new exprerience with the former Morocco national coach Mohamed Fakher just started on June 2010 along with a huge recruitment campaign for the coming season.