PLAYERS AND FANS of clubs across the globe come together each week in anticipation of a glorious victory or simply the hope of a spirited performance.
Whatever their expectations, wherever their game is played, each player and fan owes a debt of gratitude to two Yorkshiremen who in 1857 founded Sheffield Football Club, recognised by FIFA as the oldest club in world football and the providers of the game’s first set of rules.
Now, nearly 160 years after it all began, Sheffield FC are looking to lay down roots and return home to where it all began.
“BORN IN SHEFFIELD”
Whilst the British can claim to have bestowed many cultural gifts upon the world from Shakespeare to the Beatles; the simple gift of games and the rules to play them by are perhaps Britain’s greatest gift to the world..
By the mid-19th century, football had evolved from the chaotic and muddy mass-brawls that had taken place across the globe, into a sport played by the gentlemen schoolboys of England’s public schools and universities.
Informal kickabouts were by now taking place on scraps of land across England’s burgeoning industrial cities by men from many different trades and walks of life. The Football Association, the preserve of a London-based “old boy” network were still deciding whether they favoured a handling or kicking game.
What was missing was a unified set of rules for footballers to adopt and respect.
Then in 1857, Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest, two Yorkshiremen looking for a way to keep fit in the close Cricket season formed the Sheffield Football Club and later published the so-called “Sheffield Rules” which introduced such innovations as the crossbar, the free kick, the corner and the throw-in. A later innovation, that of the local derby, followed on Boxing Day 1860 when Sheffield FC met Hallam FC; a footballing rivalry still contested and celebrated to this day.
The laws of the game have since evolved to include referees, the offside rule and goal-line technology but with that first set of rules, football as we know and love it was born in Sheffield.
“HOME OF FOOTBALL”
Few grounds can have as great a claim on the title of “Home of Football” as the delightfully named Coach and Horses Stadium, which has hosted Sheffield Football Club since 2001.
Situated just south of Sheffield in Dronfield, Derbyshire the ground is located on land to the rear of the Coach and Horses pub where fans can enjoy liquid refreshment from the local Thornbridge brewery. The ground had previously been the home of local amateur side Norton Woodseats before financial difficulties caused the team to fold.
Now, after a nomadic existence of 140 years without a permanent home in the City of Steel, Sheffield FC have launched a crowd-funding campaign to “rebuild the Home of Football” and are looking to raise a total of £2m to return the club back to the Olive Grove sports ground where their story began.
Sheffield FC are not seeking a string of promotions towards the Football League or to rival city neighbours Wednesday or United. Their goal is for Olive Grove, close to the city centre, to become a resource for the local community and a place of pilgrimage for football fans.
Plans for Olive Grove’s development are modest and in keeping with the clubs’ values of promoting amateur sport and community engagement. Primary goals are focused on securing the playing area with fencing and general groundwork improvements before a ground suitable for non-league football with changing rooms and supporters facilities is built. When complete, Olive Grove will house a community centre featuring a museum and educational facilities celebrating the role the club has played in the game’s development.
The club’s traditions of community and amateurism have seen the Sheffield Football Club’s campaign draw support from across the globe including Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund who have signalled their backing for the scheme.
Sheffield FC Chairman Richard Tims said: “I have just returned from Europe where I briefed football clubs and organisations about our plans and the fundraising efforts. As a result a number of clubs – including Borussia Dortmund – have said they will financially support our campaign.
“We really are establishing a new spiritual home for football on the original ground and, as a charitable foundation, we will continue to protect and preserve the world’s first football club, back where it all began.
“Let’s all remember, without Sheffield FC there would be no game as we know it today. So, the efforts of so many people and, in particular, the city council and Olive Grove Sports Club to make this happen should be applauded. We hope it will provide the impetus for people and football fans across the world to back our unique fundraising campaign and, of course, visit our original home adding to Sheffield’s appeal as a destination city.”
Critics may say that modern football’s oligarch owners and egotistical multi-millionaire players are far removed from the values of respect, integrity and community championed by Nathaniel Creswick, William Prest and Sheffield Football Club.
Yet nearly 160 years on, as football comes together to support the club where it all began, the legacy of the Sheffield Football Club’s founding fathers is more keenly felt than they could ever have imagined.
For more information on how you can support Sheffield Football Club’s bid to build a home for football, please visit www.theworldsfirst.org where you can pledge you support and even buy tickets for Sheffield FC’s first game back at Olive Grove.