It’s Coming Home: How Sheffield kickstarted The Beautiful Game
In a new monthly column, Heritage Sheffield’s founder Richard Phipps picks an intriguing facet of the city’s culture and delves into the history behind it. This month, following on from the Euros fever that gripped the nation, Richard explores us the integral role the Steel City played in the formation of The Beautiful Game.
Kick-off Time: Sheffield’s Football Story
After the euphoria of beating Germany and reaching a major final for the first time in 55 years, the England football team stumbled at the last hurdle despite a valiant effort. We may have listened to Baddiel & Skinner for the last time in 2021, but here in the Steel City football really is coming home after Sheffield FC announced plans to move back within the city boundary into a purpose-built stadium. One of the sites considered for this exciting development is a few hundred yards from East Bank, the location of their first ever games all those years ago.
It’s well publicised that Sheffield FC are the world’s oldest club, but the football trail in the Steel City is rich pickings for the footy fan. Perhaps the best place to kick off a tour would be at Heeley Parish Church, which is the resting place of Nathaniel Creswick, a cutler and the co-founder of Sheffield FC. The club, established in 1857, had formed the Sheffield Rules a year later, detailing the laws by which the game was to be played. This predated the Football Association rules by five years but provided a base by which the modern game is played. Heeley FC were also founded here in 1862, making them the first club in the world to be formed from a church!
Another footballing accolade that the city boasts is the world’s oldest football stadium. Sandygate has been hosting Hallam FC games since 1860 and on Boxing Day of that year they hosted Sheffield FC, a game known as the world’s first derby fixture. Hallam were formed by John Charles Shaw, a breakaway player from Sheffield, who would later become club and Sheffield FA president. Hallam also won the oldest ever football trophy, the Youdan Cup, named after local theatre proprietor and competition sponsor Thomas Youdan. In front of 3,000 fans at Bramall Lane, Hallam triumphed 2-0 over Norfolk FC of the Park District.
Now we’ve discovered the grandfathers of the game we should head to Tudor Square and The Crucible. We aren’t here for the snooker, but rather for the birth of our professional clubs. On this site sat the Adelphi Hotel, a public house that hosted two meetings with lasting legacies. The construction of Bramall Lane Cricket Ground was agreed upon here, as was the formation of ‘Wednesday FC’ in 1867 – the original name of Sheffield Wednesday and a club that’s currently the world’s third oldest ‘league’ club.
Just around the corner from the Adelphi was another inn of footballing fame known as The Garrick Tavern, from which emerged Garrick FC, the world’s oldest pub team. They competed in the maiden final of the second oldest footballing contest, the Cromwell Cup, and another trophy named after a city theatre icon, losing 1-0 to Wednesday. A mere stone’s throw from here is one of Sheffield’s best preserved Georgian streets and the office where the city’s other main professional club, the Blades, was born. 10 Norfolk Row hosted a meeting in 1889 between the Sheffield FA and the Sheffield United Cricket Club, whereupon it was agreed to form a football team the following season. The club would become the first football club to be known as ‘United’, something that would become a popular team suffix in the UK. From their inception they played matches at Bramall Lane, making it the oldest professional footballing stadium on the planet to still be hosting games.
Sheffield’s footballing institutions may not always boast the world’s best players or clubs playing at the highest level, but its spot in the sport’s history is unsurpassed. The Euro trophy may not be heading to England this time around – but hasn’t football always been at home in the Steel City?