Sheffield FC: Club on Tour
In the early days of Sheffield FC’s illustrious history, the club were keen to spread the word of where football originated. This led to a number of trips into Europe and further afield, a tradition that has continued until today as they build networks across the globe celebrating pioneers of the beautiful game.
Spreading the word
It all goes back to the 1890s. In 1894, Sheffield FC embarked on a European trip to play a game in the Netherlands, then to Belgium the following year. This has led to the claim that Sheffield FC were the first football team on the continent – although this is a difficult statement to prove.
These strong links with the Netherlands continued a few decades later when, in 1946, Sheffield FC played a friendly against FC Eindhoven, bringing home the Eindhoven Cup, a trophy the club still have in their possession today. More fixtures were arranged over the coming years and later research into the club’s blossoming relationship at this time uncovered stories about how soldiers from Sheffield, some of them players for Sheffield FC, were actually involved in the liberation of Eindhoven during the Second World War.
Back to the early 1900s and a popular Sheffield FC player, Frederick Milnes, was part of an amateur representative team of British footballers who toured the US, aiming to secure a foothold for ‘soccer’ in American culture. Aptly named ‘The Pilgrims’, the team toured the States in 1905 and 1909, first visiting Canada before moving south into the States for fixtures in St Louis and Boston.
Back on British soil and another important relationship for the club is with Queen’s Park, the oldest amateur football club in Scotland, which has seen some illustrious fixtures taking place over the years – most notably the centenary celebrations in 1957, where a crowd of 5,000 (which included The Duke of Edinburgh, no less) witnessed a 2-2 draw between the two sides. More memorable meetings between the sides have taken places at Hillsborough and Hampden Park, with plans in the works to get this historic fixture back on the cards in the not too distant future!
That’s just a small trip through the annals of Sheffield FC’s international history. To bring it up to date, we sat down with Sheffield FC chairman Richard Tims, who told us a bit more about the club’s more recent globetrotting escapades.
The first big modern-day trip abroad was in 07/08 when Sheffield FC were invited to field a team in the HKFC Soccer Sevens, an annual tournament hosted by Hong Kong FC, the oldest club in Hong Kong. Also participating in the competition were a number of professional clubs such as Tottenham Hotspur, PSV Eindhoven and Aston Villa – the latter of whom would go on to win the trophy. The following year, the club returned to play the tournament with a couple of well-known ringers in tow, none other than former Sheffield Wednesday keeper Kevin Pressman and former Sheffield United striker Tony Agana.
Pre-season fixtures in Germany and Poland followed, but a 16-day stint in India during the 2010/11 season was certainly the most eventful. Starting out in Kolkata, the team were assigned bodyguards for their stay (for alleged fear of kidnap) and they played their first games in a mini tournament up against Mohun Bagan (India’s oldest club), East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting Club.
Richard takes it from here: “We played at the 120,000 capacity Salt Lake Stadium, which was incredible. We were in the stands to watch the game between Mohun Began and East Bengal, which we didn’t realise was such a big rivalry. There were about 40,000 fans inside and the game kicked off to fireworks and flares, before later in the game a goal triggered a full riot between the fans on the terraces and the match was abandoned. It was a crazy experience!”
Reaching their next destination on the tour saw the club coach having to navigate the infamous ‘death roads’ in the country’s more mountainous regions, passing overturned cars and roadside crash memorials on the way. “And then when we arrived at the hotel, our manager at the time, Gavin Smith, had a hypoallergic reaction to some fish,” says Rich. “His lips ballooned but thankfully he was able to find local doctor in time. So, you could say it was an eventful trip…”
The club’s latest international trip prior to covid restrictions also falls into the ‘eventful category’, a trip which saw the club play some matches in Russia. A game against Torpedo Moscow ended up in 5-1 defeat but was watched by 13 million on live TV. A game against Lokomotiv Moscow reserves followed in another crushing defeat before a garden party was hosted by the British Ambassador to Russia who had a special request for Richard. “I was invited to lay a wreath to honor to the war dead at a commemoration of the start of the German-Soviet War, which of course I accepted. It was another experience I’ll never forget.”
In terms of what the future holds for Sheffield FC abroad, Brazil has been cautiously mentioned as the next destination. But in the meantime, they are looking to add more clubs to their Club of Pioneers list – a worldwide network of the oldest continuing football clubs.
“The idea is to build a global network of like-minded football clubs to promote the importance of football history and its grassroots,” Richard explains. “We’ve got around 25 already signed up, but there’s another 200-plus to go for – we’re looking forward to building more longlasting relationships across the globe with the world’s first football club.”