Sheffield FC column: Join the Club

To kick off our monthly column celebrating the world’s first football club, chairman Richard Tims takes us through his time with Sheffield FC and looks towards some exciting plans on the horizon…

I first became involved with Sheffield FC around 1998. I’d become more than a bit disillusioned watching Sheffield Wednesday before John Pearson, ironically an ex-Sheffield Wednesday player, came to the door of my printing company looking for sponsorship for Sheffield FC. Of course, since he was an ex-Owl I more than gave him the time of day and went down to see Sheffield FC play at Don Valley Stadium.

Around that time, the Premier League was really taking off, so all the money within the game was heading there. Sheffield FC, on the other hand, were playing at a rented stadium at Don Valley in front of two men and a dog. From what I could see, there was no great future there. I initially got involved as a sponsor, then a director, and I worked with the board on getting a strategy in place – priority number one being finding the club a home. I spoke to the guy who ran Norton Woodseats FC, who back then played behind the Coach and Horses in Dronfield, and we struck up a plan to ground share. We put some seats, floodlights and terracing in and it became our home.

Sheffield FC chairman, Richard Tims

Sheffield FC Chairman Richard Timms

With a bit of stability in place, we then looked at moving forward. We started setting up community teams: the ladies team came first, and we’ve since set up disability teams and futsal teams as well. With that structure in place, I’d go to see people in local business, explaining what an asset we had for the city and getting more people and companies behind it.

Confirming our place in history

In 2003, we had what I suppose you could call an international twist of good fortune. I had written to a historian at the FA called David Barber to officially verify that we were the oldest football club in the world, who responded with confirmation that we were and the governing body would recognise it as such. Then, just a few weeks later, I received a call from the Spanish Football Federation regarding an invitation to a dinner in Barcelona to represent the origins of football.

Sheffield FC v Glasgow

The Club play Glasgow in 1912

I flew out, received a gong on stage and passed a letter to all the Spanish clubs present, saying that if they were ever passing Sheffield to get in touch with us. We were then introduced to the Barcelona President, Joan Laporta, who invited us to visit the Nou Camp the following day. We received a personal tour of the stadium, exchanged shirts on the pitch and got to see the inner workings of the club. The people we met at Barcelona were genuinely in awe of Sheffield FC and our history, which really cemented in my head how we had something special, a real USP for the city.

Standing with giants

The following year, in 2004, we were invited by FIFA to Paris for a ceremony at the Louvre celebrating 100 years of international football. There was an awards ceremony at the end, a bit like the Oscars of international football, and I’m sat down on my row looking at all these famous football people – Beckenbaueur, Di Stefano, Platini, Bobby Charlton – sat with a printer from Sheffield!

The people we met at Barcelona were genuinely in awe of Sheffield FC and our history, which really cemented in my head how we had something special, a real USP for the city.

There was an awards section for clubs and two were nominated for the prestigious FIFA Order of Merit: Real Madrid and Sheffield FC. To this day, we’re the only two clubs to receive that award. I’ve since had the pleasure of visiting Madrid for a few meetings with the club, and we even agreed with the club’s president, Emilio Butragueño, that we’d play Real Madrid in Sheffield on our 150th year anniversary, with a date of 4th August 2007 set for a friendly fixture against the Spanish giants to take place at Bramall Lane.

Sheffield FC order of merit

Receiving the Fifa Order of Merit alongside Real Madrid

150th celebrations and Inter Milan fixture

However, sadly Emilio Butragueño later lost a presidential election at Madrid and we were unable to come to an agreement with the new administration. They were happy with the dates but asked for a one-million-euro appearance fee, which I had to explain we didn’t quite have spare!

So, this all left us without a marquee fixture for our 150th anniversary. That was until an Italian journalist, Roberto Gotta, came to visit Sheffield FC and upon hearing the Real Madrid story, told us he’d get either AC Milan or Inter Milan to play the fixture, which of course we took with a large pinch of salt. However, true to his word, he came back and told us he’d arranged for Inter Milan to come over for a friendly. The story goes that he’d told AC that Inter wanted to do it while also telling Inter that AC were also interested in taking part – this all made Inter’s owner Massimo Moratti quite determined it would be them to play us!

We celebrated our 150th anniversary with a prestigious game against Inter Milan on 9th November 2007 and the legendary Pele did the introductions. A young Mario Balotelli made his UK debut and world-cup winner Marco Materazzi also played. We lost 5-2, but still managed to score two goals – no mean feat!

Brazilian football legend Pele receives membership of Sheffield FC

So, Sheffield FC started our 150th season with games in Hong Kong, then we had the Inter Milan fixture, and the following April we played against a youthful Ajax side, winning 2-0. We even had Sepp Blatter and the head of Nike over to the Steel City for a commemorative dinner at the Cutler’s Hall.

Something we’re really proud of from the 150th celebrations is founding the Boots for Africa charity. It started with the Sheffield FC community teams, asking the players at the end of the season to donate their boots. We started out with the target of providing 2,007 boots to coincide with our birthday year, but we surpassed that and by 2010 had delivered 38,000 pairs to 15 different African countries – all of this out of a portacabin in Dronfield!

Sticking to the values and football coming home

Sheffield FC is all about remembering our core values: integrity, respect and community. We want to ensure it’s a game that’s open to everyone regardless of age, race, religion or ability. We’ve continued plugging away over the years, trying to make a positive contribution through football. In 2013, we set up a project called ‘The Pioneers’, which aims to connect the world’s oldest existing football clubs, building a global network of like-minded clubs to promote the importance of football history and the grassroots and amateur game.

“Sheffield FC is all about remembering our core values: integrity, respect and community”

Amidst all our projects and community work, a key aim was to bring football back to the city. We’ve now highlighted the site at the Sheffield Transports Sports club in Meadowhead, there’s a sign up there saying ‘Home of Football coming soon’ and we have an agreement with the tenant to develop that site. We want to turn it into an interactive visitors centre, where fans of the game from all over the world can visit where the sport kicked off. Those plans are quite developed now and alongside that, we’ve launched a new website and a membership scheme which currently has around 5,000 members worldwide.

Plans for the new Sheffield FC stadium at Meadowhead

With the new ground on the horizon, we want people in Sheffield to come and join us. We’ve got a great asset here, the brand has been built, the proud heritage is there for all to see, and now we want the people of Sheffield to pick up the baton and run with it. We’ll be making a monthly appearance in Exposed Magazine, where we’ll be regaling you with tales from the club’s past and telling its readers how they can get involved in the ensuring club’s future is a successful one.

Thanks for reading this inaugural column, and we’ll see you in February! // @sheffieldfc // @_sheffieldfc

There are no comments

Add yours