Join the Club! Exposed visits Sheffield FC
Exposed popped down to watch Sheffield’s – and indeed, the world’s – oldest football club take on Stocksbridge Park Steels in a hotly-contested fixture last month. Here’s the verdict on our day out at Sheffield FC…
Words: Joseph Food
Supporting local non-league teams feels more significant than ever at the moment – a time when the professional game is blighted by talks of breakaway super leagues, moulded to the whims of hectic Sky programming schedules and increasingly falling deeper and deeper into king’s ransom territory when it comes to cost.
Watching the grassroots brings you a bit closer to the soul of the sport itself – sans the distraction of shiny seated stadia and live-action replays on big screens. Smaller crowds mean a tighter sense of community amongst supporters, while cheering on players who aren’t earning more in a week than you’ll earn all year naturally creates a different fan/player dynamic. Namely one not born out of a toxic mixture of unhealthy adoration and deep-seated jealousy.
Any Sheffielder worth their salt will know that the beautiful game’s roots are firmly embedded in the Steel City – ‘ere, right on the family patch. I won’t delve too deep into a history lesson, as it would take a far more generous word count to do it justice, but the key notes are thus: in 1855, members of a local cricket club organised a series of informal kickabouts, which in 1857 led to regular attendees Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest setting up the first official football club (that’s Sheffield FC, for those not keeping up at the back). A year later in 1858, they drew up the ‘Sheffield Rules’ to govern their matches, the first detailed set of rules published by a club; and just three years after their formation they found their first rival in Hallam FC, who subsequently became the world’s second-oldest football club.
Watching the grassroots brings you a bit closer to the soul of the sport itself
It’s been an intriguing, nomadic history for ‘The Club’ since. We’ve been detailing snippets of this in a monthly column for Exposed Magazine, so keep an eye out for next month’s update (and get the full historical lowdown at sheffieldfc.com), but in a nutshell, the team have played at no less than 11 different venues during their 165-year existence. Today they can be found at The Home of Football Stadium in Dronfield situated (quite ideally) just behind the Thornbridge Brewery-owned Coach and Horses pub, though plans are currently underway to move the club back into city boundaries at a new site in Meadowhead. Once this happens, we’re told they’re planning on setting up shop for good, settled nicely back in their spiritual home. Watch this space, dear reader.
That said, we didn’t mind the journey out. It was a beautiful Bank Holiday Monday and the 43 bus took less than 20 minutes to take us from Chesterfield Road to the ground. Once disembarked we made a beeline for the bustling public house to lap up a bit of early afternoon sun, after which, with Thornbridge bevvies in hand, we wandered over to get a pitchside view. With a capacity of just over 2,000, The Home of Football Stadium has two covered stands, plus on-site refreshments and a club shop. Over 900 supporters were in attendance despite a difficult season which saw the home team needing a result to stave off possible relegation.
The first half was a frustratingly cagey affair, not helped by a bobbly pitch ensuring that nothing stuck for the home team moving forward. Following such a disjointed start, it was fitting that the opening goal was equally scrappy: a speculative shot from the Stocksbridge striker bobbling over the home keeper in the 25th minute. The remainder of the half passed by in a similar fashion as both teams struggled to gain a foothold in proceedings, although the away side looked a tad more menacing on the break.
The second half saw a rejuvenated Sheffield FC take to the pitch. Playmaker Baxendale started getting on the ball more and the home team began utilising their pace out wide via Modest and the ever-tricky Kianga. It wasn’t long before Modest was pulled down while bursting into the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Skipper Marc Newsham slotted home confidently and Club went in search of a vital three points.
Despite plenty of encouragement from the home support, plus a couple of half-chances and nervy goalmouth scrambles, Stocksbridge defended stoically and saw the game out well. The result left Sheff FC in 17th going into their final game of the season against Pontefract Collieries. If the table stays the same, they’ll risk a relegation play-off game, but three points – fingers crossed – should be enough to keep them up!*
So, the result wasn’t what we were looking for; but the day out was undeniably a cracker. As someone who regularly hands over £40 at Bramall Lane (for what is all too regularly a disappointing experience), I’m the last person who can lecture others about tearing out the IV drip of greed-dominated, corruption-saturated, supporter-exploiting professional football. However, I would certainly urge anyone interested in the beautiful game and/or local history to pay a visit to Sheffield FC if they get a chance; every ticket, membership and merch sale counts when it comes to ensuring the world’s oldest club sticks around for another 165+ years. Become part of that story and join the club.
*Update: they did it!
Become a member at Sheffield FC