A celebration of football kicked off in the place where it all began – as Sheffield schoolchildren gathered at the world’s oldest football ground.
But this was no ordinary game.
Teams from four local secondary schools emerged from the changing room and headed to the pitch at Hallam FC’s Sandygate ground in traditional Victorian footy garb yesterday – complete with knee socks, flat caps and painted-on moustaches. The event was all part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project to celebrate Sheffield as the true home of football.
TV historian Michael Wood, who was at the event to present medals, said: “All this stemmed from a series of projects I did on BBC2 that looked at community history. The public reaction was huge and thousands of applications started coming through to the Heritage Lottery Fund from community groups wanting grants to research their local history.
“It proved that the story of our nation doesn’t just centre around tales of kings, queens and palaces – it’s about ordinary people.
“This ‘Home of Football’ project is particularly fabulous because football is such a crucial part of our local and national psychology here in Britain, and we’re here in the very place where it began all those years ago - in the first stadium of the first club where the first rules were defined.”
Pupils from All Saints, Forge Valley, Westfield and Handsworth Grange schools have all been working on the project, which involved researching archives, recording their findings in a brochure, making a programme for the day and keeping a blog.
Cynthia Wainwright, from the HLF, said: “The game today is a physical demonstration of all they’ve learnt about the history of the sport and is so interesting to watch.”
And the game was made all the more fun by changes to the rules as the teams reverted to the 1858 laws of the game, meaning players could handle, catch and even swat the ball around the field.
Retired Premier League referee Uriah Rennie, from Sheffield, was back on familiar territory as he took to the pitch in traditional referee’s attire - which included a top hat - to make sure the rules were followed correctly.
He said: “I’m here to make sure order is kept once again at Hallam and celebrate all the good work these children have been doing.
“I’ve referee’d here many times and it’s great to be back doing it again in such a historically important place for the sport.”
Colm Atkinson, history teacher at Forge Valley school, said the old rules had caused a little stress among his young team.
He said: “It was strange shouting them to ‘catch’ the ball and ‘grab it’.
“Playing with a traditional leather ball was the other thing we thought might cause problems but, actually, once they got going and got used to the difference in weight they did a great job. It’s been a great day.”