THE idea came to Richard Timms as he returned to work one morning following the Christmas holidays.
“I arrived at the stadium,” says the chairman of Sheffield FC, the world’s oldest football club. “And there was this Brazilian backpacker sitting shivering on the steps.
“She was going from London to Edinburgh but she’d stopped off here to see the birthplace of football.
“She wanted to buy a memento and I felt almost embarrassed showing her our merchandise. It was in a Portakabin.”
It was, thus, 155 years after Sheffield FC was founded, a decision was made for the club to open its first ever city shop.
And it was thus, last week, that store – called Club 1857 – threw wide its doors amid the galleries and bakeries of Sharrow Vale Road.
“You don’t get many teams playing in the eighth tier of English football with a shop,” notes Richard dryly.
But then Sheffield FC isn’t exactly your average eighth tier set-up.
This, after all, is the club which is credited with first establishing the rules of the beautiful game, which has been honoured by FIFA with an Order of Merit, and which, for its 150th anniversary, had Pele visit as guest of honour.
In short, it’s a club with history.
“Exactly,” says Richard, who has been chairman for the last 10 years. “We had the TV channel Al Jazeera doing a programme about us the other week.
“At the end the presenter said there are two stadiums every football fan should visit in their life: Bernabeu in Madrid and our Coach and Horses in Dronfield. How about that?”
The new shop, then, forms a key strategy in a fresh bid to build on that reputation.
Stock includes a variety of FC memorabilia – T-shirts, hoodies, mugs – as well as more general football-related clothing, art and books. It is being managed in partnership with city footy design firm Goal Soul.
But will it sell to more than the handful of fans in the city?
“I think so,” says Cristian Bustamante, director of Goal Soul. “This should be the second favourite club of every fan because this is where football was born. So, I think there’s a natural market for quality merchandise – both in Sheffield and around the world.”
Richard again: “We had a group of Norwegians come the other weekend. They wanted a pie, a pint and a proper match. Now there will be somewhere nice for them to go and get something to mark their visit too.
“We’ve got an Italian party next weekend. The same applies.
“Sheffield FC is a global brand. That means a lot of custom will be online. But we wanted a real place in the heart of the community too.
“This is what the club is about.
“This is the next step in a glorious history.”
Sheffield FC: A brief timeline
1857: Sheffield FC is founded on October 24. The club’s committee writes a set of standardised laws which became the foundation of today’s modern game
1860: The club plays its first ever inter-club game against Hallam FC at Sandygate Lane on Boxing Day. FC win 2-0.
1904: The club wins the Amateur Cup, beating Ealing 3-1.
1957: A centenary of football is celebrated with a ceremony at Cutlers Hall attended by The Duke of Edinburgh.
1977: The team play at Wembley for the first time, losing the FA Vase Final to Nottingham.
2001: The club buys its own ground - the Coach and Horses Stadium - for the first time. It’s in Dronfield.
2004: FIFA recognises the club with a Centennial Order of Merit.
2007: The 150th anniversary is celebrated with a match against Inter Milan at Bramall Lane. FC lose 5-2 to a side featuring World Cup winner Marco Materazzi and a young Mario Balotelli.