Sheffield home of football: Remarkable story of 'world's first church football club'

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Sheffield church set up team in 1861, say experts behind Sheffield football museum plan

It’s another slice of evidence that Sheffield is the birthplace of football.

And it is to be marked with a blue plaque by the people behind plans for a football museum in the city.

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The first in a new series of blue plaques will be unveiled in Sheffield today (May 17) by the charity working to establish a footballing heritage museum and raise awareness of Sheffield’s unique football history.

The plaque commemorates Cemetery Road Church FC, as the first football club in the world to originate from a church. The site is now a gym, with the church lost to history.

But the plaque has been approved for erection on the spot where the club was founded in 1861, which is now the Nuffield Health Sheffield Fitness and Wellbeing Gym on Napier Street.

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Sheffield Home of Football trustee Steve Wood and Nicki Cox,  operations manager (Wellbeing)at Nuffield Health, with the blue plaqueSheffield Home of Football trustee Steve Wood and Nicki Cox,  operations manager (Wellbeing)at Nuffield Health, with the blue plaque
Sheffield Home of Football trustee Steve Wood and Nicki Cox, operations manager (Wellbeing)at Nuffield Health, with the blue plaque | Andy Kershaw

“The members of this world’s first club came from the Cemetery Road Congregational Church which was in the Porter Brook area of Sheffield close to Sheffield General Cemetery” said Sheffield Home of Football trustee, Steve Wood, who is leading for the charity on the project.

“The church unfortunately no longer exists, but its location was in the south-west corner of what is now the Nuffield Health gymnasium car park, on the corner of Cemetery Road and Summerfield Street

“The very earliest known organised football clubs first originated from already organised sporting outfits, mainly cricket clubs,” says Steve.

Sheffield FC, Hallam FC, Norton FC, Norfolk FC and Pitsmoor FC all had links to pre-existing cricket clubs.

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“It didn’t take long for other football clubs to start forming from other organised social groups.  In the early 1860’s football clubs started to form from workplaces, schools, hotels, pubs, gymnasiums, the volunteer movement, the military and of course from churches.

“Many well-known clubs today can trace their origins back to starting as a church team. A few of these clubs you might have heard of such as Manchester City, Everton, Liverpool, Birmingham City, Fulham, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton, Celtic, Barnsley, Bolton Wanderers to name just a few.

Cemetery Road Congregational ChurchCemetery Road Congregational Church
Cemetery Road Congregational Church | Submitted

“The earliest records we have of the club are from a club meeting on November 5 1861. We also have reports of the club organising matches at Hunters Bar around the same period”.

“It’s no surprise that during the early years of association football development, many churches across the country started to create their own football clubs.

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“The mid to late 1800s was a period when the philosophical movement ‘Muscular Christianity’, was at its peak. Muscular Christianity would have driven the desire of many young Victorian Christian men to form organised clubs from their own church communities”, he explains.

“Sheffield can also boast the world’s oldest surviving church to have formed a football club, this being Heeley Christ Church FC a year after Cemetery Road Church in 1862”, says Steve.

“Jack Hunter, England’s first working class captain came from this club.

“Next time you are in the Cemetery Road area of Sheffield, going past the Nuffield Health Gym car park, contemplate that this was the spot that many of the world‘s now famous football clubs, first gained their inspirational origins from.”

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Nicki Cox, operations manager for Nuffield Health in Sheffield, said: “At Nuffield Health we are all thrilled to learn about the world class historic sporting links we have to the history of association football, says. We never realised so many world famous football clubs can link their origins back to our gym.”

Steve added: “There will be more blue plaques going up around the city in the next few months as part of our guided football walks around the city celebrating the people and the places which made Sheffield the first city of football.

“We are very grateful to Nuffield Health for supporting this initiative. A world’s first sporting location.”

The official unveiling of the blue plaque is on Friday May 17 at 11am at the Nuffield Health and Wellbeing Gym on Napier Street. The plaque will be unveiled by The Very Reverend Abi Thompson, Dean of Sheffield Cathedral.

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