This is how Sheffield became Britain’s first city of sport

Sheffielders soon hope to enjoy watching and playing sports once again amid disruptions from the pandemic, but how did Sheffield become the sporting city that it is today?

Thursday, 18th February 2021, 4:45 pm

Sport related activities have been out of bounds during lockdown, and spectator sports in particular have been a much missed activity for many.

With Sheffield being Britain's first national City of Sport that has produced several world famous sports champions over the years and home to some of the country’s most iconic sports venues, it has been quite a contrast for sports fans to adapt to.

Cricket was said to be the first major sport introduced to Sheffield and was the main centre for cricket in Yorkshire in the 1700s.

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World Cup crowds at Hillsborough football ground, 1966.

Thomas Marsden was a well known Sheffield born cricketer who played for Sheffield Cricket Club.

His career spanned between 1826 to 1841 and he was considered one of the greatest Yorkshire cricketers at that time.

Cricket was soon overshadowed by football, in which two members of a Sheffield cricket club brought upon the idea for.

Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest organised informal kick-abouts without any official rules, which led to the formation of Sheffield Football Club.

Sheffield Steelers players lying down on the ice - February 27, 1996.

It was officially founded in 1857, giving Sheffield its title as home to the world’s first and oldest football club, though the club has since moved to Dronfield.

A couple of years later, in 1859, another Sheffield sporting champion-to-be was born.

George Littlewood was the son of a steelworker who was raised in Attercliffe and was a world famous leading athlete in the 1870s-1880s, earning him the nickname, the ‘Sheffield flyer’.

George became a champion marathon runner and walker with World Championship and British Championship belts to his name.

George Littlewood (1859-1912), pictured in 1888.

One of these titles was in 1888, for a walking marathon in Madison Square Gardens, New York, of which he completed in 6 days, and still holds the record for.

More recent sports champions with links to Sheffield include cricketers Joe Root and Michael Vaughan; boxing world champions, Clinton Woods and Johnny Nelson; and former track and field athlete Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill.

Jess specialised in multi-eventing disciplines and 100 metres hurdles and became both a world and European champion, but her most documented sporting achievement is her Olympic gold medal win from London 2012.

Jess took part in competitions at Sheffield’s own English Institute of Sport, a multi-sport facility in which sports people from all over the world have used.

Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill speaking to the media at EIS in Sheffield - February 10, 2012. Picture by Chris Lawton

Other highly acclaimed sports venues in Sheffield include Ponds Forge International Centre, which houses Olympic standard competition and diving pools, and the Don Valley Stadium, which is now demolished.

Football is still perhaps the most popular spectator sport in Sheffield, being the home city of two league clubs, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United.

However, other sports such as ice hockey, basketball and rugby have increased in popularity over recent years, with Sheffielders backing the respective Sheffield Steelers, Sheffield Sharks and Sheffield Eagles teams.

Snooker has also gained popularity and Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre has hosted the annual World Snooker Championships since 1977.

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Sheffield football fans watch the 2013 World Cup Qualifying Match at Wembley against Poland in the Walkabout Pub in Carver Street, Sheffield City Centre.