‘The biggest piece of fake news I’ve heard in a long time’ – that is how former city MP and sports minister reacted to news that Sheffield had been ranked as just the fourth greatest sporting city in Yorkshire – behind Leeds, Doncaster and Hull.
Depsite three members of England’s World Cup squad hailing from the city, the city having the country’s only Olympic Legacy Park and football beginning in the city, Sheffield fell to 29th in the national rankings, according to reseach from ESPN and the University of Bath.
The Greatest Sporting City project, now in its fourth year, carried out a fan survey in cities and towns with more than a 130,000 population and looked at 12 categories including value for money, participation, local talent, atmosphere and sporting history.
And despite being ranked fourth in the country for local talent – after Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker and Jamie Vardy helped England reach the World Cup semi-finals – the Steel City fell from fifth in the 2017 national rankings to 29th.
Mr Caborn, who is now the project lead for the Olympic Legacy Park, said: “I would say that this is the biggest piece of fake news I have heard in a long time.
“By any standard, historically or contemporary, Sheffield must be, by any standard, and indeed was acknowledged as the very first city of sport.
“I would suggest the people that have done the survey really ought to go back and question how they have come to that conclusion.
The survey aims to find the ‘best place in the country to be a sports fan’ and saw Doncaster ranked third in Yorkshire.
But Mr Caborn said he was ‘totally baffled’ as to how Sheffield was not ranked top.
He said: “If you look at the success of the footballers, Joe Root has just captained England to a fantastic victory over India and if the English Institute of Sport was a country, it would have finished 16th or 17th in the medal table at the Rio Olympics last year.
“We hold the World Snooker Championships every year, we have got the Olympic Legacy Park, the world’s first football team, who created the rules of the game, the world’s oldest football ground is also in this great city.”
“How they can come to this incredibly subjective conclusion I honest do not know.”
Steve Basford, chairman of Hallam FC, who play in the oldest football ground in the world, said highlighted some of Sheffield’s sporting successes.
He said: “Hallam Cricket Club formed in 1804 and Michael Vaughan and Joe Root England cricket captains are both from Sheffield.
“Nick Matthew and James Toseland are from Sheffield, Sheffield Sharks formed in 1994 and won the BBL in its first year. We also have Sheffield Hatters top flight Womens basketball team.
“Sheffield Steelers ice hockey team play in the top flight, we have a Premier League speedway team the Sheffield Tigers and Sheffield Eagles rugby league team have been very successful even in a football city.”
Mr Basford added: “The English Institute for Sport is now also at the cutting edge of sports development anywhere in the world but coupled with our other sporting venues surely this makes Sheffield the city of sport.”
The research surveyed more than 5,000 sports fans and asked them to rank from most to least important, 12 factors identified by focus groups and then score how they think their own town or city performs in each factor.
Assistant professor Thomas Curran, of the University of Bath who compiled the report, said the survey was a mixture of fan’s opinions and ‘objective data’ – such as the number of people employed in the sporting industry and the number of people taking part in regular exercise.
Mr Curran said: “Success was the highest weighted factor of the 12 because that was what fans told us was the biggest sign of a great sporting city.
“There are other factors that are impacted by the success of the teams as well such as atmosphere. If teams aren't doing so well then the atmosphere won’t be as good.”
Sheffield Wednesday finished 15th in the Championship last season despite being tipped as promotion contenders while thier cross-city rivals United slipped to 10th having been competiting for a playoff finish for most of the campaign.
Mr Curran said: “Sheffield did really well last year and came fifth but it fell 24 places this year. Success in the city is determined by the success of the teams themselves so that’s probably why Sheffield has fallen so much.”