On Wednesday (4 March), a 180-page document was unveiled at Sheffield’s Town Hall by the Sheffield Home of Football (SHOF) group, which is made up of representatives from Sheffield University, Sheffield Council, Sheffield Libraries and Archives, and Martin Westby, the author of A History of Sheffield Football from 1857 – 1889.
They want to “claw back more than 160 years of lost history” and make the the city as synonymous with the world’s most popular sport as it is with steel.
Councillor Anne Murphy, chair of the group, said Wednesday’s announcement had been two years in the making.
She said: “Football is far more than just a game. That’s why it’s of paramount importance we develop our unique position as its home.
“The sport builds communities, encourages social cohesion, boosts health and well-being and is a major contributor to the economy. We want to use our heritage to make Sheffield a more attractive place to live, work, visit, invest and play.”
The document includes proposals for goalpost-style signage over the M1 motorway on the border of the city in recognition of Sheffield being the place where the crossbar was introduced. Other ideas include sculptures in prominent locations around the city – including the train station – as well as the launch of a Football Archive Centre people can visit.
The Star has also announced a campaign to get 40 plaques put up around the city recognising each of the places where one of the 40 ‘firsts’ took place. Editor Nancy Fielder said the aim is to have them up within six months.
“Most of us agree Sheffield is the home of football, our arguments are undeniable,” she said.
“Now it’s about looking forward and looking forward to what we can do. It’s about making Sheffield a better city. I want Sheffield to be the best place it can be.
“We have got to get this done. We have let it slip through our fingers for 160 years.”
Some of the footballing ‘firsts’ in the city include the oldest existing ground in the world in Sandygate, the home of Hallam FC, and the oldest football association in England, which was formed in 1867.
The Town Hall was packed with Sheffield footballing royalty, including representatives from all of the city’s football clubs, to hear the ambitions plans put forward. Those present included former Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards, Richard Caborn, who served as minister for sport from 2001 to 2007, and outgoing Sheffield City Council leader Julie Dore.
Sir Dave Richards told The Star: “It’s brilliant for Sheffield. It’s something that needs a real push from people in the city.
“They need to get up to the very top – to the decision-makers – to make it click.”
Richard Caborn added: “It’s now undisputed that Sheffield is the home of football. I don’t think there’s a city in the world that can rival what we have done in Sheffield – and now is the time to promote that.
“We ought to invite the president of FIFA (Gianni Infantino) to the city and give it his endorsement. I think we also ought to be writing to Boris Johnson if he really wants to level up.
“There's nothing like levelling up by acknowledging that this is the home of The Beautiful Game. It would be a major boost.”
The SHOF group’s document, which can be read at homeoffootball.net, says the project can have benefits for Sheffield’s economy and tourism industry, as well as within children’s education.
Cllr Julie Dore said: “I’m backing this campaign because first of all I’m born in Sheffield and I’m a lifelong football supporter – it’s part of the city’s DNA. It makes people feel proud. I feel proud to be from the home of football.
“For Sheffield, it’s about another opportunity to show the city on the world stage. It’s another string to our bow. There are 3.5 billion football fans out there who want to see where football was made.
“As a council we are looking at we are looking at some of the things we can do with our infrastructure – using the Community Infrastructure Levy to see when we are working with developers whether we can feed anything in.”
BBC breakfast presenter Dan Walker, who lives in Sheffield, has also thrown his support behind the project and is a patron of SHOF.
He said: “Sheffield has got unrivalled football heritage thanks to some of the game’s great trailblazers over the years and even though we are very proud of that history and that culture and that heritage, we haven’t done much to reap the potential benefits of it until now.
“That heritage is a shared treasure that should be celebrated more widely and visibly across the city and we feel across the world as well to acknowledge Sheffield as the home of football.
“We would love to see individuals, groups and organisations building on those foundations and celebrating The Beautiful Game in their own ways.”