World's oldest football club Sheffield FC unveils housing plan to fund new stadium

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The world's oldest football club Sheffield FC has moved a step closer to making a long-awaited return to its home city.

The historic club, whose founders developed the first set of rules for the game, plays in Dronfield, just beyond the city limits in Derbyshire, but is eyeing a return to the Olive Grove sports ground in Heeley, Sheffield, where its story began in 1857.

Sheffield FC chairman Richard Tims at the club's ground in Dronfield

Sheffield FC chairman Richard Tims at the club's ground in Dronfield

It has now unveiled plans for housing at its existing ground, beside the Coach & Horses pub on Sheffield Road, to help bankroll the move to a new stadium.

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The club wants to build around 70-80 homes there and says it has asked North East Derbyshire District Council to remove the land from the green belt so a planning application can be submitted.

The hope is that this development will fund, or go a long way towards funding, a new stadium within Sheffield, where club chairman Richard Tims also intends to create a visitor centre and education suite.

For Mr Tims, the plans are part of a grand vision to better market Sheffield as the birthplace of modern football and attract sports 'pilgrims' from across the globe to the region.

An early Sheffield FC team photo, believed to date from the 1890s (photo: Picture Sheffield)

An early Sheffield FC team photo, believed to date from the 1890s (photo: Picture Sheffield)

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"In 2007, when we played Inter Milan as part of our 150th anniversary celebrations, I thought that would really kickstart the launch of the world's first football club as a brand," he said.

"I expected the football community to wrap its arms around its great-great-grandfather but unfortunately the world went into a bit of a tailspin financially and things didn't go quite as planned.

"A decade later, there's now considerable momentum within Sheffield behind our plans to market the city as the home of football.

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"We already get football lovers from around the world making a pilgrimage here to see where the game began, and with a new stadium and international visitor centre at our spiritual home the potential for tourism would be huge.

"If we're able to sell this land for housing, that would give us the resources to build something really special for the wider city region."

Mr Tims says that while a return to the club's 'spiritual home' at Olive Grove is the preferred option, another site within Sheffield with more space for training facilities and a visitor centre may prove more suitable.

The club anticipates the new stadium and associated facilities would cost anywhere between £2 million and £10 million.

Previous reports have suggested it could be a 10,000-seater stadium, but Mr Tims says 4,000 would be more than adequate for a club of its size playing in the Evo-Stik South Table - the eighth tier of the English football pyramid.

He does not believe the proposals for housing at its Dronfield site will prove controversial since he claims most people are surprised to learn the land falls within the green belt in the first place.

The club has been based at its current home since 2001, having led a nomadic existence before then, with Sheffield's Don Valley Stadium and Owlerton Stadium having hosted games.

In November last year, it announced that Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup, had pledged its support for the new stadium.

Sheffield FC's story has resonated globally, with Mr Tims having welcomed Pelé to the ground and visited Barcelona's chiefs, who he said were in 'awe' of its history.

It has also linked up with organisations in China, India and the US to launch education programmes, and has also delivered 38,000 pairs of football boots to impoverished communities in Africa in a project praised by the late Nelson Mandela.

While the club is unlikely to ever challenge the likes of Manchester United or even its fellow Sheffield teams on the pitch, Mr Tims believes part of the appeal to football fans is how it remains true to the founding ethos from which the multi-million pound industry has grown.

"In this football world that's so money obsessed, people want to see it's not just about your Cristiano Ronaldos earning £350,000 a week," he said.

"If there's one club which embodies the the spirit of football and how it's a friendly game that's open to everyone, regardless of age, gender, race or religion, it's this club."

Should everything go according to plan, Mr Tims said the club could be playing at its new home in as little as two to three years.