Blades and Owls come together as Sheffield FC look to return to the city in "£20m move" - Alan Biggs
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Not just any Owl. Richard Tims is the long-time chairman of the world’s oldest football club, Sheffield FC, which celebrated its 165th birthday this week. Not just any Blade, either. Joe Root is the former England cricket captain widely championed as this country’s greatest batsman of all time.
And time takes us back deep into the 19th century when cricket was the driving force behind football. Both Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United were spawned from cricket clubs. As was Sheffield FC itself - and Hallam, who play on the first and oldest football ground at Sandygate.
Which brings us to Sheffield’s strangely nomadic existence, having played for some years outside the city boundaries at the Coach and Horses ground in Dronfield. Now Tims’ relentless quest to bring the historic club back home is reaching fruition - with funding finally in place for a new “Home of Football” at the Sheffield Transport Ground at Meadowhead, costing “close to £20m.”
And cricket will once again be near the heart of it. “We’re working with Joe Root and the England Barmy Army supporters organisation, which has 30,000 paid up members,” Tims tells me for this column. It goes back to our roots and is a great fit. The Joe Root Academy needs an indoor cricket facility.”
That is part of the grand plan, including a cricket ground itself, but the main thrust is a football stadium with a capacity of up to 4,000. Tims’ target is for it to be ready “for the start of the 2024-25 season or not long after.” He also offers “never say never” to the notion that Sheffield might one day have a third professional club - but his main objective is “sustainability” by building in leisure and multi-sport facilities that provide a constant revenue stream.
Despite boasting 5,000 members across 52 countries, drawn by romance and prestige, Sheffield averaged just 350 spectators last season in the eighth tier of the football pyramid. But the siting of the new ground, just off a major roundabout that Tims says is used by 11 million cars a year, is a “visible reminder and a landmark for the city” that should prove a great draw.
How did we get here? An original investment plan, involving an Anglo-Italian group, collapsed into a legal battle resolved recently in Sheffield’s favour. A new board was formed and a fresh investment partner (as yet unnamed) sourced. “We’ve got the funding,” Tims insists. He expects it to be “signed, sealed and delivered in the next couple of months”, with an architects draft completed by the end of the year and a planning application to a supportive Sheffield City Council swiftly following.
Hopes for work to begin next summer will be announced this Thursday night at a birthday function at Sheffield Transport Club, which Tims credits with continuing through tough times. “Back to Our Roots.” It has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?