More evidence uncovered to strengthen Sheffield's claim as The Home of Football

Hallam FC's Sandygate Road ground is the oldest football ground in the world. Picture: Chris HoltHallam FC's Sandygate Road ground is the oldest football ground in the world. Picture: Chris Holt
Hallam FC's Sandygate Road ground is the oldest football ground in the world. Picture: Chris Holt | National World
Alan Biggs tells the story of how new evidence has been brought forward that strengthens Sheffield's claim as The Home of Football

Imagine Hollywood without tourists. Couldn’t happen, doesn’t happen. Now imagine the birthplace of the world’s biggest sporting entertainment without floods of visitors. Could happen, does happen.

And most astonishing of all, the place where this historical treasure is ignored the most is the place itself. But finally all that is about to change amid a deepening dig into the past that is making some remarkable discoveries.

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Historians acting for the Sheffield Home of Football charity, which aims to establish a world class heritage museum in the city, have unearthed startling new evidence of the development of the game here in the second half of the 19th century.

Turns out it was rampant. To the extent that more than half the clubs formed across the globe between 1857 and 1875 were founded in Sheffield.

We all know (well, we should but in many cases we don’t) that Sheffield FC (1857) was the first and the world’s oldest, with Hallam (1860) a close second.

What even enthusiastic researchers didn’t realise was that they were among so many clubs formed in the city in the earliest years of the organised game. And more are being found by the week. It’s the equivalent of a goldmine being left untouched in the absence of prospectors, let alone exploitative entrepreneurs.

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Seems there were as many as 178 clubs set up in Sheffield by 1875. Here’s a small sample;-

Cemetery Road Church FC - 1861; Ranmoor FC - 1862; St. George FC 1862; St. Stephen FC 1862; Crabtree FC - 1863; Loxley FC - 1866; Tapton FC - 1867; Hanover United FC - 1868; Redhill FC - 1868; Totley FC - 1869; St. Vincent’s FC - 1869 Just imagine the competition and rivalry. The richness of the discoveries has surprised even author John Stocks, who, along with fellow sleuths Steve Wood and John Clarke, has hit the trail of late football historian Martin Westby.

Hallam FC's Sandygate Road ground is the oldest football ground in the world. Picture: Chris HoltHallam FC's Sandygate Road ground is the oldest football ground in the world. Picture: Chris Holt
Hallam FC's Sandygate Road ground is the oldest football ground in the world. Picture: Chris Holt | National World

“We’re opening a hole in history,” says Stocks, who expects ever more discoveries. Together, the trio have also unearthed evidence that the technique of passing moves was not invented in Scotland, as repeatedly claimed elsewhere, but here in this city.

There is reference to it in a report of a game between Sheffield and Leeds in 1865. That was fully two years before the formation of Scotland’s first club, Queen’s Park in Glasgow.

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The steel city has always been on the football map - or not, as the case may be. Sheffield Home of Football is aiming to make it front and centre under a chief executive in Nick Partridge, previously head of Sheffield Libraries and Archives, who has long spearheaded the push in civic circles, and former BBC journalist Andy Kershaw

A programme of promotion and education is underway, including a proposal to make Sheffield’s football heritage a part of schools’ curriculum. Maybe that’s where the ignorance starts. Our kids grow up supporting the Blades or Owls but have little or no grounding in the unique history literally under their feet.

Certainly, we need to look far beyond Sheffield Wednesday (1867) and Sheffield United (1889) for our football kicks. And a fair way further back.

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