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Sheffield FC backed by German clubs in bid to return to the city

Nathanial Creswick and William Prest were innovators of the early game
Nathanial Creswick and William Prest were innovators of the early game

Several German clubs are united behind a crowdfunding campaign to get the world's oldest football club back to its original home.

Sheffield FC, founded in 1857 and credited with producing the first official laws of the game, have set up the "Your £1 for the Home of Football" campaign to raise over £150,000.

That would allow the club, who currently play outside the city in Dronfield, to return to their home and develop a ground in the Olive Grove area -- which was Sheffield Wednesday's first permanent football ground. The city council have already granted the club a free land lease.

Two weeks into the two-month long crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo.com, and £20,000 had been collected -- with a major contribution coming from Germany.

Incredibly, many German clubs (who are run on a fan-based model) have already got behind the campaign, with Borussia Dortmund and St Pauli, as well as financially struggling fourth tier club RW Essen and amateur side TuS Haltern, weighing in.

"Who knows, without the first club in the world, BVB might just not be around," Dortmund's head of communications Sascha Fligge told ESPN FC when asked about their support for Sheffield FC with a symbolic donation of €1,909 -- to mirror the club's founding year.

St Pauli director of marketing Martin Drust echoed Fligge's words, saying that without Sheffield FC "there would be probably be no FC St. Pauli" and adding that the club was not only fascinated by the idea "because it allows naivety in a cynical world," but also because "authentic football" needs to be supported.

Sheffield FC played the first official football match when meeting Hallam FC on Boxing Day 1860. The founding fathers, Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest, developed the first commonly adopted set of laws -- the Sheffield rules.

They have kept an amateur status ever since the introduction of professionalism in 1885, and since 2010 the club has run a charitable foundation to protect its amateur status and promote the heritage of world football.

Sheffield FC played their first game in 1860
Sheffield FC line up for their first official game in 1860.

The campaign to return to Sheffield was started by long-time club president Richard Tims, and the Germans Robert Zitzmann and Jan-Henrick Gruszecki, and is backed by ad agency Jung von Matt/sports.

Gruszecki, a fan activist and filmmaker, read about Sheffield FC at the age of five, and dreamed of visiting the home of football ever since. In 2012, in his late 20s, he finally got the chance when shooting a documentary on the state of English support.

"I was surprised to find out that the oldest club in the world is such a small club," Gruszecki told ESPN FC. Through him and fellow filmmaker Marc Quambusch, with whom he later successfully crowdfunded a film on BVB's foundation, Dortmund got in contact with Sheffield FC, and the two clubs have since met in England and Germany.

Other clubs such as Mesut Ozil's youth club Rot-Weiss Essen, now struggling in a regional fourth tier, and second division side VfL Bochum have also backed the bid to create "a home for all of us to celebrate the true values and original spirit of the beautiful game," and "a home for us to remember, what real football is all about."

During a recent summer tour of Germany, Sheffield FC not only played Borussia Dortmund's third team -- and beat them 6-0 -- but started their trip with a friendly against minnows TuS Haltern, with the German side later contributing the symbolic sum of €1,882.

At Haltern, former Germany international Christoph Metzelder has promoted amateur football in Germany ever since retiring from professional football in 2013.

"We were proud to welcome Sheffield FC at the Stauseekampfbahn in Haltern," Metzelder told ESPN FC. "It was a strong signal that amid all professionalisation and economisation the history and the grassroots of football should not be forgotten."

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