As part of a new series looking at Sheffield FC, Dale Johnson delves into the history of a club famous for starting the competitive game.
The village of Dronfield may not be renowned amongst football fans across the globe, but it now holds a unique place in the game's history. The Coach and Horses Ground is home to Sheffield FC, the oldest football club in the world.
Nestled in between Sheffield and Chesterfield in the footholds of the Pennines, Dronfield provided a solution to a problem which had dogged the club throughout the first 144 years of its existence. Until April 2001 it had never had a ground to call its own and had endured a nomadic existence which had put its future under threat.
But the move to Dronfield gave Sheffield FC a base and real hope of moving forward from being an anonymous club amid the might of Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United to one which holds a place within the global footballing community.
If the initial results are anything to go by, those in charge are succeeding. They have become one of only two clubs to be bestowed with the FIFA Order of Merit - the other being Real Madrid - as part of the govening body's centennial celebrations. FIFA awarded the honour to Sheffield FC for being 'the oldest club in the world, founded in 1857, and a symbol of the role of football as a common denominator in the community and in society'.
Numerous clubs have come in wishing to play Sheffield FC, looking for the kudos of facing the world's oldest club.
Sheffield FC was formed on October 24, 1857, by two businessmen, Nathanial Creswick and William Prest. It was spawned from the cricket club which was eager for a sport to play outside summer when the sound of leather on willow had been silenced by the rain and the gloom of the winter months.
The formation of Wednesday was remarkably similar. Both were formed from cricket clubs (Sheffield Cricket Club and Sheffield Wednesday Cricket Club) and both had their inception during a meeting at the city's Aldelphi Hotel. Similarly, United was the brainchild of Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
Although it would be three years before Hallam, also from the Sheffield area, became the second football club, Sheffield FC would arrange special matches against specific groups.
From time to time they would have people whose name began with letters from the first half of the alphabet (A-M) against the rest. Married men would line-up against the bachelors and there would also be fixtures for professionals against workers.
It was football in its most primitive form, but when you are the first club in the world the options are limited.
The club possesses the first ever written version of the laws of the game, as well as the first printed version, testimony to their standing within the history of the beautiful game.
|“||The Londoners were shocked when Sheffield travelled down for another meeting in 1875. They had never encountered 'heading' before and the sight of the northerners doing so caused much amusement among the thronged masses. ”|
By 1862, 15 teams had sprung up in the Sheffield area and there was a similar growth beginning around London. And four years later Sheffield met London in the first ever game of its kind, with the capital coming out on top.
The Londoners were shocked when Sheffield travelled down for another meeting in 1875. They had never encountered 'heading' before and the sight of the northerners doing so caused much amusement among the thronged masses.
The lawmakers in Sheffield also introduced the wooden crossbar - it had merely been a length of rope - corner kicks, free-kicks, throw-ins and floodlit football.
Sheffield, nicknamed 'The Club' as an indicator to it being very first team, continued to have a leading role until the game began to turn professional towards the end of the 19th century. It was determined to remain an amateur side and as such drifted into the shadows while Wednesday and United become true forces in the sport.
Even so, The Club continued to prosper and won the Amateur Cup in 1904, beating Ealing in front of a crowd of 6,000 at Bradford's Valley Parade ground. Perhaps their greatest day came in 1977 when they ran out at Wembley for the FA Vase final, drawing 1-1 with holders Billericay Town before losing the replay at the home of Nottingham Forest.
Although major success has been sparse, Sheffield has continued to battle on in the lower reaches of the football pyramid. But the problems surrounding the ground had always acted as a albatross around the club's neck and a barrier to progress.
After setting up camp at a plethora of pitches including East Bank, Newhall Road, Old Forge, Ecclesall Road, Abbeydale Park, Hillsborough Park and Sheffield Wednesday's Middlewood Road training ground, the club found itself in the rather palatial surroundings of the 25,000-capacity Don Valley Stadium - built to host the World Student Games.
After a brief sojourn to Owlerton Stadium they were back at Don Valley, but although the cost was relatively cheap it was still too much for a side like Sheffield FC. As they continued to lose money the only way they could have a future was to acquire a ground of their own.
The club had become desperate for a venue to develop, enabling the team to move up the pyramid ladder with its scaled ground regulations.
In 2000 the lease at the Coach and Horses ground was signed by then-Chairman Peter Beeby. Sheffield FC debuted at the 1,200-capacity ground in a Northern Counties East League fixture the following April.
Four years on and giants strides have been made. Current chairman Richard Timms, who looks after all sides of the business, from the general business to the clubhouse bar, has worked tirelessly on both raising the club's profile and bringing it into the 21st century. The finances are healthier than ever before and there is the platform for greater things.
In 2002/03 The Club reached the final qualifying round of the FA Cup for the first time in over 40 years, bowing out to Conference side Northwich Victoria in a match played at United's Bramall Lane. And the Northern Counties East Football League Cup was won for the first time.
Last season promotion via the restructuring of the non-league divisions was missed by one place, having finished in fourth position in the Premier Division.
Sheffield FC now stands on the verge of promotion to the Unibond League, leaving them just three divisions below the Conference National. Of course, reaching such lofty heights is something of a pipe dream but making the initial step into the First Division of the Northern Premier League would act as a stepping stone.
The Sheffield FC of today is a shadow of its former self, despite having Adidas as its kit supplier and a raft of interest from all four corners of the globe. But the club remains semi-professional and works hard on its community links, having teams for both children and women.
And with the club due to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2007 plans are already being made for an event to match the occasion. FIFA, and especially president Blatter, have grown increasingly interested in the exploits of The Club and have already thrown their weight behind the project.
Membership benefits: Name up at the ground; Specially designed enamel Sheffield FC badge; A4 certificate of recognition; Three update newsletters throughout the year; Other benefits become available throughout the football season.