Sunday 28 July 2013

How Sheffield FC are protecting football's founding roots

The world's first football club Sheffield FC celebrated the game's oldest derby last weekend as they took on Hallam FC at the Home of Football. Alex Lawson takes a look at how the club marked the occasion and how it is protecting the heritage of the beautiful game.
A mere 153 years after Sheffield FC persuaded a local cricket team to play this new fangled game named football, two of football's oldest teams united on the pitch once more. 
Sheffield FC v Hallam FC is football's oldest fixture
Sheffield FC, based in Dronfield, north Derbyshire, was created by solicitor Nathaniel Creswick and wine merchant William Prest who together drew up the laws of the game including throw-ins and corners, originally known as the 'Sheffield Rules'. After tempting Hallam into their first derby on Boxing Day 1860, the festive cheer between the two amateur teams has remained strong. Sheffield FC were formed in 1857 and are officially recognised by FIFA as the World's First Football Club. 
The club's determination for Creswick and Prest to be recognised as the founding fathers of the world's most popular sport has been clear and while Notts County's position as the world's oldest professional club, founded in 1862, is often quoted Sheffield FC's status is frequently referenced in the media. Its position was also noted by Pele, who attended a friendly match against Inter Milan at Bramall Lane in 2007 as the club marked its 150th anniversary.
Saturday's fixture did this esteemed legacy proud. The match was attended by locals as well as fans from Nuremberg and Munich in Germany and Genoa, Italy as well as local musicians and former professional footballers. On the pitch, a smart 4-2 victory for Sheffield FC kept their upstart 153-year-old rivals in place at the Home of Football, also perhaps less heroically dubbed the BT Local Business Stadium. Music from the likes of Sheffield band Reverend and the Makers and the Chris Waddle All Stars, fronted by the ex-England and Sheffield Wednesday winger, capped a traditional and fitting occasion in the nearby Coach and Horses pub. 
Former England star Chris Waddle attended the derby
The main event was preceded by a 'Pioneers Match' contested by two veterans sides representing Sheffield and Hallam, in which the former were victorious dressed in vintage-style get up in tribute to the teams' founders.
But while the weekend's event was a fitting and jovial celebration, Sheffield FC are deadly serious about their aims for the game which it invented. Among its stated aims are an improvement in grassroots cricket and protecting the sanctity of the values and identity of the game. "Football has started as a gentlemen’s game in 1857, a time when people came together on the pitch for the joy of playing - far offside the commercial world that football is dominated by today," chairman Richard Tims explains. "In this respect, our foundation wants to protect the roots and natural values of the game." 
Through its foundation, Sheffield FC has embarked on a number of projects including connecting with the local community to improve health as well as enjoyment of the game as well as its Boots for Africa initiative which has seen the club ship more than 25,000 pairs of boots to the continent since 2009. 
Sheffield FC is also attempting to map out the world's oldest clubs by using social media to discern which is the oldest club in every country before mapping them into a rather nifty timeline. "It will bring a light to the unknown and forgotten heroes of football's past and present times, helping to tell these beautiful and unique stories to the world, to capture and pass on the heritage of football that still lives on today, thanks to its inventors and pioneers," says Tims. 
Perhaps its most ambitious plan is to build a "place of pilgrimage for football fans from all over the world". The club wants to develop a museum and "holy ground" for football in the heart of Sheffield where it first played on Olive Grove. With a fanatical support for the game in the Steel City via the Owls and the Blades, there may be the local backing for this to be achieved. 
Sheffield FC are on a mission to preserve the elements of the game its founders crystallised and quickly enthralled the planet with. On the evidence of the passion and dedication with which its supported, the beautiful game is in safe hands.
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