Sheffield is enshrined in the rich football history of the United Kingdom. Leading the city’s footballing story are the Premier League’s Sheffield United and Championship side Sheffield Wednesday. Whilst it is these two clubs who steal the headlines in the local and national sports pages, it is a small amateur club, Sheffield FC, which played a fascinating and important part in the foundation of the modern game.
Sheffield FC hold the title of the first official football club in the world. It was founded on 24th October 1857 by two members of Sheffield Cricket Club, Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest. For some time before that, Creswick and Prest had organised informal football games between members of the cricket club. Wanting a more organised and structured set-up for these games, they had the idea of forming an official club for the regular participants.
By 1860, just three years after the club’s formation, a further 15 clubs had appeared in Sheffield, with a notable name being Hallam FC. The first game between the two clubs was the world’s first local derby. The derby also held major significance for the future of football, as both teams played the game governed by a set of rules named the ‘Sheffield Rules’ – which were devised by Creswick and Prest. The rules have had a major influence on the modern game, as many of them still apply to this day including halfway line kick offs, corner kicks and the use of a crossbar.
By the mid-1860’s, Sheffield FC longed for competition from further afield. However, this brought challenges as teams outside Sheffield had developed their own versions of the rules of the game. Many of these rules were far removed from those developed by Creswick and Prest. One notable difference was in the Nottingham rule book according to which teams would line up with 18 players instead of the 11 players allowed by the Sheffield rules.
The drastic variations in rules across the country were only going to prove detrimental to the development of football, so in stepped the recently established Football Association who saw the importance of universally accepted rules for the game. Between the FA and Sheffield FC, there were deliberations, disagreements and a certain stubbornness from the Sheffield side over following the FA’s new rules in their entirety. However, the majority of the clubs across the country chose to follow the rules, which meant that if Sheffield wanted the nationwide competition they craved, they had to adopt the guidelines. Eventually, in 1878, they succumbed – but many of the Sheffield Rules did actually survive in the new FA rule book.
Despite their importance in the creation and early development of the game, Sheffield FC soon started to be dwarfed by fellow clubs due to the FA’s introduction of professionalism into the game in 1885. Many clubs embraced this change and paid their players a regular wage. Sheffield FC vehemently rejected the idea of professionalism, preferring to hold on to their principles and roots in the amateur game.
In response to the growing professionalism, Sheffield FC suggested and succeeded in persuading the FA to create the FA Amateur Cup – as an alternative to the FA Cup which professional clubs had begun to dominate. Sheffield won the Amateur Cup in 1904, beating Ealing at Valley Parade in Bradford. The Cup ran until 1974 and was eventually replaced by the FA Trophy and the FA Vase.
Despite the growing popularity of professionalism in the game, Sheffield continued to stand by their beliefs, which in turn saw their progress as a team fall further and further behind. Their stand against the changing game was, in their eyes, in keeping with the club’s motto ‘Integrity, Respect, Community’. Keeping their amateur status was the club’s way of honouring these values and, on reflection, deserves the utmost respect.
Sheffield FC are continuing to play an important part in football history. In 2004, the club’s loyalty to its values and its services to football were recognised by FIFA, alongside football giants Real Madrid, with a ‘Centennial Order of Merit’.
In 2007, the club celebrated its 150 year anniversary with a ‘Service of Football’, attended by some of the most decorated and famous faces in the game, including Sir Bobby Charlton, Pele and Sepp Blatter.
Football fans across the world have Sheffield FC to thank for their vital contribution to the creation of the beautiful game we all know and love to this day.
[Featured image: Unsplash]