Sheffield Football Clubs and Stadiums

By Daniel Bagshaw (Dan1980) (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sheffield is a real sporting city and long has been. In the modern age the city is able to boast a club that takes part in every major type of sport that is played in the UK, which is no easy task and one that isn’t replicated very often. From ice hockey’s Sheffield Steelers through to the Sheffield Tigers Premier League speedway team, there’s a side for every sporting discipline should you wish to go and watch it. Though Don Valley Stadium was demolished in 2014, it was once the UK’s largest athletics stadium and the Crucible Theatre plays home to the World Snooker Championship every year.

However, there’s little doubt that the sport that dominates the city is football and that has been the case almost since its inception. After all, Sheffield Football Club, which was founded in 1857, is accepted as being the oldest association football club anywhere in the world. Football as a sport only really came about because of cricket, with clubs deciding to play something during the winter months in order to ensure that their players could maintain their fitness. With that in mind, let’s have a look at the two main clubs that ply their trade in the city of Sheffield as well as another that deserves a proper mention.

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Football Stadiums in Sheffield

Stadium Capacity Team League
Bramall Lane 32,050 Sheffield United Championship
Hillsborough 39,732 Sheffield Wednesday League One

Sheffield United - Bramall Lane (0.61 Miles to the Crucible Theatre)

Bramall Lane
By en:User:Hawksworthm (English Wikipedia) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

As mentioned in the introduction, a lot of football clubs were originally formed in order to give the cricketers something to do in the winter months other than eat warming foods and get drunk. It’s hardly a surprise, therefore, that Sheffield United Football Club was formed by the players and management of Sheffield United Cricket Club. Though the links to cricket were clear, the reason behind the club’s formation was actually quite similar to the reason that Liverpool FC was formed in the wake of Everton abandoning Anfield for Goodison Park in Liverpool. Sheffield Wednesday, known at the time simply as The Wednesday, has decided to leave Bramall Lane for because of a dispute over gate receipts.

The tenants of Bramall Lane needed a new income and so a meeting was held at the building which would later become the Crucible Theatre. During that meeting it was decided that a new football club would be formed and it would be called Sheffield United, demonstrating the togetherness of the side. Though they are now known as 'The Blades', it was actually Sheffield Wednesday that claimed that nickname originally as a reference to the city’s ties to the steel industry. When Wednesday moved grounds in 1907 to one in the Owlerton district of the city they officially took on the nickname of 'The Owls' and United took the Blades nickname for themselves.

Bramall Lane has been the home of the club ever since its formation in 1889, though the ground has a much older history than that. It was originally built in 1855 and, unsurprisingly if you’ve been paying attention, hosted cricket during the early years. To begin with the cricket club resisted any attempts to allow a sport other than football to be played on it but finally relented in 1862 when they allowed a charity football match between Sheffield Football Club and Hallam Football Club to be played there. The game ended 0-0 but raised money for the Lancashire Distress Fund. This match, combined with the fact that Sheffield United still play their games at the ground, means that Bramall Lane is the oldest major stadium anywhere in the world that continues to host association football.

As well as hosting numerous historically important events, such as the final of the first football tournament ever held and the first match played under floodlights, Bramall Lane has seen its fair share of Steel City derbies. This is the name of the matches played between Sheffield United and their rivals Sheffield Wednesday. Though the two sets of fans dislike each other as rivals tend to do, it is not a bitter rivalry as you might find in the likes of North London or Liverpool. In fact, one of the most interesting matches witnessed at Bramall Lane was not a derby but rather a match between United and West Bromwich Albion. The game was abandoned after 82 minutes when, thanks to red cards and injuries, Sheffield United only had six players left on the pitch.

Sheffield Wednesday - Hillsborough (2.54 Miles to Crucible Theatre)

By Gareth Simpson from Burbank, USA (Hillsborough) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sheffield Wednesday, known originally simply as 'The Wednesday', moved to Hillsborough in 1899. Prior to that they had bounced around from location to location within the city’s boundaries, including having played some games at Bramall Lane as mentioned earlier. The third oldest professional association football club in England, Sheffield Wednesday are also one of the oldest clubs in the entire world. That’s not a shock, of course, considering England invented the game. The club was formed in 1867, 47 years after the foundation of The Wednesday Cricket Club. In what is a rather enjoyable little fact, the name comes from the fact that Wednesday was the day that the founding members of the side were given off work, so that’s when they could play most often.

Formed to keep the cricketers fit during winter and to ensure a sense of togetherness and camaraderie, it became clear rather quickly that football would prove to be more popular than cricket and so the two teams went their separate ways in 1882. Life must have seemed rosy for the footballers in those early years. They won the first competition that they entered, the Cromwell Cup, in 1868 just a few weeks after having been formed. Indeed, they did win the First Division championship four times between 1903 and 1930 as well as three FA Cups and one League Cup. They haven’t won either of the first two competitions since 1935, however, and their sole League Cup came in 1991. Sufficed to say, therefore, that their better days look to be behind them.

Their rivalry with Sheffield United is typical of crosstown teams in that the two sets of supporters dislike each other simply because of proximity. They haven’t often been in the same division in recent years, however, so any hatred has dissipated somewhat owing to a lack of familiarity. Instead their is far more of a rivalry with teams based not far away, such as Leeds United and Nottingham Forest. Derby County are another side that Owls fans tend to enjoy getting the better of, with healthy rivalries against fellow South Yorkshire teams like Rotherham United, Barnsley, Chesterfield and Doncaster Rovers all present and correct - exactly as they should be for sides based on geographical locations.

It is impossible to talk of Hillsborough Stadium without mentioning the disaster that unfolded within the ground on the 15th of April 1989. Liverpool were playing against Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final when over-crowding in one of the pens led to 96 Liverpool supporters losing their lives. Subsequent investigations have found that the blame lay at the hands of police who failed to adequately carry out their duties, though the stadium itself did not have a valid safety certificate at the time that it was selected to host the match. That was, in part, down to the Football Association failing to do their due diligence in ensuring that the ground was up to scratch for hosting such a major event. At the time of writing court proceedings are ongoing in this matter an incredible 28 years after it happened.

Sheffield Football Club - (4.93 Miles to Crucible Theatre)

Sheffield Rules
The Sheffield Rules - By PavloFriend (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A brief but more in-depth mention of the oldest association football club in the world is mentioned here. Sheffield Football Club is a non-league side that, at the time of writing, plies its trade in the eight level of the English Football League pyramid. The club’s age meant that it was given an honour in 2004 that is shared only by Real Madrid - the FIFA Order of Merit. The club played its first match in 1857 and in 1858 rules were drawn up to decide how the game should be played. These became known as the Sheffield Rules and were the first official rules of football of any kind. You can read more about the rules of the game here, though it’s interesting to note that the Football Association adapted the Sheffield Rules to make the Laws of the Game we know today. Sheffield FC didn’t adopt the FA’s rules until 1878.

Obviously the fact that the club is so low down in the divisions of the Football League means that games between Sheffield FC and either United or Wednesday practically never occur. In fact, the most interesting match that gets played involving Sheffield FC is against Hallam, another side based in the city. The reason it’s interesting is that the match was played for the first time in 1860 and is believed to be one of the oldest association football derbies ever to have taken place. They still play each other to this day. Sheffield Football Club’s only real moment of glory came in 1904 when they won the FA Amateur Cup, but supporters would tell you that winning trophies isn’t the only thing that can ensure a side is full of history.