Monday, October 22, 2007

How Many Candles?

During the summer, there were audible gasps when Puma released Spurs' kits - alongside the white home kit and very, very dark blue change kits was a white and sky blue halved number, which looked like a Blackburn home shirt that had been left out in the sun for too long. All became apparent in the accompanying press release - this was Spurs' "125th Anniversary Kit", based on the shirts that they wore when they were founded in 1882. They were worn just the once, on the first of October, as Spurs fought back from three goals down to earn a 4-4 draw against Aston Villa. Now, a hundred and twenty-five years is a long time. It's almost certainly longer than any of us will last. However, there is an even more significant birthday taking place this month - step forward Sheffield FC, the oldest football club in the world, who are one hundred and fifty years old this month.

Take a moment, if you will, to consider just how old Sheffield FC is. They predate Tottenham Hotspur by a full quarter of a century. In fact, Sheffield FC are older than the Football League, the FA Cup and international football. In fact, Sheffield FC are older than the FA by six years. They're older than the laws of the game themselves. They are, in footballing terms, the first creatures to step forth from the primordial gloop of "mob football", in which hundreds of men would batter seven bells out of each other in the name of sport, and try to make sense of a game that was in its infancy. The first question that one asks when given such a fact is a pretty obvious one - who did they play against? Well, the answer to that is a pretty obvious one - until other clubs started to form, they had to (no sniggering at the back) play amongst themselves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, The Oldest Football Club In The World's history is fairly well documented. When first formed (they were, like many that would follow them, a cricket team in search of ways to keep themselves fit in the winter), they first sat down and drew up a list of rules. The "Sheffield Rules" were the first properly unified set of rules for playing football and formed the backbone of the FA's laws, first published in 1863. In the 1870s, they introduced a solid crossbar to replace the tape that was used by most other clubs, and also claim to be the first club to introduce heading the ball into the game.

Strictly an amateur club, they were always likely to suffer with the rise of professionalism in the 1880s. They did, however, get closely involved with the formation of Sheffield United in 1889 and remained a powerful amateur club for some time, winning the FA Amateur Cup in 1904. Since then, they have fallen somewhat from grace, although they did manage a trip to Wembley in the 1977 FA Vase final, where they celebrated their 120th anniversary by Billericay Town to a draw before losing the replay at Nottingham Forest's City Ground. After over a century of homelessness (they initially used Bramall Lane, but moved out when Sheffield United moved in), they bought their own ground in 2001, when they purchased The Coach & Horses pub in Dronfield and, more significantly, the Sunday League pitch behind it. It now plays host to a smart 1,500 capacity stadium. They played in the Northern Counties East League until the end of last season, when restructuring moved them into the Unibond League Division One South - three divisions below the Conference. A quick glance at the league table seems to indicate that they are enjoying their first season at their new level - they currently sit in second place in the table.

Being the oldest football club in the world is, of course, completely unique, and the club are making the most of their unique anniversary. Not only have they lined up a friendly match against their older siblings Sheffield United (not unexpected - they played both United and Wednesday in the pre-season), but they have also managed to managed to secure a home friendly against Internazionale in two weeks time - the significance that Inter are also celebrating their 100th anniversary this season. This is being tied in with a high profile membership drive, alongside having already been awarded the FIFA Order Of Merit at FIFA's 100th Anniversary celebrations in 2004 - the only other club to have been awarded it are Real Madrid. That such a small club could have existed for such a long time is a remarkable fact, and a tribute in itself to supporters and committee members that have been driven to never let the club die - and with money coming in from these celebrations coupled with a team that still seems to be on the up on the pitch, it's entirely plausible that the world's oldest football club might yet have its brightest days ahead of it.

A recent Financial Times photo-shoot of the glamorous world of Sheffield FC

Ballhype: hype it up!


ursus arctos said...

With Robbo "working his magic" at United and Wednesday suing their own supporters while their season burns, they may well be the only team in the city whose fortunes are looking up at the moment.

Inter still haven't announced this fixture in Italy. I honestly wonder who will turn up in black and blue.

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