Six miles south of town, Sheffield FC are rightly proud to be the world’s first football club – but this doesn’t alleviate the same problems that blight their contemporary table-mates. Founded in 1857, ‘The Club’ are caught between historic responsibility and the need to rid debts by reforming – while eighth-flight football every Saturday means wage cuts, want-away players and withering form.
Average crowds, though healthy for the Evo-Stik Division One South, number 200-250. Moving to a pub-team field in Derbyshire 15 years ago has not affected these attendances but the club’s main aim is to move back into Sheffield. Specifically, back to a rebuilt Olive Grove stadium, near Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane, where Sheffield Wednesday played in the 1890s. Until finances improve, however, an aim it will remain.
Sheffield could follow the lead of clubs such as FC Halifax and AFC Wimbledon, reform and start from scratch – but their entire operation is based around the USP of being the world’s oldest football club. No history, no kudos.
Football aficionados from across Europe make the pilgrimage to Dronfield, a town of 20,000 people halfway between Sheffield and Chesterfield. The club even has a special rate for fans at the Best Western Cutlers Hotel slap in Sheffield city centre.
Visiting the Coach & Horses, the club’s new spiritual home and pre-match pub that lends its name to the pitch, is a welcome reminder that heritage still has a place in the English game. Laudably, the club is at pains to make best use of its tradition, something it refers to as ‘The Mission’. Community and education programmes, 20 (!) teams, including girls at under-15, under-14 and under-11, futsal, veterans and over-35s, coaching schemes, this staunchly amateur club provides the kind of across-the-board support for the local game that would put a Championship club to shame.
A gander around the Coach & Horses makes the visitor soon appreciate the weight of history. Not every pub has the first ever published photo of a football team.
Two members of Sheffield Cricket Club, Nathaniel Creswick and William Priest, not only formed the first football club in 1857, they drew up a first ever set of rules for them to play by. These so-called Sheffield Rules introduced now familiar concepts such as corners and free-kicks.
In 1860, Sheffield FC played their first match against another pioneering local club, Hallam. While Sheffield remained proudly amateur, the game around them quickly turned professional. The Club duly helped create the FA Amateur Cup, which they won in 1904.
In the century that followed, Sheffield competed in the strong regional leagues, based mainly at Abbeydale Park in Dore, used by Argentina as a training pitch during the 1966 World Cup.
Itinerant after 1988, in 2001 The Club bought the Coach & Horses ground in Dronfield. Six years later, Sheffield celebrated their 150th anniversary with gala matches against Internazionale and Ajax at Bramall Lane, Pelé and then FIFA chief Sepp Blatter the guests of honour.
Well aware of its heritage, the club lays on football history tours of Sheffield, taking in Olive Grove, Hallam, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday and, of course, the Coach & Horses ground. Contact email@example.com.
The Coach & Horses ground in Dronfield holds 2,000, 250 in its one main stand. Former home of Norton Woodseats, who reached the FA Amateur Cup semi-final in 1939, it was bought by Sheffield FC in 2001. For most home games, you can expect a crowd of some 200-plus, usually including a sprinkling of foreign groundhoppers delighted to be watching the world’s first football club in action.
Although plans call for a move back to Sheffield, and Olive Grove, this may not happen for some time yet.
The Coach & Horses ground is about 1km north of Dronfield station from Sheffield (hourly, £4.60 day return, 10min journey time) – walk left out of the station, up Chesterfield/Sheffield Road, past a large ALDI.
The Coach & Horses also has its own bus stop, on the No.43 (every 30min) route from Flat Street or Arundel Gate in Sheffield, journey time 30min. The £4 CityBus Day pass is valid.
Admission is £8 on the day, £4 for over-65s and students.
A modest selection of souvenirs – keyrings, caps, iPhone covers – is sold by the main stand on match days.
Run by Thornbridge Brewery from Derbyshire, the Coach & Horses is as decent a pre-match pub as you’ll find almost anywhere – and this one serves the world’s first football club. Thornbridge ales (including ‘1857’) and quality bar snacks are provided in the kind of homely hostelry that defines the word ‘pub’. The Sheffield FC memorabilia on display awaits studious perusal.