Living only 30 minutes from Sheffield I have been lucky to have recently learnt fascinating facts about football.
Football Heritage Walking Tour
It started with a ‘Football Heritage Walking Tour’ in Sheffield as part of Heritage Weekend in mid September led by researcher and consultant Dr John P Wilson who teaches at the Universities of Sheffield and Oxford. His knowledge and enthusiasm explained how Sheffield should be considered the home of Football as we visited sites and views of the city with a group of Football fans whose own knowledge added to the fun. We ended the tour at The Cutlers Hotel in the centre of the city for a review and further information and anecdotes from the tour party. The 1857 bar is situated at the site where Sheffield F.C. (the world’s oldest football club) was formed. It is owned by Greg Dyke former Chairman of the FA through Saxon Hotels Ltd. John finished by giving us some leaflets of research he had led that show why Sheffield should be considered ‘The Home of Football’. He passionately asked us to pass on the information to the widest audience possible.
‘A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889’
My next education came at Chapeltown Library Sheffield on Friday 13th October where Martin Westbury gave a talk on his new book ‘A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889’. Martin was enthusiastic over the http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk a resource which eventually will feature 40 million pages from the British Library’s vast collection. The whole venture will take 10 years to complete but lucky for Martin Sheffield newspapers have been completed. A small fee has allowed him access details that have shed new light on the start of 95 local teams in the formative years of Football. This book is a cornucopia of charts, drawings, maps and photos and gives a clear, informative insight into this age. Once started you won’t put the book down. Again it was stressed that Sheffield was ‘The Home of Football’ and this year “2017 is a very important year for Sheffield football and Association football in general”.
Martin has an amazing insight into fòtball in general and runs the website Soccerbillia. The website sells football magazines and papers and takes on specific searches if required.
Off The Shelf Festival of Words
The ‘Off The Shelf Festival of Words’ which is in its 26th year gave me more football exposure. As part of the ideas alive at 5.45 a session on the 19th October was delivered by Dr Chris Stride from The University of Sheffield’s Institute of Work Psychology – Around the World in Eight Football Statues. This was an amazing talk on the growth of Sporting Statues around the world and was based on a data base compiled by researchers at the University of Sheffield. The database can be viewed at http://www.sportingstatues.com and is updated regularly.
Stride, C.B., Thomas, F.E. and Wilson, J.P. (2012) ‘The Sporting Statues Project’s. http://www.sportingstatues.com
Flying over an Olive Grove – The Biography of Fred Spikesley
A Flawed Football Hero.
Again as part of ‘Off the Shelf’ another fascinating chat by Mark Metcalf and Clive Nicholson about their book co written by themselves and Ralph Nicholson about Fred Spikesley a working class hero of his time. A Lincolnshire lad who was able to escape the drudgery of an industrial or farming career to play football for a living at the end of the 19th century. His career at Sheffield Wednesday playing at Olive Grove is his link to Sheffield where many of his famous football achievements were performed.
He was the first scorer of a hat-trick against Scotland, a gambler, he appeared on stage with Charlie Chaplin, escaped from a German prison in 1914 as well as coaching football on three continents.
The best way to further review Fred’s career is to visit https://spiksley.com/book/ where you can also buy the book.
This under threat institution was recommended by some of the above as a great source of Football books. They were not wrong with a good range on the shelves and in the archives of the reference library who let me borrow some books.
One of these was ‘Underdogs – The Unlikely story of Football’s first FA Cup Underdogs’. A book about Darwen and their exploits in the FA cup in the first years of the competition. This working class team of underdogs reached quarter and semi finals only to be beaten by the gentlemen of Old Etonians and Old Carthusians sometimes with tactics that were not gentlemanly.
This easy to read book is also really informative of the social and industrial history of Lancashire and football in general. It is written by Keith Dewhurst. In a chapter on Sheffield Keith gives two other reasons of why it is so important to Football stating that the use of the whistle and heading a ball came from there.
Home of Football
So in a small space of time I have been able to see the real significance of Sheffield to Football, but I don’t think it is any more the home as: Wembley – the home of the FA and the national stadium, St. George’s Park – Burton upon Trent, home to Englands 28 national teams and training ground, Manchester – National football Museum.
In fact I feel that the home of football is that which is close to you. My home of football is Clarence Park – St Albans, where I watched my first game many years ago and gained a clip round the ear for gathering dropped paper and putting it on a dis-guarded lighted cigarette end that started smoking to the laughter of the crowd but the distress of my father.
What is important for Football’s heritage is that we all get behind Sheffield FC’s campaign to move back to within a stones throw of where they started (Olive Grove) in a venue fit for the oldest team in the world and a visitors centre that will reflect Sheffield’s true place as a significant center of influence on the rules of this wonderful game and its continuing innovations.