It was in 1860, 150 years, 4 months and 6 days ago and the spectators watched the VERY FIRST inter club football match anywhere IN THE WORLD !!! newly formed Hallam FC were hosting the world's first football club Sheffield FC, already three years old.
Today I stood on the exact spot where one of those spectators stood at SANDYGATE, the world's oldest football ground, and still used today by HALLAM FC, the Countrymen, in an upmarket suburb of Sheffield, and very high up with the Derbyshire Hills in the peaceful background. www.hallamfootballclub.com
Outside the CRUCIBLE where John Higgins was playing Judd Trump for the World Snooker Championships, I took the No.51 bus through the city centre, past Sheffield University, and up, up, and up the hills to the bus stop near the ground and outside The Plough, a local pub. I met up with Sheffield FC Chairman Richard Tims. www.sheffieldfc.com, on a bright, sunny, cloudless afternoon.
" The day was beautiful and the 'uniform' of the men contrasted with each other and the pure snow had a most picturesque appearance. The Sheffielders turned out in their usual scarlet and white while most of the country players wore blue garments. We must give the palm to the Sheffield players as being the most scientific and also the more alive to the advantage of upsetting their opponents. When the darkness closed upon the scene the Sheffield club, notwithstanding their inferior numbers, counted two goals to nothing, and went home fully satisfied with their victory."
This was a report of the World's first football match. By 1863 when Hallam FC won the world's first football trophy, there were 22 football clubs just in Sheffield. One hundred years on and the two oldest clubs are still operating, along with Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday.
I bought a few official programmes, a beautifully designed memento and chatted with Russ Taylor who did a splendid job with it, and with the nice couple running the souvenir table where I also purchased a limited edition and numbered badge with the two clubs' logos, plus a souvenir brochure www.theoldestfootballgroundintheworld.com
This match, for the Alan Cooper Memorial Trophy was supposed to be played on Boxing Day, December 26th as part of Hallam's 150th anniversary season celebrations, but the pitch was covered in ice and snow. So here we are, May Day 2nd May 2011.
In the clubhouse there is a bar and lots of photos, plaques, posters, trophies and framed signed jerseys from such as Pele, Maradona, Hurst and more. They serve Marston's beer and the brewery owns the ground but leases it out on an annual 'peppercorn' rent. At the club kiosk I paid £2 for a tasty warm Cornish pasty, made by a company founded by a former player. In fact the company donated 200 for the day so that all sales were pure profit. They also sold chip 'butties' which were in demand for £1.30. For my foreign friends, a chip butty is lots of french fries in a bread bap.
The Sandygate pitch has a steep slope, I estimated about 20 feet, or more than three metres from end to end, and with a stiff wind, both teams found it difficult to control the ball. Lots of exciting near misses, until the 76th minute when going down hill Craig Getliff opened the score for The Countrymen. the advantage didn't last long before Jack Smith blasted the equaliser from close range past goalie Adam Valente. Three minutes from full time Callum Harrison became the hero of the day with the winner. There was an intricate passing movement worthy of 'Barca' as CLUB kept close possesion leading to the final goal.
I had a long chat with Hallam FC former player and now chairman David Slater. He explained the plans for the proposed new visitors and educational community centre, as part of the 'Sheffield football trail 'starting at Sheffield FC. Also leaning over the fence watching this historic match next to me were Alan Coles and his grandson Lee Inman Marfitt, football enthusiasts who had been waiting for this day for a long time.
The trophy was presented by retired local Premier League and FIFA referee Uriah Rennie, black, bald head and magnificent physique, he reminded me of those old photos of Jack Johnson, the former world heavyweight champion, and described by Keith Hackett, former referee boss as 'the fittest referee in England or the world'. Uriah is now the Hallam FC President and a local magistrate.
What a great day in South Yorkshire. Football, pasties, chips and beer!