This day marks the anniversary of the founding of Sheffield Football Club, recognised by FIFA, world football’s governing body, as the world’s oldest association football club.
The club was founded on 24 October 1857 by Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest. They were both members of Sheffield Cricket Club, where members had taken to having an informal “kickabout” as an alternative to their usual game.
As at first there was no opposition, games of football were held only between club members. Often the cricket club batsmen would take on the bowlers, or those that were married would play those who were not, or fathers would face sons. It was not until Hallam Football Club was founded in 1860, that the Sheffield footballers were able to take on players from outside their own camp. Hallam, also based in Sheffield, is the second oldest club in the world. The fixture between the two Sheffield clubs is considered the first local rivalry in football, and is still described as “the Sheffield derby.”
The game as it was played then bears little resemblance to football as it is seen today. While the principle of kicking the ball into an opponent’s goal has remained the same, many of the rules that exist today were not in the Sheffield Rules when they were drawn up by Creswick and Prest in 1858. For instance, the Sheffield Rules allowed for a fair amount of handling of the ball, and there were no stipulations about the number of players on each team. Some of the early rules are, however, quite familiar, as the Sheffield Rules introduced the throw-in re-start and the concept of a free-kick being awarded for foul play.
Before long, other clubs began to appear around the country, and by 1863, such was the popularity of the kicking game, that the Football Association was formed at a pub in Central London. The FA established its own set of rules that it hoped would bring some order to the sport. Until this time, each school or club that played football did so under its own set of rules, and it was clear that some sort of codification was necessary.
For a while the Sheffield Rules held sway in the north of England, while the FA rules were favoured in the south. Matches between northern and southern clubs would often be played under both sets of rules, one half FA, the other half Sheffield. In 1877, under pressure to obtain uniformity, the Sheffield FA accepted the Football Association’s version of the game.
As interest in the game increased, so it made the inevitable move towards professionalism. Sheffield FC has stayed staunchly amateur throughout the professional era, never once gaining promotion to the football league. However, the club has enjoyed some success, winning the FA Amateur Cup in 1904, and reaching the final of the FA Vase in 1977. The club is still going strong, and in 2011 played in the Northern Premier League Division One South, some eight tiers below the top flight of English football.
Credit: Alamy C7GTCD
Caption: The earliest iteration of football was an informal “kickabout” at a cricket club.