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Non League Football Under The Microscope

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Eastbourne Borough fans celebrate - August Bank Holiday Monday 2003                                Photograph by Sam Hicks

Sheffield FC

The Bright Finance Stadium, Dronfield, Sheffield S18 2GD
Telephone: 01246 291338
Nickname: The Club
Northern Counties East League

Note As any self-respecting fan of football trivia is well aware, the world’s very first football club was born in Sheffield on 24 October 1857. The story goes that a couple of cricket enthusiasts William Prest and Nathaniel Creswick formed the club in order to keep their fitness levels up during winter, and the first HQ was a potting shed and green house at the bottom of East Bank Road. Arguably the most significant development however was the foundation of the first commonly accepted set of rules which included heading, a proper crossbar, corner kicks, the first free kicks for fouls, the first proper throw-ins and the first floodlit match.

Very early games were played at Bramall Lane, now of course the site of Sheffield United’s ground; before moving to Abbeydale Park which is now a multi-purpose sports complex. There were only fairly basic facilities and on becoming founder members of the Northern Counties East League in 1982 the club began looking for a new home. In 1989 Sheffield began playing at Hillsborough Park, and old athletics track next to Sheffield Wednesday’s ground. However, with planning permission not being gained for floodlights the club moved into the far more modern Don Valley Stadium, built in 1990 for the World Student Games. The stadium has a 25,000 capacity but attendances at Sheffield’s home games barely made a dent in it and, with low attendances it was an unsuitable venue as the club struggled to survive. The DV Stadium however, also failed to meet League requirements and in 1994 the club was forced once again to find a new home: this turned out to be the aging Owlerton Stadium, built in 1929 and shared with greyhound and stock car racing.

Thankfully, the club managed to survive and, under the Chairmanship of Richard Tims, who took over in 1999, Sheffield’s fortunes have been transformed beyond all recognition. The club has sensibly traded on its history and developed a sound corporate strategy. Just as importantly, it now has a ‘proper’ home to call its own, at the old Coach & Horses Ground in Dronfield. The price of survival has been a move out of Sheffield itself and corporate ‘re-branding’ of the ground but it seems a small price to pay given the circumstances the club found itself in barely a decade ago. With members all over the world, the club has also done much to encourage football at all levels of the community including those with a disability, and also promotes charitable work.

The Coach & Horses Ground gets its name from the pub that is actually part of the ground, and backs on to the area behind the away dugout. The home dugout surprisingly, is smaller and on the far side of the ground. The arrangement of the facilities is also quite unusual, with a seated stand behind one of the goals; whilst a covered terrace is situated along the near touchline. A large bank extends along the far touchline which would obviously have to be excavated were the club ever in a position to move further up the Pyramid. When I visited during the summer of 2005 it was just bare earth but it will look a lot better once it gets some foliage growing on it, if indeed that is the plan. DB