by Aleks V |
2017 marks the 160th anniversary of the world's first football club, Sheffield FC. Sheffield 160 is a bi-weekly series that goes behind the scenes of the historic club through interviews with players and staff.
In this installment, Aleks chats with Media Editor Stuart James on how Sheffield FC has changed throughout the years, the most interesting people he's met at the club, and more.
What are your first football-related memories? How did you get into the sport?
I guess I got into football from the moment I landed on the planet. My older brother was a pretty talented footballer, so a lot of that passion was passed onto me by his involvement and by him wanting to use me as a convenient opponent at one-versus-one football on the side of my house. The fact that he was seven years older than me never stopped me wanting to beat him, so I started to become obsessed with both playing and watching the sport, and suddenly by Primary School I was the fount of knowledge of all things football – being able to recite all 92 English clubs, their grounds, colours, managers and nicknames. A bit geeky, but it made me popular…
The older I got, the more I became interested in watching the sport – my first live game ironically was Hallam FC v Sheffield FC at Sandygate. I never realised that fixture held so much significance at that time and was taken to games by a relative most weekends; the bug had bit and I’ve been hooked ever since.
How did you get involved with Sheffield FC? What are your earliest memories of the city and club?
The earliest memory I have of Sheffield as a city is like most others, being dragged around Castle Market under great duress, with only the promise of going to Suggs’ Sports shop across the road keeping me from having one of those tantrums you’d see so often in the market.
As I said Sheffield FC was my first game, so that is probably when the Club first came to my attention. I would say I was born a stone’s throw away from the Olive Grove ground where we hope to return to one day - but I’m not that good at throwing stones, and my first effort would probably hit a passing bus and there’d be all kinds of trouble, so I’ll say two or three throws - so they’ve always been there in the back of my mind.
I was aware of the fact SFC was the First Football Club and were formed on October 24th 1857 since my first week at school. My teacher Mr. Kitts was doing role call in a morning, came to me in the list and asked “are you related to…?” The answer was yes, and then randomly he told the class “Did you know club football was invented in Sheffield by Sheffield FC?” You never forget things like that, and an old primary school friend I bumped into a few years ago made comment it was always destined I’d be involved with SFC.
Initially though as a young adult – even though I’m a lifelong Celtic fan – I spent much of my time switching between watching Luton Town and Manchester City, two teams I’d adopted at an early age because I never had any time or patience for Sheffield United or Wednesday, but then about twenty years ago, I decided – or should I say, the birth of my son decided – the cost implications of train travel and petrol were going to be beyond me, so a massive change was going to have to be made. So, I chose to drop it all and follow Sheffield FC!
What's a typical day like for you as Media Editor at the world's oldest football club?
Ha! No such thing! Every day tends to throw its own little quirks up. My primary job away from the Club is working for a Recruitment Agency, something I absolutely love by the way, so that all comes first. It doesn’t stop the fact that during a normal working day my phone will ping when an email comes through, and my colleagues will probably know it’s football related … but work comes first, so all the football attention starts when I get to the car park.
Normally the core of the Editorial work comes around the matchday programme – The Red and Black Review – which is how I became involved directly at the Club. I have to collate and edit a programme for each of the First Teams (men’s and ladies’), so that tends to be central to what gets done at the start of the week, and both need to be at the highest standard so we can maintain our reign as Programme of the Year in the Evo-Stik Division One and in Women’s Football (I think it is six or seven years in a row with the men’s and two or three with the ladies’).
After that there is the website, which also needs to be kept fresh and up to date, but sometimes this proves a task if the programme deadline is over-run or hits a snag, and requests for inclusion are landing all the time in my in-box. And speak of the devil, one has just arrived from Chris Dolby our Foundation Director for promotion of our partnership with Massive Soccer in the US, so that will be on the website shortly after this interview (March 10th).
There’s also the relationship with other media networks and mediums to be dealt with. I have some great photographers at my disposal - Ben Webster (who was first in this series) and two relative newcomers, John Taff and Joe Smart, who both produce some exceptional material. The local newspaper (The Sheffield Star) has a dedicated Non-League correspondent, Paul Webster, who provides a weekly column for the website.
Then matchday sees all the match reports to write, website to update, and then make certain we have a report in the Non-League Paper on Sunday morning. Overall it tends to be a full-time job on top of a full-time job, but seeing as I love doing both, I’ll never complain … much.
Who's the most interesting person you've gotten to meet as a result of working at Sheffield?
Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m not one for celebrities, and over the years we’ve had all manner of big names down at the Home of Football, so I’m not going to name drop … although legendary ex-England keeper Gordon Banks was a nice bloke to talk to, seeing as I used to pretend to be him as a kid.
As far as interesting people go, there are plenty involved in the Club and in non-league in general, and you get to meet them in boardrooms all around the country. Sadly, two of the most interesting people I’ve met are both no longer with us, Norman Cann – who was an ex-player – and Steve Hall, who was the Club Secretary for decades. Norman was the SFC captain in 1957, when it was our Centenary, and he could keep me enthralled for hours with his tales of years gone by. It was fascinating to find out so much about the Club and its characters from before I was born. With Steve, I’d often pop to the Club office and do pretty much the same, but in his case, it gave me an understanding of what it was that makes SFC tick. Yes, he was “old-school”, but he knew everything there was to know about non-league football.
Sheffield FC always attracts celebs of sorts, it’s not unusual to have an ex-England footballer turn up at the ground, or some TV attention when the World Cup comes around, but none of them have ever kept me as mesmerised as Norman and Steve.
You've been following Sheffield FC for over twenty years. How have the club and city changed over the years?
When I started, we were rattling around at the 25,000 Don Valley Stadium, then moved to Owlerton greyhound stadium, and then back to Don Valley – so we never really felt we had a home as such. Back then most of the crowd (which was no more than 50 people or so) either knew the players in person, or were family members, but the move to Dronfield and the launch of Behind the Flag kind of changed that.
More people started to turn up as a curiosity, then several disenfranchised Sheffield United, Wednesday and Chesterfield fans bolstered the number, with the 150th celebrations, Inter Milan, Pelé and Ajax adding more to those who became regulars. The Coach and Horses as a ground has come along from what it was, and the team and everything behind it has become more professional. It’s still got the family vibe about it, but everyone is that little more clued up.
One thing that has changed dramatically is the opposition we face in competition. Back when I started, there wasn’t an away game that took much more than an hour to drive to. Now, I think our nearest opponents are that far away. There are more things that have developed less organically, and the Club’s work with the Club of Pioneers (with the oldest clubs from each country) is one that has come a long way, but it has taken a lot of work by some dedicated individuals to make this work.
Read more on Sheffield 160 here.
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