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Sheffield 160: Club Historian Andy Dixon (Part I)

1:01 PMGoalChatter

by Aleks V

2017 marks the 160th anniversary of the world's first football club, Sheffield FC. Founded on October 24, 1857, the club went on to become a part of many other firsts. The founders, Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest, wrote the first official rules of the game. Sheffield FC's rivalry with Hallam FC became the world's first derby. They were pioneers of heading the ball. In more recent history, Sheffield FC were awarded the FIFA Order of Merit, an honor given to only one other football club, Real Madrid. Although the club currently competes in the 8th tier of English football, their popularity knows no geographic bounds.

Sheffield 160 is a bi-weekly series that goes behind the scenes of the historic club through interviews with players and staff.

In this week's installment, Aleks V talks with club historian Andy Dixon on working with an archive of over one hundred years of football history.

Photo: Sheffield FC via Flickr
How does a Sheffield Wednesday supporter become club historian for Sheffield FC?
I had a season ticket at Hillsborough for many years but just became disillusioned with the professional game. My son James, who was 3 at the time, wanted to go to a game but was too young to take to a proper stadium, so I thought it would be fun to take him along to watch a non-league game. I had actually played on Sheffield’s pitch in a work game, and obviously the pull of the history of the club was an attraction, too. My dad is a Sheffield United fan, so it also meant we could all agree on a side to watch for his first ever game! I just fell in love with non-league football, the effort and commitment from the players seemed so much more than the highly paid professionals and the atmosphere around the club was great, especially for my young son who has been coming along with me ever since. James has had photos in the program and written an article too, and the fact that he feels like part of the club makes a huge difference. 

As for becoming club historian, I’m a statistician for a living, so I asked if they had any records as it would be interesting to put a database together. They didn’t really have much, but were keen to start pulling better records together. The club were helpful, as were several of the supporters, and we started to build up some bits and pieces. I spent many afternoons in the library looking at old papers and another supporter, Rich Stevenson, did too and it all started to come together. I’m a numbers man to be honest; the real historian at the club is matchday photographer Ben Webster. He has spent more time than any trawling through the archives and found some amazing stuff. I have pulled everything into a database and just keep it up to date and add anything else we find as and when it comes in. I do watch Sheffield Wednesday quite a bit still these days, but my first team is definitely Sheffield FC now!

What's a typical day like for the club historian? What duties does your role entail?  
After a match, I make sure everything is updated in the database and get to writing articles for the program if the next game is at home – I keep up to date with the player stats from this season and also write history articles on the visiting club, our previous meetings and games from the archive on the date of the game. Next season we are planning to do a series looking through each decade of the club’s history, which will hopefully be a nice addition. Everyone involved in the program is very proud of it and it is always well up in the end of season awards across the whole of non-league football. On the stats front, I keep an eye out for players reaching landmarks for number of games or goals and any club records or other interesting facts we can throw in. We have player of the month and season awards which we announce as we go along.

On a matchday (assuming I’m at the game), I do the live match updates on the @sheffieldfc_com Twitter feed to keep any interested supporters up to date with the latest news. Media editor Stuart James often tweets when I can’t get to a game, too. We try to run that very much from a fan’s view with an honest and often humorous take on proceedings to add a bit of fun for the followers.

Register of members, 1867-1871. Photo: Sheffield FC via Flickr
Which seasons and games in the club's past are still talked about today?  
With so much history, there are some great seasons in the past – the club talk in particular about the year of formation in 1857 and the first inter-club game against Hallam in 1860, as those are such huge events in the history of the sport. Sheffield reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in three seasons during the 1870's when they were among the leading sides in the country, before the rise of professional football left the club behind somewhat. Charles Clegg, who would go on to become Chairman of the FA, played in the first ever international against Scotland in 1872, and several players pulled on an England shirt whilst representing Sheffield Club over the next few years.

For so long survival became the biggest challenge, but in 1904 they won the Amateur Cup, beating Ealing at Valley Parade in Bradford, which probably remains the biggest success in the history of the club. In 1957 they celebrated their centenary with games involving an England ‘B’ team, an FA XI and Scotland’s oldest club Queen’s Park, plus a dinner at which the Duke of Edinburgh was a guest. In 1977 they played at Wembley when they reached the FA Vase final; sadly they lost out in a replay.

Many people still talk about the first season after being promoted to the Northern Premier League, 2007/08, where the side reached the playoff final, only losing on penalties, after beating local rivals Stocksbridge 4-1 in the semi-final. They won another Senior Cup trophy that year, too. In addition, the club celebrated their 150th anniversary, with games taking place against Inter Milan, with a side including World Cup winner Marco Materazzi, a young Mario Balotelli, and Pele attending as guest of honour, and [a game against] Ajax at Bramall Lane. 

Since I’ve been going, my favourite was probably 2009/10 when they reached the Playoffs and ended the season with a fantastic Senior Cup win over our oldest rivals Hallam at Hillsborough, which for me, as a Wednesday fan, was a great occasion!

The Duke of Edinburgh at Sheffield FC's centenary celebrations. Photo: Sheffield FC via Flickr
I've read that there is a direct descendant of Sheffield FC founder Nathaniel Creswick, Geoffrey Norton. Are there any descendants of the club's other founder, William Prest? Is there anyone at the club right now with ancestry to some of Sheffield FC's notable players or staff?
A few people have contacted the club about relatives, although I’m not sure about any other direct descendants of William Prest.

We did hear from a lady called Kristina Worsham from Colorado, USA, a descendant of a player called David Sellars. Sellars played in the very first game against Hallam FC in 1860 and is the first recorded goal scorer in club football! There were a couple of goals before, but the first we have found with a listed scorer came in the second game between the sides with the report stating that “David Sellars got possession, and making a grand run scored for the visitors”! David is actually the 3rd great-grandfather of Chris Sellars, who has managed both at Sheffield FC (Under 19's) and Hallam FC! Chris's father, Brian, and son, Morgan, have also worn the Sheffield Club colours!

In some other research that I’ve done, I came across a player called Francis Pawson, who played for Sheffield FC through the 1880s and also played for England, scoring on his debut in 1883. Although we’ve not heard from him, Pawson’s grandson is the famous comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor!

Creswick was a solicitor of a sliver-plate company. Did his company make any of the club's silverware?
I’ve not heard of any silverware he may specifically have made for the club. In addition to the football in the early days, the annual sports day was a huge event at the club. Most of the club members were real all-round sportsmen, so perhaps some of the trophies handed out there were made by club members. There were certainly many strong connections to the steel industry which dominated Sheffield at the time, with famous names such as Newbould, Vickers and Sorby appearing in the list of players who took part in the first derby game against Hallam. 

The Sorby name lives on to this day with Robert Sorby & Sons, founded in 1828, still based in the city. Brothers Thomas and Robert Sorby took control of the company in 1885, both having been regulars in the Sheffield FC side between 1873 and 1881. The pair were the great-, great-, great-, great-, great-, great-, great-grandsons of Robert Soresby who became the first Master Cutler in 1624!

Sheffield team on an Easter tour at Birdlington, April 1911. Photo: Sheffield FC via Flickr
Many people involved with the club, both past and present, have had jobs on the side. What is the strangest job held by someone who played for Sheffield FC?
Occupation is not that well recorded in the history as far as I know, although in the early days most players were from the more well-to-do families in the area so I would assume tended to have very sober job titles! David Sellars, who I mentioned above, was well known in the area as Sheffield Huntsman for the Sheffield Harriers, a title he held for 35 years, up to the point when he became “unable to hold the role due to bodily infirmities”.  He continued to follow the hounds for the final year of his life, when he passed away on 16th July 1884. 

I’ve also mentioned Francis Pawson above, who became Reverend Pawson after taking his holy orders in the 1890's. There are several other Reverends in the 19th century, including John Robert Blayney Owen, who played for the club and also appeared for England against Scotland in an 1874 international. We’ve also had several doctors, including Drs. Green and Lodge, who played alongside each other for Sheffield in the 1930's and were regular scorers through to a wartime friendly against an RAF XI, where they scored 5 between them as Club won 11-2.

Although not a strange job, William Clegg, brother of Charles who I’ve already mentioned, was a solicitor. He had already played for England in 1873 and was given awarded a second cap for a game against Wales in 1879. Due to blizzard conditions the match was only played over 30 minute halves, which was especially unlucky for William; at the time, in his day job as a solicitor, he was defending the notorious murderer Charles Peace and, due to the trial, could not get the train down to London the day before the game. After travelling down on the morning of the match, he finally arrived 20 minutes late – just around the time fellow Sheffield player Thomas Sorby was putting England 2-0 up! Despite a goal pulled back for Wales in the second half, England won the game in front of the smallest crowd to ever witness an England international, estimates ranging between just 85 and 300. Despite the Charles Peace trial making life hard for that trip to London, it didn’t prove such a problem for one match a little closer to home at least – one Saturday morning, he had the trial adjourned around lunchtime so he could catch a cab to the station and travel up to Leeds to score two goals in the afternoon!
Were there any players or staff from the club involved in notable events outside of football?
I think one story that has stood out is that of Vivian Simpson, who was arguably the last of the great amateur players. Simpson played in over 200 games and scored well over 100 goals for the club in the first decade of the 20th century, including a starring role in the 1904 Amateur Cup success. During the period he was also appearing for Sheffield Wednesday as they were crowned English League champions in 1903 and 1904, and FA Cup winners in 1907. Despite the rise of the professional game, he remained strictly amateur, and Sheffield FC always remained his first love - in 1907 he signed for Southern League side Norwich City, but amazingly continued to turn out for Sheffield! For a 1908 FA Cup tie between Norwich and cup holders Wednesday, he was eligible to play for either side but opted instead to played for Sheffield Club in the Amateur Cup!  Injuries saw his playing career end whilst still in his mid-20's, but the free scoring forward finished with a total of over 150 goals from around 250 games representing Club and Wednesday.
Capt. Vivian Sumner Simpson. Photo via RMBC Culture & Leisure
Away from football he worked as a solicitor, but after the outbreak of World War I he was one of many active or ex-footballers who joined up, rising to the rank of Captain. In 1917 he received the Military Cross for his “leading part in the attack on Cordorna Trench. He had also been heavily involved in the planning for this attack.  He was the first man into the enemy trench and was involved in hand to hand combat with the defenders.” After being invalided back to Britain he returned to the front and his story, as with so many of the period, had a tragic ending when he was killed by a sniper on 13 April 1918 in France. Certainly a hero of the club, both on and off the pitch, who deserves to be remembered.

A club that's been around for 160 years is sure to have some sort of supernatural stories. Is there anything like that at Sheffield FC? Are there any superstitions among players or fans?
I’m sure as with all football fans there are some superstitions, although to be honest I haven’t heard of any and I’m not at all superstitious myself! I suppose having not had a permanent ground for all the years of their existence, there hasn’t been time to build up any ghost stories, and the only spirits I’ve ever seen are in the Coach & Horses pub next to the ground! 

I’d say the closest we’ve ever come to supernatural feats would be the goal scoring record of Geoff Robinson, who played for Sheffield in the 1950's! He was already a well known local star when Sheffield fought off fellow Yorkshire League clubs for his services in 1951. Despite being offered professional terms, he elected to stay an amateur. In his first season with Sheffield he scored 54 times in 38 games, including a ten-goal haul in a 14-1 demolition of South Kirkby Colliery in one game! His final record is a supernatural total of 241 goals from just 227 games! He definitely remained very much an amateur, with a team-mate from the time remembering, “we used to drink and play snooker before a home match. I’ve known him have five pints on the Saturday of a game. That would usually mean he got you five goals.”

Click here to read Part II.

More on Sheffield 160 here.
Join the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #Sheffield160.

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  1. Great to hear about the old days!
    How I wish we could go back to square one and start again. I will never go to a professional match again, much preferring non league. Keep up the good work!


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