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Sheffield 160: Club Historian Andy Dixon (Part II)

12:43 PMGoalChatter

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.

This week, enjoy Part II of an interview with club historian Andy Dixon (with help from club photographer Ben Webster).

Read Part I here.

1977 FA Vase Final. Photo: Sheffield FC via Flickr 
What's the most interesting statistic or record you've come across?
It’s hard to find complete records for the older years. We’ve just done the best we can to fill them in. Obviously the ‘firsts’ are the really amazing statistics about the club – oldest club, first inter-club game against Hallam in 1860, and first inter-city game against Nottinghamshire in 1865. In 1862, we find the first game played as an 11-a-side match. The game against London in 1866 was, I believe, the first match played strictly over 90 minutes. On the player side, it’s amazing to think that a Sheffield Club player took part in the first ever international fixture, when England visited Scotland in 1872. Striker Geoff Robinson holds all sorts of records – his final total of 241 goals, at more than a goal a game, is a club record which will take some beating: his 10 goals in a Yorkshire League game is a record for that competition, beating the 8 scored by Sheffield Wednesday legend Derek Dooley. He also holds the record for scoring in consecutive games – 9 matches in which he scored 19 goals in the 1950's.

Perhaps my favourite personal stats are those which have come up since I’ve been recording them, so things like living legend (J) Matt Roney breaking the all-time appearance record (he recently went past the 450 mark and is still going strong) and another current player, James Gregory, breaking the record for consecutive games with 93, an amazing achievement for an outfield player.

The one statistic we don’t have which annoys me is that of the scorers from the first inter-club game against Hallam on Boxing Day 1860! We know Sheffield won 2-0 and that they repeated that score in a second meeting in the following February, but the first definite scorer we know of is David Sellars, who grabbed the last of those. If anybody ever turns up the names of those first three goal scorers, we would dearly love to know them!
Sheffield Athletics Cup
What's the most interesting and/or oldest item in the club's archives? 
A big part of the club used to be the annual athletic events, which attracted great interest, and [produced] some impressive performances, with several members being amongst the leading all-round athletes in the area at the time. The club still have some of the old trophies from these. Since the rules sale, the oldest item we’re aware of is a cup for a quarter-mile race in 1859, which was awarded to one of the club’s founding fathers, William Prest. 

Tell me about your favorite photo from the archives.
This was definitely one for our photographer Ben, who has done the most poking around in the archives:
“I'll be lazy and say the one from Hallam in 1957. Shown from a supporter's perspective is the world’s oldest derby between the world's two oldest teams at the world's oldest football ground, in the year of Sheffield FC's 100th anniversary. The man on the far left was a journalist who was killed in the Munich disaster.”
What's the oldest existing Sheffield FC team photo?
I’ve attached a photo of the 1888 Easter tour team to northeast England, which is the earliest our photographer Ben Webster has seen. They played teams from Middlesbrough, Redcar, Darlington and Scarborough, and a game at current Premier League Sunderland FC in front of an estimated 10,000 people. The Easter Tour was a major part of the club calendar that began in 1885, the same year professionalism was endorsed by the English FA, a development to which the amateurs of Sheffield were outright opposed. The tours continued mostly uninterrupted until the 1920's and took Sheffield teams to all corners of England, and to the Channel Islands. 
Sheffield FC 1888 Easter Tour team. Photo courtesy Andy Dixon
I have seen a print from 1874 by Mary Evans, which is said to be of a Sheffield FC side. I’m not 100% sure this is the case, but if so, that year’s side contained several legendary names such as early England internationals Charles & William Clegg and Thomas Sorby. Also almost certainly included would be Harry Chambers, at whose home the club was formed, in a greenhouse, back in 1857! Chambers played in the very first game and then barely missed a fixture over the next 20 years as he was a leading figure in so many of the club’s, and the game’s, firsts – including writing his name into FA Cup history by being the only captain to ever win a tie on the toss of a coin! He played well over 100 competitive games – an amazing figure given they probably played an average of 5 or 6 times a season outside the club – and has a good claim to be the greatest Sheffield FC player ever.
1874 print by Mary Evans, said to be of a Sheffield FC side.
Club photographer Ben Webster mentioned in his interview that there were letters addressed to the club in the 1940's from Germany and Yugoslavia. Was there anything else like that?
The club gets enquiries of this nature nearly every week these days, but the one from Germany is the oldest we are aware of.
A letter to Sheffield FC from Germany.
You mentioned Vivian Simpson serving in WWI. Did the club play any games during the first and second World War? Were any of the players involved in war time tournaments? 
Many players were involved in wartime tournaments within their army regiments, but I’m not aware of the club competing in any. I think that during World War I, the club pretty much shut up shop for the whole period as most of their squad left to join up with the army, leaving them with no players! We don’t have records of any game taking place between an Amateur Cup match in late 1913 and the start of the 1919/20 season. During the Second World War, the club initially continued to play, with several games taking place against sides such as the RAF sides and a fixture against a Royal Artillery XI between late 1939 and the first half of 1941. Several older players appear to have competed with striker Henry Moseley, who made his debut with the club back in 1926, still knocking in goals, including 4 in a big win against an RAF Balloon Barrage XI in March 1941! From that month onward, it appears the struggle to keep playing was lost, and the next games we know about took place upon the resumption of regular football in the 1946/47 season.

The club gets many visitors from abroad. Who were the most unexpected? What were they like?
Possibly the most unexpected in recent years came a few years ago when we played a triangular 'masters'-style tournament with fans/ex-players from the oldest clubs in Spain and Italy, Recreativo Huelva and Genoa, and about 60-70 FC Nuremberg fans decided to drop in on one of our matches having played a friendly at Leeds United earlier that day. The club arranged for them to have a walkabout on the pitch at half time. In general, whenever we have visiting teams or players, they add amazing atmosphere and colour to a club of our size and are always made very welcome.

On a related note - who was the first foreign player at Sheffield FC? 
The honest answer is that we don't know! It can often be difficult to unearth much background on players in the early years when all you might have is an initial and a surname in match reports. There were definitely players of Scottish and Irish extraction before the turn of the 20th century - though here there was much more emphasis on social status than nationality, per se, as these gentlemen would come from the patrician or professional classes of Victorian Sheffield. The mindset of Sheffield FC as being a club for 'gentleman amateurs' appears to have been slow to change, and it isn't until after the second world war we begin to see players from 2nd and 3rd-generation immigrant stock, such as Fred Gierschick, from a family of Czech refugees who ran a bakery in the city, and Peter Buccieri, from a family of Italian terrazzo tilers. Recent years have made up for this historic deficit in international players, though - we've had a Canadian, an Australian, a Czech, a Kurd, a Yemeni, a Sierra Leonean and a Cameroonian, as well as a Spanish assistant, all in the last five years!

Sheffield FC have a long-standing relationship with Dutch football, playing friendlies there since 1946. The club have also traveled to Italy. What do you think the impact has been on sports diplomacy?
As I’ve already said, the interest from overseas is amazing and certainly something which no other club at our level has! The story of the world’s oldest club is very popular in Germany and, as you say, we have had great contacts with sides in Italy in recent years, with games against USD Pro Appio from Rome, Dexter Milano Calcio from Milan, and a veterans’ side from Genoa who liked the club so much they are now known as Anni60 Sheffield FC!

Within the last 20 or so years, there have been friendlies against sides such as Hvidovre Idrætsforening, Chengdu Blades, Ferencvaros, Hutnik Krakow, Recreativo Huelva, Genoa and others, in addition to Ajax and Inter Milan as part of their 150th anniversary celebrations! In 2010 the club played two sides on a tour to India, the first of those against India’s oldest side Mohun Bagan at the 120,000 capacity Salt Lake Stadium! Only back in January of last year, our Over 35’s side travelled to Germany to compete in the Heroes Cup, alongside clubs such as Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Barcelona and players like Gianluca Zambrotta, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids and Christoph Metzelder! We have also forged links in Qatar, and back in February, several members of the club travelled out there, including some of the players from our amazingly successful FA Super League Ladies team, who put some young footballers through their paces.

I think it’s great that a club of our size can do so much around the world. Any and all interest is great for the club, the game and our relationship with those countries.
Sheffield FC Ladies team in Qatar. Photo courtesy Andy Dixon
Thoughts, ideas or plans for Sheffield's 160th?
Honestly, I’m not sure what Richard (Sheffield FC Chairman) and the club are planning. I’m sure they’ll pull one or two rabbits out of the hat for another special landmark for this amazing club, which really deserves to have its story and place in history shouted loud across the UK and every corner of the world which loves football!

Click here to read Part I.
Read more on Sheffield 160 here.
Join the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #Sheffield160.

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