Ground Nº 117 – The Bright Finance Stadium
Saturday 21st Apr 2007
Northern Counties East League Premier Sheffield 2 Selby Town 2 HT 1-1 Att: 485
Entrance: £4; Programme: £1 (excellent); Coffee, hot chocolate: 60p
Since becoming hooked on non-league I have had a longing to watch Sheffield FC. Their home in Dronfield may not be the geographical birthplace of football, but it is certainly the spiritual one. Sheffield FC has been a Mecca for me all season, luring me, like a call to prayer, to make the pilgrimage across the pennines to the genesis of football. All non-leagues devotees should really pray whilst facing the direction of the Stadium of Bright. Sheffield FC, founded in 1857, are the oldest football club in the world and this season marks their 150th anniversary.
To mark nicely the sesqui-centennial celebrations, they had just been officially promoted. They were playing today to try to tip Retford for the championship, but Unibond football had already been assured for next season. A rugby union team short of 500 fans turned up to celebrate Sheffield’s promotion, some complete with comedy moustaches, as a tribute to their founding fathers of the mid nineteenth century. Me and various family members made up more than two percent of the crowd today. My Dad was up for the weekend and we’d arranged to meet my Uncle Don, Sheffield born and bred*, his brother in law Cyril, his son in law Ian, and his four children(my second cousins, all making their debut) and finally his daughter (my cousin) Rachel, her second ever game after Sheff Utd V Spurs earlier in the season. Just call me the Billy Graham of non-league.
I had always wondered what the team did after their inception in 1857; played headers and volleys? Wembley? It turns out they played each other; dividing themselves into groups to play such matches as marrieds vs bachelors, clean shaven vs bumfluff and bearded, perhaps. It wasn’t long, though, before Hallam, also now playing in the NCEL Premier Division , and also of Sheffield, became the second club(1860); thus commencing an endless series of what now is the oldest local derby in the world, the ‘Rules’ derby, as it is known. They are still arch rivals of Sheffield FC, as gathered from the songs I heard this afternoon.
Sheffield initially played at Bramall Lane, home of the cricket club they emerged from. When Sheffield United took over the Lane they wandered nomadically for a century and just in the 1990s alone played at Hillsborough Park, the Owlerton Stadium and the Don Valley Stadium. (Uncle Don reckons they got an official crowd of 1 at the Don Valley once!)They then purchased their current home next to the Coach & Horses pub; it was actually called the Coach & Horses Ground until the sponsorship deal with Bright Finance. The only irksome fact amongst all of this is that the ground is in outlying Dronfield, which is just over the county border in Derbyshire; a fact which is probably a real thorn in the side for some of the ardent Sheffield supporters. They own a ground for the first time, though, so who cares about boundaries. It is still on a Sheffield bus route.
Just to get a quick word in for Selby, Selby were founded in 1919. They haven’t moved league very often at all. After entering the Yorkshire League in 1920 won it three times in the thirties. They booted leather balls about in this league right up until 1982 when they joined the Northern Counties East, winning the first division in 1995/6 to get promotion to the league they are still in. They still have a chance of third spot and promotion to the Unibond; a win here today being crucial for any hope.
The game was entertaining. Selby, in their sky blue kit, looked the sharper early on, with Sheffield maybe a bit punch drunk from their recent promotion. Selby took the lead on 20 with a well worked move. It only took the hosts three minutes to reply when a fierce cross evaded everybody except Davey at the far post who finished nicely. The second half started with Vill Powell for Sheffield scoring a great individual effort down the left wing. That knocked the stuffing out of Selby for a while; Sheffield were in control and looked likely to score more. However, Davey scored again for the visitors after an amazing solo run down the left wing; beating at least three defenders, with deft perfectly-weighted flicks, and finally, six yards out, slotted in expertly past the keeper. It was a moment of brilliance and very nice to see the majority of the home crowd applauding openly. Davey was rightly very pleased with himself!
I liked the Bright Finance Stadium. It was a bijou affair with the close-on 500 supporters making it look full and creating a close atmosphere. The seated section was obviously quite new, accomodating around 200 seats behind the goal. This is where we sat, along with the singing contingent and a moustachioed boy with a drum.
The long side as you come in has a bit of covered terracing and further down two attractive yorkstone cottages, which add to the cosy feel of the ground. One or both of these buildings is the Coach & Horses pub, I believe. My various family members and I met up in the Angel Inn in Holmesfield, just up the road, where the pint of Taylor’s Landlord was heaven sent!
The other long side had the dugouts and there was standing behind the bar but the grass bank behind was too steep for terracing. The grass was covered in one of the sheaths you put over lawn before gravelling it, to stop weeds; not sure why, but it looked good.
and the other behind-the goal section was a path, nicely overlooked by tall trees.
I like the fact that the first football team is not that well known, certainly not by your average premiership consumer, and that they play at step five of non-league(step four next term). It is somehow fitting that in all the debate regarding superstar footballers and ridiculous ticket prices, you can watch the team who began it all for £4, a price even the lowest paid worker could stump up. The atmosphere and the action was as good as any in the league. This is what football is all about.
The champagne was let loose on the players after the final whistle who came back out onto the pitch to acknowledge the fans. The future for Sheffield FC is most certainly bright.
* Thick int’ arm and thick int ‘ead!