Varsity season is once again upon us. While the final contest, the Ice Hockey showdown, is widely considered to be the biggest event, football is also a big part of the games, with four points up for grabs on Wednesday 22nd March. Football, then, will go a long way to deciding who wins this year’s Varsity.
With that said, here’s a handy guide to help you work out which is the Sheffield football team for you, should you go on to develop an appetite for regular match-going. Luckily, you’re spoilt for choice in Sheffield: the city boasts two professional clubs, as well as smaller semi-pro and amateur teams with amazing histories.
Nickname: The Owls
Stadium capacity: 39,000
Most famous fan: Alex Turner
Weird fact: Wednesday are considered to have employed the first professional footballer in 1876. They wanted to persuade the talented Scot James Lang to play for them, but paying people to play football was unheard of then. Instead, a crafty Wednesday director gave him a “job” at his company that had no duties – Lang was paid to sit and read the paper all day, in return playing for Wednesday on weekends.
Wednesday – named after the day of the week they were founded on in 1867 – are currently Sheffield’s most successful club, playing in the Championship, the second division of English football.
Celebrating their 150th birthday in September, the Owls have a proud history. They were top-flight regulars in the 1950s and 60s, and again from the mid-1980s until 2000. Last season they were one game away from returning to the promised land of the Premier League, and this season they’re again well-placed to challenge for promotion.
Wednesday’s stadium, the iconic Hillsborough, holds almost 40,000 and is easily accessible – it’s served by the Leppings Lane tram stop. Should you choose to become an Owls fan, you’d be in good company – famous supporters include the Arctic Monkeys, Jarvis Cocker, Seb Coe and, bizarrely, Jermaine Jackson of the Jackson 5.
Nickname: The Blades
Stadium capacity: 32,000
Most famous fan: Sean Bean
Weird fact: In 2006 Sheffield United’s owners bought a football team in China, called Chengdu Winiu, renaming them the Chengdu Blades. Initially the Chinese Blades were successful but 2010 they had been relegated for match-fixing. Their nickname, amazingly, is “Chinese Sheffield United.”
Wednesday’s bitter rivals, Sheffield United were formed in 1889 when the Owls moved from Bramall Lane to another stadium, prompting the ground’s owners to start their own team to fill the void. Incredibly, United became champions of England just nine years later. They regularly challenged for trophies at the start of the 20th century, and while they’ve bounced between leagues since, they played in the Premier League as recently as 2007.
Currently in the third division, United are also battling for promotion this season under their new manager Chris Wilder. Their Bramall Lane stadium is also easily accessible; just off London Road, it’s within walking distance of the town centre.
United’s most famous fan is probably Sean Bean, Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones star – but of course best known for being the uncle of Broomhill Friery hero Dan Bean. Other well-known Blades include Jess Ennis, Toddla T and Mark Labbett, ‘The Beast’ from ITV’s The Chase.
Nickname: The Countrymen
Stadium capacity: 1,000 (250 seats; 750 standing)
Most famous fan: Michael Palin
Weird fact: Hallam are credited with starting the tradition of holding football matches on Boxing Day. In 1860 they hosted Sheffield FC, the first time a game had been played on December 26; it’s now a staple in the football calendar across all divisions.
Hallam may play in the tenth tier of English football, but they’ve emerged as a popular team for Wednesday and United fans when their own sides aren’t playing at home, and with good reason: the club’s welcoming atmosphere has won it a loyal supporter base.
The Countrymen take great pride in their significant claim to fame – their Sandygate ground is the oldest in the world, having been the club’s home since 1860. They’re the second oldest football club in the world (more on that later) and Hallam’s founders even had a hand in establishing the rules of the sport. Hallam were the local team of Monty Python star Michael Palin, who used to sneak in for free as a youngster.
Sandygate is handily located in Crosspool, not far from Endcliffe and Ranmoor, and 800 feet above sea level. Unfortunately that also means games are susceptible to being snowed off in winter.
Nickname: The Club (yes, really)
Stadium capacity: 2,000 (250 seats)
Most famous fan: Pelé (maybe)
Weird fact: Ignoring the Football Association’s rules, Sheffield FC continued to play under their own rules for the first 30 years of their existence. However, they’re credited with introducing corners, throw-ins, free-kicks and even headers into the rules.
Sheffield FC are, famously, the world’s oldest football club, founded in 1857 (a fact currently being celebrated in a Chapel Walk exhibition in town). With no other teams to play against, their first games consisted of “Marrieds vs Singles”.
Fortunately Hallam were founded a few years later, providing Sheffield FC’s first opposition, and games between the two teams are called the Rules Derby. They don’t happen much these days, however, with Sheffield FC currently in the eighth division.
In 2007, celebrating their 150th birthday, Sheffield hosted international powerhouses Inter Milan and Ajax in exhibition games at Bramall Lane, with Pelé and then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter flying in to join the celebrations.
They’ve played at various stadiums around Sheffield, but since 2001 the club’s home has, ironically, been in Dronfield, at the Coach and Horses Ground, between Sheffield and Chesterfield.