Result: Hallam 2-2 Campion (NCEL Division 1)
Venue: Sandygate (Saturday 3rd February 2018, 3pm)
For the first of my two designated birthday weekends (yes, I’ve given myself two), it just so happened that the Northern Counties East League’s fixture lists fell very kindly with regard to one specific long-term target. With Hallam F.C. playing at their home, Sandygate, on both given Saturday’s, this meant that the chance to tick off the world’s oldest ground (as officially recognised by the Guinness Book of Records) had finally come around. As such, myself and Dan reckoned that the first of the two games would work out best, and so our sights were set on the outskirts of Sheffield for the first weekend in February.
Eventually the day came around and after meeting up in Piccadilly station, we grabbed our booked train over into the White Rose county and arrived into the drizzly South Yorkshire city at shortly after midday. A short walk later saw us at the Interchange where we would be grabbing the bus service over to the Crosspool area. Handily, the bus also passed right outside of Sandygate and so there was little rush in getting there. Or so we thought at the time…
After getting slightly lost with regard to what stop we required, the bus rocked up in front of us and we were soon being whisked out of the city centre. Arriving into a sleety Crosspool at around the stroke of 1pm, I made good use of my pre-journey research and pointed out the way to our first stop of the day, the Sportsman. It was a fairly pleasant foody pub within and whilst I opted for the £4~ Hop House Lager, Dan opted for one of his more faithful companions (I have a less than positive opinion on the beer myself), Carling.
Soon enough, we’d finished up in here and rolled onwards just down the main road and to the only other pub in the immediate area, the appropriately named Crosspool Tavern. With the selection a little more run-of-the-mill in here, I decided on Heineken, which came in at the lower end of the £3 spectrum. Not too bad and it proved a decent enough drinking hole once again, with the TV match of Burnley vs Man City providing the entertainment. We would miss the equaliser though…
With the sleet now some fairly persistent rain, we made our way over to the bus stop for the short ride up the hill for the due carriage up to the ground. We waited….and waited…and waited some more. Eventually, we had to ask Hallam to reserve us each a programme just in case we were any later before a bus finally rocked up around 12 minutes late. Brilliant stuff. As it was, it didn’t matter too much and we arrived at the gates of Sandygate with around five minutes to kick-off. After discovering that there was a copious amount of programmes remaining, I reckoned I ought to tell the guy on the gate that he could let the reservation slide, you know, just in case of a late influx of fans. I don’t think it was required though sadly, with a few seemingly (and fairly understandably), put off by the less than pleasant conditions in this part of Yorkshire.
Sandygate, home to Hallam throughout their existence and venue for the first ever inter-club match (Hallam vs Sheffield on Boxing Day 1860), is a pleasant ground (as most that I’ve visited that share a cricket outfield are, interestingly enough) and plays host to of a pair of stands beyond the boundaries. Located around the half-way mark, the Main Stand is all-seater and offers a raised view of the action beyond the dugouts. This is joined towards the entrance by the smart clubhouse and food bar, both of which you pass to get to said stand, with us having already ticked off the latter pre-match, the chilli being rather decent for £3 (with rice). Behind the near end goal and on the other side of the entrance pathway is a small covered terracing area which consists of around three levels and runs around half the width of the pitch. The opposite end of the ground is open, hard standing and is also home to the cricket nets, with the Hallam C.C. pavilion being at the far side of the field compared to the football club. Meanwhile, the side that straddles the cricket square is off-limits to spectators, with only a pair of youngsters braving the elements in playing the role of ball-boys. So, that’s Sandygate, the oldest ground in the world, and this is Hallam, the World’s second oldest club….
Hallam F.C. dates from 1860 and was formed as a less exclusive alternative club to the already existing Hallam Cricket Club. The football club joined the latter in playing at Sandygate and was intended to be an opponent to the recently created Sheffield FC (whom we visited a couple of years back), who had been formed three years earlier than the Countrymen. The clubs first clashed – at Sandygate – on Boxing Day of 1860, the sides being comprised of 16 players from both Hallam and the nearby hamlet of Stumperlowe, and a further 16 who would represent Sheffield. Hallam’s founder and captain, John Charles Shaw, would go on to play an instrumental part in the acceptance of the nationally adopted rules of association football along with Charles Alcock of the London-based Football Association, and the two would later face off as respective captains as a Sheffield XI took on a London XI, in the first trial of the newly preferred rules.
In 1867, Hallam won the first ever football competition, the Youdan Cup and the trophy still stands proudly in Hallam’s clubhouse. However, it hasn’t always been there. After being misplaced by the club a long while ago, the trophy resurfaced in 1997 when a Scottish collector, who’d come to be in possession of the Cup, sold it back to the club.
Despite the ever-growing prevalence of professionalism throughout the 1870’s and ’80’s, Hallam opted to remain as an amateur outfit but the club was dissolved in 1886, though would resurface after just one year away from the game. In 1892, Hallam would enter their first league competition, the newly formed Hallamshire League. After a season in the Hallamshire League, they would join the Sheffield Minor Cup League in 1894 and also entered the Hatchard League in 1895, competing on both fronts and winning the league but not the title, losing out in the end of season play-offs.
After leaving both leagues in 1896 to join the Sheffield Alliance League, the club spent two seasons here, finishing runners-up in 1898 prior to re-joining the Hatchard League at the end of that season. The Hatchard League for the first time in 1903 and won the league part of the competition again the next two years but, on account of losing in the top-four team play-offs at the end of both seasons, lost out on both titles. 1905 would see the Countrymen spend a season in the Sheffield Association League before they returned back to the familiar surroundings of the Hatchard where they remained through to 1914 and the outbreak of WWI.
Hallam continued playing throughout the majority of WWI, competing in the Sheffield Amateur & Minor Leagues, in which their reserve side had previously plied their trade. Eventually, the club had to quit playing in 1917 but re-joined the Sheffield Amateur League in 1919, upon the end of hostilities the previous year. 1922 saw the Amateur League title won for the first time, before 1927 saw the Countrymen enter the FA Cup for the first time and this year also saw the club lift their second Sheffield Amateur League title and, as a result, were accepted back into the Sheffield Association League which was then won at the first attempt.
However, things were to take a sharp downward turn when, at the end of the 1932-’33 season, the club were effectively evicted from Sandygate by the then owner of the Plough Inn (who also owned the ground) due to “poor bar takings”, with two other clubs latterly taking their place in calling Sandygate home. This would precede a spell of 15 years in which Hallam were again lost to the footballing world as a playing entity, though this would also include the WWII years which, of course, ended the vast majority of competitive football in the country. Upon the end of the Second World War, Hallam returned to the field once more in 1947 and returned to the Sheffield Amateur League and to their spiritual home on Sandygate Lane.
After a sole season, the club returned to the Hatchet League and the side would win the league upon the end of their first season back before the club then joined the Sheffield Association League, once again, in 1949. This became another league to be won at the end of the club’s return season (1949-’50). 1951 saw the club go on to win the Sheffield & Hallamshire Senior Cup for the first time, defeating the Stocksbridge Works in front of over 7,000 fans at Hillsborough before joining the Yorkshire League in 1952. The club also saw another major occurrence happen at Hillsborough, when their 1952 FA Amateur Cup tie with Dulwich Hamlet was moved to Sheffield Wednesday’s home to house an eventual crowd of 13,000 which remains the club’s record attendance.
After achieving promotion from the Yorkshire League Division 2 in 1957, the club were relegated back three seasons later before being promoted back to the Yorkshire League’s top-flight, after one season away, as Division 2 champions in 1961. The club remained at that level for the next 20 years, winning three further Sheffield & Hallamshire Senior Cups (1962, ’65 & ’68) before 1983 eventually saw the end of the League with Hallam joining the newly created Northern Counties East League. Originally playing in the Division 1 South, the League saw a split into four wider-ranging divisions, with Hallam taking a spot in Division 2 in 1985. They were immediately promoted to Division 1 at the end of that season and the Premier Division at the end of the next, Season 1986-’87. 1990 saw them drop back into Division 1 after a three season stay and a further four years were spent in the second-tier ahead of a return to the top-flight of the NCEL in 1994, which would herald the start of a 17 season spell.
During this time, Hallam won one NCEL honour, the League Cup in 2004, but were relegated in 2011 to Division 1 where they have remained ever since, despite reaching the play-offs in both of the last two seasons, a 5th placed finish last year being enough to see them secure a spot in the season-ending competition.
The players had gotten the game underway whilst we were busy getting some much-needed lunch and it quickly became apparent just how soft the pitch was, though this did little to hamper the entertainment value offered up by both the Countrymen and the visitors from Bradford, Campion. The first quarter-hour of the game was fairly even, with both sides sharing long-range efforts, but the first real chance of the game fell to the visitors and it ended with them taking the lead. A long ball forward into the area was chested down and Devonte Morton was in place to smartly finish into the top corner.
Morton should have doubled both his and his side’s tally not too long after, when a cross from the left was met by the head of the striker but, from the centre of goal, his header flew comfortably wide of the mark. Another cross narrowly avoided Morton when a better ball would have surely ended with him nodding home on that occasion, before the home side responded, Micah Bishop firing into the side netting, prior to Ben Thornton somehow managing to side-foot a shot wide of the upright from around nine yards, perhaps slightly rushed by the pull-back.
Hallam were growing into the game as the half went on and it looked only a matter of time before they’d level the contest up. A dangerous ball across the six-yard box managed to avoid being touched home, before the hosts got the equaliser they were after, Micah Bishop firing into the bottom corner from long-range, with the ‘keeper seeming to go down far later than he ought to have. There were no complaints from the home side though and it got even better for the Countrymen just before the break, Patrick Carrig being upended just inside the area and up stepped Jake Currie to bury the spot-kick into the same corner that Bishop had found minutes earlier.
The hosts saw out the remainder of the half to go in ahead, whilst Dan and I headed to the bar. A San Miguel was purchased for myself whilst it was yet another Carling for Dan (no, I’ve no idea why either!), before disaster struck during the early stages of the second half when, distracted by goings on out on the pitch, my pint slowly slid off the edge of the slanted table, spilling a good half pint all over the nice blue carpet. This was replaced with no issue, so thanks for that. Keep a close eye on them glasses though, or yours too may make a bid for freedom!
Anyway, beer issues sorted and the resultant half finished up, it was time to venture back out into the ever chillier late afternoon South Yorkshire dusk. A diving header from Currie went fairly close to extending Hallam’s lead, before the blue-and-white-clad hosts were pegged back around ten minutes into the second half, when Tom Robinson found the net from near the edge of the area. Two apiece and all to play for once again, with the slope now seemingly favouring the visitors’ cause.
However, it appeared to be that playing uphill was more advantageous as the hosts continued to press on and only a pair of fine blocks by the Campion defenders kept the scores level. Their best chance came along shortly afterwards when Bishop got clear of the last defender and looked set to add to his tally, only to be denied by the onrushing Campion stopper, Danny Armitage.
A header by Carrig then clipped the top of the crossbar before Campion had a great chance to get themselves ahead when a fine surging run forward ended with the ball being played to Robinson, but his effort was pretty tame in the end and easily kept out by Hallam ‘keeper Dave Darwent. Then, late drama. Sub Matt Ord was in and poised to round the ‘keeper and seal the points, only for him to be taken out by Armitage and seemingly, from our viewpoint, concede a penalty. But the officials disagreed and decided that it was only a free-kick and that a yellow would suffice. Connor Chapell hit the resultant kick narrowly over the bar, much to his own disappointment, and thus the game came to its end with the sides, probably rightly, sharing the spoils. Full-Time, 2-2.
We’d just exited the ground when I spied the bus heading down the road towards us. Now, having scouted out another pub at the far side of the ground (around 2 minutes ride away) and with the Plough opposite still sadly being shut, I decided it was worth running to catch it. Getting there in the nick of time, I managed to keep the driver from driving off and, in doing so, allowed Dan and another chap the chance to get on too. I doubt I was too popular with the rest of the bus though, but it was only 20 seconds or so….
The finely named Shiny Sheff was another decent establishment and was a welcome place to head into as the rain began to turn to sleet once more. An easy half-hour was spent here until we headed out into what was now snow and the fog that had swiftly descended and shrouded the area. Unfortunately we were again struck by minor bus issues as the intended one didn’t appear and, thusly, we were left shivering for a further fifteen minutes longer than expected. Scenes.
Once aboard though, we headed back into Sheffield, disembarking just around the corner from the Wetherspoon’s known as the Benjamin Huntsman – which is a pretty cool name – and isn’t that a coincidence eh?! A swift Hooch was had in here (Dan was still staunchly sticking to Carling) before we had to return towards the station. Of course, we had a little time in hand and, by chance, there was the Sheffield Tap. Again, you couldn’t make it up, could you? What were the chances….?
A pint of Aspall for me was in as I rekindled memories of my visit here the previous year with Anders the “VikingHopper”, after we’d met earlier that day at a game at the Millmoor ground, before it was time to catch our train back to Manchester. No issues here and we were swiftly back which meant I had time for a final one in the second Tap of the evening, the Piccadilly one. Dan decided he’d join me for a final half whilst I settled on a pint of one of Orchard Pig varieties of cider before leaving Dan to enjoy the remainder of his drink in peace, whilst I raced off to make my connection and end the day off nice and easily, which was made all the better by the news of the arrival of our tickets for the game next week North of the border.
So the oldest ground is finally in the books and it was well worth the visit. The ground’s tidy enough and the people at Hallam are a friendly bunch too. The new-style programme is a fine read for the £1.50 tag and the game was a decent one considering the conditions. Plus the drinks outside of Sheffield’s centre were far cheaper than my last visit over this way at the end of last year, when I visited the Blades at Bramall Lane which is, incidentally, a ground which has hosted a clash of the “World’s Oldest Derby” between Sheffield FC & Hallam back in the day. So, all in all, a very enjoyable trip. As for the coming week, and as I alluded to earlier, it’s off to Scotland for the biggest ground in that very country….
Value For Money: 7