Sheffield is a city bursting with football tradition. Not only does it contain two successful league clubs in Wednesday and United, it can boast the world's oldest club still playing association football; Sheffield FC, founded in 1857.
The city also stakes a claim to the world's oldest football ground, Sandygate Road, the home of Hallam FC, a club which, alongside Sheffield FC, survives out of fifteen teams playing in Sheffield during the mid-19th century to still compete to this day.
Sheffield FC's ladies team, ranked 25th in the country, compete in the Premier League Northern Division, whilst the men's first team plays in the Northern Premier League Division South, seven divisions below the Premier League.
Only two football clubs in the world have been awarded the FIFA Order of Merit, given for their role in football history. One is Real Madrid and the other is Sheffield FC.
Although, at present, some distance from Real Madrid stature-wise, its own rich history is very important to Sheffield FC and it enthuses about continuing the legacy left by football glories of past and, more recently, the Olympics.
Integral to the success of any club, of course, is the quality of the pitch. Tradition is not the only link Sheffield FC and Hallam FC share as, even though the pitches are several miles apart, they are both maintained by the same man.
Peter Bowden runs his contracting company, which at his last count maintained eighty-two pitches per week around the Sheffield area. Four full-time staff help him look after the various grounds that include schools, football and rugby clubs.
He explained the situation at Sheffield FC: "We are really a sports maintenance contract company, and Sheffield FC is something different really. You get involved with the club, and then you get involved with other parts of it as well. It's that sort of place. We have a basic minimum contract and then everything else is out of goodwill. I'm on the committee there as well. There are quite a lot of people involved with the club, right down to volunteers that come in to serve food on match days."
Peter said his budget for renovations was £2,500 per year. "For that we reseed the pitch, level any uneven parts out and put more drainage in each year because we have a programme where we gradually add drainage. It's ongoing, as we can't afford to do it all in one go, and we will never be able to get it perfect because water comes in off the fields behind it and it is a wet site. We just have to do the best we can, and it is certainly a lot better than it was fifteen years ago as, back then, it was unplayable."
Sheffield FC has had somewhat of a nomadic existence during its 155-year lifespan, playing at more than ten different sites across the city, including Don Valley Stadium, but none of which they could call theirs. Dronfield, just south of Sheffield, is the latest home for the club and, notably, their first official ground. The pitch is located just next to a pub, which was also bought with the lease for the grounds back in 2001 and provides an extra form of revenue for the amateur side.
Before the club arrived at Dronfield, the site was already used as a football pitch, but there were no stands or administration buildings as now exist. The pitch endures heavy usage throughout the year and Peter told of how he manages to keep it in good condition with limited resources. "We get about 70-85 games a year on that pitch and we had twenty before the season had even started! It is in the best condition it has ever been this year, and I think that's because of the weather; it's been so wet. One of the biggest problems we have is that we only have one sprinkler and it's just powered off a normal garden hose so, when it's a dry summer, we literally have to water twenty-four hours a day seven days a week to try and keep the grass growing. I'll go down at night and move the sprinkler or, because I live in Dronfield, I pass there a few times a day and will move it then."
Peter uses a Ransomes triple mower to cut Sheffield FC's pitch. "In the summer I'll cut it four times a week and we renovate in May. At the moment we're probably cutting it twice a week as it's slowed down now, of course. We brush slit and roll it before every game with a Sisis Quadraplay to try and keep it open," he added.
Peter started his company in 1980 and, for some time, it simply consisted of him, a mower and a vehicle. He has steadily increased the size of his business since then, whilst also running a farm at the same time.
"It all started off from nothing," he said. "I started doing pub car parks for mates and had an old lawn mower, an old Land Rover and borrowed £80 off a mate to get started. Since then, we've slowly expanded, we haven't gone mad, and just picked up a few new contracts each year and kept building them up. Sheffield FC is not our main job or our main income. Our main work is the schools and colleges. I have fifty acres of farm as well, with sheep, and we go out contracting baling straw as far as Newark."
As with many other groundsmen from grassroots level upwards, Peter does put in the extra hours to make the pitch stand out that bit more on match day. Part of the reason behind this is that he is a true fan of the club itself and what it stands for.
"I do it because it's Sheffield FC and it's my local club, I only live up the road. I don't go to every game, but I go to as many as I possibly can," he said.
A typical Sheffield FC game will pull in about 250 people, but it was not ticket sales that Chairman, Richard Tims, was looking towards to secure the next 155 years for the club. 'The oldest football club in the world' is a powerful tag not just in the UK, but on a global scale, and Richard is sweating to turn this into a viable business model, which would continue the legacy.
He said: "If you can imagine that every football fan in the world is related to us, genealogy-wise you came from here, so what we are going to create is a brand called 'The World's First Football Club' that is the ultimate grass roots football club. On Facebook, we are the 49th most followed football club in this country. 25% of these followers are international, so we wonder 'why do they like Sheffield FC?' Well, they don't, they like the world's first football club."
On 24th October, Richard launched a marketing campaign to increase the profile of the brand. He is attempting to name the date, which is the birthday of the club, as International Football Day and hopes to spark a worldwide annual celebration.
Richard explained where some of the motivation to do this came from: "In 2003, I met the President of Barcelona and found out he was more in awe of us than I was of them. That's what drove me on to get really involved in Sheffield FC. Everywhere I travel in the world people are in awe of Sheffield FC and we have groups coming from everywhere to visit us, even though many people in Sheffield haven't even heard about us."
In 2007, Sheffield FC played a 150th anniversary match against Inter Milan at Bramall Lane. Inter, with a team including a young Mario Balotelli, won 5-2. During their anniversary year football greats Pelé and Sir Bobby Charlton visited Sheffield to show their support.
If ever there was an indication of the club's view towards the future, it is that there are thirteen junior teams for both boys and girls, coaching camps during school holidays, as well as staff from the club coaching at over forty schools in the area.
In 2006, the club launched a project called 'Boots for Africa' which collects old football boots and sends them to adults and children in Africa, who would otherwise play barefoot. To date, over 30,000 pairs have been sent.
Richard was quick to praise Peter's work on the pitch over the years and said it had played an important part in the development of the club. "We've seen a massive improvement in the surface since we moved to our new site, like you would never know, and it's like a totally different ball game. It has helped the team in terms of the style of football that we now play. We could do with installing completely new drainage but, at this moment in time, that is just not practical. It was a boggy field before and now we have one of the best surfaces in non-league football."