One day on from visiting one of football’s newest grounds at Scarborough, it was off to the oldest ground in the world. Sandygate Road, home of Hallam FC, has the Guinness Book of Records seal of approval: the sports club was formed in the Plough, the pub over the road in 1860 and has played football and cricket there ever since.
Admittedly, hopes for a Victorian relic of a grandstand are quickly dashed. For much of Hallam’s long history, the ground was little more than a fenced off field. It wasn’t until the pyramid began imposing stringent ground grading requirements that things began to change. Floodlights appeared in 1992, the current stand, a corrugated iron and brick affair, followed soon after. The pub, meanwhile, stands shuttered, awaiting a new owner. It looks like its been a long wait.
The club is nicknamed ‘The Countrymen’, and it’s easy to imagine that in the mid-19th century this was open countryside. There’s a leafy backdrop, and a turreted Victorian mansion poking its tower out between the trees behind the cricket pavilion. We’re 800 feet above sea level – lower than Glossop North End or Tow Law Town but higher than most – above much of the urban Sheffield sprawl.
For a sense of history, though, the clubhouse is the best bet. A display cabinet just inside the door showcases the Youdan Cup, reckoned to be the oldest football trophy in the world. Contested by 12 local teams, the cup was put forward by a local impresario after years of friendly matches between the teams. The final, played in front of 3,000 fans at Bramall Lane, pitted Hallam against Norfolk. With something at stake, the teams played out a 0-0 draw; victory was awarded to Hallam by virtue of a long-forgotten quirk of the original ‘Sheffield Rules’: the scoring of ‘rouges’. The goal, just four feet wide, was flanked by two red flags, 12 feet apart. Shots that missed the target, but went inside the flag were chalked up as near misses – known as ‘rouges’ to match the colour scheme of those flags. In the event of a draw, going close was the tie-breaker. Hallam won by two rouges to nil but could not collect the trophy on the day because it hadn’t been finished. That was in 1867; 150 years later the handsome prize is back in the club’s possession.
Today, with no prizes for near misses, the FA Cup was in town. Oldest ground, oldest surviving knock-out competition; it just writes itself. Hallam, playing at Step Six, had pulled off a shock in the extra-preliminary round, booting out Bootle with a 3-0 win. Atherton Collieries, upwardly mobile in the North-west, were the opponents for this one. The visitors, no respecters of history, eventually won it 4-1: Jordan Cover’s hat-trick made the difference. But the game was closer than the scoreline suggests, and could have gone either way when the score was 1-1. Hallam have more pressing objectives in the league: last season an unrewarded near miss saw them fail to win promotion to the Northern Counties East League Premier Division and the team is eager to put that right and bring a new trophy home to sit next to the oldest cup in the game.
Aug. 20, 2017
Sandygate Road, Sheffield
FA Cup Preliminary Round
Hallam 1 Atherton Collieries 4