When people mention Sheffield these days, it’s more often than not accompanied in a sentence about Jessica Ennis-Hill or Nick Clegg but beyond the fantastic achievements of the city’s golden girl and not so brilliant performance of the Deputy PM, lays a bubbling volcano which is more than overdue to erupt on English football.
To people outside of the Steel City, the colours of Sheffield’s two football teams matters very little and yet the rivalry between the two, the potential of the two could and should pull in the attention that a certain battle over the Pennines between red and blue does. But before we address the highs and lows of the Owls and Blades, a little history lesson.
A city coated in history
Sheffield is a city steeped in football history, the world’s two oldest football clubs were founded here – Sheffield F.C in 1857 and Hallam F.C in 1860 – while the latter’s ground is also the oldest football ground on the planet too: Sandygate Road which first opened in 1804. And to top this quick history lesson off, two aforementioned teams can also proudly claim to be part of the oldest football derby on the globe – the city it could be argued is the home of football.
Sheffield F.C and Hallam F.C are still playing today, still taking each other on every year in a special derby but while remaining non-league teams still have big followings and much interest globally but of course the path to league football is restricted by many things, namely finance. The same could be said for the city’s two league teams, who after spending a collective 126 seasons in the top tier of English football have only accumulated 10 seasons in Premier League football since its creation in 1992.
Sheffield Wednesday lasted tasted top flight football in 2000 after 8 years there while United have only managed three seasons, most recently in 2006-07 when they suffered relegation amongst the Carlos Tevez and West Ham drama.
The battle to return has been long and winding and looks set to continue for many years to come, with The Owl’s looking at another battle against relegation in the Championship and The Blade’s, a division low will be hoping that this year they can find the solution to maintain form throughout the season and eventually gain promotion to the second tier after two years of trying – in which both they arguably should have gone up in the automatic positions.
Both clubs have the stature of top flight clubs, the stadiums in which they ply their trade are at a standard where with a just a little bit of work they would soon match most Premier League venues and you will be hard pressed to find a better set of supporters than either team.
Of course both sets of fans will argue their clubs is bigger and better that is a given with this sort rivalry but as a neutral, and regular visitor to both grounds – the noise and atmosphere of the two, despite well below capacity attendances is something to behold and better than at most Premier League grounds.
English football missing out?
There is the Steel City Derby, which for many is one if not the most fierce and hotly contested rivalry throughout the country and to think that the Premier League has not had the pleasure of hosting one since 22nd of January 1994 (Wednesday won 3-1), is an atrocity. And unless the FA Cup draw is kind then this season will be yet another in which English football will miss out on such a fantastic fixture.
This season both clubs have very similar and realistic aims: to be both in the Championship next season. Wednesday will for the moment look to consolidate their position in the second tier while United, with the new investment of Saudi Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, will be hoping it is a case of third time lucky and that he can help them get be one step closer to the promise land.
To put it bluntly, Sheffield is football’s underachieving a city – one that has despite such a history has let it self-down and it is home to two of the country’s sleeping giants and while neither look like fully awakening from their decade plus hibernation, with the right guidance and support the country will hopefully be reminded to just what the Steel City has to offer.