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Bramall Lane - The World’s Oldest Major Football Ground

Beautiful Downtown Bramall Lane is the home ground of Sheffield United Football Club. 2005 saw the noble old ground mark it’s 150th anniversary. Opened in 1855 it first hosted football in 1862. This makes it the oldest major football ground in the World.

To look at Bramall Lane’s early history is to delve into the beginnings of association football & shows how the new game stemmed from cricket clubs’ wanting a winter pastime to occupy their members. Many of the personalities involved in the opening of the new ground played a major role in the development of the game as we know it. Below is a timeline of some important events that mark the early years of Bramall Lane up until the start of the First World War.

In the Beginning

1854

On January 30th 1854 Michael Ellison, chairman of Sheffield Cricket Club & local agent for the Duke of Norfolk’s estates called a meeting of representatives from local cricket clubs to hear proposals for a new cricket ground. The attendees at the meeting, held at the Adelphi Hotel, on whose site the current Crucible Theatre now stands, heard that the Duke of Norfolk had given permission for an 8.5 acre site on Bramall Lane (originally called Whitehouse Lane it was renamed Bramall Lane in honour of a local family of file manufacturers who lived in the area) to be used as a cricket ground. At this time Bramall Lane was surrounded by countryside & had been chosen as it was free from the smoke of Sheffield’s industry.

A committee made up of luminaries from local cricket clubs such as Sheffield, Hallam & Wednesday was formed to manage this new cricketing & sporting enclosure. Calling itself the Sheffield United Cricket Club ( the first sports club in the world to adopt the United suffix), it’s function was to ensure a steady stream of sporting events to provide revenue & pay the annual rent of £70 that the Duke required. 477 members or propietors as they were known were enrolled & each paid £5 for the privilege of belonging to the new club. Perimeter walls were constructed, as were refreshments booths & a special raised area with covered galleries (executive boxes!!) was erected for the sole use of the proprietors & their guests.

The Ground Opens

1855

 April 30th 1855 saw the first public event. A cricket match between The Eleven & The Twenty Two, the teams were made up of players from six of the leading local cricket clubs. The score sheet from the first innings had this notable entry ..

William Prest, Esq., b. J. Rowbotham 0

Prest, a member of Sheffield Cricket Club & on the committee of Sheffield United Cricket Club went onto found, with his friend Nathaniel Creswick, Sheffield FC in 1857, the World’s first football club.

Later that year over three days in August, the first representative county cricket match took place. Sussex beat Yorkshire by an innings & 117 runs. John Wisden (of Almanac fame) recorded the game’s best score of 148 & was responsible for catching Ellison in Yorkshire’s second innings. View scorecard.

The First Football Match

1862

Bramall Lane hosted it’s first football match. The committee as a whole, even though it counted amongst it’s members men who had played prominent roles in the formation of both Sheffield & Hallam Football Clubs, viewed the new winter game with distaste but economics dictated that they consider using the ground for other sports. Already only seven years since the ground had opened the place was losing money & harsh economic reality meant that the committee had to consider other sports in order to guarantee a steady stream of income.

The match played on the 29th December between Sheffield FC & Hallam FC was a charity affair in aid of the Lancashire Distress Fund. This had been set up to alleviate the poverty in the cotton trade caused by the American civil war.

The game lasted three hours & was goalless but went down in local folklore as ‘The Battle of Bramall Lane’ (sound familiar?) & caused consternation amongst the ground committee who it would seem had their worst fears about football confirmed. The match was reported in the local press as ‘the day the waistcoats come off & the fighting began’. An incident between Creswick & a Hallam player named Waterfall led to a general disturbance on the pitch in which almost every player & a fair number of spectators were involved. Play was held up for several minutes before order was restored.

Yorkshire CCC & The World’s First Cup Finals

1863

Mindful of the need to keep revenues coming in Ellison, who personally guaranteed the annual rent, proposed that a new county cricket club be formed. Again the Adelphi Hotel was the venue for the inaugral meeting held on January 8th & the newly formed CCC played it’s first Bramall Lane match versus Surrey at the end of July winning by three wickets. The new club went on to dominate the county championship for many, many years. Yorkshire CCC - A short history.

1867

Football had enjoyed a rise in popularity & by 1862 there were fifteen organised teams in & around the Sheffield area. In February of 1867 the World’s first cup competition sponsored by a local theatre owner by the name of Tommy Youdan began & Bramall Lane was chosen as the venue for the World’s first cup final. Played on the 5th March Hallam beat Norfolk to lift the trophy. The Youdan Cup.

1868

Bramall Lane was again the venue for another cup final. Again a local theatre owner, a chap called Oliver Cromwell, sponsored the competition for clubs less than two years old. Four teams, including the one year old Wednesday FC entered & the final tie played on the 15th February was won by the Wednesday with one of the World’s first ‘golden goals’. The Cromwell Cup.

The 1870’s

1871

The Sheffield Football Association was at the forefront of the development of the game & 1871 saw the first representative inter-association match. The venue was Bramall Lane and was played on the 2nd December under the Sheffield Rules. Because of the home rules advantage Sheffield ran out comfortable 3-1 winners but in the return match of January 1872 played in London under association (ie London) rules the home team won by a goal to nil. So began a series of Sheffield v London games & it is from these that the rules of the game as we know them were codified into a universally accepted set of laws.

1875

Bramall Lane was extended to cover nearly 12 acres & was reputed to be the largest cricket ground in England. Up to five cricket matches could be played simultaneously.

1878

The World’s first floodlit match

On the 14th October Bramall Lane staged a unique match. The first in the World to be played under floodlights. The Sheffield Telegraph reported ..

"There was an overwhelming interest in the experiment, and excursionists arrived in large numbers from distant grounds. Between six and seven o’clock, it seemed as if all Sheffield was heading for Bramall Lane. The streets were thronged from all directions. At the game curiosity conquered customary courtesy, and the few who were really interested in the play were obliged to give way to the many who had eyes only for the new lights. Many of the ladies, once within the rays, shot up umbrellas as they would parasols to shield them from the sun at mid-day!" (Sheffield Football: A History, Volume 1)

To the delight of the committee the official attendance of 12000 generated receipts of £300 but it was estimated that the crowd was as high as 20000, many scaling the perimeter walls to catch a glimpse of the electric lights. Read more.

The 1880’s

1883

Bramall Lane received a boost to it’s prestige when it was recognised as one of the leading grounds in the country by being chosen to host an international fixture. The match on the 10th March between England & Scotland was the first fixture between the two national sides to be played outside of London or Glasgow. Scotland won 3-2.

1888

Bramall Lane again proved itself to be a popular venue for in June of this year on the first day of the cricket match between Yorkshire & the touring Australians the crowd of 20700 was the then largest ever for any cricket match in England.

1889

Sheffield United Cricket and Football Club

This year saw a watershed in Bramall Lane’s history. The ground was chosen to host, in March, the FA Cup semi-final tie between Preston North End & West Bromwich Albion. The game saw an unprecendented level of interest & the attendance of 22688 paying record receipts, was the largest ever for a semi-final match. Later that month a member of the ground committee, Charles Stokes, who was also treasurer of the local football association, president of another local club Heeley & had been a founder member & played for the Wednesday, proposed that a new club be formed. The motion was carried by one vote! Sheffield United Cricket & Football Club were founded.

1898

Sadly Michael Ellison, the orginator of Bramall Lane, architect of Yorkshire CCC & chairman of Sheffield United Cricket & Football Club died this year. It is perhaps fitting then that United were crowned English Champions in this his final year. Following his death the Duke of Norfolk offered to sell the ground to the club for £10000. This was accepted & the club became a Limited Company in July of 1899. The objects of the new company were stated to be ..

"To promote and practice the play of cricket, football, lacrosse, lawn tennis, bowls, bicycling and tricycling, running, jumping, physical training, and the development of the human frame, and other athletic sports, games and exercises of every description, and any other game, pastime, sport, recreation, amusement or entertainment, but not pigeon shooting, rabbit coursing, or racing for money." (A Complete Record of Sheffield United Football Club 1889-1999)

A New Century

1901

In the summer of 1900 United played a friendly with Rangers in Glasgow. The ground committee were aware that improvements at Ibrox & other Scottish grounds had been carried out by a firm of Glasgow engineers that became famous for their football stands. Following an approach to United by Messrs Leitch & Davies the go ahead was given for them to construct a new stand on the John Street side of the ground. The new two-tiered Archibald Leitch stand, the first in England, opened in September 1901 with 3800 seats & a lower terrace that held 6000. An additional Leitch proposal to construct a two-tier stand at the Bramall Lane End was declined as it was thought it would restrict the light during cricket matches.

1902

Bramall Lane received recognition as one of the top most modern sporting venues of it’s time when it was awarded a Test Match. The 3rd test of the Ashes series took place in July, with the Australians winning by 143 runs. The Sheffield Test Match.

1912

Bramall Lane had hosted FA Cup semi-final matches on twelve ocassions & this year was allocated the FA Cup Final replay between Barnsley & West Bromwich Albion. The first match at Crystal Palace had ended goal-less as did the replay so for the first time in the competition’s history the final went to extra-time. Barnsley won with a solitary goal two minutes from time in front of 38555 spectators. Sheffield’s FA Cup Final.

Footnote & Sources

Farewell to Cricket

In the early 1970’s the decision was taken to expel cricket from Bramall Lane. Cricket at the Lane was in decline & for many seasons football had been subsidsing it. The board decided that if the football club were to compete at the top-level of English football they needed a modern ground that matched their aspirations. The last cricket match was the ‘Roses’ county championship game of 1973 & a state-of-the-art cantilever stand was built over the cricket pitch. Bramall Lane finally became a four-sided ground when the new stand was opened for the first game of the 1975/76 season. United were relegated from the top-flight at the end of this season & within five years were to find themselves in the basement division for the first time in their history.

Sources

Websites as linked to above.

Football in Sheffield

Sheffield Football: 1857-1961 v. 1: A History

Sheffield United Football Club 1889-1999: A Complete Record

The Official Encyclopaedia of Sheffield United Football Club

The Story of Cricket at Bramall Lane End of an Era 1855-1973

Read more about Bramall Lane

The article above that you have just read was originally published on the interwebs by myself in December 2006 here. It was used a reference and source of information by Brendan Murphy in his fabulous book From Sheffield with Love: Celebrating 150 Years of Sheffield FC, the World’s Oldest Football Club

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