Harry W. Chambers : Sheffield Football Club Legend

Harry W. Chambers started as a player for Sheffield FC and became the club’s Hon. Sec. and was the first ever president of the Sheffield Football Association in 1867.

In my new book ( http://bit.ly/2qYw0r0) I state that I hope that it marks the beginning of a conversation about the history of Sheffield Football and that it’s publication would generate new and interesting information about the early clubs and the people involved. The researchers at the Sheffield General Cemetery (off Ecclesall Road), have provided such an insight into Harry W. Chambers who is buried in their graveyard. I had experienced difficulties tracking down his last resting place because his accepted name in all the history books is Harry Waters Chambers, whereas in fact his name is Harry Walker Chambers.

At some point his middle name must have been misheard and it passed into folklore. In the F.A. Annuals and the Sheffield press, more often than not he was referred to as ‘H.W. Chambers’ but the wrong middle name threw my research off track until meeting with the researchers at the Sheffield General Cemetery, when it became clear that all the dates and family members fit the profile of their grave in the name of Harry Walker Chambers. You will see from this photograph that the family’s memorial is in very poor condition and the charity that now run the Sheffield General Cemetery are in great need of funds to look after their wonderful resource. Sheffield Council were guilty of tearing up many Victorian headstones in the 1970s to use for general rubble, so we should be grateful that Harry’s dilapidated grave still exists.


Harry Walker Chambers was born in in 1842, to John a solicitor who worked for a Brewery Association and by the 1851 census Harry was listed as a scholar at a school in Clapton, called Kingston House and his home was noted as Sheffield. When Sheffield FC was formed he was just 15 years old and according to their records it was Harry’s home, Parkfield House (near Bramall Lane), that the inaugural meetings of the fledgling football club took place. I have been unable to find an address for Harry’s family for 1857 and one wonders whether he was actually playing at such a young age? At the age of 17 he is involved in the Sheffield Volunteer Movement, where his occupation is listed as an ‘attorney’s clerk’.

As a young man in his early twenties, he was Sheffield FC’s representative at the launch of the Football Association in 1863 and he holds the honour of playing in the very first official show game for the new laws played in Battersea Park on 9 January 1864; the members of the opposing teams for this game were chosen by the President of the F.A. (Pember) and the Secretary (Morley) and included many well-known footballers of the day, who had been selected by Charles W. Alcock.

“Where all played well, individual mention hardly within reasonable scope but Messrs. Pember, Hewett, Morley, Chambers and both the Alcock’s especially distinguished themselves. Mr. Chambers the able representative of the Sheffield Football club gave a capital taste of his quality. The President’s side after some spirited play obtained two goals, the final kick in each instance provided by Mr. CW Alcock. In the evening the members dined together at the Grosvenor Hotel, Pimlico under the presidency of Mr. A Pember ‘Success to football, irrespective of class or creed’ was heartily drunk and a most agreeable evening was passed.”

He was Sheffield FC’s third Hon. Sec, a position he held for many years whilst playing for the club at the same time. When the Sheffield Football Association was founded in 1867 he was elected the first president.

In 1869, he married his cousin Betsy Ella Chambers (1848-18/8/1936) and by the time of the 1871 census he was living with his wife at 33 Kenwood Road, Nether Edge, with a cook and a housemaid and was now a qualified solicitor and attorney. By the 1891 census they had moved to 182 Psalter Lane and had five children.

Harry Walker Chambers died on the 21st December 1907, with his address listed as Sharrow Hill House and left £8,404.00 in effects  joining his father and his grandfather in the family tomb at the Sheffield General Cemetery. Before it deteriorated the Chamber’s last resting place was a grand looking monument as you can see from this photograph held by the researchers at the cemetery.

Olive Grove Football Ground, Sheffield

Olive Grove was Wednesday’s fifth ground after Highfield, Myrtle Road, Sheaf House and Bramall Lane, it opened in September 1887.

A plaque marks the ground on the wall behind the bus stop next to the Olive Grove works depot and is only a few hundred yards away from where Sheffield FC first played, a piece of land occupied by the B&Q store on Queens Road. Both pitches would have been chosen for their flatness but were essentially water meadows to the river Sheaf that runs to the west of both grounds. Olive Grove still has an operational football pitch. A few hundred yards in the opposite direction up Heeley Bank Road is the Sheffield Works Department Sports football pitch, which Sheffield FC are still considering as a new location for their Dronfield-based football club.

Wednesday FC obtained the field to build the Olive Grove ground on a seven years’ lease from the Duke of Norfolk. It had a stream running through it feeding the Sheaf together with a footpath. It cost Wednesday £5,000.00 to divert the path, cover the stream, organise the drainage and build the pitch and enclosures:

The new ground of the Wednesday Football Club which was opened yesterday, is a great addition to the grounds where the winter pastime may be indulged in under favourable circumstances, in Sheffield. The portion set apart by the rule, measuring 110 yards in length, 70 in width and is surrounded by a cinder path 6ft wide. There is a large shed capable of accommodating about 1000 persons and it is probable that a covered enclosure will before long be erected. The ground has two double entrances- one near the railway from Olive Grove road, and the other from the direction of Myrtle Grove road.”

Olive Grove hosted the first ever United v. Wednesday derby on December 15th, 1890, which Wednesday won 2-1.

This is a video of the current Council depot that now occupies the location

In 1899 Wednesday moved to Owlerton which in 1913 was renamed Hillsborough.

All the famous football pitches played on in the 1857-1889 era; East Bank, Hounsfield Park, Highfield, Cremorne Gardens, Sheaf House, Bramall Lane, and the Olive Grove, are all within the same square mile.

There is more information in my new book:


162 years ago today: Bramall Lane Cricket ground opened

The Bramall Lane cricket ground opened on May 1st, 1855 with a match played between the first eleven and twenty-two selected from the ‘Sheffield’, ‘Wednesday’, ‘Broomhall’, ‘Milton’, ‘Caxton’, and ‘Shrewsbury’ clubs (with a 3d admission).  The first football game at Bramall Lane took place seven years after the ground opened, on December 29th, 1862, between Sheffield FC and Hallam FC to raise funds for the jobless in Lancashire. Sheffield United’s first match at Bramall Lane took place on the 28th September 1889, thirty four years after the cricket ground first opened. The photograph below was taken at Bramall Lane on the day United was officially promoted from League Division One to the Championship, in April 2017.

140 years ago today : Sheffield Association and the Football Association amalagamate

Sheffield FC had joined the F.A. back in 1863 but had continued to play under its own rules. The final barrier to the two codes joining was whether a throw-in could be thrown in any direction (London Laws) or at right angles (Sheffield Rules). With Sheffield’s acceptance of this rule, finally the two codes amalgamated in 1877:

“The Sheffield Association has decided to join with the Football Association in the adoption of the Clydesdale amendment with regard to the throw from touch. This union makes one code for association players in England, so that at last, after many attempts, the Football Association and Sheffield have Amalgamated, a step that will be greatly conducive to the advancement of the dribbling game”. Sheffield Independent. Saturday 28 April 1877


Gutta Percha: from reinforcing football boots to filling root canals

In Victorian times it is certain that some teeth were dislodged by reinforced football boots during a game of ‘rugger’, so it a happy symmetry that today’s modern teeth are protected by the same material that made those boots so sturdy. That material is Gutta percha and the story begins with the launch of the Football Association in 1863.

The instigation of the Football Association  is celebrated as the seminal moment when Association football was born. The meeting at the Freemason’s Tavern in Great Queen Street was a coming together of the ball-carrying exponents (Rugby) and the ball-dribbling community. The main point of contention, between the two groups, was over ‘hacking’, otherwise known as the wanton kicking of your opponents.

The FA meeting was heavily influenced by a letter from Sheffield FC. The Secretary dealt with matters of correspondence which included a long communication dated 30th November from the Mr. William Chesterman, club secretary of Sheffield FC. He enclosed a subscription for enrolment but also put forward the Sheffield point of view that: ‘the Association’s proposed rules permitting running with the ball and hacking were directly opposed to football and were more suggestive of wrestling.’

Ebenezer Cobb Morley and Arthur Pember listened to the petition from Sheffield and hacking was prohibited in rule number 10, of the new laws:

“Neither tripping nor hacking shall be allowed, and no player shall use his hands to hold or push his adversary. “

and rule number 13 states:

“No player shall be allowed to wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha on the soles or heels of his boots. “

So, what is Gutta percha?

Gutta percha is a naturally occurring latex or rubber from Malaysia that players would apply to their football boots to make them harder and less forgiving in the tackle. In Victorian times Gutta percha became a household word as it was used for many domestic and industrial purposes. The Malaysians had used it for centuries to make knife handles and walking sticks, but in 1843 it was classified as a natural thermoplastic and was used in great quantities as an insulator of underwater cabling and other electrical cabling. By 1851, 1.5 million kilograms was being imported into Britain to make furniture, jewellery, pistol grips, canes and walking sticks. Gutta percha also revolutionised the design of golf balls in 1860, which became known logically enough as the ‘gutty’. So, it is no surprise that it was the readily available material of choice, in the 1860s, to weaponise your football boots in anticipation of a manly game of Rugby.

The widespread use of Gutta percha declined in Britain with the advent of Bakelite in 1907, but it was in the field of dentistry rather than the football field that it would retain its superiority. In 1867 Gutta percha was first used for root canal filling, but it been used in dentistry from as early as 1847 by Edward Truman. If you have been unfortunate enough to suffer with a tooth abscess, you will know that after they are cleaned and disinfected, the roots are filled to prevent reinfection. What you will not be aware of is that sitting in your root canal right now, is the same material that was outlawed by the Football Association 154 years ago; good old Gutta percha.

The 140th Sheffield Association Challenge Cup Final tonight at Bramall Lane

The Sheffield & Hallamshire County FA Senior cup final is played tonight at Bramall Lane for the first time since the 1940s. The tournament is the oldest County Cup in England ,which started in the 1876/77 season, so tonight’s final is the 140th ever contested.

Shaw Lane FC and Frickley Athletic FC are this year’s finalists, the County FA are offering big discounts on tickets ,which are available to all its Charter Standard Clubs. They offer tickets at £1 each (minimum purchase of 5 tickets and maximum 30 tickets). Paying on the night would cost you £7 for adults and £3 for children/concessions.

The final 140 years ago was contested between Wednesday FC and Heeley FC was a victory to the Owls by 4 goals to 3 after extra time.

If Frickley Athletic FC  win tonight for a 15th time they will become the club that have won the tournament the most number of times, beating Wednesday’s record of 14 victories.

Why not support this historic evening?

Sheffield FC win the F.A. Amateur Cup. 113 years ago, today

Sheffield FC claimed its greatest ever prize by beating Ealing FC 3-1 at the Bradford City ground, and lifted the F.A. Amateur Cup.

F.E.M. Chambers played as a back for Sheffield FC in the victory, his father was Harry Waters Chambers, the club’s very first Hon. Sec. back in 1857. It was the Chamber’s family home Parkfield House, that the club’s inaugural meetings took place. Harry Chambers played in the first match played under the new Laws of the Football Association on Saturday January 9th, 1864 in Battersea Park.

The two teams for the historic match were:

The Presidents Side: A Pember (No Names Kilburn), Charles W. Alcock (Forest), HW Chambers (Sheffield FC), AM Tebbut (Forest), Gray (Club Team unknown), Drew (Club Team unknown), RG Graham (Barnes), WJ Cutbill (Forest), A Morten (No Names Kilburn), J Turner (Crystal Palace), Morris (Crystal Palace), Renshaw (No Names Kilburn), Leuchers (Barnes), A Scott (Club Team unknown)

The Secretary’s side: EC Morley (Barnes), JF Alcock (Forest), CM Tebbut (Forest), A Lloyd (Crystal Palace), C Hewitt (Club Team unknown), GT Wawn (War Office), JP Phillips (War Office), Innes (Barnes), McCalmont (Barnes), Needham (Club Team unknown), H Baker (No Names Kilburn), AJ Baker (No Names Kilburn), Hughes (Club team unknown), Jackson (Forest).”

Providing a nice piece of historical symmetry Charles W. Alcock, presented the F.A. Amateur Cup and the medals to the victorious Sheffield FC on April 4th, 1904.