(Much more information about the history of Sheffield football is available in my new book available now at http://bit.ly/2qYw0r0 )
Nathaniel Creswick co-founded the world’s first football club, Sheffield FC, in 1857 and last week I visited his grave at the Heeley Parish Church. The size and the positioning of his memorial, right next to the church’s main entrance, gives an indication of how significant he was to the church.
Heeley Parish church, at 151 Gleadless Road, was founded in 1846 from part of the St. Mary’s Parish on Bramall Lane and was originally named ‘Christ Church’. Henry Denson Jones was the first vicar and remained in place for 42 years until 1888. The church founded Heeley Christchurch FC in 1862 making it the first Association Football Club in England (and the world) to be formed from a church.
Did the idea to form a football club come from Reverend Denson Jones as the philosophy of ‘Muscular Christianity’ swept Victorian England? Or was it congregation-member Nathaniel Creswick pointing out that his club, formed five years previously, was booming and that the church should join the fast-growing Sheffield football movement?
I met Ken Law the church’s current stand-in vicar last week and he explained that the church has a thriving community, supported by a strong contingent of Anglicans from Ethiopia and Nepal. He said that the design of Nathaniel Creswick’s memorial has made it a favourite spot for church members to sit on in the fine weather. Originally the stone was protected by metal railings but they would have been collected for the war effort in 1940s and one wonders if today’s congregation realise the world-wide significance of the memorial they sit on every summer?
Ken’s main current preoccupation is with the church’s leaking roof, particularly around the tower section which is in desperate need of funds to protect the fabric of the structure. He now hopes that the church’s newly found footballing heritage will provide the publicity necessary to generate the much-needed money.
In the same week as visiting Heeley Parish Church I had an appointment with Bill Towning (Club Secretary) at Sheffield FC’s ground out at Dronfield. He explained their plans to celebrate the club’s 160th anniversary this October. He went on to say that they are still working on their long-term plans to relocate to Sheffield and are opening a club shop in Ecclesall Road soon. The pressing problem for the club on the actual day I visited was that the flat roof over the changing rooms had a leak and the club’s maintenance man was up a ladder trying to find the cause of the problem.
It seems that leaky roofs are a problem both at Nathaniel Creswick’s last resting place and the location synonymous with his present football legacy. Both of these institutions deserve support in this important anniversary year for Sheffield football.
Much more information about the history of Sheffield football is available in my new book available now- http://bit.ly/2qYw0r0