Two teams gather in the lee of a leafy valley. The men in red and black are Sheffield FC of the Northern Premier League (Division One South) the eighth tier of English football, while the blues are Hallam FC of the ninth tier Northern Counties East League.
But this is no ordinary pre-season friendly between two local non-league rivals. This is the 157th installment of the world’s oldest football fixture, and there is a trophy at stake.
When Sheffield FC was formed in 1857, recognised by FIFA as the world’s first football club, it had no one to play. The club would create games amongst its members, such as married men against unmarried men, family names A-M versus N-Z, and teams were distinguished by the colour of their caps.
When nearby Hallam FC sprung out of the town’s cricket club in 1860, Sheffield FC finally had a rival. There were no standard, country-wide rules for the round ball game at this point – the foundation of the Football Association was still three years away – so the two South Yorkshire clubs played by the ‘Sheffield Rules’, giving rise to the name ‘The Rules Derby’ for their encounters.Just some historical context: There was no agreed, uniform rule book at this time. English schools tended to play by their own rules – hence the Rugby football code emerged.
The Sheffield Rules were devised by Sheffield FC’s Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest. They are credited with introducing corners, throw-ins and free kicks for foul play, and were in use for 20 years between 1857 and 1877
The first Rules Derby took place on 26 December 1860 at Hallam FC’s Sandygate Road ground, with Sheffield FC winning 2-0.
While Sheffield FC has moved grounds, Hallam FC has remained at its Sandygate home and it is recognised in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest football ground in the world.
Sheffield FC won this encounter comfortably in the end 4-1 and were superior in skill and fitness to a Hallam FC side that certainly didn’t lack for heart. The last two Sheffield FC goals were particularly pleasing on the eye. There was even a bit of needle in this ‘friendly’.
If you’re interested in the history of the world’s first football club, then check out our podcast interview with Sheffield FC chairman Richard Tims. For more on the first football clubs in the major countries, check out our features on the Pioneers.