Sheffield Rules

This song was born on 27th August 2018. I know because I (Cath) was e-mailing back and forth with Martin about it. I was reading a book called “Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters: Travels Through England’s Football Provinces” by Daniel Grey. In the chapter about Sheffield was this:

Between Facebook and e-mail we vowed to find out more. We couldn’t find a match report but Martin did find a letter to the editor of The Sheffield Independent (more of which later)

The thing that captivated me was not so much that it was the first charity football match (and only the second inter-club football match) in history, but that Sheffield had its own rules of football for many years, the Sheffield clubs refusing to play in the FA cup. Some of these rules got incorporated into the football we know and love (Sheffield rules gives us the throw in – under the original FA rules it more resembled a rugby line out, thrown perpendicular to the touchline) and eventually Sheffield joined in with the other boys. The song tells the story of the game.

We’re hiring out the cricket ground 

In 1862 Bramall Lane was a cricket ground. The clubs hired it out for the match, in the hope of popularising football.

Marking out rouges and goals 

What is a rouge? I always invite people to ask me this at gigs and no-one ever does. I’ll let Wikipedia explain:

There were rouge flags placed an additional 4 yards each side of the goal. If the ball was kicked between the rouge flags and subsequently touched down the team scored a rouge. If the score was tied at the end of the game then rouges could be used to decide the winner. A version of the arrangement remains in Australian Rules Football.

I would argue this is more fun than a goal kick.

We’ve got blue and red flannel caps 

Before flashy home, away, second away, European away, and third kits, players wore hats to tell each other apart. Using blue and red caps is one of the Sheffield Rules. Now you may wonder if Sheffield FC is the oldest football club, who did they play? Well before they had other clubs to play they would play among themselves, dividing into teams by married or single, or based on the initial letter of their surnames. Incidentally, you can read the full Sheffield Rules here

Your cousins in the town of steel 
Weep at how empty your spools 
We’ll send the takings o’er to you 
When we’ve played by Sheffield rules

In spite of the repeated refrain of “by Sheffield Rules” I strongly resisted calling the song Sheffield Rules. I am a Leeds United fan, and any mention of Sheffield clubs is usually met by me singing “One city in Yorkshire! There’s only one city in Yorkshire!” followed by my shouting “Leeds! Leeds! Leeds! Leeds!” (Leeds and Sheffield were both made cities by royal charter in 1893.) Still, at least it’s not about Huddersfield. Sheffield now is the Steel City (although it produces little steel nowadays) but back in 1862 it was merely a town.

Major Creswick and Waterfall 
They had a bit of a set-to 
And Waterfall right lamped him one 
That’s against the Sheffield Rules
Now we get to the good bit. There was a fight. Again, according to m’learned friend Wikipedia:

An incident occurred when Nathaniel Creswick was being held by Shaw and Waterfall. Accounts differ over subsequent events. The original report stated that Creswick was accidentally punched by Waterfall. This was contested in a letter from the Hallam players that claimed that it was in retaliation for a blow thrown by Nathaniel Creswick. Whatever the cause the result was a general riot, which also involved a number of spectators, after which Waterfall was sent to guard the goal as punishment.

There were letters to the paper then 
About whose crime had been whose 
And the fighting fair o’er–shadowed all 
The beauty of Sheffield Rules
I mentioned above the letter to the editor of the Sheffield Independent. Here it is in full:

Between this and the reported match report of the Sheffield Telegraph, which describes Mr Waterfall as taking his waistcoat off in a most irritable manner, it’s clear that Mr Waterfall was considered in the wrong. He was the Diego Costa/Vinnie Jones/Norman “Bites yer legs” Hunter of his time. I do feel strongly worded letters to the editor would improve the modern game. Instead players nowadays just take to their Instagram feeds.

Major Nathaniel Creswick

Major Creswick was a big part of the formation of the Sheffield Rules. He was from a silver plating family. Educated at the Colligate school (a grammar school, by our standards) he was middle class. Many of the proponents of early football were from public schools. At an open mic night we frequent a lady called Margaret (who looks like a perfectly normal woman but is actually made up entirely of lung and vocal chord) has pointed this out a few times and I keep saying I’ll have a chat to her about it. Codified football is not upper class like rugby, but it is not as working class as we might think. On the other hand, football comes from mob football, which was entire villages fighting over a ball. This mob tradition is upheld by may supporters of the modern game, most notably at Millwall.

Perhaps a simple football game 
Can’t do much to improve 
But we did the best that we could do 
And we did it by Sheffield Rules

After three hours, the game ended with no goals, and not even a rouge. It’s a surprise the game caught on. Sheffield FC and Hallam FC are still playing to this day. They still play the Sheffield Rules derby. Bramall Lane is now home to Sheffield United, who are (as I type, and I worry I’m making this a hostage to fortune) currently bothering the One City In Yorkshire for a promotion place.

I spent today with our six piece ukulele band (well, two thirds thereof) playing a steampunk convention. In a suitably 1860s corset I checked my phone repeatedly for the Leeds score. We won. 2-1. Charity games are close to my heart. When I started watching football, as a girl, the pre-season friendlies and testimonials were a cheap way of watching my heroes (as well as a raft of exotic sides like Juve, Grampus 8, Bayern Munich and, um, Huddersfield Town.) I’ve watched some bloody exciting games (Everton 4, Leeds 4, when me and my mate snuck into the home end at Goodison Park and had to keep very quiet) and I’ve watched some dull games. Now at Leeds home games you can take tins of food and donate them to the food bank. It shouldn’t be necessary, but it is, and it’s in the same spirit as the 1862 match. Perhaps a simple football game can’t do much to improve, but the people who are playing and who are watching can. And do.

One thought on “Sheffield Rules

  • Gaz

    An interesting piece thanks. I’m an Owl myself. Sheffield Rules is my favourite of yours that I’ve heard down the Rowbarge, so an encore sometime soon please.

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