Just like billions of people over the globe, I too have been „infected“ by this beautiful game when I was six years old. I got the bug when my father took me to my first ever football match of a local club, Dinamo Zagreb.
Undoubtedly, football is nowadays the most popular sport globally played in every corner of the of the world. It is estimated that the final game of 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, between Spain and Netherlands (1:0), had a television reach over 3.2 billion people around the world which is 46.4% of the global population. Because of its incredible popularity, football turned into one of the most profitable industries in the world.
However, today hardly anyone asks how it all began. Although there are records of some games similar to football being played in ancient China, Greece and Rome, the modern game of football is attributed to the Brits. On October 24th 1857 two cricket players, Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest, wanted to keep fit during winter and they established the first ever football club in the world – Sheffield Football Club.
Since many varieties of football were popular in England during those days and because every school played football according to their own individual rules, Creswick and Prest created the first singular set of rules (Sheffield rules) which had a major influence on how the modern game of football had developed.
Sheffield F.C. still exists today. Unlike their more successful and globally more popular younger „brothers“, Sheffield Wednesday (founded in 1867.) and Sheffield United F.C. (founded in 1889.), Sheffield F.C competed exclusively in amateur ranks through the entire history. They are currently competing in the eight rank of English football. Their mission was never to become a top club in England, but to preserve history, promote the heritage of the world of football and their biggest values: Integrity, Respect and Community.
It is interesting that „The Worlds First“ never had its own ground until 2001 when they got their home pitch which is, ironically, situated in Dronfield, Derbyshire, a city south-west of Sheffield. But, the Club intends to change that.
Sheffield F.C. started an interesting fundraising campaign „The Home of Football – Let’s Bring Football Back Home“ They are trying to bring football back to the game’s original birthplace where the two enthusiasts, Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest, founded the first football club in the world and wrote the first rules. That place is Olive Grove and Sheffield City Council gave the Club free land lease and they are now planning to relocate to the Olive Grove.
The problem is that currently the site does not accommodate the facilities necessary to host senior non-league football matches. So, they have to flatten the land, seed fresh green grass, put two new goal posts and corner flags so they could again play competitive football matches on Olive Grove.
To assure the basics they need to gather a minimum of 150 000 GBP. In order to do that, Sheffield F.C. asked the whole football family to help them bring football back to its cradle. They encourage football fans all over the world to donate £1 to the campaign „The Home of football“, and also invited all professional clubs to help them get back to their roots. After achieving the main goal (£150 000) they hope they can raise £2 million in several years to build a „Home of Football“ center which would include a museum, stands and small clubhouse with its own bar.
Everyone who donates £1 will receive a personal certificate from the Club signed by Chairman Richard Tims. For every larger donation you get a gift in accordant to your donation. I have already donated £15 and am looking forward to receive a black scarf with a Sheffield F.C.’s logo on it. For example, if you donate £5 Sheffield F.C. will put your name on the supporters wall. For £20, you will receive a ticket for the opening match on Olive Grove, for £25 you will receive a supporters shirt, for £35 a facsimile of the official Sheffield Rulebook, for 125 donated GBP you will get the Sheffield F.C. brown heritage leather football and for £150 you get Sheffield F.C. 1857 Retro Kit!
If you are willing to donate £500£ you will get a lifetime season ticket for all official Sheffield F.C. match days at Olive Grove and for a donation of £1,000 you can become a part of Sheffield F.C.’s history and play for the club for one half-time in Sheffield F.C.’s team according to your age and level of skill.
The two-month crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.com (one of the first international crowdfunding web sites) started great! In first two weeks of campaign more than £20,000 had been collected. But, the biggest contribution didn’t came from England, but Germany and Switzerland. The campaign has been backed by German Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund, Hertha Berlin, HSV, St. Pauli, St. Gallen and some former and current German players including Ilkay Gundogan, Sebastian Kehl and Christoph Metzelder. “Who knows, without the first club in the world, BVB might just not be around,” Dortmund’s head of communications Sascha Fligge told ESPN.
As you may already know, German model of football governance in the Bundesliga ensures the majority shareholding (50% + 1) in the hands of the club’s members (with three exceptions allowed – TSV Bayer 04 Leverkusen, WFL Wolfsburg and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim – which are controlled by external companies and investors), unlike the English model which is based of mostly private ownership, with a high dependence on private money, broadcasting income, and high debt levels.
Unlike their German colleagues, British football community did not respond quite well to this interesting campaign. Only two Sheffield F.C.’s younger „brothers“, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United, have contributed, as well as Aston Villa (only Premier League club on the list) and F.C. United of Manchester, a fan-owned club formed in 2005 by Manchester United F.C. supporters who opposed to American businessman Malcolm Glazer’s controversial takeover of the club (F.C. United is currently competing in the sixth rank of England football).
After a good start, the campaign stagnated. The chairman Richard Tims said for the Daily Mail that he was deeply disappointed by the response of English football clubs and the Premier League officials. „Yet, all the riches of the league started with Sheffield F.C.“, said Tims.
Even though the campaign on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo.com is over, the project to return the Home of Football will continue until they return indeed, said the club.
As I said before, the campaign „The Home of Football – Let’s bring football home“ launched on 24th of July 2015 was very successful at its beginnings when the Club raised over £20,000 in first two weeks of the initiative. Sheffield F.C. designed a great web page with amazing visuals. The campaign was run by a crowdfunding site Indegogo.com for the first two months. When it ended, the club continued to raise funds via its own web page „The World’s First“.
At the beginning, the campaign got a huge media support and during the initiative lots of reputable world’s web news portals (like BBC, Daily Mail, ESPN, etc) wrote about it. But, primarily, promotion was realized via social networks which, in my opinion, could have been done much better.
Sheffield F.C. uses the three most popular social networks for the campaign „The Home of Football“. Facebook (41K Likes), Twitter (13.3 k followers) and Instagram (2.1 k followers). The motto of the campaign is „Support the World’s first because without Sheffield FC football as we know it would not exist“, and hashtags which were used for promotion were #theworldsfirst #sheffieldfc #grassroots #theworldsfirst #olivegrove #football#fortheloveofthegame #since1857
Facebook was the most intensively used social platform to invite people to join the campaign. Sheffield F.C. is very active on Twitter, especially on match days. But, in my opinion, the idea of returning football to its origin was not communicated well. Twitter is a great platform to market their goals with a clever use of hasthags, but the Club seemed to be more focused on sharing news on current situation in the first team, than about the campaign itself. The Club posted photos with lots of hashtags on Instagram but the problem was in the amount of photos. They would post only one or two photos per week which was too little, even though they don’t have many followers on that social network.
In the interview for the Daily Mail the Chairman of Sheffield F.C., Richard Tims, said that the Club contacted 92 professional clubs and the Premier League to participate in the initiative to get football to its home ground, but only a few of them responded positively.
For those who did, they posted a thank you note on their social media platforms and shared/retweeted posts which were referring to their campaign.
Their social media tactic was also based on a method to tag official Facebook/Twitter/Instagram page of the clubs, like Manchester City and Liverpool, or even a sports video games developer, EA Sports, in order to expand awareness of their campaign.
For me personally, Sheffield F.C. started one really interesting campaign in trying to bring football back to it’s origins, the place where the world’s first football club was founded. After a very good start in the first two weeks, the campaign stagnated and they still have to raise about £100,000 (of £150,000 needed) to make their original pitch, Olive Grove, suitable for professional matches.
The main activities in the campaign were carried out through social networks (via official Club’s profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). But, as I stated earlier, they probably could have made a better use of those popular social media.
For example, very few people in my home country, Croatia, were familiar with this initiative. And I am talking about big football fans. When I told them about it, they said: „Wow, it’s very interesting concept. I would like to take part in it“. If they invested in the Sheffield F.C initiative, I don’t know, but my point is that there are many people who follow trends in world of football and they didn’t know anything about it. Even I knew nothing on the campaign until my friend from Dubrovnik told me about it.
On the other hand, Sheffield F.C. did contact 92 professional clubs to donate money for their relocation to the „Home of Football“ and only several of them responded positively. There was a surprisingly small response from the Premier League clubs. Just last year the 20 Premiership clubs earned approximately £12 million from TV rights, and only Aston Villa donated the money for the initiative.
We would like to know your opinion on this campaign. What could Sheffield F.C. do better to increase its visibility in football and sports community to attract small investors and professional clubs in order to build a stadium in the place where, for me and billions of others, the most beautiful game in the world began?