Some have criticised their slick online image and expensive kits, but in a Covid world clubs need fan revenue more than ever – especially when they have big plans like Sheffield FC, writes Laura Lawrence.
Sheffield is terrible at exploiting its footballing history. It’s a city that invented the basis of the rules of modern football, including corners, free kicks, headers, the crossbar, goalkeeping and forward positions, but the only thing it’s famous for is keeping quiet about it.
While the country was singing for football to come home, Sheffield FC were starting the process of bringing it back to the home of football.
Sheffield FC is the oldest football club in the world. It’s one of only two clubs to claim the FIFA Order of Merit – the other being Real Madrid – and it’s starting to shout from the Sheffield skyline about its unique selling point of being the first.
Its partnerships with new marketing companies and shirt designers are bringing a fresh new spotlight on the Northern Premier League Division One East team. With a slick video kit launch that caught the attention of uber cool Mundial magazine, Sheffield FC are carving out a niche: the Hector Bellerin of football clubs, if you will.
Not everyone is happy about its transformation. The Copa Football replica kits are a steep £55, and there are accusations online from fans that they’re positioning themselves as an ‘Insta’ club, complete with an esports team, in a trajectory that will make them the next hipster Dulwich Hamlet.
Sheffield football is in a dark place. Both the league clubs were relegated last season. While there is a brighter future for Sheffield United, less so for Sheffield Wednesday. Covid has hit these clubs hard. For non-league clubs, this need for fan revenue is tenfold.
Sheffield FC is not a vanity project. The people involved from the very top have been around for years working on keeping the club alive, making difficult decisions like moving the club out of the Sheffield boundary into Derbyshire. Plans for a new 4000-seater stadium back in Sheffield have been submitted to the local council. The plans include a heritage centre to boost visitor numbers; there will finally be a home for the history of Sheffield’s game to be displayed. Comparisons with St Andrews have been made, with the aim that it should be a place of pilgrimage. The club also aims to buy back memorabilia that it was forced to sell in leaner times, including an 1859 rule book, one of only two in the world. Through membership schemes and crowdfunding, the hope of the future and the history of this club lie with the fans.
I applaud Sheffield FC for their constant development. It’s a club that has recognised its global significance and is using modern means to find not only local fans, but worldwide ones.
So what if it becomes a bit hipster? I’d rather see Sheffield FC still beating at the heart of the game than teetering on the brink of extinction. I’m excited to see their next chapter and hope to make my pilgrimage home as soon as I can.
Follow Laura Lawrence on Twitter @YICETOR