Hallam FC, the world’s second oldest team. Sandygate Road, the centre of football history. On a Saturday in April we meet some of the people behind the heritage. People like Ann Holland. Ann has volunteered at the club for 60 years, she knows it inside out, she’s seen it all. She started as child when she’d help her parents clean the ground before the gates opened. “Saturday was football day”, she tells us. It still is. As she talks Ann’s going back and forth to the kitchen; catering is just one of her many responsibilities – she’s already prepared the kits, later on she might start the gates, welcoming up to 100 fans on a good day. The weather is somewhat changeable today, and Ann was worried about a possible pitch inspection, but it’s brightened up.
As well as her multiple match day roles, Ann’s also the secretary for the U-19s, this means dealing with everything from player registrations to publishing the programmes. 60 years of duty and Ann’s seen a lot. She tells us that when she started there never used to be women’s toilets at football matches. Thankfully, some things have changed.
John Steele is also here early. He’s the club historian. “Virtually everyone you see around the ground today is unpaid. They do it for the love”, he tells us. It was this love that prompted John to begin researching the rich history of the club in the 1980s, where two nights a week he would go through microfilms in Sheffield library to bring to light the Hallam’s formative role in the story of football. This was a period of deep uncertainty for the club, as financial constraints and ever changing league regulations threatened its very existence. The sense of history that is so palpable at Sandygate is also embodied in the dedication and determination of volunteers like Ann and John. You get the sense that Hallam’s rich heritage has been hard won, that the people who have served the club have had to dig in to preserve its status and protect its traditions.
As the clouds darken again thoughts turn towards the game. I ask John about the fans at places like Sandygate Road these days. “Non-league football attracts people who want that edge of the touchline experience”, he tells me, “the people who want to be close to football”. There’s nowhere closer than Hallam FC.