It is seven years since my (Ross) last visit to Hillsborough and when I found out they were selling cheap tickets for their match against Charlton Athletic, I jumped at the chance to make a return.
Sheffield Wednesday have had a great season so far currently in the top six of the Championship and probably have their best team since the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. With help of Thai businessman, Dejphon Chansiri, who has made his money through the world’s largest producer of tinned tuna and their new manager, Carlos Carvalhal, who has made a few shrewd signings adding experience such as Ross Wallace, Barry Bannan, Gary Hooper and Aidan McGeady to his team.
As for Charlton Athletic, their season has been rather unsettled with the sackings of numerous managers and supporters anger towards the owner due to lack of investment in the club. Onto their third manager of the season being José Riga, the home dugout at The Valley has seen many faces this season including Guy Luzon and Karel Fraeye. Charlton supporters have shown their anger towards the owner, Roland Duchâtelet, due to his lack of investment in Charlton Athletic which has seen them slide to the lower reaches of the Championship.
With many stops intended on the way, I left at 8:30am going northbound on the M1 coming off at junction 25 heading to Ilkeston’s New Manor Ground. Ilkeston was established in 2010 as the successor club to Ilkeston Town, who were subject to a winding up order in the high court over an unpaid £47,000 tax bill.
I then made the short journey to Heanor Town who play at the Town Ground. The Town Ground is a cricket and football ground in the town of Heanor. For cricket, the ground is the home of Heanor Town CC, and has also been used by Derbyshire CCC in the 1970s and 80s.
The next stop on my list was Belper Town who play at Christchurch Meadow which is overlooked by the large and abandoned looking East Mill. The club originally played at the Acorn Ground before moving to their current residence at Christchurch Meadow in 1951 when they were reformed for the fourth time. The freehold to the ground was bought by Belper Town in 1986 for £6,000.
Major refurbishments to the stadium including the changing rooms, clubhouse and conferencing suite were completed in 1999 at a cost of £250,000. In 2003, more than £200,000 was spent on constructing a new 500-seater stand so the ground could meet league standards. There is also covered standing for a further 300 spectators. In 2014 the club also spent £80,000 on new floodlights partly paid for by a grant.
I continued northbound on the A6 going through the picturesque village of Matlock Bath before reaching the town of Matlock. Matlock Town play at Causeway Lane, known in recent seasons as the Reynolds Stadium for sponsorship reasons and now the Autoworld Arena, near the centre of Matlock. The ground is on the northern side of Causeway Lane, opposite Hall Leys Park. At the eastern end of the football ground is a cricket oval, where Matlock Cricket Club play their home matches. Causeway Lane is overlooked by Riber Castle which is situated at the top of a hill.
With all my Derbyshire stops complete, I ventured into South Yorkshire going through Chesterfield and shortly after arriving at the home of the world’s oldest football club, Sheffield FC who play at the Coach and Horses Ground. Sheffield have played at a number of grounds around Sheffield. Initially they played at Strawberry Hall Lane Park. However, like all of the early grounds they played at, it was not owned by the club. In the following years they would play at Newhall Athletic ground, Old Forge ground and a ground near Hunters Bar on Ecclesall Road.
Ironically, there was much reluctance from the owners of Bramall Lane to see the pitch used for football. They did not relent until a charity match between Sheffield and Hallam was suggested in late 1862. The ground was used by Sheffield for its more important fixtures but relations with the owners remained strained. They collapsed altogether in 1875 when the club vowed never to play at the ground again.
In 1921, Sheffield settled at the new Abbeydale Park ground. They moved to Hillsborough Park in 1988, then to Owlerton Stadium and Don Valley Stadium.
The club bought their current Coach & Horses ground in Dronfield in 2001, which was previously the home of Norton Woodseats F.C., a notable football team who reached the semi-finals of the FA Amateur Cup in 1939. It was the first time the club had owned its own ground. The ground has a capacity of just over 2,000 with 250 seats in the stand behind the southern goal.
As I continued towards the city of Sheffield, the traffic became a lot slower moving and I did eventually make it to Bramall Lane which is the home of Sheffield United.
From the south of Sheffield to the west of Sheffield, I arrived at the oldest football ground in the world, Sandygate Road which is the home of Hallam FC. Sandygate Road is a football and cricket stadium in the Sheffield suburb of Crosspool. It is home to Hallam F.C. and Hallam C.C.
First opened in 1804, Hallam F.C. have played at the ground since 1860. Sandygate has been recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the “Oldest Ground in the World”. On 26 December 1860, the world’s first inter-club football match was played at the ground, Hallam taking on Sheffield F.C.
After taking a few photos at Hallam, I made my way towards Hillsborough. I took a shortcut down from the Manchester Road to Rivelin Valley Road going through Malin Bridge and Owlerton before reaching my parking space off Cookson Road.
The walk to the ground was no more than 10 minutes. I walked up the Penistone Road where I got my lunch at a nearby Burger King on the corner of Leppings Lane. After my pre match meal, I continued walking up Leppings Lane and visited a football programme shop near the ground. I continued to make my way round Hillsborough taking photos outside before making my way in.
The current North Stand was opened in the early 1960s which runs along the long north edge of the pitch, and was the second football stand in Britain to have a cantilever roof (thus amongst some fans, it is known as “the cantilever”). It was however the first in the country to run the entire length of the pitch; the first cantilever stand in English football at Scunthorpe United’s Old Show Ground only covered the centre of the pitch. Following the formal opening of the stand in August 1961, a celebration match was played on 22 October 1961 when Wednesday met Santos of Brazil with their new star Pele in the team. Pele’s goal helped Santos to a 4–2 win. When opened, the stand held 10,000 but the capacity has been reduced more recently to make room for disabled spectators and also to widen the exit aisles for safety reasons.
Before the 1966 World Cup the West Stand was demolished and replaced by a two-tiered structure with 4,471 seats in the upper tier and retaining a terrace in front of the stand. After the infamous Hillsborough disaster in 1989 the lower tier terrace was closed for two years and its fencing covered with blue tarp for the remainder of the 1988-89 season. The terrace remained out of use for 1989-90, and its fences were removed entirely prior to the 1990-91 season. The terrace was converted to 2,294 seats and re-opened in time for the 1991-92 season. The North West Corner was the last section of the stand to be made all seated, adding another 1,337 seats to the structure. The old wooden seats in the upper tier were replaced with bigger plastic ones in 1997. During the 2012/13 season the first row of seats were removed from the lower tier, after an incident involving Leeds United supporters when a minor pitch invasion took place. In the summer of 2013 small gates were installed at the front of the gangways in order to keep fans at bay.
The South Stand has seen a series of improvements, the first being a conversion to an all-seated stand in 1965 ahead of the 1966 World Cup and latest being a major £7 million re-development for the Euro 1996 international competition when an upper tier of 3,077 extra seats, a new roof, 30 executive boxes, two conference suites, a bar, a restaurant and a range of office space were added. Again, the famous clock was saved and put on the new stand. The South Stand is the most recognisable of the four stands at Hillsborough and still bears the original now-famous and easily recognisable clock face and finial from the very first stand, which was brought from Olive Grove.
The Spion Kop is built into a natural hill at the east end of the ground and houses the most vocal of Wednesday supporters. It is usually simply referred to by fans as The Kop. In 1914 concrete terracing was installed on the bank, which was further extended in 1927. The final expansion of the hill came in 1954. The stand remained open to the elements until a roof was added in 1986 after fans raised money to contribute to the cost. When the roof was added, the stand was ‘squared’ off to make it symmetrical so that the roof was used fully. Due to this, the Kop was extended, so the capacity rose from 16,000 to 22,000, which made it the biggest standing area in Europe at the time. After the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, the stand’s blue fences were at first retained. However, for the 1989-90 season, the gates allowing egress to the pitch were painted white and kept open throughout all matches, including the Steel City derby on 21 November 1989. The Kop was the last part of the Wednesday ground to be converted to all-seater accommodation, the change finally coming in 1993 to comply with new FA Premier League regulations following the Taylor Report. The capacity was hence halved, but the Kop remains one of the largest single tier stands in Britain. A large concourse area was added in 2004, partially funded by the Owls Trust.
The first half was a very cagey affair with both sides cancelling each other out and hardly testing the goalkeepers. The match needed some magic, or even just a goal!
The start of the second half saw the introduction of Lopez and Nuhiu for Hutchinson and McGeady for Sheffield Wednesday. The changes by the Wednesday manager proved to work with more attacking formation from the home team. The atmosphere continued to get louder the more Wednesday attacked until they had a breakthough which saw the whole of Hillsborough erupt with relief. On the 64th minute, Tom Lee’s close range header opened the scoring. Wednesday 1-0 Charlton.
Like buses, you wait ages for one and then two turn up. Wednesday’s second goal came in the 70th minute when Nuhiu headed against the post before Forestieri converting from close range. Wednesday 2-0 Charlton.
An Alex Lopez shot from outside the box was deflected into the back of the net by Charlton defender El-Hadji Ba on the 77th minute which was consequently given as a dreaded own goal. Wednesday 3-0 Charlton.
After the match, I ran back up Herries Road back to my car and drove up Herries Road towards the M1. When I reached the M1, I was forced to contend with the 50 mph average speed check and a wide load lorry which was taking up two of the three lanes. When I eventually passed the abnormal load, the journey home couldn’t have gone much better getting home for 6:30pm.