by Stuart Moriarty-Patten

29 December 1862: The first ever game at Bramall Lane

Bramall Lane, home of Sheffield United and the oldest stadium in the world to be still hosting professional football games, held its first game of football exactly 150 years ago on 29 December 1862. The ground was originally built for cricket games in 1855, and, along with the Oval, is only one of two grounds that have hosted both international football and cricket.  Five England internationals were played there before 1930, and a cricket test match between England and Australia cricket was played in 1902.

Bramall Lane’s first football game was between Sheffield F.C. and Hallam, in a match held to raise funds for the Lancashire Distress Fund set up to help local cotton workers driven into destitution by the effects of the American Civil War on the supply of cotton.  The meeting at Bramall Lane in 1862 was the second time the two teams had met, the first being on Boxing Day in 1860, when Sheffield won 2-0 in what was the very first recorded match between to different clubs. The two clubs are both still in existence today, with Sheffield being famous as the oldest club in the world, and Hallam proudly calling themselves the second oldest club in the world, and playing at the world’s oldest football ground Sandygate Road, which was opened in 1804, and has been their home since 1860.

Football at this time had various sets of rules.  This game was played under Sheffield Rules, which meant that some aspects of the game might have seemed strange to our idea of what constitutes a game of football.  The notion of rugby as a distinct sport had yet to emerge, and the game of football combined aspects of the two codes.  Handling was allowed but only pushing and hitting the ball not holding it; pushing an opposition player with the hands was also allowed, as was tripping, but the Sheffield Rules, unlike some football games played elsewhere, outlawed hacking, which was kicking the front of the shins.

Bramall Lane’s first football game lasted over 3 hours but amazingly finished 0-0.  The scoreline might have suggested a turgid affair but it was far from the case.  The newspaper write-up of the game in the Sheffield Independent reported that the many Hallam fans present were “noisily jubilant” when their team succeeded in downing a Sheffield man.  The paper also reported that, “At one time it appeared likely that the match would be turned into a general fight” after Sheffield’s Major Nathaniel Creswick appeared to strike Hallam’s William Waterfall, who then “threw off his waistcoast and retaliated by striking Creswick several times.”  Players and spectators then converged on the pitch in a free-for-all, but eventually “the advice of older and cooler heads…prevailed, the pitch cleared and play resumed.”  The cry from the Sheffield portion of the crowd was that Waterfall should be sent off, but instead he was sent to play as goalkeeper for the rest of the game.

After the game the conduct of Waterfall was roundly condemned by the Sheffield Independent, which said, “It is not to be endured that healthful sports should degenerate into unseemly brawls.” It also reported that several of the Hallam players expressed “deep regret” at what had occurred.  Not every one was of the same mind though as some of the Hallam players and fans had been seen to be rejoicing the fact that the Major had been hit by Waterfall, and even seemed quite eager to give him a few more punches during the game.

The game became remembered in local folk-lore as the “Battle of Bramall Lane”, but despite the Sheffield newspaper trying to pin all the blame for the fighting on Waterfall and the Hallam side, it seems that Creswick was not totally innocent.  Creswick was a major figure in the Sheffield club being one of its founders and part of the committee who drew up the Sheffield Rules, but it seemed that he felt he himself was above the rules.   A week late the Independent printed a letter from the Hallam club defending Waterfall and stating, “The unfair report in your paper of the…football match played on the Bramall Lane ground between the Sheffield and Hallam Football Clubs calls for a hearing from the other side. We have nothing to say about the result – there was no score – but to defend the character and behaviour of our respected player, Mr. William Waterfall, by detailing the facts as they occurred between him and Major Creswick.”

It seems that early in the game Creswick had threatened Waterfall with violence if he dared tackle him again and then, “Later in the game, when all the players were waiting a decision of the umpires, the Major, very unfairly, took the ball from the hands of one of our players and commenced kicking it towards their goal. He was met by Waterfall who charged him and the Major struck Waterfall on the face, which Waterfall immediately returned.”

Bramall Lane continued to have an important role in football in Sheffield for many years to come.  In 1867 the world’s first ever inter-club knockout football tournament final, the Youdan Cup, was held there, which saw Hallam beat Norfolk.  The ground became the semi-permanent home of Sheffield Wednesday from 1880 as they elected to play their biggest games there.  When Wednesday moved to their own ground in 1887, the owners of Bramall Lane decided that to secure a regular income from the ground they needed their own team, and Sheffield United were born, who, of course, have had their home there ever since.