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Richard Tims

Chair of Sheffield FC

Published in Sports Management May Jun 2017 issue 131
Read on turning pages | Download PDF of this issue
Tims has big plans for the club
Tims has big plans for the club

“We want to build an iconic stadium with an international visitor centre,” says Richard Tims, chair of Sheffield FC. “800,000 tourists travel to the UK to watch football every year. Surely, every one of those would want to visit the real home of football?”

Tims’ comments – as a chair of a non-league club which operates in the eighth tier of English football – might at first seem outlandish. But Sheffield FC is no ordinary amateur club. It is the world’s first and oldest football club, a status that has offered it a unique opportunity to create a brand, which is exactly what Tims has set out to do.

A place in history
Sheffield Football Club was founded in 1857, at a time when football was in its infancy and mostly played by students. “We don’t claim to have invented football,” Tims says. “Balls have been kicked around all over the world for the past 2,000 years.

“But we did influence and shape what the world now recognises as football. When the club was founded, most of the football was played by students at places such as Eton and Cambridge University. They’re seen as the forefathers of the game, but Sheffield FC was the very first independent football club. We weren’t affiliated to any school, university or company, so it was the world’s first ‘proper’ football club.”

First steps
Tims first got involved with Sheffield FC in 1999, when he was invited to watch a home game at the Don Valley Stadium where the club was based at the time. “The club was playing in front of one man and a dog,” he says.

“I thought it was a shame that the world’s oldest football club was struggling in such a way – playing in a rented stadium and looking like it was going absolutely nowhere. So, as a local business person, I thought I’d get involved and try to help out.”

Tims, a printing company owner, took over the club and with his help it secured its own ground for the first time in 140 years. It moved into the 2,809-capacity The Coach and Horses Stadium in Dronfield, Derbyshire in 2001 and has played there ever since.

His long-term plan has always, however, been to return the club to Sheffield and the city’s Olive Grove playing grounds, where the club was founded in October 1857. To achieve his goal, Tims has set out to utilise Sheffield FC’s history and status in order to garner interest and funding.

The ambitious strategy was partly borne out of a meeting with a club administrator from the very top of the sport.

“The potential suddenly dawned on me when I met Juan La Porta, then president of FC Barcelona, a few years ago,” Tims says. “When I realised that he was more excited to meet me – the chair of the world’s oldest football club – than I was to meet him, the penny dropped.”

Tims says that the meeting gave him the idea to begin marketing the club globally. And it worked. “Today we sell more Sheffield FC-branded products in Italy than we do in Sheffield,” he adds. “For people of Sheffield, we’re just a non-league club – but the ‘world’s first football club’ is something every football fan in the world is interested in, no matter where they are and who they support.

Homeward bound
Tims is now busy planning the move back to Sheffield and Olive Grove. The £8m plans include a 5,000-capacity National League-standard stadium, visitor centre and museum.

The project will be funded partly by turning the current stadium site in Dronfield into a housing development – a project that the local council is currently assessing.

In October, Tims also announced the club would seek UNESCO World Heritage status for Olive Grove in recognition of its role in football’s history – recognition that would bring much needed publicity for the project.

Tims is confident that the club is now well placed to make the move to its own ground a reality, stressing that his ultimate goal for the club is “sustainability and survival”.

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