The vast majority of football clubs have humble origins, formed to provide enjoyable exercise in the winter time for members of cricket and athletic clubs, church groups, factory workers and such like, but Sheffield United are among the very rare in having another starting point. They were created because a sporting venue already existed which could be used for the professional game. In the early 1850’s, cricket, which had evolved as a suitable pastime during the summer evenings, was the sport that Sheffielders played, but the rapid expansion of the town brought a threat to the cricket fields, and suitable areas for new grounds were difficult to find.
The Duke of Norfolk owned a considerable area of land in Sheffield and Michael Ellison, son of the Duke’s agent, proposed, in 1854, an agreement with the Duke, to lease eight and a half acres of land, on the south western edge of the town, “with the advantage of being free from smoke.” The land chosen was situated on Bramall Lane, which had taken its name from the file manufacturing Bramhall family. The first football match at Bramall Lane took place in December 1862. The participating teams were Sheffield FC and local Hallam. This match lasted three hours and resulted in a goal-less draw…… Some goalless draws these days just seem as though they’ve lasted three hours.
The footballing arm of the local Wednesday Cricket Club also began to use the Bramall Lane ground for their most important fixtures. When Wednesday ceased the use of this venue to build a football ground of their own on some land on Olive Grove, there was immediate cause for concern. Their departure would result in a loss of revenue which the cricket Ground Committee could ill afford. This concern together with the success of the FA Cup semi-final between Preston North End and West Bromwich Albion 1889 which attracted an astonishing 22,688 crowd to Bramall Lane, generating £558, directly led to the establishment of the Sheffield United Football Club.
Charles Stokes, a member of the Bramall Lane Ground Committee, at the time also frequently referred to as the Sheffield United Committee, realised the potential of Bramall Lane as the permanent headquarters of a football team and called upon Mr J C Clegg to solicit his opinion as to the formation of a football club. At the time Mr Clegg was president of the Sheffield FA.
On 22 March 1889, a committee meeting was held and after ample discussion it was decided to run their own football club. Initially it was difficult to find players but an advertising campaign resulted in the signing of a full complement of players. Eventually, Sheffield United played their first game in on 7 September 1889, losing 1-4 away against Nottingham Rangers.
To distinguish themselves from Sheffield Wednesday, clad in blue and white, United opted for red and white, although it may come as a shock to learn that according to newspapers reports, United played in ‘white shirts and blue knickers’ for the 1889-90 season!. There were narrow stripes, broad stripes, pinstripes, irregular versions with a black touch, but always the dominant red and white. We suppose we should all be grateful that the success of the film “The Full Monty” with its Blades supporting hero didn’t bring about any other fashion ideas to the club!!
Sheffield United are nicknamed ‘The Blades’ from the most famous trade of the town, steelmaking. ‘Blades’ or ‘Cutlers’ were formerly the name for all senior Sheffield football clubs, particularly when they were playing away. United were also occasionally called ‘The Laneites’. A popular headline in the newspapers in those days when United and Wednesday played each other was ‘a Clash of Blades.’ The name ‘Blades’ was used far more by United supporters than the name ‘Cutlers’, whereas the Wednesday supporters, encouraging their team, always thought it was their right to use the name ‘Blades’ since they were the older club.
However, in 1907, a cartoon appeared in a Sheffield newspaper, drawn by an artist who was not familiar with Sheffield and more important with the way Sheffield people pronounce things, depicting Wednesday from Owlerton (Sheffieldish ole-ler-tun) as an owl and United as a blade. From then on the owl was used for Wednesday and United had the blades all to themselves.
In the Fifties and Sixties a roundel badge displaying the shield of the council’s arms surrounded by the club’s name became popularly linked with ‘The Blades’. The sheaves in the green field clearly refer to the name of the town and the river Sheaf and the arrows stand for cutlery in this heart of the steel industry. This emblem appeared on trade cards, series of chewing gum wrappers, postage stamps and in opponent’s match programmes. Although recognised widely as representing Sheffield United, the club did not use it until the 1975-6 season.
On prestigious occasions, such as the Cup Finals of 1925 and 1936, Sheffield United wore shirts which carried the complete coat of arms by courtesy of the council, including the supporting statues of Thor with his hammer, and of Vulcan with pincers, sitting on an anvil, obviously alluding to the city’s principal industry. The lion in the crest represents the Talbots, Earls of Shrewsbury, who once held the manor. True Blades should be able to tell you if the Latin motto ‘Deo adjuvante labor proficit’ truly meant ‘By God’s help labour succeeds’ on those occasions….
In the mid 1950’s two crossed blades with the white rose of Yorkshire, set in a black shield, appeared on the player’s blazers. The present roundel design was established as an official logo in the 70’s. In fact, the club were one of the last to have a copyright mark and the present badge didn’t appear on official company reports until 1981.