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Published: November 16th 2020
The last time I was in Sheffield in a travel blogging sense, it was an ode to Heaven 17. The Other Half was reliving her youth and we were at the O2 to see Glen Gregory et al, blasting out the the full Luxury Gap album. Temptation indeed. She was on a roll, after doing the Penthouse & Pavement tour 2 years previously. It seems only fair then that the title of this blog goes to their musical neighbours, Human League. As usual, there might well be the sound of a crowd later too.
Our other Sheffield blog started with the Heaven 17 lyrics, "We're going to live for a very long time". Fast forward to 2020 and nobody really knows anymore. The silent killer is among us and back for a second wave. We can no longer make plans.... even a few days in advance.... just in case the COVID restrictions change and TFB makes a sudden announcement on a revised set of instructions for your area. We made this trip prior to both our own area and that of South Yorkshire being classified in Tier 3. Tier 3 was effectively an instruction not to leave your area and
the pub trade largely got orders to close. As I write this blog, the news is full this morning of another imminent England wide lockdown and as I publish, we are now 2 weeks into that lockdown. Schools, colleges and universities would stay open, but all but essential retail have closed down again. The race to save Christmas is on, but the recent dithering by TFB has heard crises of too little, too late from most.
My previous Sheffield blog concentrated on the city centre and a drinking excursion on Kelham Island. Kelham Island Brewery is a destination in it's own right. Today, we enter the city from the south and the Chesterfield area. We are in Abbeydale country here. It was a bit early for a pint of Moonshine though. We ploughed on towards the city centre, round the back of an eerily quiet Bramhall Lane - home of the Flashing Blades - and on to the inner Ring Road.
Ecclesall Road is all things to all men (and women). The ladies that lunch mingle happily with students. Coffee shops run shoulders with independent shops selling local designs and Sheffield steel products. Takeaways cater to those looking
Ecclesall Road, Sheffield
Street Art mural by Bubba 2000
for a quick bite, whilst M & S Food offers something more substantial .... and if you simply can't manage, Waitrose is on the end of the road. The Other Half was quite taken by the range of independent shops and I was pleased that she spotted Craft and Berry. It specialized in bottles of real ales and artisan gins. The stocking filler was carefully chosen. It wasn't gin! The shop is at Number 369 - don't let it pass you by. The footfall was generally low and the terraced houses on the side streets with To Let signs, suggested large groups of students had just not bothered to renew their accomodation this term.
The Sheffield Botanic Gardens are nearby. I will be honest and say I wasn't aware Sheffield had any Botanic Gardens until 2 days before our visit. However, they've been there since 1836, so they're not exactly the new kid on the block. In amongst the 19 acres, you will apparently find 5,000 species of plants. The other notable inhabitants are a serious number of grey squirrels, who are totally unfazed by the human presence. They were busy preparing for winter, searching the piles of fallen
leaf material for a tasty morsel to add to their good stores. The Gardens were laid out by one Robert Marnock. He arrived from what is now the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield and moved on and up to the Royal Botanic Society of London gardens in Regents Park. The most striking feature of the gardens are the Grade II listed glass pavilions (restored and re-opened in 2003). An archway stands at the main gateway off Clarkehouse Road and it was quite surprising to see a bear pit containing an 8' tall steel statue of an American Black Bear. It was even more surprising to find he was called Robert the Bear!
The Sheffield Botanical and Horticultural Society was formed in 1833 and bought the site from Joseph Wilson for £7,500. Mr Wilson was in the snuff business. There is no entrance fee today, but the original plan was to repay the shareholders by attracting the paying public. The visitors in that first summer of 1836 topped 12,000. The numbers were a bit down today, but quite a large number were making use of the outdoors and admiring the changing colours of the trees and plants. In the "new
normal" of COVID, families having a picnic while sheltering from the falling drizzle under the tree canopy didn't even look that out of place. We returned to Ecclesaĺl Road and chanced upon some street art on Snuff Mill Lane. Mr Wilson might have sold his land, but his snuff legacy lingers on. The main street art work was by somebody who goes under the title of Phlegm. Meanwhile on a nearby wall, Bubba 2000 had been at work. I have found a website devoted to the street art of Sheffield and Bubba decorates far and wide with his signature piece of Jarvis Cocker with the slogan "Still Common". As indicated earlier, the blog title is a mini tribute to the Human League. Perhaps I should have gone with Common People in tribute to Pulp, now I had seen frontman Jarvis?
I could have happily wandered some more of Ecclesall Road in search of other street art, but there was an appointment to attend in Stocksbridge. Stocksbridge is about 10 miles north of Sheffield city centre, perhaps best known for the small steel plant that resides in the valley. In Teesside terms, it is the local equivalent of Skinningrove. The
Teesside crew were in town today. It was FA Trophy day and Marske United were keen to keep up their encouraging start to this unusual season. I skirted the city centre of Sheffield and headed out along the valley towards the Hillsborough area. The area has been transformed since my first visits here in the 1980s. Kelham Island has become a swanky, inner city residential area with a posh residential apartments. The old Hillsborough barracks that once stretched along the Penistone Road are now a memory. The area has been developed in to a series of retail parks. We cut up the back of Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground, where there has been precious little activity in recent months due to the continued absence of fans at so called "elite" football. I wonder if they will think that now Tony Pulis has replaced the Monkman. Deja-vu. We passed the junction with Leppings Lane - a name synonymous with the tragedy of the events at the FA Cup Semi Final in 1989. I am familiar with the area from many visits with the SW6 gang over the years. We always parked by the Pheasant Inn - our favoured pre-match watering hole -
dined from the Trafalgar Fisheries takeaway - still viewed by many according to the reviews, as a fine fish 'n' chip shop - and made our way to the away fans entrance down Leppings Lane.
Stocksbridge is a relative small town. It takes the name of a certain John Stocks. He established a mill and a bridge over the river, so his workforce could get to their toil more easily. As there wasn't a great deal else in the vicinity, what else would you call the settlement? A stone bridge was established in 1812, by which time three businessmen, Jonathan Denton, Benjamin Grayson and Thomas Cannon, had built a larger cotton mill on the site of Stocks original mill. The game changer in the locality was the arrival of a certain Samuel Fox in 1842. He set about establishing his steel wire business to service the needs of local mills in the area. In my recent blog from Gloucestershire, we explored the grassroots of the lawnmower business. I couldn't resist the grassroots term. In an exploration of useful inventions , we now turn our attention to the world of umbrellas. Old Samuel devised a new business from his original
steel wire company and through his company, Fox Umbrella Frames, developed something called the Paragon umbrella frame. It was obviously developed over the years, but was essentially the birth of the modern umbrella as we know it today. Samuel Fox became the largest umbrella frame manufacturer in the world around the turn of the 20th century. Fox diversified into crucible steel making and his works expanded further along the valley floor. A railway line was built to link his works to the wider markets of Yorkshire, Lancashire and the rest of the UK. Stocksbridge became the Fox Valley.
Today, Fox Valley exists in a different sense. A large part of the steelworks has long gone and the vacant industrial land has been redeveloped into Fox Valley retail park. Where once many toiled in the steel plant, the residents of South Yorkshire now engage in retail therapy. A mere 11 miles away from the out of town shopping experience that is Meadowhall, it seems there is a demand for more. There was no time for a wander round the town. Kick off loomed. Stocksbridge Parks Steels play at the top of a big hill, heading up towards Bracken Moor. It
was originally a cricket field and purchased by the sports section of the local steelworks, after World War 2. A cricket pitch still sits to one side of the football operation and this creates a very strange 3 sided arrangement. At one point, this side was completely open towards the cricket field and possibly gave rise to some of the fittest ball boys on the circuit. In order that Steels could gain entry into the Northern Premier League, the ground regulations stated that a dividing fence needed to be created to fully enclose the football pitch and so a cunning, temporary fence was devised to allow it to be removed in the summer for the cricket season. The cost of the fence way exceeded that of a normal fence and friendlies against Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United came to the financial rescue. United were probably quite sympathetic to the predicament, given that their own Bramhall Lane was originally opened as a cricket venue in 1855 and was the original headquarters of Yorkshire County Cricket Club until they decamped to Headingly in Leeds in 1893. Bramhall Lane was 3 sided and remained so, until the construction of the South Stand in
Ecclesall Road, Sheffield
Street Art mural by Phlegm
the 1970s on the old cricket square. The last time the stumps had been called for a Yorkshire cricket game was in August 1973. The South Stand proved a more permanent barrier than a temporary fence at Bracken Moor, although it had serious financial consequences for United and the team plummeted down to Division 4.
We headed up the big hill to find the car park at Steels was full. We found a place to park on an adjacent street outside some attractive looking bungalows. I am sure they looked attractive to their inhabitants in their day too - when they were younger and didn't have to carry their shopping up that hill! The sign outside welcomes you to The EcoPower Environmental Stadium. In this elevated position, it would make an ideal location for a wind turbine. It used to be the Look Local Stadium, but sponsorship moves on. We paid our £8 and completed the track n trace formalities required in the COVID age.The lopsided shape of the ground is even more evident once inside. The turnstile end has a large stone built social club looking over the pitch, which doubles as the changing rooms. A small covered
terrace sits below the the turnstile entrance with the fence and cricket pitch away to your left. The far end is an undeveloped grass bank. A section of steep terracing links on to the car park side and the 450 seats in the Jamie Vardy Stand. The ex Manchester City Maine Road blue seats were recently spotted at Pontefract Collieries and here we have some genuine seating relics from a pre-refurbished Sheffield Wednesday Hillsborough. The friendlies with the Steels professional neighbours might have paid for the "fence", but the other big earner is the Steels history is England & Leicester City striker, Jamie Vardy. There is some football irony in this being Fox Valley and the Leicester City connection. Vardy was dispatched from Sheffield Wednesday to Stocksbridge for being too small. They somehow overlooked the lightening pace and willingness to chase a lost cause, that his seen him subsequently prosper at Halifax, Fleetwood and Leicester.
There is talk apparently about removing the Jamie Vardy name from the the stand. The club are in need of additional funding and the sponsorship of the stand could provide much needed extra revenue. There was perhaps a hope that Jamie himself would dig
deep in his Premier League pockets and sent a few quid back to the club who offered him a chance to play after the Sheffield Wednesday rejection. Steels could have certainly done with Mr Vardy on or off the pitch today. Marske rocked up in a confident frame of mind, after recently progressing in FA Cup and stringing decent League results together. They were so confident, the starting line up showed a number of changes and an opportunity for fringe players to prove their worth. Star striker, Adam Boyes, was on the bench just in case, but given that he didn't even have his boots on in the warm up he wasn't planning on getting them dirty. In modern football, they call it rotation.
Marske were out of sight by half time. Matty Tymon was leading the line to good effect without his strike partner. However, the first 2 goals came from the unlikely source of Connor Smith. The Steels keeper will probably prefer to forget the first - a very saveable 25 yard shot squirmed from his grasp and found the back of net. The second was a mazy dribble and calm finish of John Barnes versus Brazil
1984 proportions. It wasn't the Maracana, but very accomplished all the same. Glen Butterworth then showed he had been watching his David Beckham free kick DVDs for number 3. Tymon got on the scoresheet in the 2nd half with a trademark header to kill off any thoughts Stocksbridge had of a fightback. The Sound of the Crowd was heard, but it was only from those with TS postcode.
Marske United would go on to cause a shock in the next round at FC United of Manchester, but alas by that stage COVID restrictions had tightened and no away fans were allowed to attend. As I publish this blog, we are now in the midst of the 4 week English lockdown and all non elite football is cancelled. It remains to be seen whether it can resume after 2 December. Appendix 1 FA Trophy 2nd Qualifying Round Stocksbridge Park Steels FC 0 Marske United FC 4 Venue:
The EcoPower Environmental Stadium, Bracken Moor Lane, Stocksbridge, Sheffield, Soith Yorkshire. S36 2AN Date:
Saturday 17th October 2020 @ 1500 Hours Attendance:
0-1 Smith 26 Mins (Marske United), 0-2 Smith 36 Mins (Marske United),
0-3 Butterworth 45 MIns (Marske United), 0-4 Tymon 76 Mins (Marske United) Stocksbridge Park Steels
: Hall, Lemon, Trench, Turner, Reay, Fielding, Whitham, Goodwin, Mangham, Ruthven, Nodder Subs: Pugh, Kenyam, Ludlam, Greaves, Crosby Marske United:
Catterick, Hood, Round, Butterworth, Burgess, Wheatley, Smith, McTiernan, Johnson, Tymon, Blackford Subs: May, Maloney, Gott, Boyes, Wilkinson
Tot: 1.006s; Tpl: 0.031s; cc: 16; qc: 24; dbt: 0.0287s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb