This article by Sheffield journalist Richard Sparling first appeared in the FA Book for Boys 1950-51:
In the industrial cities of the north the boys of a generation ago had only stretched of bare waste land for football pitches. County Football Associations have done something towards changing all that. But ‘Made in Sheffield’ has always been a proud term applied not only to steel but to footballers as well.
Youth football in ‘Worktown’ today is so well organised and directed that a younger player of a generation ago would rub his eyes with amazement. Any really ambitious youngster these days has a good chance of rising to the greatest heights. And for those not so skilful, there are immeasurably better facilities for playing regularly.
When a youth takes a job with many companies in ‘Worktown,’ for instance, he is immediately introduced to what I will call the Welfare Officer. This gentleman has a friendly chat with him, finds out his background, his ideas on sport, his height, weight, and age. If he is fond of football he is promptly made a member of the sports club and its football section. Whatever his age he will gind a suitable team in which to find football.
It was not always so. Not very long ago in the industrial north there was little organised football under adequate supervision for youngsters after they left school. There was no broad highway from schools’ football to senior football. Younger people in the main were allowed to drift aimlessly, often out of the game altogether, or into the hands of unsavoury persons who ran unauthorised teams and medal competitions.
In those days, ‘Red Rovers’ or ‘Aston Villa Blues’ played in parks, recreational grounds, or on stretches of bare waste land in leagues promote by men who used them for their own personal gain. These uncontrolled competition rules were sketchy, more honoured in the breach than in the observance. So-called referees made blunders galore – and nobody cared particularly. Storms blew up only when a competition promoter disappeared with the money that was supposed to provide medals for winners and runners-up.
It was one of the finest steps ever taken when The Football Association decided to root out all of this and to foster youth football. All the County Football Associations now have their own intermediate leagues and Cup Competitions. As well, there are the International Youth Championship and the Inter-County Youth Tournament sponsored by the F.A. Everything is under control. The Minor Football sub-committees, which supervise these events, have a love for the game and an earnestness of endeavor equal to anything exercised by those in charge of the senior grades.
As a living example of football in ‘Worktown’ today, let us take Sheffield. The Sheffield and Hallamshire County F.A. has two hundred teams under its jurisdiction – youths from school-leaving age to eighteen years. Co-operating with the Association officials are the teachers of the evening schools and boy’s clubs, Sunday school teachers and youth club leaders.
In addition, the big works have many teams for youths in their ‘teens. One Works Sports Association has over fifty football clubs, and some of the big works fun several teams, with different sections of the workshops represented in what are called apprentice Inter-departmental Competitions. One such company is Firth-Browns, with its ‘Atlas and Norfolk Sports Club.’ The facilities are superb: the baths equal those enjoyed by many first-class senior clubs, and the playing fields are admirable and extensive.
These youngsters are not just allowed to ‘grow up.’ Old players and old referees take them in hand and coach them. Further, thanks to The Football Association’s widespread coaching schemes, well-known professional players visit the clubs periodically to give free tuition. In Sheffield, boy’s clubs also cater for youths in their ‘teens. There are over forty such clubs, with appropriate football leagues and cup tournaments. One Sheffield Youth team in fact has twice had enjoyable tours in Holland and has entertained Netherlands youths on return visits. All have good headquarters and playing fields and excellent youth leaders.
An example is the Hillsborough Boys’ Club. It has produced champions in many different fields of sport – football, boxing, running, and so on. In fact, ex-members of youth teams belonging to the Hillsborough Boys’ Club, and many members of works’ teams, have qualified for service with leading Football League clubs. Laurie Scott, England and Arsenal fullback, was once a member of a Sheffield works’ team. So was Eddie Hufton, who became an England goalkeeper with West Ham United. Redfern Froggatt, who appeared for England ‘B’ against Switzerland last season, played originally for the Sheffield Y.M.C.A. as a youth.
Yes, youths in ‘Worktown’ today have wonderful opportunities to play the game and develop their physique. Granted , there is a sad shortage of playing fields due to the rapid growth of many towns, the need for houses and new factories. But no youngster keen on football is denied a chance of playing.