coach & horses ground

Home to Sheffield FC since 2001

In April 2001 Sheffield FC began a new era at the Coach & Horses in Dronfield, marking the first time in its history that the club has owned its own ground. While Club’s footballing legacy is a proud and unique one, few may realise that its current residence at the pub ground is just one chapter in a long and storied history of football played at the Coach & Horses, which has provided the venue for some great encounters involving Sheffield in the past.

No one knows exactly when the pub enclosure was first put to a sporting use, but records suggest that as long ago as the 1890s the ground was already staging cricket matches and was the base for a short-lived football team called Dronfield Rovers. Later the same decade the lease was taken over by William South, in his youth a professional runner of some distinction. The Coach became a training venue for local athletes and was used to stage racing meets, which reportedly attracted large crowds with the promise of bets being placed on the competitors.

The ground became the home of Norton Woodseats FC when the club was founded in 1912. It quickly grew to become one of the region’s leading amateur sides in the 1930s through its close ties with Sheffield United, which paid the club an annual grant to farm out their young professionals and run a system of first refusal on its players.

The club’s finest moment came in 1939 when it reached the semi-final of the Amateur Cup, losing 1-0 to County Durham side Willington. Notable Nortoners over the years have included right-back Cec Coldwell, who would repay a transfer fee of £10 to Sheffield United in 1951 with more than 600 appearances for the Blades, winning them promotion to the top flight in 1961.
More recently there was David Frain, who spent three seasons out on the wing at Bramall Lane before turning out over 200 times for Stockport County and Rochdale in the 1980s and 1990s. One person who remembers Frain from his amateur days is Club supporter and Behind the Flag contributor David Bell, who as a teenager paid regular visits to the Coach & Horses when the incumbents were known as Dronfield United (1984-91). “I used to watch them mainly because my mum and dad thought I was too young to go to Hillsborough on my own. Being football daft I watched both the first team and reserves. I remember 84/85 because Frain was being scouted nearly every week and the team did well. One bizarre recollection I also have from that time was of my maths teacher Mr. ‘Beefy’ Brogan running the line, with me and my mates running behind him making Formula 1 zooming noises! “The ground was somewhat more ramshackle than it is now. There was a roofed section above the building where the red painted door is, which is where the players used to run out.

My dad played there in the 60s and remembers a huge bath in this building where all the players got washed after a game. Behind either goal it was unkempt - there were weeds all over, and remnants of railway sleepers which formed some sort of rudimentary terracing. The pitch was a quagmire with mud and and sand to several inches deep. In better weather I used to watch from the top of the banking on the far side. The ground from what I remember was looked after entirely by an elderly couple called the Steels - there was a brick-built tea hut where the burger van is now, where Mrs. Steel sold me Wagon Wheels and tea in a proper mug. Her husband used to mark the pitch out, with amazingly wonky touchlines the norm!”

The historic connection between Norton Woodseats and Sheffield FC does not stop with the small knot of supporters who continue to attend matches at the Coach & Horses today. For much of the 20th century a relationship existed between the clubs which was every bit as congenial as the more famous rivalry with Hallam. In April 1956 the Green ‘Un reported how “Norton Woodseats have again come to the aid of Sheffield Club by lending them their ground at Dronfield for the game with Bentley Colliery on Thursday. Sheffield appreciates this kindly gesture for with the advent of cricket they are no longer able to play at Abbeydale Park this season.”
A similar arrangement would often exist for the opening weeks of the football season, and Christmas and Boxing Day matches became a regular date in the fixture calendar when the two sides contested the same division of the Yorkshire League in the 1950s and 60s. We can trace this rivalry at least as far back as September 1931, when Norton inflicted an 8-0 hammering on their visitors in the FA Cup preliminary round. Such was the gulf in quality between the two sides during the earliest exchanges that – if we allow for the still significant gaps in the playing record – it appears Sheffield failed to register a single win in this fixture between a 5-0 Amateur Cup triumph in 1934 and a 2-1 away win in Christmas 1950, believed to be the club’s first ever victory at the Coach & Horses (a photo of the Sheffield team that day, supplied by late Club legend Pete Copley, can be found on p.58-59 of the official history of the club). Thereafter the games tended to be well-balanced affairs, amply demonstrated by two matches played at Dronfield in 1956 with Norton winning an Easter fixture 7-0 and Club romping the Christmas contest 7-1! Based on the best available information, the playing record for the two clubs currently stands at 18 wins for Club, 22 for Norton/Dronfield and 10 draws. For matches at the Coach ground this translates to a respectable 9 wins, 13 defeats and 6 draws for Sheffield. Two rather mundane encounters during the Easter holiday of 1988 – a 0-0 draw in Dronfield and a 1-0 Club win at Abbeydale – would prove to be the last ever meetings between the two sides in league competition.

For a number of years the Dronfield club had struggled to meet the rising rental costs of the Whitbread Brewery Company who owned the ground, their problems being further aggravated in 1990 when the ‘Shed End’ of the ground blew down in a storm. With the league also demanding refurbishments it could ill afford the club tendered its resignation from the Northern Counties East league the following year. Three seasons were spent in the Central Midlands league (with the team name changed back to Norton Woodseats) before the club sadly folded at the end of the 1993/94 season, the ground being used by the pub side in the years before Club secured the lease. This season in particular has added poignancy as it would have marked the 100th anniversary of the Norton club. But with the move to Dronfield coinciding with the most successful period in Sheffield FC’s history, one hopes the club can continue to do justice to old friends who were relied upon heavily in their hour of need, and to a venue with a history as rich and varied as the club itself.