ROTHERHAM'S footballing history is rich and deep.
While Sheffield was the birthplace of football and the scene of the world's oldest non-professional football club, Sheffield FC, in 1857, within decades the town next door was playing its full part in the boom of the beautiful game.
The industrial heartlands of the north helped forge football's origins as a sport for the working classes.
Steelworkers, miners and labourers took up the game — a release from the grind of their jobs — and followed a leisure pursuit that led to the birth of many teams.
Local football historian Chris Eyre has studied the earliest local teams closely and his research has uncovered a booming early scene in Rotherham, stretching from Kiveton in the south of the borough to Mexborough in the north.
“In the 1890s there was a hell of a lot of football in this area. There were a lot of teams around,” says Chris.
“The various Mexborough teams — Mexborough Town, Mexborough FC — go back to the 1890s but have since folded.
“Denaby United were just over 100 years old when they folded. Silverwood was the oldest Rotherham team before they disbanded a few years ago, so we did have old teams in this area.”
The origins of the town's oldest surviving club, Phoenix FC, typifies the down-to-earth origins of so many.
They started life in 1917 with a group of apprentices at the big old Steel Peech and Tozer steelworks playing friendly games under the name of Phoenix FC.
For the 1918/19 season they joined the Sheffield Junior League, which was for Under-18s only, using the name Steel Peech & Tozer. However, due to the war efforts they had to withdraw from the league in March 1918.
Tyre Mill team with the inter-departmental trophy in 1953
An adult team was formed in 1923 and joined the Sheffield and District Works League, Beatty Division. In those days, to play for the team you had to work at the firm.
Situated at Ickles and Templeborough, Steel Peech & Tozer was named after steel figures Henry Steel, William Peech and Edward Tozer.
It employed thousands, providing a rich seam of footballing talent to tap into.
It is no surprise that Steel Peech & Tozer had three or more teams playing in the various Sheffield and Rotherham Leagues at the same time.
This included at times teams in the U16 and U18 leagues to accommodate the apprentices in SP&T employment.
This team moved to the Rotherham Minor League in 1924/25, and for the 1925/26 season they were a founder member of the new Rotherham Association League before moving into the Sheffield and Hallamshire Association league, now known as the County Senior League.
The honours have stacked up over the years.
Rotherham Works League champions in 1927/28, 1940/41 and 1954/55, Rotherham Charity Cup winners in 1962/63, 1996/97 and 2009/10 — the last success coming after a change of name to Phoenix FC in 1971.
The Rotherham Association Cup was captured twice — in 1938/39 and again in 2009/10 when they became the first team for many years to do the Association Cup and Charity Cup double.
Back at Steel Peech & Tozer, many of its workers at some time played in the Inter-Department Competition which was run by the various departments and workshops under the SP&T banner.
“It was a big competition,” says Chris. “They had so many departments, you'd have the 11inch mill playing the 7inch mill.
“The Parkgate steel site and the likes of Thrybergh Bar Mill were all connected with it.
“Matches were mostly played midweek evenings and Parkgate FC would be used because it had floodlights.”
This keenly fought competition was originally for the Works trophy.
However, in 1937 a new cup was provided which was used until 1984.
From 1950 the winning team then represented the firm in the national United Steels Trophy, winning it several times.
This competition had previously been known as the Wiredraw Cup.
The prized trophy for the inter-department competition later disappeared — and was then found by Chris by chance.
“It turned up about ten years ago at auction in Sheffield and it is now in my ownership,” he says.
“The trophy is a round brass globe, marked like a football, and is mounted on a spindle. It is engraved with the yearly winners' names.
“It is a fantastic piece of history on the life of Steel Peech & Tozer and its many different departments.
“There is reference to the various workshops and mills that have operated over the years, including reference to the gun shop winners in 1943/44, engineers in 1962/63, cost department in 1967/68 and the computer applications department in 1970/71.
“I will shortly be handing the trophy back for display in their trophy cabinet at Brinsworth.”
The spirit of Steel Peech & Tozer steelworks may be long gone but in football terms its spirit lives on through Phoenix FC.
They stamped their name on the County Senior League champions' trophy in 1992 and again in 1998.
For the last 20 years they have had several teams playing in the Wragg Over-35s League and then the Over-45s league, with several Championship wins along the way.
Based at Brinsworth, Phoenix now play in the Central Midlands League.
“Phoenix is one of the older surviving clubs around now,” adds Chris. “In fact it is older than Rotherham United, which of course was formed (in its current guise) in 1925.
“It is a club that many Rotherham men and their fathers still alive today will have been involved with over the years. It is a great history.”
Local football historian Chris Eyre
THE Streel Peech & Tozer Inter-Departmental football competition was played for by the various departments and workshops in the Steel Peech & Tozer group between 1937/38 and 1983/84.
The winners went on to represent SP&T in the national United Steel Cup Competition.
Game were played on both the SPT (Phoenix) and the Parkgate grounds
1937/38: BAR MILL
1938/39: STRIP MILL
1939/40: TEMPLEBOROUGH FINISHING BANKS
1940/41: TEMPLEBOROUGH MELTING SHOP
1941/42: TEMPLEBOROUGH COGGING MILL
1942/43: NO COMPETITION
1943/44: GUN SHOP
1944/45: NO COMPETITION
1945/46: NO COMPETITION
1946/47: FUEL & LAB
1947/48: TEMPLEBOROUGH COGGING MILL
1948/49: TEMPLEBOROUGH MELTING SHOP
1949/50: NEW SPRING SHOP
1950/51: ICKLES ELECTRICIANS
1951/52: ICKLES ELECTRICIANS
1952/53: TYRE MILL
1953/54: TEMPLEBOROUGH COGGING MILL
1954/55: TEMPLEBOROUGH FINISHING BANKS
1955/56: TEMPLEBOROUGH ELECTRICIANS
1956/57: TEMPLEBOROUGH FINISHING BANKS
1957/58: TEMPLEBOROUGH MELTING SHOP
1958/59: FINISHING BANKS
1959/60: TEMPLEBOROUGH MELTING SHOP
1960/61: TEMPLEBOROUGH FINISHING BANKS
1961/62: TEMPLEBOROUGH COGGING MILL
1963/64: TEMPLEBOROUGH COGGING MILL
1964/65: TEMPLEBOROUGH COGGING MILL
1965/66: TEMPLEBOROUGH MELTING SHOP
1966/67: TEMPLEBOROUGH COGGING MILL
1967/68: COST DEPT
1968/69: FINISHING BANKS
1969/70: TEMPLEBOROUGH FINISHING BANKS
1970/71: COMPUTER APPLICATIONS
1971/72: BAR MILL
1972/73: TEMPLEBOROUGH FINISHING BANKS
1973/74: PARKGATE WIRE DEPT
1974/75: TEMPLEBOROUGH FINISHING BANKS
1975/76: NO COMPETITION
1976/77: NO COMPETITION
1977/78: THRYBERGH BAR MILL
1978/79: NO COMPETITION
1979/80: THRYBERGH BAR MILL
1980/81: BRINSWORTH HOT STRIP MILL
1981/82: 11” MILL
1982/83: ALDWARKE FINISHING BANKS
1983/84: NEW ICKLES MACHINE SHOP