Football, fans and foreign owners
Plus, hundreds of cyclists demonstrate in Sheffield city centre
Good afternoon readers — and welcome to our Monday briefing.
Like the city’s famous industries and its legendary musical heritage, football is something that helps define Sheffield. The game was invented here and its amateur and professional clubs are renowned the world over. United and Wednesday are owned by foreign investors at the moment, and the supporters of both clubs have experienced turmoil in recent years as a result. As yet another takeover bid is launched for Sheffield United, we ask if foreign ownership is the best way of funding our biggest clubs.
That’s today’s big story — but we also have all our usual favourite reads and recommendations, from a great piece about a long-forgotten Sheffield city centre street to a reissued book by one of South Yorkshire’s most beloved authors.
Catch up and coming up
Thanks to everyone who read, liked and shared our weekend interview with the man who would be South Yorkshire Mayor, Labour’s Oliver Coppard. You can read that piece here.
Last week we sent out two great newsletters to our 647 paying members. The first was a look at the 90th anniversary of the Kinder Scout mass trespass and how far we still have to go to get full access to the countryside. And the second was a story about a visit I made to Sheffield’s biggest mosque for iftar, the meal with which Muslims break their Ramadan fast. An extract from that piece is below:
The man, who works in finance, got up to break his fast at 4am that morning before getting a few hours more sleep and heading off to work. He’s come to the mosque with his eight-year-old son. While children that young aren't required to fast, many want to take part. The boy eyes me slightly curiously throughout. It’s understandable. People who look like me aren’t regular visitors to the mosque, making events like these all the more important.
This week we’ll send out two more including a fascinating look at the battle to preserve the Peak District’s dry stone walls and another about what might happen when Sheffield City Council introduces its new modern committee system in May. To get both of those and help fund a new way of doing journalism in this city, please consider subscribing using the button below. It costs just £1.34 a week if you pay upfront for the year (£70).
This week’s weather
Our weather forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who say this week will be cloudy and cool at times but largely dry throughout.
Monday ⛅️ Cloud will continue to feed inland from the coast but we should see some decent bright or sunny breaks coming through too. Temperatures about average with highs of 13C.
Tuesday ☁️ Settled weather persists. Breezy winds will continue to bring in low cloud but bright spells will come through once more with temperatures again peaking around 13-14C.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday ⛅️ Dry and fine weather with cloudy conditions battling it out with bright or sunny spells. Temperatures ever-so-slightly nudging up to around 15-16C.
Outlook 🥶 If high pressure retreats back westwards into the North Atlantic, colder air to the north could attempt to make inroads in time for the early May bank holiday.
The big story: Football, fans and foreign owners
Top line: Sheffield United Football Club could soon change hands for the third time in less than 10 years after a US businessman said he had reached an agreement to buy the club from its current Saudi Arabian owner for £115m. But is foreign ownership really the best way of running our football clubs?
Background: Last week, the Sheffield Star’s James Shield broke the news that American media magnate Henry Mauriss was in talks to buy Sheffield United from its current owner Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud (a junior member of the Saudi Arabian royal family).
Mauriss, who made his fortune in the credit card and finance industries before buying media firm ClearTV, tried to buy Newcastle United last year but the deal fell through.
On Friday, the Californian announced his £115m bid had been accepted by the club — but Prince Abdullah later said that the sale still had “less than a 50% chance” of happening.
Déjà vu? I had a front-row seat at the last battle over ownership of the Bramall Lane club in 2019, when Prince Abdullah took on his then co-owner Kevin McCabe at the High Court in London. After a bruising four-week-long trial, Mr Justice Fancourt stunned the club’s fans by giving the Prince sole ownership of United, ending McCabe’s decades-long association with the Blades. If the Prince were to sell the club to Mauriss for the reported £115m, it would represent a 23-fold return on the £5m he paid for it three years ago.
What about Wednesday? The Hillsborough club is owned by Thai businessman Dejphon Chansiri, whose family controls the Thai Union Group, the world's largest producer of canned tuna. In 2019, the Chansiri family was estimated by Forbes to be worth $720m.
When he bought it from Serbian-American businessman Milan Mandarić in 2014, Chansiri told Wednesday fans he wanted to get to the Premier League by 2017.
But last year the club was relegated to League One after being deducted 12 points (later reduced to six) for breaking “financial fair play” rules over who owned the stadium.
A cautionary tale: Oldham Athletic has been owned by Morrocan football agent Abdallah Lemsagam since 2018. When they were relegated from the football league on Saturday (despite being founder members of the Premier League in 1992), fans invaded the pitch with a banner reading “get out of our club”.
Other ownership models: In Germany, fans of football clubs must retain a controlling stake by law. Closer to home, Chesterfield FC is now owned by a supporters’ trust after decades of mismanagement. After six Premier League clubs threatened to break away to join a European super league last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared his support for a football regulator to look after the interests of football supporters. We’re still waiting.
Bottom line: Whether you’re a football fan or not, Sheffield’s two professional clubs (and its historic amateur clubs Sheffield FC and Hallam FC) are a massive part of the city’s identity. But outside of the very highest echelons of the game, football has never been a lucrative business. When the lustre of ownership fades for the multi-billionaires who now use our historic clubs as their personal playthings, the danger is the fans will be left to pick up the pieces.
Home of the week
This stunning two-bedroomed maisonette in Broomhill is within walking distance of Ecclesall Road and has a large private garden and detached garage. It is on the market for £320,000.
Our favourite reads
A good piece on the BBC website about the Kinder Scout mass trespass, which the Tribune covered last week. Reporter Jennifer Harby speaks to broadcaster Stuart Maconie (who was at the anniversary events this weekend) who says he believes the trespass should be taught in schools as an example of the power of protest.
A fascinating piece in The Star by David Poole (author of the Sheffielder blog) about Holy Green, a little-known road in the city centre with an extraordinary history. Most of it is now hidden by the ramp that leads to Atkinson’s car park but its history goes back to the 1700s when the then town of Sheffield was still surrounded by fields.
A nice story in Now Then about the people behind the British political campaign group Led By Donkeys, who will be appearing at Opus Independents’ Festival of Debate this week. Since starting as an anti-Brexit group in 2018, the four members have since turned their attention to the government’s Covid response and partygate.
Space for cycling
More than 400 cyclists attended a mass bike ride in Sheffield city centre on Saturday as part of calls for improved active travel infrastructure in the city. Cycle Sheffield are calling for more dedicated cycle lanes, secure bike hubs and low-traffic neighbourhoods.
Things to do
Course: A new Workers’ Education Association course starting on Wednesday, April 27 looks at the history of the Women’s Land Army who were instrumental in keeping food production going during WW2. The free course, which is led by Sheffield Green councillor Brian Holmshaw, takes place at The Circle on Rockingham Lane and lasts for six weeks.
Books: Sheffield-based publisher And Other Stories is this year celebrating the contribution of South Yorkshire author Barry Hines to working-class literature by republishing several of his books. The series begins with The Gamekeeper, a novel which tells the story of a former steelworker employed on a country estate. Their website also has a fascinating bio of Hines.
Talk: Author John Grindrod will be at La Biblioteka (the bookshop in Kommune) on Thursday, April 28 for a special Q&A session with Eddy Read from the Modernist Society about his new book Iconicon: A Journey Around the Landmark Buildings of Contemporary Britain. The session will also be live-streamed online for those not able to attend in person.
Heritage: The Catcliffe Cone Community Group is to hold a free open day at the Grade I listed 18th-century glass furnace on Saturday, April 30 (10am-2pm). The event will give visitors a chance to have a guided tour around the iconic building, which is also a scheduled ancient monument and the oldest surviving structure of its type in Western Europe.
Art: We’ve mentioned the brilliant Street Art Sheffield before but we wanted to flag it up again as they have a new and improved website. The new site includes an overhauled map with hotspots, lots of improvements to the gallery including directions and nearby artworks, and a directory now featuring more than 100 artists. See the new guide for all the details.
Spring in the Peace Gardens
This photo is a few years old but seems appropriate for the time of year. Amateur photographer Es Kwon on Instagram used to work at the University of Sheffield but has since returned to his native South Korea. While he was here he took some wonderful photos of Sheffield, many of which he shared on his Instagram page. This of the Peace Gardens in spring is one of his best.