It’s a century since the UK’s very first universities athletics meet took place. No-one could have known then that those ten founding members – of which the University of Sheffield was one – would grow to become such an integral part of university life for so many. Today, British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) unites over 170 institutions and thousands of students each year in over 50 sports.
Our sporting history
To mark this anniversary, we’re taking a look at the important role sport has played at the University of Sheffield over the past century.
Students successfully campaign to get the first playing fields at Norton.
The Norton Pavilion opens and the University hosts the Inter-University Sports for the first time. A gymnasium opens on Western Bank; it’s demolished during the 1960s expansion of the University estate.
‘Sarge’ Harry Cofield joins the staff; he’s a key figure in shaping sporting activity in the University for almost 40 years. The swimming pool at Goodwin is named in his honour in 1967.
Four sports pitches are handed back to the University by the War Agricultural Committee, who used the land for growing crops for the war effort.
1950s sporting memory
“We wore white knee-length pleated shorts, which we made ourselves, polo shirts, knee-length socks and un-studded plimsoles or gym shoes. The wicket keeper was allowed a pair of full-length pads and a pair of padded gloves. The batswoman also wore pads and a pair of thin cotton gloves with rubber strips along the back. I fielded in slips and so spent much of the time practising on the slip cradle, a curved wooden structure into which the ball was thrown and came back at you at a variety of angles and speeds.”
Angela Dixon (BSc Botany and Zoology 1960), member of the women’s cricket team
The Bramley Playing Fields are inaugurated on Charter Day (31 May) in the University’s golden jubilee year.
1959 sporting memory
Members of the cross country running team undertook an overnight relay run from the Students’ Union to the London Palladium as part of Rag. They delivered a copy of the Rag magazine Twikker to Harry Secombe, the famous Welsh singer, Goon and comedian. John Spencer (MB ChB Medicine 1960) recalled, “The event was a huge success and for the last couple of miles the runners followed a motorbike right to the Palladium steps where Harry was waiting, already wearing a University scarf and mortar board and making us all feel we had completed a major success!”
The Goodwin Athletics Centre – ‘the best gymnasium in the country’ – is opened.
The Athletics Club achieves the best results in both male and female events ever attained by a single club in the University Athletics Union (UAU) Championships.
1966 sporting memory
“Wednesday 19 January 1966: The First XI soccer team match against Durham was cancelled and our secretary managed to arrange a game against Sheffield Wednesday reserves – we beat them 3-2. Four months later, two of their team, Graham Pugh and Sam Ellis, played in the FA Cup Final at Wembley. Celebrations at the Union Bar went on long into the night.”
John Kinder (BSc Chemistry 1967)
1970s sporting memory
“I arrived as a ‘typical grammar school all-round athlete’, but specifically as South West Counties cross country champion. There wasn’t a women’s athletics team; I would be left to train on my own and there would be no competitions. As a result I took up swimming as my main sport, with the free-to-use facility at Goodwin. We won a team relay silver medal at the British Universities Sports Federation championships held at Crystal Palace, and I was selected to represent the Women’s Inter Varsity Athletics Board in the annual grudge match against the polytechnics.”
Gillian Castka (BEng Civil and Structural Engineering 1977)
1970s sporting memory
“One of my most memorable moments was when I was running round the all-weather pitches at Goodwin. I considered myself pretty fit but while I was there another runner appeared. This waif-like figure proceeded to float around the pitches doing almost two laps to every one of mine. It was only as I was leaving feeling as if I’d been running through virtual treacle, that I recognised [Olympic medal-winner] Sebastian Coe. On talking to some fellow students I was told that his parents lived nearby and that he sometimes used the pitches for training.”
John Swales (MB ChB Medicine 1979)
The post of Athletics Secretary becomes sabbatical: in the 1975/76 season, there were 1,609 intra-mural fixtures involving over 3,000 students and lecturers.
Successes in the 1980s include the Lacrosse Team winning the Iroquois Cup Final; Sally Ann Hales (MB ChB Medicine 1985) runs the second fastest time by a British female marathon athlete in 1985; and the men’s Rugby League Team win the UAU and Premiership Trophies, topping the Student Rugby League and also having players selected for the Great Britain squad.
1983 sporting memory
“My favourite memory was going to the inter-university archery tournament at Bath. It felt great to be representing my University.”
Caroline Hall (née Atkinson) (BA Germanic Studies 1985)
The World Student Games is hosted by the City of Sheffield, involving thousands of students, either as competitors or volunteers. Curtis Robb (MB ChB Medicine 1997) wins a silver medal in the 800 metres, going on to take part in two Olympic Games, three world championships and a Commonwealth Games.
Curtis Robb with his silver medal. Helen Sharman (BSc Chemistry 1984, Hon DSc 2017) carried the torch during the opening ceremony.
1993 sporting memory
“The ping pong national championships at Warwick. A squad of eight, sleeping on one floor, the captain in the bath. No medals but great fun!”
Ian Warner (BA Accounting and Financial Management 1995)
The first Varsity competition between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University takes place.
The Goodwin Athletics Centre undergoes a £6 million refurbishment. The University and Students’ Union form USport to co-ordinate all sporting activities.
BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport) is the result of the merger of the British Universities Sports Association and University College Sport.
2008-11 sporting memory
“Playing intra-mural football for three years with my journalism course mates as part of the legendary Red Tops FC.”
Andrew Twist (BA Journalism 2011)
The Elite Sports Performance Scheme is launched – offering support for high-level athletes studying at the University. Since then, over 400 athletes have received scholarships, including:
Bryony Page (BSc Biology 2015): Trampoline, Olympic silver medal
Hollie Pearne-Webb MBE (BA Economics 2013): Field Hockey, Olympic gold medal
Joy Haizelden (Health and Human Science student): Wheelchair Basketball, Paralympian
USport is rebranded as Sport Sheffield.
Sheffield Varsity records the highest-attended student ice hockey game outside North America – 8,300 people watch the final at the Sheffield Arena.
Hollie Pearne-Webb MBE (BA Economics 2013) helped Great Britain’s women’s hockey team win gold in the Rio Olympics. Bryony Page (BSc Biology 2015) took silver for trampolining, as did Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill (BSc Psychology 2007, Hon LittD 2010) in the heptathlon.
2016 sporting memory
“Before University I had never rowed before, so one of my favourite memories was rowing in the Women’s 8+ at Henley.”
Sarah Prescott-Smith, Politics and International Relations student and President of the University of Sheffield Rowing Club 2018/19
New pitches at Norton are opened; the site is renamed Norton Sports Park.
Celebrations of 100 Years of Sport – and The University of Sheffield wins Varsity for a record-breaking seventh consecutive year.