The Guinness Book of Records says that the world’s oldest football ground is Sandygate in Sheffield – home to Northern Counties Eastern League side Hallam FC, who are also considered to be the second oldest football club around. The oldest club is neighbouring Sheffield FC.
Football has been played on Hallam’s ground since 1860. In 1867 the club won the Youdan Cup, football’s first-ever properly organised tournament. A claim to more recent fame came when Sandygate’s sharply sloping pitch featured in the 1996 film When Saturday Comes starring local actor Sean Bean.
I’ve been trying to work out if our own dear Dripping Pan might qualify for a sporting record. We know Lewes have played football there since 1885 but that’s not long enough for the Rooks to count as the oldest club in Sussex – Eastbourne Town FC began life in 1881 to claim that distinction.
On the other hand, the Rooks may well be the oldest senior Sussex team to have played at home on the same pitch from day one to the present time – Eastbourne Town having relocated on at least two occasions in their history. It could also be that the home of Lewes FC qualifies as the oldest sports ground to have been in continuous use as a Sussex sports venue.
The outline of the ground clearly figures on antique maps of the town. One dated 1799 actually has it labelled ‘Dripping Pan’. The name seems to have been adopted soon after the ground came into use as a recreational venue for athletics. Cricket was certainly the first team sport played there; a game is depicted in an 1833 drawing.
The earliest published reference to a match comes much earlier. On Wednesday, August 5, 1730 a Duke of Richmond XI were to play cricket with a team raised by local landowner Sir William Gage. It is not clear if it actually took place on that day as the newspaper goes on to say: “It was put off on account of Waymark, the Duke’s man, being ill.”
Waymark was the outstanding all-rounder cricket player of the time and doubtless considerable wagers would have been staked on his expected performance. Outside of Sussex we know Lord’s is celebrated as the ‘spiritual’ home of cricket. But the Lord’s pitch used today only dates back to 1814.
That makes Lord’s a Johnny-come-lately compared to the Sussex village club Slindon who were playing cricket as early as 1740. For a few years they were regarded as one of the best sides in England. In reality they were an ‘unofficial’ Sussex side – which would explain how on one occasion they took on and beat an XI representing the whole of Surrey! The last mention of the original Slindon team came in 1754 and the club’s early demise seems linked to the death of its wealthy patron, the Duke of Richmond, the very same ‘blue-blood’ who’d visited the Dripping Pan in 1730. There then seems to be a definite gap between 1754 and the formation of a successor Slindon cricket club, and also there’s a question mark as to whether the new club played in exactly the same location.
So what is the conclusion of all my research? Well, I feel pretty confident in claiming at least one record for the Pan; I do believe it is the site of the oldest dedicated sports ground in Sussex. Records show it has been in use for athletics, cricket, stoolball and football without a break for at least three centuries, if not longer. I’m off to write to the Guinness Book of Records! DAVID ARNOLD