Charles Stokes: Sheffield football’s most famous man that you’ve probably never heard of

The vast majority of Sheffield football fans would immediately recognise the name of Charles Clegg ( But what about Charles Stokes? -who died 104 years ago today. A football administrator par excellence who was around at the birth of most of Sheffield’s football institutions and is single-handedly responsible for the creation of Sheffield United. Until two years ago he was Sheffield United’s longest ever serving Chairman but that accolade now belongs to current Honorary Chairman, Kevin McCabe.
Charles Stokes was born on the 30th December 1847 and died 8th October 1913 and is buried in Sheffield General Cemetery, off Ecclesall Road.He was Sheffield’s first dentist in 1864 and lived and ran dental surgeries on London Road for most of his life. He had various dental establishments throughout his career, working at number 192 in 1881 and number 78 in 1901 and bought number 240 London Road when it was built. His son Percy picked up the drill after his father’s death and 240 London Road is still a dentist today. He was also a high mover in the Freemasonry world, becoming a Grand Deacon of England and this photo from Tapton Hall shows him in his finery.

That is already quite a C.V. before we even get to his football achievements. He joined Heeley FC aged 16 and eventually became the club’s President. He was also Hon. Sec. of Milton FC and a prominent member of Broomhall FC.
(Much more information on these early Sheffield football clubs is contained in A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889… ‘Speed, Science and Bottom ‘ )
At age 20 he attended the foundation of the Sheffield Football Association in 1867 and was also on the committee that helped form Wednesday Football Club in September 1867. But it was at age 42 that his most famous moment came when he was the prime force behind the creation of Sheffield United.
An F.A. Cup quarter final at Bramall Lane in the 1888/89 season was the catalyst that created Sheffield United FC. On March 16th, 1889 a record crowd filled Bramall Lane for the semi-final between West Bromwich Albion FC and Preston North End FC. The crowd spilled onto the pitch regularly and the final attendance was said to be in excess of 22,000. As a member of the Sheffield United Cricket Club committee, Charles Stokes saw the potential for a new Sheffield professional club to play full time at Bramall Lane. Seven days later on the 23rd March 1889 a notice appeared in the Sheffield press:
“Sheffield United Cricket Club. The committee have decided to form a FOOTBALL CLUB for next season, for Bramall Lane ground. Professionals may send testimonials and on or before, March 30th to Mr. J.B. Wostinholme, 10 Norfolk Row.”
It was in his obituary of October 1913 that the detail and involvement of Charles Stokes became apparent:
‘A member of the Bramall Lane Ground Committee in the old days when football at that classic enclosure was not regarded so favourably as it is today; the formation of the United was due to him more than to any other man and football enthusiasts nowadays may be surprised to learn that is was only by a majority of one that the Ground Committee at the special meeting, which Mr Stokes in his enthusiasm was mainly instrumental in calling, decided to form a football club at Bramall Lane -an enterprise which was no doubt encouraged by the success that had attended the efforts of the Wednesday club when they went in for professionalism and opened the old Olive Grove ground.’
His importance to the Blades was also recognised in life when he became Sheffield United FC Chairman in the 1896/97 season when the clubs first chairman M.J. Ellison died. He remained chairman for a total of 18 seasons until he died 104 years ago today.
Sheffield United Chairmen since inception:
M.J. Ellison 1889- 1896 -7 years
Charles Stokes 1896 – 1913 – 18 years
Tom Bott 1913-1920-3 years
Joseph Smith 1920 – 1 year
Walter Sissons 1921- 1930-9 years
Alfred Cattell 1930-1933 – 3 years
Albert Platt 1933- 1949 -16 years
George Marlow 1949- 1953-4 years
Frank Copestake 1953-1955- 2 years
E. Senior Atkin 1955-1957- 2 years
H. Blacow Yates 1957-1961 -4 years
Dick Wragg 1961 -1976- 15 years
John Hassall 1976 -1981- 5 years
Reg Brealey 1981- 1991- 10 years
Paul Woolhouse 1991- 1993-2 years
Reg Brealey 1993- 1996 = 3+ 10 = 13 years
Mike McDonald 1996-1997- 1 year
Kevin McCabe 1998 -2017 – 19 years
(In November 2010, Kevin McCabe announced that he would be stepping down as chairman of the club, to be replaced by vice-chairman Chris Steer, who would take over as chairman in December; however, McCabe remained the owner and Chairman of Sheffield United PLC, the business side of the club and is today his title is Honorary Chairman.)
Martin Westby author of A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889 is giving a talk as part of the Off the Shelf Book Festival at the Creative Lounge at the Showroom Cinema, Paternoster Row on Wednesday 25 October 7.30pm. Tickets £6.00 (£5.00 concessions)