Half a million souls. Echoes of steel hammers. The rippling ululations of Pennine streams. Red flag flying on the Victorian town hall. Jarvis Cocker singing, "I want to live like common people" as Joe Cocker sings "Would you believe in a love at first sight?" The roar from Bramall Lane. The roar from Hillsborough. Faraway in the Don Valley a northbound train is heard on the breeze.
This is England's best kept secret. Built on seven hills like Rome. A city of trees and green spaces melding with the heather hills of the Peak District. A divided city. South and West the mansions, university degrees, bulging wallets, boxers, football managers, personalised number plates on Mercs, Range Rovers, Jags, Lexus cars, coffee mornings and "A starred" school students. North and East the ragged council estates, crumbling concrete, teenage mums, cheap cuts of meat, pasty faces and cigarettes, dogs sniffing round bins, chavs in Burberry and bling, old cars and heroin, downtrodden lives.
Here they made knives and forks, invented stainless steel, conceived organised football, stood twenty deep at the funeral of Samuel Holberry the Chartist leader, gave the Labour Party an angry socialist heart, brewed beer, built Europe's biggest nightclub, embraced the idea of workingmen's snooker as a world sport. This was a city of hard work and hard play where toffs had to keep a low profile instead of lording it as they still do in Surrey and Solihull, London and Leeds. Here the common people ruled.
I never meant to live here. It wasn't planned. My first visit was in 1972 to see Buffy St Marie and Loudon Wainwright at the City Hall. Little did I know that in 1978 I'd be back, post university and travel. One thing led to another. Work. Meeting my lovely wife. Buying houses. Welcoming two fantastic children into our lives. We made networks like a couple of spiders spinning webs.
Twenty seven years later I can't believe the time that's passed. So many nights, so many days acted out in these streets, amid these hills. Laughing and crying, stumbling home, lying in the grass to watch summer swallows dancing on the breeze, watching our children grow, walking to Forge Dam, talking, eating, hating work with a passion and loving it with delight. Curries and "Rafters" restaurant, smoky pubs and quizzes, The Jam at The Fiesta and Athol Fugard at The Crucible, Hull City hammering Wednesday, Spike Milligan at The Lyceum, plumbers and builders and Derek with Monty and Glyn with his pipe and an endless chain of schoolchildren like Macbeth's tormenting vision.
This is Sheffield. The Steel City. The real Heart of England.
Photographs > Steelworker brick mural, Sheffield FC - The world's first soccer team, The Peace Gardens - Sheffield city centre