On today, the day of the opening ceremonies at the Olympic Games, I want to ask you, the avid soccer fan, who won the first World Cup. It is likely you say “Uruguay”. You may say that they won their first World Cup in 1930. You also may inform me that they were able to beat Argentina 4-2 in the final on home soil. If you’re feeling particularly confident (or particularly sly with Google, much like a certain writer), you would then go on to point out that the final was played at the Estadio Centenario with Héctor Castro scoring the final goal in the 89th minute of play to secure the win. You trivia loving fan couldn’t be further from the truth.
Whilst Uruguay did indeed emerge victorious in 1930, against Argentina, winning 4-2, on home soil, many in the town of West Auckland and its surrounding area claim local pride in the fact their small town returned home with the first attempt at organising a global football competition, the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy. Sir Thomas Lipton, a millionaire (through his now famous Lipton brand of tea), philanthropist and sportsman, organised an event for the then fledgling sport, sending invitations to all European nations who had a footballing culture in the year 1909. Teams were sent from the German, Swiss and Italian Football Associations to Turin, but the English FA declined the offer of participation. However, being Scottish born, Lipton was unprepared to let his tournament take place without representation from Britain, and thus a team of coal miners from the Northern League in England were set under the name of West Auckland. Quite why the nation was represented by an amateur side with such little prestige is unknown.
Some believe Lipton had business contacts in the north of England and in the Northern League, so put out an open invitation to the league for a British representative. Others will say that Lipton wanted the newly promoted Second Division side Woolwich Arsenal (a previous name of Arsenal F.C) to be sent to the championships – leaving the instructions “contact W.A” with his secretary and causing the slip up. Regardless of the reason, the miners of West Auckland promptly travelled to Turin at their own expense to participate in the tournament, some even pawning their possessions to fund the journey. Upon arrival in Northern Italy, the side affectionately known as simply “West” played their first match against German outfit Sportfreunde Stuttgart, winning 2-0 and progressing to the final. There, West Auckland faced Zurich based side FC Winterthur (who still ply their trade in the second tier of Swiss football), also winning that game 2-0. On April 12, 1909, the amateurs of West Auckland were pronounced winners of the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, winning the tournament without conceding a single goal and going down in the annals of history as the first ever winners of the Football World Cup.
Two years later, in 1911 the soot covered northerners returned to Turin for the second time, beating FC Zurich in the semi final and then current Scudetto holders Juventus 6-1 in the final to claim the trophy for the second time running. The rules of the competition then stated that the men from County Durham could keep the trophy they had won in both previous attempts. Amongst rising international tensions, the competition was never to be held again, meaning that West Auckland were the only side to have ever won the tournament.
As if to illustrate the truly humble origins of the club, the side ran into troublesome times financially, and as the players had done to fund their adventure, West Auckland had to pawn the trophy they had won to the landlady of a local hotel just to keep the club afloat. The trophy was kept within the family of the landlady who originally bought it and a town wide appeal in 1960 was able to raise the funds to buy back the trophy and return it to the clubhouse in which it rightly belongs. The club ultimately faced liquidation and withdrawal from the Northern League just a year after their world conquering campaigns, being reconstituted as West Auckland Town F.C (a club that remains to this day) in 1914. The reinvented club has never been able to attain the perennial success of its predecessor, but in the 2011-12 season finished second in the Northern League Division 1 in the ninth tier of English football (five tiers below the Football League).
In 1994, disaster struck the town and its football club once more as the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy was stolen from the local Workingmen’s club where it was on display. Local police tirelessly searched for the relic and offered a £2000 reward, but 101 years on from their last global success the original trophy has yet to be recovered. Interestingly, the official Fifa World Cup Trophy (The Jules Rimet Trophy) has suffered a similarly unfortunate existence. During the height of the Second World War, current holders of the trophy Italy had to secretly transport the trophy from a bank in Rome and hide it in a shoebox for the duration of the war to avoid Nazi Germany seizing it. In 1966, there was a successful attempt at stealing the trophy from Westminster Central Hall in London where it was on display shortly after England’s victory against West Germany. The trophy was however found unharmed in South London just a week later by a dog named Pickles. In 1983, the Jules Rimet Trophy was finally stolen from the Brazilian Football Confederation headquarters in Rio De Janeiro and never recovered.
The story of the Jules Rimet trophy and its escapades are infinitely more glamorous than the stolen Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, and this perhaps adequately represents the differences in the two competitions. One theft was a global scandal as a fourteen inch, gold plated, sterling silver cup with the Greek goddess of victory carved into it was lifted from a bullet-proof cabinet in Rio; the other theft resulted in an equally pleasing replica being crafted that now sits in a Workingmen’s Club east of the Pennines. But these differences are non-consequential, especially to the people of West Auckland; the simple fact is that their victory came first – making them the rightful owners (if not the actual owners) of the first ever football World Cup.
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