As it’s World Cup draw week, I thought I’d share one of my favourite football stories with you, about the first ever World Cup, though it was only for domestic sides at the time.I heard this story for the first time when I was nine, due to it being made in to a television drama in 1981, called a Captain’s Tale. It made a real impression on me, because it seemed so far fetched, yet was true and here’s how it happened.

After the success of the first Olympic football tournament at the London Olympics of 1908, a gentleman by the name of Sir Thomas Lipton had an idea to have a World Cup. Whilst the Olympic tournament had been for amateur players only, Lipton wanted the best professional club sides in the world to compete for a trophy, which would be called the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy. He approached the English F.A. who refused to have anything to do with such a nonsense.

It was sad to say, but in those days, the English F.A. tended to look down at most countries in the world and upheld it’s insular and rather outdated opinions for far too long. Suffice to say, they refused to play in the first 3 official world cups, as of course, England believed they were the best in the world and had no need to prove it by playing horrible little foreign teams. Maybe in those first 3 World Cups, England could have added another trophy to the meagre one World Cup win in the last 80 years, we’ll never know but it wouldn’t have hurt to have a go.

So, rebuffed by the English F.A., an employee of Sir Thomas Lipton suggested an amateur side be chosen, as the F.A couldn’t interfere and a request went out to the teams in the Northern League, which is still functioning and is part of the English non league pyramid system. The only side that came back with interest were West Auckland F.C., a side made up of coal miners from Durham. So, Lipton accepted them as England’s representatives and the team had to travel to Turin.

Sir Thomas Lipton

Now, somehow, this little team of coalminers managed to raise the majority of the funds required to travel all the way to Turin, most of them pawning personal possessions to enable them to reach their destination but it proved a sacrifice worth making. Drawn against top German side, Stuttgarter Sportfruende, in the semi final,  Auckland ran out 2-0 winners and amazingly went on to beat F.C. Winterthur 2-0 too to become the first winners of the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy.

Returning to Durham as heroes, the club were once again invited to defend the trophy in 1911, but this time the opposition were a little more familiar. Facing the defending champions in the semi-finals were F.C. Zurich, but once again the amateurs would not buckle to the better equipped side and once again triumphed 2-0. This then set up a mesmerising final against the home side, Italian giants Juventus but amazingly West Auckland thrashed them 6-1.

Under the rules of the tournament, West Auckland were allowed to keep the trophy, but this is were the tale takes a sad turn. Almost bankrupted in no small part due to the travelling to Italy twice in two years, the team had to pawn the trophy to their landlady to cover debts but the side still went under in 1912.The club reformed in 1914 as West Auckland Town and returned to the Northern League where they still remain to this day.

As for the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, it remained in the landlady’s family until 1960, when an appeal by the village of West Auckland saw them buy it back. Yet tragedy struck the club once more, when it was stolen in 1994 and has never been found since. A replica was commissioned and that now stands in the clubhouse, securely held a safe cabinet. This year also saw the club play Juventus in a friendly to celebrate the centenary of that first win, which they lost 7-1, but fair play on Juventus for enabling the club to celebrate what must go down as one of the strangest stories in English football.