21 Sep 2015
A true, David and Goliath story of how the coal miners of West Auckland FC won ‘the first world cup’
In 1909 Scottish millionaire businessman Sir Thomas Lipton, THE tea man and football enthusiast invited the Football Associations of Europe to participate in an international tournament in Turin and to contest The Thomas Lipton Trophy, often referred to as the first World Cup.
The Football Associations of Italy, Germany and Switzerland sent professional teams to compete. But so the story goes, the Football Association of England declined to nominate a club, so Sir Thomas Lipton personally sent an invitation to Woolwich Arsenal FC addressing it to W.A. A.F.C.
The unspecific address resulted in the letter somehow being sent to the wrong team, West Auckland A.F.C.
West Auckland A.F.C. were made up of coal miners from a pit village in the North East. They weren’t professionals and at the time of the invitation, were bottom of their own Northern Amateur League.
None the less, the team accepted the invitation to represent Great Britain so they scrimped and saved and and with local donations and the sacrifice of a week’s wages, they set off on the long and arduous journey to Turin to compete in a four team tournament against three of the most prestigious professional clubs in Europe, namely, Torino of Italy, F.C. Winterhour of Switzerland and Stuttgart from Germany.
Quite remarkably West Auckland’s team of working coal miners first beat Germany’s Stuttgart 2-0 and then Winterhour of Switzerland 2-0 in the final on April 12 1909 to win the trophy.
Even more astonishingly , two years later in 2011, West Auckland returned to defend the Trophy, and after beating FC Zürich 2–0, they battered Italian giants Juventus 6 – 1 in the Final to become outright holders of the silver-plated trophy which became the property of West Auckland FC and was never contested again. The trophy was proudly displayed in the West Auckland Working Men’s Club until it was stolen in 1994: a silver replica now stands in its place.
This almost unbelievable story was made into a TV film in 1982 called The World Cup: A Captain’s Tale. The film starred Dennis Waterman, Nigel Hawthorne and Richard Griffiths and is considered a minor British classic.