On the way back from Tow Law Town I decided to pause my trip home and stop to visit something than hadn’t been in situ when I paid West Auckland Town FC many moons ago.
So you’re in the pub quiz and you’re asked “Who won the first World Cup?” and you answer Uruguay in 1930. You’d sit back, quaff your pint, and you’d be horrified when you’d be wrong. The first world champions were in fact West Auckland FC.
Before Jules Rimet gleamed, and the World Cup became a global circus there was Thomas Lipton. In 1904, the millionaire grocery store baron, now most famous for Lipton’s teas, was awarded the Knight of the Grand Order by the government of Italy, a country where he had business interests. When Sir Thomas offered to reciprocate for this great honour, the Italian ambassador asked him to organise a major international sporting event in Italy.
He decided to create a World Cup of football, and the idea was that the best club teams in England, Germany, Italy and Switzerland would be invited to take part. Here histories vary; some say the English FA wanted to invite Woolwich Arsenal, but got their WAFC’s confused, although more likely though is that the FA decided, as they did in 1930 to decline the invitation, and so Lipton simply invited a team that was prepared to take part.
Whatever the reasoning the County Durham side were an odd choice. An amateur side, consisting mainly of coal miners, they were struggling at the bottom of the Northern (Amateur) League, but nevertheless they won the trophy, beating Stuttgart Sportfreunder 2-0 in the semi-final then FC Winterthur by the same scoreline in the final on April 12th 1909.
So you may be thinking it was a fluke, but clearly it wasn’t, because two years later they won it again! This time they beat FC Zurich 2-0 in the semi-final before demolishing the mighty Juventus 6-1 in the final on April 17th 1911.
However celebrations were soured by the team’s debts incurred by the costs of getting to Italy twice. The club sold the trophy for £40 to the landlady of the Wheatsheaf Hotel, the club headquarters, on their return. It remained with her family until in 1960 when an appeal raised £100 to restore the trophy to the club’s ownership. The trophy was displayed in West Auckland Working Men’s Club until January 1994 when it was stolen, never to be recovered. A replica was made by Sheffield silversmith Jack Spencer, and this is still on display at the Working Men’s Club today.
But the trophy is, in all honesty a little tucked away, so it was only fitting that a more obvious memorial be erected. The Friends of West Auckland raised £200,000 so on 12th October 2013 the 8ft (2.5m) bronze statue, which was designed by London-based artist Nigel Boonham, was unveiled by actor Tim Healy.
Healy had starred in the television film, “The World Cup: A Captain’s tale,” but there was one very notable absence from the ceremony, anyone from the football club! The day was a Saturday, and West Auckland were playing in the FA Cup, away at Hednesford!