This article first appeared in Issue 3 of The Football Pink magazine available HERE

LAURA JONES examines the roots of cup football in the music halls of Victorian Sheffield

Bill Kenwright, actor, theatre producer and football chairman. In an era where football chairmen are wealthy oil tycoons and members of Middle-Eastern royal families, Bill Kenwright stands out as a purveyor of entertainment on and off the pitch.

However, it is because of theatrical philanthropists, like Kenwright, working during the mid-Victorian era that we have to thank for introducing cup competitions into association football.

Thomas Youdan was an entrepreneurial music hall proprietor from the outskirts of Doncaster. He followed his brothers to Sheffield when he was old enough to start work. By the age of 29 he was the landlord of a public house and over the next four years he would expand his business into the world of entertainment, music hall and the theatre.

Mr Youdan was quite a character in Sheffield. Due to the convoluted licensing laws of the day, Thomas spent an inordinate amount of time in front of the local magistrates either applying for licences or paying fines for contravening them.

Youdan always appeared to be living on the edge of the law in order to expand his businesses and he was extremely successful at it. At one stage he ran two theatres and was the dominant force in show business in the Sheffield area.

However, he wasn’t always so lucky. Two of his theatres burned down in his endeavours, killing five people in total and his court appearances weren’t limited to liqueur laws, notably the challenges for child maintenance.

When his competitors became more high profile and were elected into positions of power Youdan’s philanthropic side conveniently appeared along with his push to become a town councillor.

The music hall proprietor paid large donations into colliery disaster funds; he honoured local platoons with gifts for their services in the Crimea. He even had a cake made that weighed nearly four tonnes, filled with medals that people could redeem for money. This final offering saw him standing in front of yet another magistrate, who had to explain to Youdan how this contravened the Lotteries Act.

It was sport however, where he seems to have made his lasting impact, but he certainly wouldn’t have known his legacy in his own lifetime and he is barely recognised now in football history.

In 1867, the Youdan Cup was organised by committee in order to maintain a standard of playing but most of all to entertain a large crowd.

What the Youdan committee didn’t know at the time was that they were laying the foundations for not only cup competitions in the future, but for the rules of the modern game as a whole.

For the Youdan Cup, the committee decided to set specific rules. It was open to teams from around the city to try and encourage more participation in the sport. Youdan encouraged this by offering £2 to the winners and prizes for any participants.

Sheffield FC, the oldest and richest club in the region, had decided not to participate in the Youdan Cup because as an established club they were beginning to forge links with the newly formed Football Association in London. The Sheffield FA had been established for some time and their codification of the game was years ahead of the London FA. When Sheffield changed any rule in their code, the London FA usually followed.

The London FA became the national football association and sadly, Sheffield’s part in its history is largely ignored.

There had never been a formal arrangement set by any FA that a competition or league would play by certain rules. Even in the Sheffield region, rules were fluid depending on which teams were playing each other. The Youdan committee insisted that in their competition every team would start and finish playing by the same rules and for this they used the Sheffield Code.

The first rule, and one that we take for granted, was that there would be ‘no waiting for players to arrive’ meaning that if a player was late, the game would start without them.

The duration of matches in this era ranged between one hour and up to four hours, under the Sheffield Rules and for the Youdan Cup the duration of the games were set to ‘one hour and a half’. This wasn’t fully adopted into the standardised FA Rules until 1877.

Before the Youdan Cup competition was played, referees were chosen from both sides competing in a game. The committee made the decision that for the knockout rounds this would remain the case but that for the final the ‘umpire’ would be chosen from a third team, thus introducing the concept of a neutral referee.

Fouling was also a contentious issue. Whilst it would be years before the London FA would set criteria for foul play, the Youdan Committee stated that the ‘referee has the authority to award a free kick if any club makes three fouls or kicks out when the ball is thrown in, if he believe it intentional’.

The emphasis on ‘thrown ins’ was in reference to the difference of opinion between the FA’s regarding throwing the ball. The Sheffield FA was keen to play the game at the feet whereas the London FA was still debating the use of throwing the ball.

Pragmatism continued to prevail with the entertainment value firmly in mind for the spectators, the committee decided that if at the end of the 90 minutes the score was even then ‘the first side to score in extra time win the match.’ This is the first recorded evidence of a golden goal rule being used in association football.

It wasn’t just the rules that impacted on the game. Thomas Youdan had the ability to know what made money. Prior to the Youdan Cup he had supported local teams by funding prizes for athletics competitions before games. The idea was to draw a crowd.

The athletics competitions were the main draw for an audience and he knew what entertainment could attract a crowd. Local clubs started to charge on the gate for the first time. Football clubs had only previously generated money through membership fees, but the donation of prizes by Youdan and other local business owners for the athletics competitions meant that football started to become a spectator sport in its own right.

The Youdan Cup final between the clubs Hallam and Norfolk attracted over 3000 spectators, a figure that was previously unthinkable. At 3d for a ticket, Youdan and his committee made a great deal of money to pay for the participation prizes and for the clubs themselves.

Their pragmatic approach to setting rules and providing an enjoyment factor to this recreational sport meant that football started to become a commercial venture. Youdan’s experience of knowing what pleases a crowd and generating revenue made this cup competition an unrivalled success.

The Cromwell Cup was played less than a year after the Youdan Cup in 1868. The competition followed along the same lines but the difference was that it was only open to fledging football teams, two years and under.

This brought into play cricket teams that had seen the success of the game in the Sheffield area and who had started to establish their own teams, most notably, The Wednesday.

An actor turned theatre manager, who worked at a rival music hall to Youdan, called Thomas Cromwell, sponsored the cup.

There was evidently no love lost between the pair as Cromwell had ‘informed’ on Youdan to the magistrates a few years before, for stepping outside of his theatrical licence. This was information Cromwell had observed when he was acting in a rival play. Youdan ended up in court because of Cromwell’s whistleblowing.

Cromwell, from the little information we have of him, appears to have profited from his informing because Youdan was forced to close both of his theatres that same summer and Cromwell became manager of Youdan’s rival establishment, the Theatre Royal.

Seven years after the incident, in 1868, and with now apparent disposable income, Cromwell created his own cup competition. There is unsubstantiated evidence that Cromwell was a keen footballer himself and played in the Cromwell Cup for a team called Garrick who reached the final of the competition. Garrick never fully established themselves as The Wednesday and Sheffield FC did, they preferred to play local teams and occasionally exhibition matches against pantomime actors, possibly at Cromwell’s beneficence.

The Wednesday would go onto win the Cromwell Cup with a golden goal. The trophy was presented to the club captain at a benefit concert held by Cromwell at his theatre. The night included the presentation of the cup, a play and the evening was rounded off with a farce.

Sheffield Wednesday and Hallam FC both still hold these trophies at their respective clubs.

Whatever their motives and at times, their petty rivalries, Youdan and Cromwell had an impact on the game that they could never have been anticipated. Their model of business acumen, flair for what entertained a crowd and their affinity towards sports philanthropy, created the formula on which all football cup competitions are now based.

When Bill Kenwright watches on as his Everton side take the field in the FA Cup, I hope he’ll raise a glass to his theatrical kinsmen and thank them for the cup legacy they left behind.