BY MARK CARRUTHERS
Who could possibly forget it? A day when the World Cup was finally won by England, writing their names in the annals of time with a victory against the odds. Not just any England, but an unfancied England; an unfashionable England. The semi-final win over the Germans, the final win over the Swiss, this was glory at it’s finest and it was as unexpected as it was remarkable. However, there is no Sir Alf Ramsey in this tale, no “was it a goal or wasn’t it a goal” to question for decades to come, no hat-trick hero Hurst and certainly no Russian – actually he was from Azerbaijan – linesman to annoy or praise depending on your persuasion.
No, this is a tale that occurred some 57 years before Bobby Moore wiped his hands on his shirt before receiving it from Queen Elizabeth II then raising the World Cup trophy to a euphoric Wembley crowd. For Jules Rimet, read Sir Thomas Lipton. Where you seek goalscorers Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters you will find the Jones’ Bob and Jock and for the Three Lions read West Auckland Town, England’s real first World Cup winners.
In the autumn of 1909, millionaire industrialist, Sir Thomas Lipton, put together the first ever football World Cup. Four countries were represented at the tournament which was to be held in Turin, Italy. There was the obvious choice of Torino to represent the host nation, Stuttgarter Sportfreunde were invited from Germany and the Swiss representation came in the form of FC Winterthur. But what of Lipton’s own nation, England?
Perhaps stuck in a time warp that many would argue they are still finding their way out of, the Football Association declined to accept an invite to send a team to take part. However, Lipton was unrelenting and insisted England should be represented. Woolwich Arsenal, the original name of the modern day Gunners were his choice but alas, he was to be let down. How West Auckland Town of the Northern League were chosen is still in question. However, the most common theory is that an employee of Sir Thomas was in fact a Northern League referee, a fact that seems to have led to the invite being extended to the County Durham club.
So, a side made up largely of coal miners began raising funds to make the trip to Turin, some even financing the move by pawning off their own possessions. They were sacrifices that they would not regret as they proceeded to write their names and that of the town of West Auckland into the history books. On April 11th 1909, the part timers of West Auckland Town took to the pitch at the Turin Stadium to face German side Stuttgarter Sportfreunde, a side who now play in the minor leagues in Germany under the name of Sportfreunde Stuttgarter 1874. Town pulled off a shock with a comfortable 2-0 victory thanks to a tenth minute goal from Ben Whittingham and a late penalty from Jimmy Dickinson.
The day after their win over the Germans they faced FC Winterthur, a top Swiss side at the time who at the time of writing sit in fifth in their version of the Championship. This was to be a step too far for the coal miners and part timers of West Auckland Town surely? In front of a shocked crowd the unknown County Durham side raced into a two goal lead before the clock had even clicked past the ten minute mark. The Swiss side failing to keep up with the Joneses, as a penalty from Bob and an eighth minute strike from Jock laid the foundations for yet another outstanding victory in the face of adversity. That was a victory they managed to complete by the same two goal scoreline as their semi final win and the trophy belonged to West Auckland Town. Although strictly that wasn’t true, well not just yet anyway.
Two years later, West were invited back to Italy to defend their title. If they were to replicate their acheivement of 1909 they would keep the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy for good. Italy were represented by FC Torino and Juventus FBC, the previous name of the modern day club that boasts the likes of Platini, Baggio and Del Piero among those who have worn the famous black and white. Switzerland were again represented, this time a name more familiar to modern day football fans were there to face West Auckland – FC Zurich. Whilst not matching the glitz and glamour of Juventus, the Swiss side can point to some notable players in their history with the likes of Roberto Di Matteo, Jonas Thern and one of the stars of the World Cup in 1994, Nigerian striker Rachid Yakini all representing the side who currently sit in seventh in the Swiss Super League.
As if to maintain a pattern West Auckland Town beat FC Torino by a now familiar scoreline of 2-0 meaning in over two hundred and seventy minutes of “World Cup” Football the Northern League part-timers were still to concede a single goal. Quite an achievement. So, on 17th April 1911 the mighty Juventus provided the opposition for West in their second final. Disappointingly, their clean sheet record was spoilt, although that would have been somewhat overlooked as they smashed six goals past the Old Lady – although back then I guess they would have been a young teenager. Braces from Bob “Drol” Moor and Fred Dun, coupled with single strikes from Andy Appleby and Joe Rewcastle completed a 6-1 rout over the Italians and the trophy made it’s way back to County Durham.
There is a sorry end to this remarkable tale as the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy was stolen from the West Auckland Working Men’s Club in January 1994. An appeal was thrown together and a substantial reward offered for information or the return of the trophy but to avail. A replica was produced by a Sheffield based Silversmith Jack Spencer who managed to provide West with a near perfect replica based purely on photos and videos. Sir Thomas Lipton sadly passed away in London in 1931, the year after the inaugural FIFA World Cup. The tale of West Auckland was celebrated with the release of a film called “A Captain’s Tale” during the late 1980s starring Dennis Waterman and Tim Healy and more recently a play “Alf Ramsey knew my Grandfather” was produced and celebrated the centenary of the World Cup win in 2009.
As for the club itself, they currently sit in third place in the Arngrove Northern Premier League, three points behind joint leaders Shildon and Celtic Nation, with three games in hand on the former and five games in hand on the latter. They are potentially three games away from a Wembley appearance too in the FA Vase with a last sixteen tie against Gloucestershire outfit Hallen to contend with. However, whether West make it to Wembley or not, they will struggle to match the remarkable and unique feat achieved by their predecessors of 1909 and 1911.
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