Football: From Turin to Mossley

Simon Turnbull looks at the Northern League club who won the first 'World Cup'
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The Independent Online
These are heady days for West Auckland Town. Last week they won 9-0 at Whickham, their most emphatic victory for 35 years. It put them second top of the league: the Second Division of the Arnott Insurance Northern League, that is. A win at Mossley this Saturday would put the County Durham club into the draw for the fourth round of this season's FA Vase competition. There was a time, though, when the name of West Auckland went into the draw for the World Cup - for the Lipton World Football Trophy, at any rate.

The Lipton Trophy Tournament, held in Turin in 1910, was known as the World Cup of its day. The tale of how West Auckland came to represent England in it, and how they came to win it, was told in The World Cup: A Captain's Tale, the Tyne Tees Television dramatisation which featured Dennis Waterman in the starring role of Bob Jones, who led his team of fellow-pitmen to an unlikely triumph over the professional representatives of Germany (Stuttgart), Switzerland (Red Star Zurich) and Italy (Juventus). West Auckland, third from bottom of the Northern League at the time, beat Juventus 2-0 in the final. They returned the following year and once again achieved a feat that has so far eluded Manchester United, beating Juventus in Turin, by the same score in the final.

The tournament was organised by the tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton as a thank you for receiving the Grand Order of Italy. When his request for a Football League club to fly the English flag met with rejection, he turned to West Auckland. He had, apparently, been impressed by a letter sent to him several years earlier by a youngster from West Auckland politely explaining why his family would be declining his open invitation to a charity meal in celebration of Queen Victoria. That young man was David Rhys Thomas, or "Ticer" Thomas as he was known, who played in the 3-1 semi-final win over Red Star Zurich in 1910. His grandson was to take his name and that David Thomas very nearly made it to the World Cup proper.

The twinkle-toed Dave Thomas probably would have played in the 1974 finals - if England had qualified. Instead, he made his England debut in the first game of the Don Revie era that year, delivering a pin-point cross for Mick Channon to score in a 3-0 win against Czechoslovakia at Wembley. Anthony Eden, whose ancestral home happened to be in West Auckland, was not the only notable right-winger with roots there.

Thomas, once of Burnley, Queen's Park Rangers, Everton, Wolves, Middlesbrough and Portsmouth, has settled on the south coast, where he runs coaching courses for Butlin's. But Lloyd Thomas, father of Dave and son of Ticer, still lives in West Auckland. "I wasn't born until 1916," he said, "but my dad used to sit me on his knee when I was a nipper and tell me all about Turin. He worked at West Auckland Colliery, or Town End pit as we called it. I was never that good at football myself. I was a much better brass bandsman."

They can still trumpet their "World Cup" successes in West Auckland but, sadly, they are unable to show off their trophy - not the original one. That was stolen from the working men's club four years ago. "The police spent a year searching for it," Stuart Alderson, West Auckland's general manager, said. "They think it went abroad. It cost us pounds 20,000 to have a replica made. We've had people turning up to see it from all over the world."

Globetrotting visitors to deepest County Durham would have had a wasted trip this week. The new trophy has been on loan to Birmingham City; St Andrews, after all, has not seen any silverware of note since the Football League Cup in 1963. It might not be the original, from the fore-runner tournament, but the replacement Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy is likely to be seen by the world in France next summer. Liptons are planning to display it at the World Cup finals.

By then, there may well be a parochially prized pot or two at Darlington Road, the home of West Auckland Town. "We were relegated last season," Alderson, a 1960s colleague of Ted MacDougall and Mike Walker at York City, said. "But we've got a new manager, Dale Swainston, a local lad who came through the juniors, and things are going well. We've gone nine matches unbeaten. We've won the Northern League team of the month award. And, of course, we've got the FA Vase next week."