Football: West Auckland's days of fame

The North-east village team heading for Yeovil in the FA Cup can boast a proud history. By Simon Turnbull
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WHEN YOU have beaten Juventus on their own soil, playing at Yeovil in the FA Cup might not seem very much to get excited about. At West Auckland Town, though, the prospect of Saturday's first-round tie has still set the pulses racing.

"I don't think people realise what we've done," Stuart Alderson, the club's general manager, mused. "Despite our name, West Auckland's a little village, not a town. Getting to the first round of the FA Cup is a marvellous achievement for a club like ours... Even if we have won the world cup."

It was not the actual World Cup that West Auckland won, but the Lipton World Football Trophy, which was regarded as the world cup of its day. The story of how the County Durham club 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 in the Turin tournament, overcoming 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, 1910, beat Juventus 2-0 in the final. They returned the following year and beat Juventus by the same score in the final.

Sir Thomas Lipton turned to the miners of West Auckland when the Football League refused to give any of its clubs permission to fly the English flag in a competition the tea baron decided to organise as a thank you for being awarded the Grand Order of Italy. He had, apparently, been impressed by a letter sent to him several years earlier by a youngster from the village.

That young man, David Rhys Thomas - or "Ticer" Thomas, as he was known - played in the 3-1 semi-final win against Red Star Zurich in 1910. His grandson was not a bad player, either. He was the twinkle-toed Dave Thomas of Burnley, Queen's Park Rangers, Everton and England fame.

Lloyd Thomas, father of Dave and son of "Ticer", still lives in West Auckland. "I wasn't born until 1916," the octogenarian said, "but my dad used to sit me on his knee when I was a nipper and tell me all about Turin. 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, at any rate. That was stolen five years ago. The one on display at West Auckland Workingmen's Club is a replica.

"We still don't know what happened to the original," Alderson said. "It cost pounds 20,000 to have the replica made. We've got a real secure case for it too."

West Auckland may have twice been crowned kings of the football world, albeit unofficially, but Saturday's tie offers them a chance to enter uncharted territory. They have twice ventured beyond the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup but lost in the first round on both occasions - against Stockport in 1959 and Barnsley in 1961.

"A lot of the lads were disappointed that we didn't get drawn against a Football League club," Alderson said, "but I was delighted because it gives us a chance to progress. Yeovil have a good cup tradition but we've got nothing to fear. We won at King's Lynn in the last qualifying round, 1-0, and they had Worrell Sterling and Gary Mills in their team. We've got 11 big hearts and that sometimes wins you games."

Managed by Graeme Forster, big-hearted West Auckland are lying sixth in the First Division of the Arnott Insurance Northern League. They have just the one ex-pro in their squad - Keith Gorman, once of Ipswich and Darlington - and, the usual collection of odd-job non- Leaguers.

"We've got no miners, now that the pits have closed," Alderson said. "We've got three postmen, a carpet-fitter. Paul Adamson, who scored at King's Lynn, works in a fat factory, delivering to fish and chip shops."

Alderson, just 12 years older than the veteran Adamson at 50, can claim to be No 3 on the list of noted West Auckland right wingers - behind Dave Thomas and Anthony Eden, whose ancestral home happened to be in the village.

Alderson spent three years as a professional at Newcastle, being groomed as a rival to Bryan "Pop" Robson, before moving to York City to supply ammunition from the flank for the young Ted MacDougall. "I never did play in the FA Cup proper, though," he lamented, "just in the preliminary rounds for West Auckland."

As a West Auckland man born and bred, Alderson is rightly proud of the village's, and the club's, unlikely claim to fame. And he will make sure he is carrying a reminder of it when the team sets off for Somerset.

A video of The World Cup: A Captain's Tale, with Waterman taking on the world for West Auckland, was shown to the players en route to King's Lynn. "It really got them psyched up, I think," Alderson said. As well, indeed, it might.