When West Auckland ruled the world... twice

They finished 16th in the Northern League last season but a century ago the County Durham village pitmen put Europe's professionals in their place

These are not exactly the best of times for West Auckland Town Football Club. They finished 16th in the First Division of the Northern League last season, below the likes of Billingham Synthonia, Norton and Stockton Ancients, Bedlington Terriers and West Allotment Celtic. Still, unlike the English national team, they have won the World Cup twice – or the Sir Thomas Lipton World Football Trophy, as the forerunner of today's global competition was known.

How a village team from County Durham came to lift the Lipton Trophy as England's representatives in an international tournament in Turin in 1909 was told on the small screen in 1982 in The World Cup: A Captain's Tale. The Tyne Tees TV dramatisation featured Dennis Waterman in the starring role of Bob Jones, who led his team of fellow pitmen to victory ahead of professional clubs chosen to represent Italy (Torino), Germany (Stuttgart Sportfreunde) and Switzerland (FC Winterthur).

The West Auckland players had to pawn furniture and wedding rings to pay for the trip to northern Italy. They returned in 1911, thrashing Juventus 6-1 in the final. As two-time winners, they were allowed to keep the magnificent Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy. It was stolen in 1994 but a replica stands on display at West Auckland Workingmen's Club.

"It's an amazing story, quite unique," says Dave Thomas, taking a break from fishing by the banks of the River Test in Hampshire. "I'm very proud of my family's history in it." Thomas is a West Auckland lad, one of two notable right wingers to come from the village in the rural Wear Valley. The other was Sir Anthony Eden, Winston Churchill's successor as Conservative Prime Minister in 1955.

Thomas won eight caps for England as a twinkle-toed right winger. He made an instant impact on his debut, delivering a pin-point cross for Mick Channon to score in a 3-0 win against Czechoslovakia at Wembley in October 1974, the first game of Don Revie's reign as England manager. Thomas had made his top-flight debut for Burnley at 16, was one of the stars of the classy Queens Park Rangers team pipped to the title by a solitary Liverpool point in 1976, and also played for Everton, Wolves, Vancouver Whitecaps, Middlesbrough and Portsmouth. He never got to play in the World Cup finals but his beloved grandfather and namesake was one of the West Auckland World Cup heroes.

David Rhys Thomas – or "Ticer" Thomas, as he was known – was a tough, skilful wing-half who made such an impression when the part-timers won the inaugural Lipton Trophy that he was offered a coaching job in Italy. He was portrayed in A Captain's Tale by David Bradley, who had played the boy Billy Casper in Kes.

Quite how Ticer Thomas and a team lying third from bottom of the Northern League table came to represent England in 1909 is not entirely certain. It was the Glasgow-born tea magnate Sir Thomas Lipton who had the idea of staging a world football tournament in Italy, 21 years before the launch of the official World Cup. He had hoped that Woolwich Arsenal would represent England but when the Football Association refused to allow any clubs to take part, he turned to the WA of West Auckland instead – in all probability because one of his employees was friendly with a referee in the Northern League.

"I grew up hearing tales about how West Auckland won the World Cup," Dave Thomas says. "My grandad was a wonderful man. I was very close to him. He lived with us in West Auckland, in the same house where my mam and dad still live today. He used to watch me play and he always said to my mam and dad, 'He'll play for England.' Sadly, he didn't live to see it happen. I was 13 when he died."

Dave Thomas is 59 now, still fit and sprightly in his retirement from PE teaching, despite suffering from glaucoma and being registered blind. A father of two and grandfather of four, he now lives in West Sussex with his wife Brenda, with whom he has taken enthusiastically to the sport of carriage driving – not exactly a common pastime for a former professional footballer. "We absolutely love it," he says.

Ticer Thomas's grandson cannot say that he won the World Cup, or a version of it, but he did score the winner against West Germany at Wembley in 1966. "That's right," he says. "For England schoolboys. I'll never forget the date: 30 April 1966. There were 90,000 at Wembley and I was fortunate enough to get the winning goal. We beat West Germany 2-1. I never thought then that England would win the World Cup final against the same country in the same stadium three months later."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road