By Tony Attwood
The Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy was a competition that Woolwich Arsenal should have been in. But by mistake they were not invited – which is sad because the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy was in fact the original World Cup competition.
Sir Thomas had the idea for an international club competition and in 1909 got his staff to send invites to the countries which had a serious football league.
It was clearly the right time for the idea because FAs in several countries responded positively, and teams from Germany, Switzerland and Italy joined in. The English FA true to its normal forward-looking and experimental stance refused to have anything to do with the idea.
So Sir Thomas decided to by pass the FA and send an invite direct to a team in England.
That team was West Auckland, although the story is that the invite should have gone to Woolwich Arsenal – and looking at the two names you will be able to guess why.
Yes, the invite, it is suggested, should have gone to “WA” according to a note that Sir Thomas left for his secretary. Meaning Woolwich Arsenal.
At this time Woolwich Arsenal were one of the most famous clubs in the world – not because they had won the FA Cup or the 1st Division – the club did not win a major title. But they were famous because the club was seen to be the club of the military man. It was the club associated with the men who built the weapons that defended the Empire – and so soldiers and navy men service the Empire had an emotional attachment to Woolwich Arsenal. And they took that attachment overseas.
By this time Arsenal themselves had travelled on overseas tours, so they would probably have accepted the offer – although it is possible that the League of the FA might have vetoed the move of such a prominent club representing England contrary to their say so. (The FA would have remembered the fact that in 1893 Arsenal brought professional league football to the south, and that would have still been remembered.
Anyway the legend has it that Sir Thomas left the note saying “contact W.A” with his secretary. West Auckland were however very happy to go, and so they went to Turin where the tourney was to be held.
West Auckland beat Sportfreunde Stuttgart 2-0, and then played FC Winterthur of Switzerland again winning 2-0. Thus WA won the trophy.
And in fact in 1911, they repeated their triumph, winning the trophy again, beating Juventus 6-1 in the final. They kept the trophy, having won it twice, and with the first world war disrupting all possibility of international football, they were in fact the final winners of the trophy.
But with the club in financial difficulties and went into administration the trophy was pawned but was later bought back for the replacement club. However that trophy was stolen in 1994 and was never recovered. The recreated West Auckland team play in the Northern League.
The Great History of Arsenal Competition: There’s the first of our clues in today’s article