Posted: 4/21/2009


      In 1909 the young miners who made up the West Auckland F.C. team travelled to Turin in Italy, paying their own way by pawning their furniture and other goods, and came back home to a heroes welcome as CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD!

      The Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy precended the World Cup of 1930.  The Football Associations of Italy, Germany and Switzerland nominated teams, but the F.A. in London refused to do so, and so for some reason West Auckland were invited, and accepted. In the semi-final they beat Stuttgarter Sportfreunde 2-0 and on April 12th played FC Winterthur of Switzerland in the final and won 2-0. A penalty by Rob Jones in the 6th minute and a second by Jack Jones 2 minutes later.

      The trophy was presented by King Emmanuel III and Sir Thomas Lipton. The team returned by train and got so drunk at Gare du Nord station in Paris that they left the trophy there and a porter had to send it on to West Auckland 2 days later.

      Two years later, in 1911, they returned to Turin and won again. This time they first beat FC Zurich 2-0, and in the final defeated Juventus 6-1, YES, THAT JUVENTUS!! They were then awarded the trophy to keep in perpetuity, but on returning home had to pawn it to the landlady of a local pub as they ran out of funds. There it stayed until 1960 when with a local fund raiser it was returned to the club. Unfortunately it was stolen in 1994 and never recovered. An exact replic is now securely located in the West Auckland Working Mens club.   In 1981 Tyne Tees television made a movie called  'A Captain's Tale', starring Dennis Waterman.

      This season it's not much fun watching the 3 nearby EPL teams, Sunderland, Middlesborough and Newcastle United, but I came to the beautiful cathedral and university city of Durham, on a bend in the River Wear, to see a play that commemorated that event at the Gala Theatre, 'Alf Ramsey Knew My Grandfather', about this historic 1909 victory. It merges football, personal relationships, politics and passion with North-East writers Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood, and a wonderful North-East cast.  Almost 100 years to the day since the 1909 triumph, this is the story of Charlie 'Dirty' Hogg, 'Tucker' Gill and the rest of the lads, 57 years before manager Alf Ramsey, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst and the rest triumphed at Wembley in 1966.  There is a display of cuttings and photos of that day and other Durham football history in the excellent city library 20 paces away. In between is a big sculpure of St. Cuthbert's body being carried by monks on the road to Durham.

        I toured the cathedral, which author Bill Bryson calls the most magnificent in the world. It was the first cathedral in Europe with ribbed stone vaults, and built as a tribute to St. Cuthbert, born 634 AD, who spent most of his life on Linesfarne Island off the Northumbrian Coast. After Viking raids his body was finally brought to Durham, when the monks followed 2 ladies looking for their lost 'Dun' (brown) cow, and established the first church 1,300 years ago. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is next to Durham Castle, which is now part of the University of Durham.  Also buried in the cathedral is Saint Bede, the father of English history.  I listened to the heavenly organ music of Canon James Lancelot, organist and master of choristers. You might have recognized it from Harry Potter films as the location for Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft.

        At The Gala, the play is in 2 acts with a half-time, at which time you could buy a beer, wine or coffee in the bar including a special Thomas Lipton beer. I had no chance since I spotted Ed Waugh and had a chat, and also with 8 members of the present West Auckland club committee, who are worried that the club might get relegated this season with only 4 more matches remaining to redeem themselves. They played in black jerseys and long shorts with a thick gold V but since referees later complained of a colour clash they now turn out in white jerseys with a black and gold horizontal band.

      The play has a cast of 6 starring David Nellis who plays both the then team manager Sidney Barron, and his grandson and narrator, Wyn Barron-hence the title. It's very, very funny, with Geordie accents and jokes about racing pigeons, whippets, Alan Shearer(reverently), Sunderland fans(irreverently), and a liberal use of famous quotes from Bill Shankly, JFK, William Shakespeare and more, and much appreciated by a full house.  They even have a mock TV presentation by ITV's  presenter Jeff Stelling,(a nearby Hartlepools fan), with a 'live' report from Turin interspersed with the big match of that day, top of the league clash Preston North End. v Bury.

     Rob Atkinson is Bob Jones, John Carter plays Tom Gubbins and Scott Frazer his womanizing brother Rob. They also play the part of their wives back home while they are 'on tour'. Wayne Miller is Charlie 'Dirty' Dog, and Dean Logan is the picked-upon youngster Tucker Gill. The Director is Simon Stallworthy with design by Simon Poll.  The highlight is the solo touchline act during the matches of team manager Sidney Barron, inspiring his lads, trying to persuade the referee and screaming at opponents, until 'They think it's all over'-and it is. WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD.

    I hope after its short run here it will take the nation by storm.