Who needs Pickles the dog? Another historically important Sheffield football cup identified and saved for posterity

Last week the Sheffield Home of Football project launched a campaign to try and track down 12 Sheffield football trophies from the 19th century. This campaign quickly bore fruit.

Now an even more important trophy has been found on eBay after it had been lost for over 20 years. Without the cup’s base the vendor would have had no idea of the enormous value the cup carried, but even so the antique dealer put it up for sale for £2,900.00 – based mostly on the fact that the silver mark suggested the cup dated from around 1880. He also noted that the lid was a recent addition dating from 1920 but with no other inscriptions on the cup the only other salient fact he could provide was that it was: “ORIGINALLY REMOVED FROM OFFICES AT BARNSLEY FOOTBALL CLUB SOME YEARS AGO , IN GOOD CONDITION BUT THE FOOTBALLER ON TOP IS A REPLACEMENT. WEIGHS JUST UNDER 1 KILOS – TO BE PRECISE 948 GRAMMES”

There is probably only one or two people in the world that could have deduced that what we were in fact looking at was the long-lost Sheffield and Hallamshire FA County Cup. One of these men, Chris Eyre the official historian of the Sheffield & Hallamshire County Football Association knew straight away that a historically important trophy, with a very high monetary value, was just about to escape his clutches again. This is where I played my modest part as I had received an interim offer from the vendor via an eBay alert saying he would now accept just £2,000.00 plus £8.00 for post and packing! Based on Chris’s identification I immediately purchased the cup to save the S&HCFA paying £900.00 over the odds for something that was always their rightful property.

The Sheffield Football Association was the first English County Association in 1867 and they launched the first county knock out competition in 1876. This competition continues to the present day, but the professional clubs chose to opt out of this competition gradually over the early years of the 20th century because of fixture congestion. The loss of Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham United, Doncaster Rovers and Barnsley FC impacted on the income of the S&HCFA and the regular derbies were missed by the fans of South Yorkshire. The solution was to launch a new competition in 1920 called the Sheffield and Hallamshire FA County Cup to be played between the five professional clubs who had previously opted out but didn’t mind a tournament that only entailed a commitment of one or two matches per season. This is the competition trophy that we rescued from eBay. Barnsley FC won the last final against Doncaster Rovers in 1993 after the other 3 teams had all decided to pay opt out fees rather than play the tournament. As winners the trophy headed to Oakwell and stayed there until the S&HCFA realised that they should ask for their cup back for display at Clegg House. It was at this point twenty years ago, that it was discovered that this incredibly important cup had disappeared.

The antique dealer on eBay initially got his dates right because the main cup was a gift presented by J.C. Clegg , which must have been an old one he had owned from the 1880s. Remember at this time Charles Clegg was chairman of the Football Association so he could have procured the original cup from any amount of sources. The footballer on the lid was a new addition in 1920 and he coincidentally (?) carries a passing resemblance of how a young Charles Clegg could have looked when turning out for the Sheffield FA or the Wednesday FC. You can see from the photograph below how the cup looked in its glory days when reunited with its base.

In 2011 Andy Kirkham wrote the definitive book on the tournament and it is still available to purchase from Tony Brown at http://www.soccer.mistral.co.uk/books/sheff.htm and I will share with you some of his data he generated during his hard work in examining the records. In total 234 games were played in this competition between May 1921 and May 1993. Out of the 58 finals the Blades were the most successful club overall:

Sheffield United 21 wins

Sheffield Wednesday 11 wins

Barnsley 10 wins

Rotherham County/United 8 wins

Doncaster Rovers 7 wins

(The 1939 final was shared)

Think of the legendary captains of these five clubs that have held this cup aloft after winning the tournament and the history that could have been lost. The player with the most winner’s medals was Cec Coldwell and the greatest attendance was for a Wednesday v United semi final in 1949 when 49,980 fans attended. There are lots more facts in Andy’s fantastic book and I would strongly recommend you read the book for yourself.

The eBay trophy transaction happened very smoothly and within four days I was in possession of the cup after it being lost for twenty years. To my eye it does not look to have suffered any damage over the years and just needs a good clean to return it to its former glory.

The S&HCFA quickly covered my outlay and it is now heading back to rightful place; on display at Clegg House to be reunited with its base for the first time in 27 years. Please support the Sheffield Home of Football campaign. Our strategy document can be found at http://www.homeoffootball.net/ We also have a Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1194176927380425/about/

The second edition of my book ‘A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889 : Speed, Science and Bottom ‘ is for sale from this website.

A History of Sheffield Football - Second Edition - by Martin Westby
A History of Sheffield Football – Second Edition – by Martin Westby