In the Spring of 1909, an amateur County Durham football team made the unlikely journey to Turin to compete in one of the world's first international tournaments. They returned home as champions.
Prior to 1909, West Auckland Town F.C. were no different to any other amateur side competing in the Northern League. From a town with a population barely in the thousands, West Auckland were a decidedly unremarkable team consisting primarily of coalminers. Their legacy was forever cemented, however, when they travelled to Turin to compete in the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy.
Though often referred to as The First World Cup, the Trophy was perhaps more of a precursor to today's Champions League.
The competition was the creation of buisnessman and sporting enthusiast Sir Thompas Lipton, who dreamed of seeing Europe's elite competing head-to-head. The most reputable competitor in the first tournament was Torino XI, a squad formed of Juventus and FC Torino players.
Although there is no confirmed answer as to why West Auckland were invited to represent England, local folklore suggests it was a mishap. It is said that the invitation was actually intended for Woolwich Arsenal, today known simply as Arsenal. The story goes that West Auckland were mistakenly invited due to their shared initials with the London club.
West Auckland won both of their games in Turin, defeating Swiss team FC Winterthur 2–0 in the final to claim the trophy. The win was no fluke, either, as they triumphantly returned to Turin two years later to defend the trophy. 1911's Sir Thompas Lipton Trophy saw West Auckland defeat Juventus 6–1 and once again return home as champions. After '11, the competition was discontinued and West Auckland returned to normalcy.
The story of the trophy itself is also one of note. When financial troubles hit the club upon their return home, they were forced to pawn the trophy off to the owner of a local hotel. It remained with the hotel owner's family until the 60s, when it was bought back with money raised in a village appeal. The trophy disappeared again in 1994, when it was stolen. Despite offers of a £2,000 reward, it has never been found.
West Auckland are likely a club completely unknown to the vast majority of football fans, but they retain an incredible legacy. It is quite insane to think a squad of coalminers from a village in County Durham triumphed over teams like Juventus, but it truly happened - twice. Although it is near-impossible that we will ever see them match these achievements, they are remarkable to look back on. Up the West.