Page last updated at 04:36 GMT, Sunday, 2 August 2009 05:36 UK

Up for the cup, 100 years on

By James Alexander
BBC News, Turin, Italy

West Auckland goalscorer Keith Hutchinson

Long before the golden boys of 1966, a village team of coalminers and tradesmen from County Durham went to Italy in 1909 and won a tournament dubbed the "first World Cup".

A century later, the non-leaguers celebrated their historic victory with a rematch against a Juventus side in Turin... but only after a long trek, just like their footballing forefathers.

Pre-season friendlies rarely get players buzzing with excitement. But the noise and banter and sense of occasion on board the West Auckland team bus soon told you this was not a typical friendly.

The part-timers were retracing a journey first taken 100 years ago when the club was selected to represent England in Italy in one of the earliest international football contests.

It was an unlikely choice, because the team were not well-known and it is still not clear exactly why they were picked.

One theory is that the organiser Sir Thomas Lipton - the man behind Lipton's teas - had contacts in the Northern League.

And yet, against all the odds, the pitmen beat the professionals and lifted the trophy. And, just to prove it was no fluke, they repeated the feat two years later, thumping the mighty Juventus 6-1 in the final.

Inspiration and expectation

The mines may have gone, but West Auckland remain a proud amateur outfit, made up these days of college students, gas fitters, electricians and plumbers.

For them, the journey across the continent had barely changed either. Just like the original team, the lads of 2009 were forced to make the 800-mile trip by land and sea after the air fare proved too expensive.

There's not many people at our level get the opportunity to go to Italy and play against a top team like Juventus
Leigh Grant
West Auckland centre-half

It meant a marathon 24-hour coach ride through the night, giving the players time to reflect on their illustrious predecessors - young men with bristling moustaches and long baggy shorts whose black-and-white images are a source of inspiration as well as expectation.

"It's a lot to live up to, but it makes you feel if they managed it 100 years ago then we can give it our best as well and see what happens," said striker Chris Musgrave, a student at Durham University.

"There's not many people at our level get the opportunity to go to Italy and play against a top team like Juventus," added centre-back and accountant Leigh Grant.

"So it's important we hold our own and don't let ourselves down."

'Proper trophy'

When the coach pulled up at Juventus' training ground, where the match was to take place in the foothills of the Italian Alps, club officials were keen to show off their most valuable cargo - the World Cup itself.

Sadly, it is a replica. The real thing was stolen from the clubhouse back in 1994 and, despite a police investigation and a big money reward, it was never found.

But the battered wooden box is original.

"At least they didn't take the box," laughed 80-year-old West Auckland groundsman Frank Patrick, who made the journey with the players.

The players show off the "first World Cup"
The players show off the "first World Cup"

Mr Patrick proudly carried the case on to the Juventus pitch with his 76-year-old colleague Les Nevison, and the pair set about giving the trophy a quick polish with a cleaning cloth.

A group of Italian children gathered round, intrigued if slightly bemused by this piece of history in their midst.

"This is a proper trophy," Mr Nevison told them. "A lot of trophies, they're just big cups for putting champagne in.

"But this is a proper bit of silverware with a proper footballer on top."

Back in the dressing room, the team changed into their specially-made anniversary kit - a replica of the one their ancestors wore when they were last on Italian soil.

A crowd of about 500 people cheered the players on to the pitch. Most were locals who paid 10 Euros to get in. A few dozen more watched through the wire fencing for free.

Juventus fielded their under-21 team, but right from the kick-off they were strong and threatening and dominated the game.

We can leave here with our heads held high
Brian Honour
West Auckland manager

At least two of the youngsters on the pitch have already played for the full team and many more seem destined to become stars of the future.

Within minutes, West Auckland were already a goal down. By half-time, it was 6-0 and some of the travelling supporters watching on anxiously from the stands feared a rout.

But the away team started the second half much more brightly, winning tackles and creating chances.

And, despite conceding for a seventh time, the West Auckland pressure finally paid dividends when Keith Hutchinson coolly slotted the ball past the Juventus keeper to ensure a final scoreline of 7-1.

"I'm really proud," said manager Brian Honour as his players were applauded from the pitch.

"When you're up against quality opposition, sometimes you've got to take your hat off and say they were the better side and they beat us.

The West Auckland players reflect on a once-in-a-lifetime game
The West Auckland players reflect on a once-in-a-lifetime game

"What matters is that the lads reacted in the right way and we can leave here with our heads held high."

The new season starts next Saturday with a slightly less glamorous fixture against West Allotment Celtic, but these players will always share special memories of their trip to renew acquaintances with their old rivals Juventus.

History may have left the two teams worlds apart, but the World Cup still goes home with West Auckland.



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