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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 August 2007, 07:36 GMT 08:36 UK
Rugby league's precious metal
By Julian Shea

St Helens hooker Keiron Cunningham kisses the Challenge Cup trophy after last year's win over Huddersfield
Will Keiron Cunningham get his hands on the trophy again?

There are many names that will be forever linked with the Challenge Cup - Boston, Offiah and Fox, to name just three - but arguably the most important is Fattorini.

Not a player or coach, but the firm of Bradford silversmiths who designed the trophy itself back in 1897.

Every year since then - apart from brief suspensions during two world wars - clubs have battled for the right to get their hands on one of the most iconic trophies in world sport.

"Fattorini's weren't given any particular commission, just told to come up with something prestigious," Tony Collins, professor of social history of sport at Leeds Met University and the Rugby Football League's archivist, told BBC Sport.

"It cost 60. The average wage of the time was about 2 a week, so the equivalent price these days would be about 16,000.

"But if you wanted something made of silver and with that level of craftsmanship these days, it would be far more expensive.

"In terms of its subsequent value, the RFL got a bargain."

The Challenge Cup, inspired by the FA Cup, proved a roaring success, so much so that in 1929 the decision was made to take the final to Wembley.

If it's taken out overnight, someone has to sleep in the same room as it

Tony Collins, RFL archivist

"They thought about maybe having it at a northern football ground, but the authorities wanted it a prestigious national venue," said Collins.

"They'd seen the success of the FA Cup at Wembley and that was something for rugby league to emulate. They wanted to put the game on a national stage."

Apart from a brief return to the north during World War Two, Wembley remained the home for the Challenge Cup final until 1999.

Then, following the decision to rebuild the stadium, the final was taken on the road, to Murrayfield (2000 and 2002), Twickenham (2001 and 2006) and the Millennium Stadium (2003-2005).

Now the new Wembley is ready to play host to rugby league's showpiece occasion.

Wembley is not the only thing to have changed, though.

Murphy holds the Challenge Cup trophy aloft in 1974
Alex Murphy won the Challenge Cup with three different clubs - St Helens, Leigh and Warrington

The trophy that Saturday's winners will hold aloft is not the one made by Fattorini's all those years ago.

That was retired from active service because of its delicate condition and now lives in a safe at the RFL's headquarters, only coming out for promotional appearances.

"The trophy played for now is an exact replica of the original, brought in a few years back," said Collins.

"Over the years the original had lost its fluted top and the players on each handle had been damaged. Also, the silver is wearing very thin. In parts, you can almost see through it."

Although the object is new, everything has been done to preserve the spirit of the old one.

"On the plinth was a small shield with the name of each winning team and captain," said Collins.

"But over the years the space we were running out of space and the shields were getting smaller and were virtually unreadable.

"The new trophy allowed us make all the shields the same size."

Along with the honour of winning the trophy comes the responsibility of looking after it, a duty which has fallen to St Helens for the past year.

Halifax celebrate their Challenge Cup success over York in 1931
Halifax celebrate their Challenge Cup success over York in 1931

"The Cup holders have to follow a certain code of practice," said Collins.

"If it's out of a secure cabinet, it always has to be in the presence of someone.

"If it's taken out overnight, someone has to sleep in the same room as it.

"And if it goes on a car journey, there have to be two people in the car so it's never left unattended.

"When it went down to France for some Catalans publicity photos, it even had its own seat on the plane."

The Fattorini silversmiths could never have imagined their handiwork would end up on a beach on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

But if Catalans Dragons can cause a shock at Wembley on Saturday, the trophy could end up residing in the south of France for the next 12 months.



SEE ALSO
Countdown to Challenge Cup final
21 Aug 07 |  Rugby League
Jon Wilkin Q&A
22 Aug 07 |  Rugby League
The Dave Woods column
21 Aug 07 |  Rugby League
Bradford 14-35 St Helens
28 Jul 07 |  Rugby League
Catalans Dragons 37-24 Wigan
29 Jul 07 |  Rugby League
Long targets a dream Wembley win
28 Jul 07 |  Rugby League
The new Wembley Stadium
16 May 07 |  Football
In Pictures: Wembley through the years
24 Mar 07 |  In Pictures
Jon Wilkin column
29 Mar 07 |  Rugby League
Challenge Cup returns to Wembley
28 Mar 07 |  Rugby League
Challenge Cup secures new sponsor
19 Jan 07 |  Challenge Cup
Huddersfield 12-42 St Helens
26 Aug 06 |  Challenge Cup
Roll of honour
26 Aug 06 |  Challenge Cup
Lance Todd Trophy winners
26 Aug 06 |  Challenge Cup


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