Before Spain's tikka takka there was Zidane's headbutt, Gazza's tears and Maradona's hand. Before that came Paolo Rossi and North Korea, Cruyff's turn, Banks's save and Bobby Moore with the Jules Rimet. But before all of that, before the Miracle of Bern and USA 1 England 0, there was a team of miners from County Durham beating Juventus in Turin.
Nobody knows how West Auckland Town ended up in the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy. Some think their invitation was meant for Woolwich Arsenal but got mixed up in the post. We do know that West Auckland paid their own way to Italy in 1909, and, once there, beat a team from Stuttgart 2-0 and the Swiss side FC Winterthur by the same score in the final. Two years later they were back, beating FC Zurich in the semi and thrashing Juventus 6-1 to win the cup outright. Juve have since won fifty-one major competitions. West Auckland went bankrupt and had to pawn their trophy to the landlady of a local hotel.
Unsurprisingly, the club make a big deal of their history. 'Home of the first World Cup' says the sign at the start of the village, and an image of the Lipton Trophy adorns both the entrance gate and the club badge. You pass through the gate to get to the turnstile, where you see a paper packaging plant and a housing estate, and an old man at a table selling raffle tickets and programmes. There's an open-air terrace behind one goal and two covered stands on the far side of the pitch, the larger painted black, white and amber with 'This is West Aycliffe' written above the players' tunnel. A Juventus pennant hangs in the clubhouse, where a man with a biro in his mouth is watching the horseracing on a portable TV.
It's the First Round Proper of the FA Vase and the visitors are Birtley Town from Northern League Division Two. "Anything we get here's a bonus," Birtley manager Scott Oliver says before the start. Auckland, playing down both slopes, have the game's first chance but the referee misses a clear penalty when a defender sweeps away a Birtley forward's legs. "He went down too easily," he says at full-time.
Neither side is happy with the way they start the game. "Sharpen up," is the shout from Birtley. "Faster to the ball!" screams the Auckland centre half. But on twenty minutes a hopeful clearance becomes a two-on-two and Mattie Moffatt, reputedly coveted by Workington of the Blue Square North, rolls the ball across the box for Steven Brown to poke past Birtley's debutant keeper. Moffatt scores the second himself after half an hour when an overhit cross is knocked back into the centre of the box, Birtley's defence standing open-mouthed, and Auckland are just a miskick away from a third with their next attack. Suddenly, all the space belongs to them. "Too nice, Birtley," Scott Oliver shouts. "You can't just stand and let them have it."
The game's all over before half time, Moffatt easing off his marker to score a second goal after a tackle wins the ball in midfield, then lobbing the keeper with his very next touch. Birtley are dispirited and every attack is a near goal, but Moffatt doesn't get his fourth until midway through the second half, the keeper swatting one hand at a corner before the forward guides it over the line. The sixth comes from another cross, headers pinging right to left before Gary Barnes nods in at the near post, the goalkeeper at fault again. He goes down in the next attack. "Do you want treatment? No? Yes?" the referee asks as a Birtley coach jogs across with a water bottle. "Nowt's went reet," says a watching substitute. "Aye, well," comes a voice from the bench, "we did ok just to get here."
Date: 2nd October 2010