West Auckland village football team take on Juventus to celebrate winning the first World Cup 1909
Published 00:00 13/06/09 By Exclusive by Paul Byrne
Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst may have taken the glory in 1966 by winning the World Cup - but village team West Auckland beat them to the honour.
A century ago the bunch of amateurs and miners did the unthinkable by travelling to Italy and winning the trophy in 1909.
And just to prove it was no fluke they returned two years later and thrashed Juventus 6-1 to win the Sir Thomas Lipton trophy outright.
Now the Northern League side is celebrating the centenary of the win by playing Juventus at the scene of their first triumph in Turin.
General manager Stuart Alderson, said: "Our players are really excited. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity.
"It has been a lot of hard work and I wondered if it'd ever happen. But it was important to commemorate the anniversary and now we can."
The County Durham team went in to the record books in 1909 after the English FA refused to enter an international competition organised by tea magnate Sir Thomas Lipton.
He insisted a team from Britain take part, and West Auckland were invited, with teams from Germany, Switzerland and the host nation.
The players, whose triumph was portrayed in 1986 ITV drama A Captain's Tale starring Dennis Waterman, had to pawn furniture, and wedding rings to pay for the trip.
And despite languishing fourth from bottom of the Northern League at home, they beat FC Winterthur of Switzerland 2-0 in the final.
David Rhys Thomas was centre-forward for the 1909 heroes and his grandson, Dave Thomas, became a star with Everton and England.
Dave, 58, said: "I grew up hearing tales of that amazing World Cup win though grandad himself didn't talk about it much. He was an old-fashioned wing half, hard as nails but very skilful. A lot of those miners were. It's amazing to think how they travelled all the way to Italy. Most had probably never been outside Durham. It must have seemed like the adventure of a lifetime to them."
Dave, who was 13 when his grandad died in 1963, added: "I think it's fair to say nobody gave them the slightest chance but they were obviously very underestimated and determined."
The first official Fifa World Cup was not held until 1930 by Jules Rimet. But mystery still surrounds why the no-hopers took part in the 1909 tournament. One theory is that their initials were confused with Woolwich Arsenal. Another that one of Sir Thomas' employees refereed in the Northern League and nominated them.
But they beat Stuttgart of Germany in the semi-final and Switzerland's top team Winterthur to win it.
Overjoyed by success the players managed to leave the trophy on the platform at the Gare du Nord in Paris on the way home. It was returned a few days later but sold for £40 to a pub landlady to cover the travel costs.
The cup was stolen in 1994 and never recovered though a replica stands at West Auckland working men's club.
Now, the hard-up team, who are lucky to get a crowd of 100 at Darlington Road, are hoping to get sponsors to pay for a coach journey to play Juventus U19s in August.
Stuart Alderson said: "Our clubs are worlds apart. But only one of us will ever say, 'We won the World Cup'."
West Auckland FC
Stadium: Darlington Road Ground (capacity 2,500).
Domestic Honours: Northern League Div 1 (2), Div 2 (1), League Cup (2), Durham Challenge Cup (1), Durham Benevolent Bowl (1).
European Honours (0).
World Cups: (2).
Stadium: Delle Alpi (71,012).
Domestic Honours: League (25) FA Cup (9), League Cup (7).
European Honours: European Cup (2), Uefa Cup (3), Cup Winners Cup (1).
World Cups: (0).