The Debenhams Cup was a minor English cup competition played for during the late seventies. It took place two seasons only in 1977 and 1978 and was contested by the two teams who progressed the furthest from the first round proper of the FA Cup. Therefore only third and fourth division clubs and non-league survivors of the earlier qualifying rounds were eligible.
How did the competition come about? Debenhams, a large British retailer, were wanting to get involved with football through some sort of sponsorship deal and they put their idea of a sponsored competition for the smaller less glamorous clubs involved in the FA Cup to FA secretary Ted Croker. He liked the idea and the fact it only added two games to the fixture list and so added an item to a FA Council meeting agenda. This was approved pending agreement from the Football League which was promptly given and so the competition got the green light just prior to the FA Cup first round games of the 76/77 season. This was the first time a sponsor had been associated with the FA Cup.
The winners received a handsome solid silver trophy made by the Sheffield silversmiths Atkin Brothers that stood 22 inches high and weighed in at nearly 100 ounces. They also got a cheque for £7000 with the runners-up received £5000.
The first season of the Debenhams Cup saw two division three sides make the final. Both Port Vale and Chester had fought their way to the fifth round before losing out to Aston Villa and Wolves respectively. The first leg played at Vale Park saw the home team rack up a 2-0 victory putting them in the driving seat to lift the trophy. However in what many Chester fans consider to be one of the best nights at Sealand Rd the home side scored a 4-1 victory to win 4-3 on aggregate and lift the trophy.
The FA Cup competition of 77/78 was memorable for the cup run of non-league Blyth Spartans. They reached the fifth round where they finally sucumbed to Wrexham after a replay. Both Blyth and Wrexham were paired together in the Debenhams Cup Final of 1978 due to their respective cup exploits. In the first leg held at The Racecourse Ground the Spartans ground out a 2-1 victory and then held out in the second leg with a 1-1 draw to gain a measure of revenge for their FA Cup defeat to the Welshmen.
This was to be the last time the Debenhams Cup took place. No-one is sure why it stopped and during Blyth Spartans centenary year they tried to find out the whereabouts of the cup itself. No-one knows, not the holders Blyth Spartans themselves, the FA or Debenhams. It would seem it is lost.
For sure the idea behind the Debenhams Cup was a good one and it’s interesting to have a look at the clubs who would have played for the trophy had the competition started thirty years earlier. Here’s a list of the Debenham Cup Finals that never were. Amazingly Chester and Port Vale who contested the first Debenhams Cup would have been the first two finalists had it started in 1947.
- 1947 Chester v Port Vale
- 1948 Swindon Town v QPR
- 1949 Newport County v Hull City
- 1950 Stockport County v Northampton Town
- 1951 Bristol Rovers v Norwich City
- 1952 Southend Utd v Swindon Town
- 1953 Gateshead v Halifax Town
- 1954 Port Vale v Leyton Orient
- 1955 York City v Hartlepool Utd
- 1956 Scunthorpe Utd v York City
- 1957 Bournemouth v Millwall
- 1958 Darlington v Scunthorpe Utd
- 1959 Norwich City v Accrington Stanley
- 1960 Bradford City v Watford
- 1961 Barnsley v Aldershot
- 1962 Port Vale v Walsall
- 1963 Coventry City v Gravesend
- 1964 Oxford Utd v Carlisle Utd
- 1965 Peterborough Utd v Shrewsbury Town
- 1966 Hull City v Shrewsbury Town
- 1967 Swindon Town v Brighton HA
- 1968 Tranmere Rovers v Walsall
- 1969 Mansfield Town v Bristol Rovers
- 1970 Swindon Town v Scunthorpe Utd
- 1971 Colchester Utd v Brentford
- 1972 Hereford Utd v Tranmere Rovers
- 1973 Bolton Wanderers v Reading
- 1974 Wrexham v Scunthorpe Utd
- 1975 Walsall v Peterborough Utd
- 1976 Crystal Palace v Bradford City
EDIT: Follow up post after nearly three years responding to the first comment below - What If: The Debenhams Cup - the finalists that never were.
Read about another obscure English tournament here ..