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The Youdan Cup - The World’s First Football Trophy

The Youdan Cup, the World's first football trophy

On Monday 2nd May Hallam FC will play Sheffield FC in a special fixture to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the World’s oldest inter-club football fixture. This is as good a time as any to have a bit of a look back into the history of the Countrymen, as Hallam are known, and revisit the occasion of what is probably still their finest hour; their triumph in the World’s very first football tournament.

In 1867 a Sheffield theatre owner by the name of Thomas Youdan offered up a cup and some prize money so that local clubs could play what turned out to be the World’s first competitive cup-tie fixtures. Previously all games had been challenge matches with nothing at stake bar local pride and maybe a few pennies as a side bet. Twelve Sheffield clubs accepted the invitation to take part. Though the oldest amongst them Sheffield FC declined having decided earlier in 1867 to forsake the local game and play only games against teams from outside Sheffield in an effort to popularise the game on a national level. This isolationist policy, with the exception of two games against Sheffield Gymnasium in 1870, lasted until 1887. 

Along with Hallam the other eleven clubs who entered this historic tournament were Broomhall, Fir Vale, Garrick, Heeley, Mackenzie, Mechanics, Milton, Norfolk, Norton, Pitsmoor and Wellington. All now defunct bar of course Hallam. 

The Youdan Cup was played according to the Sheffield Rules and also introduced cup competition concepts now familiar to many football fans the world over. For example a cup draw was made with the first team drawn from the hat being the home side. Fixtures were to commence punctually at 3pm, no waiting around for players to turn up, and the rules allowed for extra-time and a golden goal if scores were level after a set period of playing time. Players could also be cup-tied, they could not participate in the competition for more than one club. A neutral referee, unconnected with either of the two opposing clubs, was also required for each game. Though he wasn’t present on the pitch he could override decisions by the two umpires to award what were called free-kicks.

The first round was played on 16th February 1867 with Broomhall, Norton, Hallam, Mackenzie, Norfolk and Milton progressing to the second round. The Sheffield Telegraph reporting on the games remarked that,

"it was particularly gratifying to see, notwithstanding the severe collisions, the heavy tumbles, and the scarred shins, perfect friendliness invariably prevailed. After a charge, a collision and a downfall, the prostrated would instantly spring to their feet and resume the game in the heartiest and the most determined and enthusiastic spirit." How things change eh!

The next round was played 23rd February and led to a couple of World firsts. Two of the games went to extra-time, the first instances of such in World football and the game between Norfolk Park and Broomhall was settled by the World’s first golden goal. The Sheffield Independent of 26th March 1867 reporting that,

"Norfolk v Broomhall was a well contested one .. after playing the specified time nothing was got. It was then arranged to play an hour longer, and in about two minutes the Norfolk managed to kick a goal and so win the match."  

The World’s first golden goal is usually reported as being scored by Sheffield Wednesday in the final of the Cromwell Cup held at Bramall Lane on 15th February 1868 but the instance above predates this by nearly a year.

With three clubs left in the competition there is some confusion about how the final three games were played. Some accounts state that Norfolk received a bye into the final with Hallam beating Mackenzie in the semi-final whilst it suggested by others that the final was a three-way round robin competition between the three surviving clubs. Either way the game between Hallam and Norfolk at Bramall Lane on 5th March 1867 is considered to be the final, the World’s first cup final. A crowd of 3000, "a vast concourse of spectators" as the Sheffield Telegraph of the time described was a then world record attendance for a football match. Hallam won the game so became the winners of the World’s first football cup competition. 

It is at this juncture that I must take issue with something on the Scottish FA website. Writing about the history of the Scottish Cup which started in 1873 they categorically state "it’s factually correct to state that the Scottish Cup is the oldest trophy in association football." They qualify this by saying,

"Surviving trophies such as the Youdan Cup (1867) are from a different football code (Sheffield Rules) and cannot be placed within the context of the association game. As association football is the modern world game it can be argued that the Scottish Cup is the oldest trophy in World football." 

The Scottish FA was founded in March 1873 by eight clubs and they resolved to, "form themselves into an association for the promotion of football according to the rules of the Football Association, and that the clubs connected with this association subscribe for a challenge cup to be played for annually, the committee to propose the laws of the competition."

The Football Association were founded in 1863 and by 1870 had adopted and incorporated many of the Sheffield Rules into their own. Indeed between 1863 and 1870 twelve rule changes were made by the FA of which eight came from the Sheffield Rules. Furthermore in the early 1870s the FA adopted from Sheffield the corner kick and restricted goalkeepers to handling the ball in their own half only.

Therefore the Football Association rules that the Scottish FA adopted upon it’s foundation in 1873 were hugely influenced by and derived from developments in Sheffield game. The Scots played under many laws of the game that had originated in Sheffield, the World’s first football culture and, as has been demonstrably proven above and despite what the Scottish FA mischievously claim, the Sheffield Rules have an absolutely pivotal role within the context of the association game and modern world football. One that I as a Sheffielder am rightly proud of.

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