This spring marks the 125th anniversary of the Montagu Cup final, a competition which is imprinted into the social and sporting fabric of South Yorkshire.
What started as a philanthropic endeavour to raise funds for Mexborough Montagu Hospital remains the highlight of the footballing calendar, with teams from across the Don and Dearne battling it out to have their names engraved on South Yorkshire’s ‘Little FA Cup’.
The first final was held on Easter Monday 1897 at Hampden Road, Mexborough and it is thought to be the oldest football competition to still play the final on its original venue.
Ahead of this year’s final of Scawthorpe Athletic v Dog Daisy on Monday 18th April, we spoke to some of the past finalists to find out more about what it meant to reach the final of the Montagu Cup.
Read more about the cup’s history here.
Albert Burrows – 1945 final Broomhill v Denaby Rovers
Albert is reported to be the oldest surviving finalist and will turn 94 the day before this year’s final. He played for Broomhill Boys in one of the most controversial finals in the Montagu Cup’s 125-year history where the winner was decided by a bizarre ‘next corner wins’ rule.
“The powers that be said the game needed to be finished that day. We were drawing at full time, then extra time. Then the referee said the first team to get a corner would win. We lost and I was very disappointed, but that was the way it went.”
That final was of course played six months before the end of the Second World War when the country was still living in the shadows of rationing and make-do-and-mending. The Broomhill team had to scrape together clothing coupons for their shirts, but they only had enough for ten, so one player was left out. The tops were plain navy which meant the referee blended in, so a local woman stitched white Vs onto each player’s top.
“We didn’t get trophies after the final, but the winning team got ten shillings each and we all got seven and six. It was a different world back then, never about money. Football was just a cheap and easy pastime. If I ever played in the Montagu Cup again I never got further than the second or third round but it was always an honour to play in it.”
Albert became a referee after he stopped playing football and was often voted referee of the year before he retired aged 53. He’s hoping to be at the 125th final if his health allows.
Brian Thompson – 1961 final Parkgate Welfare v Ford United
Brian is another veteran Montagu Cup finalist who still remembers what it was like to be in the finals sixty years ago. He will be 90 in March and was a 29-year-old joiner when he played for the winning side in 1961.
“I started playing football at 16 and lived for football at one time. Being tall, I was the goalkeeper for Parkgate in 1961 and we won 4-3. There are only three players from the final still alive sadly: me, Walter Taylor, and Terry Staniforth who scored two of the goals.”
Brian’s Parkgate were the underdogs that day but went on to beat favourites Ford United after they went down to ten men after just 25 minutes, destroying their hopes of winning two Montagu Cup finals on the bounce.
Mally Whitehouse – 1968 and 1972 finals for Swinton Athletic
The nature of grassroots football means Montagu Cup medals were often held by family members spanning various generations. But the 1968 final is unique in that seven members of the Whitehouse family played a part in that game that has since been dubbed The Whitehouse Final.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, the Whitehouses were a well-known footballing family in the Dearne. Mally’s Grandad Jack was the secretary of High Terrace when they won the Montagu Cup in 1966 and ’67. He had eight children, with all four boys playing football – and all four taking part in the 1968 Montagu Cup final, as well as two grandchildren.
But family pride and bragging rights were at stake as the Whitehouses were split over the two rival teams
Twins Keith and Ken played for their dad’s team High Terrace. While their brother Colin was a coach at Swinton Athletic, with his two sons Colin Jr and Mally playing alongside their uncle John ‘Shona’. But a penalty from Mally and a last-minute goal from Colin Jr saw Swinton defeat the two-time reigning champions, snatching a third consecutive win from their Grandad Jack’s beloved High Terrace.
“We played in front of about 4,000 spectators and in the second half play had to be stopped because the wooden perimeter fence broke due to the huge crowd.”
Mally played for Swinton in another final in 1972 where they won 6-0 and he scored two of the goals. Swinton Athletic remain the club with the most wins, currently standing at eight cup final victories. Mally, now 72, says he’s had a life-long affinity with the club from being 14 and still goes to watch them on a Saturday.
“I turned semi-professional in the ‘70s so I didn’t play in the Montagu Cup again, but I have fonder memories of the cup than winning the Yorkshire or Midland Leagues. I remember going to watch the final at six or seven with thousands of others. That lads still want to play in it 125 years on is just brilliant and the money it’s raised over the years is unbelievable.”
Coincidentally, Mally went on to work at Mexborough Montagu Hospital, which the tournament has raised over £70,000 for during it’s long history.
Peter Pettit – Won three finals in 1970s For Denaby United and Mexborough Town
The Pettit name has close ties to the Dearne, with the family’s shoe shop on Mexborough High Street having been operating for more years than the Montagu Cup has been played.
But Peter was also well-known for his footballing ability. Throughout our research, Pete’s name was one which came up regularly with everyone speaking so highly of him – both as a good footballer in his prime and an even better man for his continued support of grassroots football.
A promising young player, he started playing competitively aged seven for the ‘national’ team, aka Mexborough St John’s CE School team who won the Clarke Shield in 1959. He then went on to play for Rawmarsh St Mary’s who were the best youth team in the area in the early ‘60s.
But there wasn’t the money in football in those days and it was better for a young man to have a job and play at the same time rather than devote all his efforts to football. Before he joined his family’s shop in 1968, Pete was an accountant earning £8 a week, but also played semi-professional football for Denaby United and would earn £10 a week for them.
“To start with, our club only ever put their second team out for the Montagu Cup. But that all changed as it became such a focal point in local football. Every Easter Monday, you walked to Hampden Road whether you were playing or not. It became a real event and you could expect a couple thousand in the crowd – more than other local cups such as the Sheffield & Hallamshire County or Challenge cups. If I wasn’t playing I’d be quite envious and I’d be thinking ‘Why didn’t we enter, or why didn’t we put a better team in?’”
Pete did go on to play – and win – in three finals in the 1970s: twice for Denaby United in 1970 and ’74, and again for Mexborough Town in 1977. At the first final in 1970 against Conisbrough Northcliffe, the match ended 0-0 and ‘midfield dynamo’ Pete had to watch the replay from the sidelines after breaking his nose in another match the previous week. But the Montagu Cup was nearly gone from under his nose after Denaby’s post-match drinking session got a bit too raucous.
“We took the cup back with us to the Ship Inn at Swinton and we were all drinking beer out of it and passing it round. How we got away with it when the cup is probably worth about £35,000 I’ll never know and teams obviously wouldn’t be able to do it today. I never really remember who got it back but we must have done because it’s still the same cup used today.”
Pete has continued to contribute to local football and his wife is now a trustee of the Montagu Hospital Comforts Fund.
Wilf Race – Won seven finals between 1983-2006
One of the most decorated of all past Montagu Cup finalists has got to be Wilf Race who has won seven finals collectively as both a player and manager. In the mid-90s, while managing Denaby and Cadeby Miners Welfare, he won three finals on the trot, a record which has been matched but never beaten.
Like many past players, Wilf’s obsession with football began as soon as he could walk, kicking a tennis ball around until he got to play with a full-sized football at school. On turning senior, Wilf played at non-league standard and was also lucky enough to win the Montagu Cup three times with Mexborough Main Street in 1983, ’84 and ’87.
“There have always been bigger football competitions in the country, but locally, the Montagu Cup was the one you always wanted to win. If you got to the final there was a real buzz of excitement. The semis are played before Christmas so you had a long wait ‘till Easter for the final but you never thought of losing. A lot of players went into the final having booked the following day off work in anticipation of an afternoon of celebrating that always rolled into night.”
Wilf went into management quite early after developing arthritis in his hip. At just 28, he’d thought football was over for him, but was offered a player manager role at Goldthorpe Colliery FC. This eased him into becoming manager of Denaby and Cadeby aged 36 where he added to his Mont medals three times on the bounce from 1995-97.
Another decade down the line and he lifted the trophy again in 2006 in Conisbrough’s Lord Conyers first and only final after his team scored three goals in 22 minutes to win 3-0 over Houghton Main.
“It was a great era as a player, but I’m fortunate that I got to enjoy it all again as a manager. It’s not quite the thrill of playing but it’s the next best thing. Playing in the Montagu Cup meant a lot to me, especially in front of such huge crowds, and I wanted my players to share that experience. The Montagu Cup has given a lot of young lads huge pride and great memories over the years.”
For Wilf, now 63, he says it’s the tight knit bonds and camaraderie that have come with decades spent in local football that have enriched his life.
“Because I was an out-and-out winger, I got kicked a lot and a few players have left scars on my legs. But you set aside that conflict on the pitch when you meet again years later. Montagu Cup players have always had mutual respect for each other.
“And no matter where I go or who I meet, there’s always a connection to the cup. I went biking to Barnsley last year and was sat having a tea break when an old guy came up and asked if he could join. We got talking about football and he said he’d played in a Montagu Cup final and scored the winning goal. He was in his 70s and unsteady on his feet but for ten minutes he transformed back to the man he was in 1975 with the back of the net in front of him. It doesn’t matter how old you get, you just have to close your eyes and you’re back on that pitch at Hampden Road.”
For more information about the Montagu Cup, visit www.montagucup.com