FOR a large part of the post-war history of Swindon Town Football Club, the Dubonnet Cup became a relic shrouded in mystery. It was believed to have been stolen and lost to the annals of history, then was supposedly found in the garden of a former director before vanishing into the ether once again. Stories have also been told of former managers here at SN1 banishing the old hunk of metal to the deepest recesses of the North Stand. A replica once stood in the reception foyer here at The County Ground but was reportedly smashed. Rumours then circulated that it may have been the original which perished.
The fate of this great myth of Swindon Town remained unknown until the summer of 2014 when two members of staff came across some very heavy pieces of metal hidden away in the corner of a storage cupboard in the Arkell’s Stand along with some old photos and framed playing shirts from the mid-1990s. Having just managed to put it together, staff noticed that the plaque mounted on the marble base bore the inscription ‘Coupe Dubonnet’ and immediately realised the magnitude of their discovery. After independent verification from the club’s historians, they confirmed that the giant bronze urn was the original, one and only, Dubonnet Cup.
So, why is this discovery so important and why is today all about celebrating the re-discovery of this almost forgotten about landmark of Town’s history?
The cup is completely unique: three Dubonnet Cup finals were played between 1910 and 1912 with Clapton Orient (who would later become Leyton Orient) and Fulham lifting the trophy on the other two occasions. Their own versions of the cup have been lost to the mists of time but the re-discovery of the cup that the Town lifted has re-ignited interest in the cup’s past. Barnsley historian, David Wood, in his book “Lifting the Cup” documents the build-up and events of the day from the Tykes’ point of view:
“After the near success of the 1910 Final the club’s name came to the attention of the footballing world and following the trend set by a number of Professional clubs, negotiations were made for a tour of the Continent. A party consisting of 13 players plus manager Arthur Fairclough, trainer Bill Norman and director Percy Waite departed on Wednesday 5th May 1910 for a tour that would see 11 games in five countries over 27 days… The next afternoon saw a challenge match with Swindon Town at the Parc des Princes ground for the ‘Dubonnet Cup’. The fixture had been arranged by the French Football Union to promote the game in the country and a huge three foot bronze trophy was to be offered to the winners. Originally they had hoped to have the two Cup finalists to play the game, but Newcastle were unavailable so the Wiltshire club who had been defeated by the Magpies in the semi final were invited to take their place… Barnsley selected the team that had lost the final with the exception of goalkeeper George Wilcock who replaced Mearns and they played a wonderful game and fully deserved to win, but they could not beat Skiller in the Swindon goal who was in fine form. The team rained down shots onto the Robins goal but the keeper seemed to charm the ball by stopping shots from all angles. Billy Silto the former Reds centre half played a very determined game and in Harold Fleming the English International forward, the opposition had a natural goalscorer who took his two chances with ease.
"Lillycrop scored the first goal of the tour and as the Reds pressed the game for an equaliser, Dickie Downs missed a penalty. At the game’s conclusion Captain Boyle could not hide his disappointment with the 2-1 score line and this was mirrored by the squad as Swindon were presented with gold medals of the occasion. The defeat could be partly attributed to the long and tiring journey of the day before and of course the Reds would gain their revenge in the 1912 semi final. Throughout the game, the cup had been guarded by a single gendarme with a drawn sword and at its presentation it took two people to carry it off. Overall the organisers were delighted with the spectacle as nothing like it had been seen in Paris before and despite the rainy conditions a crowd of 7000 had paid some 6000 francs at the gate. After the game the teams were entertained at the Alambra by the Paris Football Union and later Mr Robert Desmarets the editor of L’Auto took the whole party to the Theatre Follies Berger. Although they did not understand a word of the opera, the singing, staging and dresses were something never to be forgotten and all the boys were delighted at the elaborate show.”
The cup will now be displayed here at SN1 in a trophy cabinet in the Arkell’s Stand; a permanent reminder and tribute to that great Town side who returned from a first foray into European football with a trophy.