After years of planning, a statue dedicated to West Auckland FC winning the first World Cup has finally been unveiled. Duncan Leatherdale was among the crowd welcoming it.

FIVE years ago, on a wet winter’s night, a group of half a dozen or so interested people huddled together in West Auckland FC's clubhouse to plan a commemoration of an amazing feat.

After much discussion, the group of businessmen, club officials, councillors and residents decided to have a statue built to celebrate the centenary of their club winning the first World Cup, a date which was looming in the next spring.

Now, four years and £167,374 later, a statue celebrating the remarkable achievement of these hardy miners-turned unlikely global victors has been unveiled on the village green.

Much has changed over the period of the statue's conception and creation, but two things remained evident at the grand unveiling on Saturday afternoon - the pride of West Aucklandians in their ancestors' success, and the weather.

The drizzle failed to dampen the delight of the hundred or so residents and officials gathered around the bronze statue atop a stone base.

It was officially unveiled by actor Tim Healy, who cheerily greeted the crowd with "It's warmer in Benidorm", former Newcastle United owner and North-East entrepreneur Sir John Hall, and ex-England international David Ticer Thomas, whose same-named grandfather captained West Auckland in the 1909 final.

Mr Thomas junior, who enjoyed a professional playing career for numerous teams, including Middlesbrough, said his grandfather would have been proud.

"My grandfather died when I was 13 but he told me the story, he was very proud of it and I think he would have loved this statue."

Tim Healy played the part of Charlie Hogg In the 1982 film A Captain's Tale, the story of West's win, and he said it was the acting role that launched his career, winning him a part in the hit series Auf Wiedershen Pet.

He said: "It was the bestest job I ever had, 13 lads going to Italy to play football and getting paid for it.

"I want to thank West Auckland, every time I drive by that statue I cry 'yes'."

Watching the unveiling was Lord Lieutenant Sue Snowdon who said: "What these men did epitomises the trait of County Durham, determination."

Also in the crowd was Terry Robinson who, while working in Egypt, ensured that a video of A Captains Tale was placed in the newly built Library in Alexandria.

County councillors Rob Yorke and Andy Turner, who led the project, said the statue was worth the wait.

While the statue is now finished (apart from the installation of some lights), the celebrations will carry one.

Sir John Hall challenged the attending politicians to lead a campaign to have a stamp commemorating West's win issued in time for next summers World Cup in Brazil.

At least it should not be raining there.


JOHN Wotherspoon, commercial director of Lipton Teas, said the story of West Auckland FC and their “folk heroes” should never be forgotten.

Sir Thomas Lipton, founder of Liptons, was an entrepreneur and philanthropist, and in 1909 he agreed with Italian King Victor Emmanuel III to put on an international football tournament in Turin.

Invitations were sent to all the football associations in the world, but the English FA refused to send a team, so the amateurs of West Auckland FC were invited (the story that they were mistaken for Woolwich Arsenal is sadly untrue).

The miners scraped together every penny that they could to fund the trip, travelling by train from Darlington to London, then by boat to France before another rail journey to Turin.

On April 11, they beat German side Stutggarter Sportfreunde 2-0, a scoreline they replicated the following day over Swiss outfit FC Winterthur in the final.

In 1911 West Auckland returned to Italy, albeit with only three of the 1909 squad members remaining, where they retained the trophy by beating FC Zurich 2-0 before hammering the hosts Juventus 6-1 in the April 12 final.

On a side note, had Pickles the dog not found the Jules Rimet Trophy stolen while England hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1966, West’s trophy was to have been used as a substitute.

The West trophy was itself stolen in 1994, a replica replacing it at West Auckland Working Men’s Club.


SCULPTOR Nigel Boonham is keen for people to know the reasoning behind his creation, two one and a quarter scale bronze figures atop a plinth made with stone from local quarry Dunhouse.

He admits he knew little about either football or mining before he started, both of which he wanted to incorporate in the piece.

He said: "I wanted the statue to be a bit ambiguous, meaning different things as you looked at it from different places."

Both figures, one standing, his leg raised to boot the ball, the other lying prone at his feet, share the same face, modelled on the man in the front of the 1909 team photo (Mr Boonham does not his name but it is thought it could be the captain, David Ticer Thomas).

The horizontal figure is modeled to look both like a miner, chipping away at the coal seam, and a goalkeeper diving for the ball.

Both would have worn flat caps and shorts.

The standing figure’s raised foot connecting with the ball is at the same height as the roof of the coal seam in the West Auckland Colliery pit.

There's more to it than first meets the eye.