A GROUP behind plans for an £184,000 sculpture commemorating a group of miners winning the first football World Cup have defended the project’s cost after plans were submitted.

Campaigners have been making preparations for the statue in West Auckland, County Durham, for more than two years and now plans have been sent to Durham County Council for approval.

The three-metre tall statue, which will stand next to the village green, will celebrate the team of miners from West Auckland who sold their furniture to finance a trip to Italy in 1909.

They were invited to take part in the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, now described as the first World Cup competition.

Against all the odds, the battling villagers overcame some of Europe’s top teams to win the trophy. They returned to Turin two years later in 1911 and lifted the trophy again, thumping hosts Juventus 6-1 in the final.

Rob Yorke, county councillor for West Auckland, said a lot of work had gone into identifying an artist with the credentials to do the job.

London-based Nigel Boonham will create the statue, which depicts a footballer and a miner.

Councillor Yorke said: “This day has been a long time in coming and once we have planning permission it will then be another 12 months for the statue to be built.

“But, hopefully, it will be worth it in the end as we will have something that will stand for generations.”

Coun Yorke said 95 per cent of the funding had been found and dismissed critics who said the £184,000 was a waste of money.

He said: “None of this is from the taxpayers’ purse. This money was never going to be used for roads, hospitals or schools, it was allocated for arts and we might as well use it rather then let it be spent in another English city.”

Andy Turner, county councillor for West Auckland, who used to play professional football as a goalkeeper, said: “This is something the village can take some pride in, and it’s always good to see football achievements being recognised.”

A spokeswoman for the county council confirmed the planning department had received the plans and said it was hoped a decision could be made by the beginning of next month.