The Watney Cup - England's First Sponsored Cup Competition
The Watney Mann Invitation Cup, affectionately and most commonly known as the Watney Cup was a cup competition of many firsts. It was different as it was a pre-season tournament, turning sedate, non competitive pre season friendlies into desirable competitive games. It was launched into the football calendar in 1970, becoming the first ever Football League sponsored cup competition with Watney's, a major brewery providing the backing.
Given this high profile launch it was no surprise that the TV companies wanted in, happy to pay more than normal to show this competition live. This new approach to football showed the lucrative way in which sponsorship and TV revenue could help boost profits. Not only was there TV income on the table for the clubs but also prize money. All clubs received an equal share of the gate receipts and TV income but how the Watney Cup was different is that they also received £4,000 just for entering. There was additional revenue for each game won with the winners able to net a further £2,000.
The Watney Cup was a competition determined to make its mark. It was contested by 8 teams, 2 from each division, those who had scored the most goals in the previous season that had neither been promoted or admitted to one of the European Cup competitions. It was a straight knock out competition with another first being introduced, no replays. That summer FIFA had decreed that it needed to come up with an alternative to tossing a coin in the event of a draw to make football more commercially acceptable. Their answer was the penalty kick, and the Watney Cup became the first English competition to adopt this new solution.
And so the inaugural competition began with the first round games being played on 1st August 1970, but it was not until the semi-final that English Football was to see its first taste of the penalty kick competition. Hull's Boothferry Park was the venue as Manchester United had been held to a 1-1 draw by their hosts. Hull City's goalkeeper, Ian McKechnie was the man to steal all the headlines as he became the first keeper to face a kick as George Best became the first player to score one. McKechnie became the first goalkeeper to save one as United's Dennis Law became the first player to miss, but that was not the end for the Hull stopper. He stepped up to take the deciding penalty and having blazed over became the first goalkeeper to miss in a penalty shoot-out.
The finals themselves were played at the home of one of the finalists, decided by a toss of a coin. The first final was a match up of the two heavyweights Derby County and Manchester United. It was a pretty much one sided affair with Derby easily coming out on top 4-1. The second year of the competition saw another first, an innovative change to the off-side rile. The rule only applied to players in the penalty area. It was designed to reduce stoppages in the game and also to increase the excitement with more goals. It did in the end reduce stoppages but did not increase the goals and the rule change experiment was discarded.
1971's saw a massive upset as Fourth Division Colchester United fought through to the final and in a thrilling game upset top flight West Bromwich Albion 4-3 on penalties after the game itself had finished 4-4. 1972's final also saw a shock as Third Division Bristol Rovers overcame top flight Sheffield United 7-6 on penalties after a dour nil-nil. 1973 went to the form book as Stoke City ran out winners defeating Second Division Bristol City 4-1.
Attendances has steadily dwindled since the Watney Cup's inception and with the sponsorship running out and no-one else stepping in 1973 was the last ever tournament. Whilst it ran for only four years, it was revolutionary and ground breaking. A forerunner in the way in which TV and sponsorship could change footballing landscape with large cash injections.
1970 Final (Baseball Ground)
Derby County 4 -1 Manchester United
West Bromwich Albion 4 - 4 Colchester United (The Hawthorns)
(Colchester United won 4-3 on penalties)
Bristol Rovers 0 - 0 Sheffield United (Eastville)
(Bristol Rovers won 7-6 on penalties)
Stoke City 2 -2 Hull City (Victoria Ground)
Remember, next goal wins