The Watney Cup

Looking back over previous meetings with our FA Cup 5th round opponents Burnley is a tiresome business. There have been 54 meetings between us, five of those in the FA Cup. It’s fair to say we’re no strangers to Turf Moor.

One game that really stands out from the rest is a 1972 clash in a competition called the Watney Cup. Perhaps more of a pre-season tournament, the competition was short lived, and yet strangely compelling.

Entry was gained by being one of the teams that had scored the most goals in each of the four divisions the previous season, but who had not been promoted or admitted to one of the European competitions. Two teams from each division took part in a straight knockout tournament.

In 1970/71 the Imps, along with Peterborough United, qualified from the basement division. City finished fifth in the league, one point away from promoted Scunthorpe United. However, the 77 goals scored ensured at least one game in this less-than prestigious competition. Burnley had finished 7th in the Second Division scoring 70 goals, and they qualified with 6th place Blackpool.

Unlike usual pre season games, City fielded a strong side at Sincil Bank, and boasted Percy Freeman, George Peden and Dave Smith amongst others. The only real fringe player to play was a lad called David Kennedy who made just six appearances.

Over 7,400 people watched City slip to a 1-0 defeat, and immediately exit the competition that held such little prestige. Burnley promptly lost to Third Division Bristol Rovers, who then defeated Sheffield United of Division One in the final. It was all fascinating stuff at the time, I’m sure.

The tournament may have been no more than a footnote in history, had it not been for two ground breaking developments. In the 1970 semi-finals, eventual runners up Manchester United beat Hull City in a game which featured the first ever penalty shoot out in an English competition.  The first player to take a kick was George Best, and the first to miss was United’s Dennis Law. Hull were defeated though when Ian McKechnie became the first keeper to miss a kick. He missed Hull’s fifth to send United through.

The competition was also the first in England to sell it’s naming rights,  thanks to a deal with the Watney Mann brewery. Despite appearing as a minor pre-season tournament, it actually set a precedent for two things that would become reguar features in the English game. For City it simply signalled another cup defeat at the hands of Burnley, although a couple of days later we did beat a Manchester United XI in a friendly at Sincil Bank. The illustrious opponents and appearance in the fledgling trophy didn’t do manager David Herd any good, he was gone by Christmas

To this day we’ve never beaten Burnley in a cup competition, drawing three and losing on five occasions. The last time we beat them in any competition was January 1991, Matt Carmichael scoring the only goal of the game.

The Watney Cup lasted four years, from 1970 to 1973, before being discontinued. Of the four winners, two were decided by the novelty penalty shoot out, the last winners were Stoke City who presumably got to keep the trophy. I wonder if they’ve still got it on display?


1 Comment

  1. Great read that! I’d never heard of the Watney Cup. Let’s hope the 1st cup victory will be Saturday week. UTI

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