This is the story of the worlds oldest football trophy and the games first knockout tournament. Before the FA Cup there was the Youdan Cup.
In 2008, a local curator in Sheffield, England presented an old silver jug on the BBC television programme, Antiques Roadshow. It appeared to be just an ordinary piece of silverware of mid-Victorian origin, but further inspection and investigation revealed so much more.
A detailed inscription identifies the object as the Football Challenge Cup. Also known as the Youdan Cup, the date of February 1867 places it as football’s oldest trophy, representing the game’s very first Cup competition. Yes, four years prior to the FA Cup in 1871.
The roots of football history are embedded in Sheffield. Even as the Laws of the Game as we know them today were introduced in 1863, Sheffield Rules remained the dominant version of the sport until the 1870s. It introduced elements like the crossbar, corner kicks and throw-ins.
The Football Challenge Cup was played under Sheffield Rules and contested by twelve local teams. But only one edition of the tournament was ever played. Thomas Youdan, a local theatre owner and entrepreneur helped develop the idea and sponsored the tournament. He was a well known local figure in Sheffield and an ardent supporter of cultural and sporting events in his community.
A competition was also run to design a trophy. But the chosen design was actually never finished in time, leading Youdan to purchase the silver jug eventually awarded to winners Hallam FC. Hallam captain (and the clubs founder), John Charles Shaw also become President of Sheffield Football Association and was involved in establishing the Laws of the Game with the FA in London.
The Youdan Cup ran from February 16 to March 9. The first two rounds were a knockout format before Semi Finals on March 2, the Final on the 5th and a 2nd place playoff on the 9th of March. All matches from the Semi Finals onwards were held at Bramall Lane and the Final attracted 3,000 spectators — a world record at the time.
Despite the trophy itself being lost for many years, there’s no doubting the Youdan Cup’s significance in the history of football. The original trophy was valued at around £100,000 but is not for sale. It now resides in the National Football Museum in Manchester.
When you consider the importance of Sheffield to football’s heritage, it’s no surprise that the city was the birthplace of the first knockout tournament. It’s also home to Sheffield FC, the world’s oldest football club founded in 1857. The world’s oldest football ground is Hallam’s Sandygate Road. And Bramall Lane hosted the very first floodlit match.
That legacy is now being commemorated through The Youdan Trophy, a new competition for youth academy teams which began in 2015. It operates as a non-profit organisation and provides elite academy sides with much needed competitive matches. The competition also serves to honour the past and provide opportunities for young players to connect with different backgrounds and cultures.
Thomas Youdan was passionate about community and was perhaps one of the first to realise the potential for football to unify it. Today, that spirit most certainly lives on through The Youdan Trophy and ensures a crucial part of the game’s history will too.