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The 1970s: Sponsorship Brewing | @AlexHTheMAX

Nobody thinks twice these days when a traditional UK domestic cup competition is connected to a major sponsor but 50 and a bit years ago if a brand wanted an association with a football cup in Britain involving major players in our game they had to start their own tournament. @AlexHTheMAX the weird world of brewery sponsored pre season football and an oil giant trying to endear itself to the beautiful game.

It's 1971 and a year after the inaugural Watney Cup, which ran from 1970 until 1973 as a pre-season tournament in England, it was Scotland's version getting underway in the form of the Drybrough Cup (1971-4 and then a brief return 1979 and 1980).

Both these tournaments were established after the football leagues on either side of the border dipped their toes in the choppy waters of the previously frowned upon uncharted sea of tournament advertising. It was definitely something of a taboo before the era of football commercialism really broke through in the 1980s.

The Watney Cup (after Watney Mann breweries) in England and the Drybrough Cup in Scotland came about because there was no sponsorship of established domestic cup competitions allowed in the decade that brought us flared trousers, trimphones and the start of Margaret Thatcher's 11 year reign as PM, so the breweries got round it by inventing lucrative pre-season tournaments with a twist.

FIFA President Sir Stanley Rous presents the Watney Cup to Dave MacKay

The first-ever penalty shootout in England took place in a Watney Cup semi-final between Hull City and Manchester United on August 5, 1970 with George Best becoming the first player to score in a spot kick competition, and Denis Law becoming the first player to miss, although Man United would eventually go through to meet Brian Clough's Derby County in the final with the reds losing 4-1 at the Baseball Ground (no neutral venue for the finals).

The Watney Cup saw the top scoring teams in each of the top four English divisions, that had not been promoted or qualified for Europe, square up to each other in a knockout semi final/final format. The Drybrough Cup (1971-74) would go with the top four scorers in the then two division Scottish set-up in a Quarter/semi final then final format with all but one of the finals (the inaugural final in '71) being held at Hampden.

Willie Young & Lou Macari in the first Drybrough Cup Final (1971)

From 1972 until 1974 the Drybrough Cup brought in a line that ran across the pitch at the front of the 18-yard box which meant a player could only be offside beyond that line and it certainly helped their brand promise that there would be a promotion of attacking football.

At Hampden in 1972 iconic Hibernian captain Pat Stanton lifted the substantial Drybrough trophy after Hibs had beaten Celtic 5-3 after extra-time. Hibs went on to retain the cup the following year again beating Celtic 1-0 and again after extra-time with maybe both teams now more mindful of the competition rules. 

Both battles of the greens in the Drybrough Cup finals at Hampden would attract just short of 50,000 fans which would now be seen as a successful Scottish Cup final attendance.

Pat Stanton with the 1972 Drybrough Cup

The Watney and the Drybrough will go down in history as the first f ully licenced cup tournaments to carry sponsor names by football leagues in England and Scotland respectively. By the end of the 1970s, Scotland was embracing sponsorship of a traditional cup competition for the first time when Bells Whisky (1979) sponsored the Scottish League Cup which was first played for in 1946.

The Scottish League would be sponsored for the first time in 1985, when modest Supermarket chain Fine Fare would add their name for a couple of years. The Scottish Cup finally relented to a sponsor for the first time in 1983, although the SFA went with the Scottish Health Education Group until 1988, maybe mindful of the major role breweries were playing in sponsorship in the Scottish game since the days of the groundbreaking Drybrough Cup.

Anyone who remembers the Watney Cup and Drybrough Cup will also flag up the Texaco Cup (later the Anglo Scottish Cup) which also emerged in 1970 as a first attempt at a British Cup type club tournament backed by £100,000 from the American oil giants who had recently bought over Regent filling stations in the UK.

Different days as the Texaco Cup is launched in 1970

It ran until 1975 under the sponsorship of Texaco, with English League, Scottish League and Northern Ireland teams (NI until 1972) taking part. However it lost its initial sparkle after that as familiarity (mostly the familiarity of English clubs ruling the tournament if truth be told) bred contempt for the Anglo Scottish Cup which went on to became very much a poor relation to the original buzz that surrounded the Texaco backed tournament. (Although St Mirren fans will always celebrate their side's triumph as the solitary Scottish winners of the Anglo Scottish Cup.

The Anglo Scottish Cup ended in 1981.

The rest, as they say, is history or maybe that should be commercialism, with much more than beer and petrol vying for the cash generated by football from the 1980s and then into the landscape of the 21st Century.

An Old Firm Final in 1974 that went to pens

Drybrough Cup winners:

1971 - Aberdeen (2-1 v Celtic)
1972 - Hibs (5-3 v Celtic)
1973 - Hibs (1-0 v Celtic)
1974 - Celtic (4-2 on pens v Rangers after 2-2 draw)
1979 - Rangers (3-1 v Celtic)
1980 - Aberdeen (2-1 v St.Mirren)

There was no competition between 1975
and 1979.

Watney Cup winners:

1970 - Derby County (4-1 v Man U)
1971 - Colchester United (4-3 v WBA on pens after 4-4 draw)
1972 - Bristol Rovers (7-6 v Sheffield United on pens after 0-0 draw)
1973 - Stoke City (2-0 v Hull City)

Texaco Cup winners: (on aggregate apart from 1973/4 when it was one game)

1970/1 - Wolves 2 Hearts 1 
1971/2 - Derby County 3 Airdrie 2 
1972/3 - Ipswich 4 Norwich City 2
1973/4 - Newcastle Utd 2 Burnley 1
1974/5 - Newcastle Utd 3 Southampton 1

Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen the last Drybrough Cup in 1980

By Alex Horsburgh, written for @TFHB.

©The Football History Boys, 2022
(All pictures borrowed and not owned in any form by TFHB)

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