FEATURE: the crowds, the personalities and the good deeds ... a look at the rich history of the Mexborough Montagu Cup

FEATURE: the crowds, the personalities and the good deeds ... a look at the rich history of the Mexborough Montagu Cup

By David Beddows | 02/02/2021

FEATURE: the crowds, the personalities and the good deeds ... a look at the rich history of the Mexborough Montagu Cup
Rawmarsh Welfare players and supporters outside the Horse and Jockey pub in 1950 with the Mexborough Montagu Cup and the Rotherham Charity Cup


FOOTBALL'S modern-day superstars might have the money and the fame but for every Premier League ace there are legions of people who play purely for the love of the game.


Junior teams, Sunday morning pub teams and the increasing numbers of girls and women's teams all keep the sport thriving at the grassroots and maintain its working class traditions.


Local football is also rich with history, crammed with leagues and competitions reaching back decades, and next year one of the Rotherham area's long-running cups is about to celebrate its 125th anniversary.


The Mexborough Montagu Cup was first played in 1897 and its finals grew to attract crowds of thousands each Good Friday or Easter Monday to watch local rivals do battle.


The back story to those battles was a worthy one, to support Mexborough's hospital, as the competition does to this day. 
Seven years before that first final took place, the Montagu Cottage Hospital was officially opened on Bank Street in Mexborough with 14 beds. 


Its existence came about with a need for more local treatment being readily available as the number of accidents in the local industries was increasing. 


At that time, anyone who sustained injures had to be treated in their own homes with the more seriously hurt being transported, usually by horse drawn trap, to the Rotherham or Doncaster Infirmaries. The time had come for the establishment of a local hospital.


A whole host of sporting events grew to support the hospitals' funding in the days before the NHS, one of which was the newly established Mexborough Montagu Cup.


Entry to the competition was limited to teams within a seven-mile radius of Mexborough.

Flat-capped specatators stand several rows deep in a blizzard at the 1937 Mexborough Montagu Cup final.


The first Montagu Cup final took place between Ecclesfield and Newhill at the Hampden Road ground at Mexborough, just as it does today.


The competition soon took off, encouraging local football rivalries that appealed to an increasing number of people.


The keenness of the rivalry was shown in the second final in 1898 which turned into a bizarre affair.


Birdwell beat Kilnhurst 2-1 but were fined for submitting a “false list of player names” and the match had to be replayed.
In the replay, many of the Kilnhurst players walked off after a disallowed goal for offside. They were persuaded to continue — although the linesman was replaced by a spectator.


One of the biggest winners, Doncaster Rovers, planted their name on the cup twice, in 1901 and 1913.  


There was plenty of good football for the swelling crowds to enjoy but passions did boil over.


In 1904, Rotherham Town Reserves took on Mexborough Town and fielded a former Mexborough player called Meakin.


According to reports, Meakin was kicked and “retaliated with fists”.


After the game, as the Mexborough players and officials were attempting to board their “waggonette”, a number of spectators swarmed round and threw large stones and brick ends. 


Three Mexborough players received nasty injuries and it required eight or ten policeman to “prevent further mischief”.


The extent to which the Mexborough Montagu Cup final was becoming a major local event was shown by the number of people turning out to watch it in the 1930s.


A picture taken on Good Friday morning, 1937, shows cloth-capped people stood several deep in driving snow at Hampden Road to watch Conisbrough Northcliffe and Wombwell Station Lane contest the trophy.


There were nearly 3,000 spectators, with the contest providing a £50 “nest egg” for the Montagu Hospital.


Two years later, an astonishing crowd of 4,700 saw Yorkshire Tar Distillers, from Kilnhurst, thrash Bakers 5-0. The final brought in £88 9s 3d for the hospital.


“In those days most people didn't have cars,” says modern-day Montagu Cup committee secretary Barrie Dalby.


“People didn't go to Meadowhall for a day out, they stayed local. 


“They didn't have the means to travel very far and the Montagu Cup was a big part of the social calendar.


“The crowds were still big in the 1970s. It was only when car ownership and out-of-town shopping places and leisure became more widespread that crowds decreased.”


At the 1950 final between Rawmarsh Welfare and Rawmarsh, which went to a replay won 3-1 by Rawmarsh, the match report noted that “the crowd was kept down to 2,500 by the weather.”


The appetite for the Montagu Cup was evidently as strong as ever.


While Wombwell Main, Mexborough Main Street and Swinton Athletic hold the record for most Montagu Cup wins, with seven, it has by no means been a Dearne Valley dominated competition.


The once mighty Rawmarsh Welfare appeared in six finals, winning four of them, and Parkgate Welfare also won it four times in 1948, 1953, 1961 and 1962.


Rawmarsh Horse and Jockey lifted the cup in 1973 and more recently, Rotherham Sunday League's two big hitters, AFP and Joker, have prevailed, AFP four times and Joker once. 


The 2020 final will pit Joker against last year's champions, Swinton Athletic, who will be gunning for a record eighth “Monty” title.


The cup they will play for is the same one as Ecclesfield and Newhill contested in the very first final back in 1897.


“It is still the original. It has never been re-cast or lost,” says Barrie.


“There has been more than one FA Cup but only one Montagu Cup. That's quite a feat.”


Barrie was involved with Denaby United, seeing them lift the Montagu Cup twice in the 1970s before he was approached to replace the organising committee's retiring secretary in 2004.


He accepted because of the competition's “good work and prestige.”


The legacy continues today thanks to the work of the Montagu Cup's small band of organisers and its main sponsors Stelrad, a company based at Swinton.


The coronavirus pandemic meant last year's final between Swinton Athletic and Westville was eventually played behind closed doors in August. 


With the crisis not yet over and restrictions still in place, this year's showpiece may have to be put back from its traditional Easter Monday slot until supporters can be let in.


As Barrie notes: “The objective of the competition is to raise money for the Hospital Comforts Fund. Playing behind closed doors doesn't achieve that.”

Swinton Athletic win the Montagu Cup in 1972


As the Montagu Cup approaches its 125th anniversary, organisers want to mark the milestone in a suitable manner and local football historian and Montagu Cup supporter Chris Brook would welcome any memorabilia from past finals. 


The competition's future though depends on the continuing dedication of the people who run it — and upon new faces joining them.


Adds Barrie: “We need younger people to come forward and get involved because we are only a very small committee and all of us are of an 'age', we are no longer youngsters. You have to hand the baton over at some stage.”

Curtis and Alex Wilkinson of 2020 champions Swinton Athletic with their dad Shaun, a three-time Mont winner.


Although crowds at Montagu Cup finals are counted in much smaller numbers than in years gone by, its pull for local football lovers endures.


Added Barrie: “The Montagu Cup has so much history and even to this day it is still a tradition for many people to go to a Montagu Cup final even though they have no connection to the two finalists.”


Anyone with photographs and memorabilia from past Mexborough Montagu Cup finals is welcome to contact Chris Brook on 07985 902346.


Notable players

Gladwin (holding the ball in the picture above) was the earliest recorded scorer in a Mexborough Montagu Cup final when he netted in the 1898 showpiece for Kilnhurst. One of six brothers, he signed for Doncaster Rovers soon after but lost his life in December, 1915, at Gallipoli in World War One.


Won the Montagu Cup three times as a player and four times as a manager. 

As a player he won it in 1983, 1984 and 1987, each time with Mexborough Main Street. 

As a manager he won the Mont three times on the bounce in 1995, 1996 and 1997 with Denaby & Cadeby Miners' Welfare, before raising the cup for a seventh time in 2006 with Conyers.

Wilf is now chairman of Maltby Main FC.


A cultured defender who eschewed “hoofing” the ball up the pitch, Smith played in the 1939 Montagu Cup final when Kilnhurst's Yorkshire Tar Distillers beat Bakers 5-0. A few months later he was playing for Arsenal! Born in Mexborough, Smith turned out 162 times for the Gunners and won six England caps.


In 1950 Swales managed the remarkable feat of scoring hat-tricks in the finals of both the Montagu Cup and the equally prestigious Rotherham Charity Cup.

Les also managed a hat-trick of Montagu Cup wins in 1949, 1950 and 1951 with Rawmarsh Welfare, although 1949 was shared with Kilnhurst Colliery.

His sons, Les and John, were also notable local footballers. 

John played two matches in one afternoon in 1978 — starting BSC Parkgate's County Senior match and then coming on in the second half of Denaby United's Montagu Cup semi-final.


Corner cutting
ORGANISERS came up with a novel way to settle the 1945 final.

With Manvers Main and Broomhill still level after extra-time, the committee decided that whichever team earned the next corner kick would win the cup. Five minutes later, Manvers won the next corner and were crowned the champions.