Involving the top teams from across the UK and Republic of Ireland, the Texaco Cup started well before dying out – as Jim Heath explained in WSC 173, July 2001
29 January ~ The Texaco Cup will always hold a special place in the hearts of Wolves fans whose team were its first winners, in 1971. It marked the beginning of a very successful and eventful era for the club, one which only lasted a couple of years but was loads more fun than supporting them now.
In a small way the Texaco Cup represented the beginning of the game’s modernisation. Football was just dipping a toe into the murky world of corporate sponsorship and was unable to resist the £100,000 Texaco put up for what would be a kind of British Isles Cup for also-rans. For Texaco this represented good value, as they had recently acquired and renamed the Regent filling station chain, and saw football as the perfect vehicle to create brand awareness (as it then wasn’t called).
The late Denis Howell (Labour MP and sports minister) cautiously welcomed the commercialisation of the game, but added a caveat which probably summed up the feelings of many: “The one event that I do not expect to see sponsored in my lifetime is the FA Cup itself, it would hardly be British, though I would not be surprised to find the sponsorship of individual clubs as a future development.” He was almost spot on – the FA Cup did not succumb to its first backers for 25 years (Howell died in 1998), but shirt sponsors were just eight years away.
The Texaco Cup basically involved the top teams from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland who were not participating in European competitions. So along with finalists Wolves and Hearts the other pioneers in 1970 were Burnley, Stoke, Nottingham Forest, Tottenham, West Brom, Dundee, Dunfermline, Airdrie, Morton, Motherwell, Derry, Ards, Shamrock Rovers and Limerick. The cup’s profile was heightened by the fact that matches were played during the same weeks as the European competitions, were two-legged affairs and adopted penalty shootouts to settle drawn ties. Just like a European cup tie, in fact, except that away goals did not count double and the Welsh were totally excluded.
The tournament couldn't have got off to a better start. In a dramatic first week, Morton and Motherwell defeated West Brom and Stoke, while Forest laboured to a home draw with Airdrie and Wolves faced a tricky opener at Dundee. Watched by 10,000 at Dens Park, goals from Bobby Gould and Jim McCalliog gave the visitors a 2-1 advantage to take to Molineux. Wolves played out a goalless draw which ensured their safe passage, while Albion, Forest, Stoke and Burnley were all dumped out by Scottish opposition. With Spurs crashing out to Motherwell in front of over 30,000 in the next round, Wolves were left as England’s only representatives in the semi-finals.
The Texaco Cup had really caught the imagination, if only in the Black Country and Scotland, where it was viewed as a better money-spinner than actually being in Europe. Perhaps Hearts got a bit too carried away by making the first leg of the final at Tynecastle an all-ticket affair, with the police setting a crowd limit of 44,000. Hearts had made it to the final by defeating fellow Scots Motherwell, but it was Wolves who had the most eye-catching tie of the tournament – a semi-final against Derry City.
With their opponents already forced to play some of their domestic games away from their Brandywell ground in the Bogside due to the escalating political violence in the province, it was touch and go if Wolves would make the trip. An unprecedented security operation ensured they did and in doing so became the only English team to play either north or south of the Irish border in the tournament’s history.
Wolves won the cup on the back of their best league placing for over a decade and the fans were hardly disappointed not to be defending it the following season, having now qualified for Europe proper. Perhaps those hostile nights at Morton, Dundee and Motherwell turned out to be a good learning experience for Spurs and Wolves, who went on to contest the next season’s UEFA Cup final.
Newcastle United, who were to be winners of the tournament twice, first entered in the 1971-72 season, which witnessed the first signs that the English clubs might not share their Scottish counterparts’ enthusiasm for the cup. Manchester City had to forfeit their £1,000 entry deposit and were banned from the cup for a further two seasons for fielding nine reserves against Airdire, where 20,000 turned up to see a home win. Airdrie reached the final, where they lost to Brian Clough’s Derby County, on their way to the championship. The Troubles caused all the Irish clubs to withdraw from the 1972-73 competition, which essentially became the Anglo-Scottish Cup. It was also unfortunate that the Scottish teams crashed out and the final became an East Anglian derby – great for attendances, but not for the tournament’s credibility.
The winter of the three-day week and enforced power-cuts saw the Texaco Cup face its biggest challenge. With the government insisting that all matches must be played in daylight, attendances plummeted, with a mere 5,009 at St James’ Park to see Malcolm Macdonald et al overturn a first leg 2-0 deficit to overcome Dundee United in the semis. The final against Burnley was reduced to a single match, this time under the lights at St James’ Park. Even though there was again no Scottish representation in the final, Hearts and Motherwell did knock out Everton and Coventry in earlier rounds.
The tournament’s final season saw a radical overhaul. The format now involved a regional pre-season round robin stage for the English competitors, which had now grown to 16 clubs. Any pretensions about it being a consolation for Euro qualification failure were well and truly out of the window with Second and Third division clubs invited to make up the numbers. The idea was that four Scottish clubs would join at the next round to play the group winners in the quarter-finals. Great in theory, but all four Scottish clubs lost – including Rangers, who were soundly beaten by Southampton at Ibrox in front of over 40,000. Newcastle won their second Texaco Cup, this time well before Christmas, and that was seemingly that.
The Texaco Cup was superseded by the Anglo-Scottish Cup, but the competition was never taken very seriously. In 1977 Newcastle were disqualified for fielding a weakened team at Ayr. Although most Scottish entrants were from the Premier Division, the status of the English clubs gradually declined over the years. This made the competition increasingly less attractive to the Scottish clubs and in 1981 they withdrew. May it rest in peace. Jim Heath