How the First Welsh Cup was Won – by Those Who Were There

On Sunday, The New Saints will face Bala Town in the 134th JD Welsh Cup Final, 145 years on from the very first deciding match of the competition when Wrexham defeated Druids 1-0 at Acton Park in March 1878.

But while this latest final will be televised live on S4C’s Sgorio, newspaper reports were the only alternative to actually being there in those early days of association football. Therefore, ahead of the latest edition of the domestic showpiece, we have compiled a contemporary view of that very first final and it makes fascinating reading that reflects a very different time. 

A 90th minute winner from James Davies proved to be the difference between Wrexham and Druids in that inaugural final when Wrexham became the first club to win the Welsh Cup. The match was played in at Acton Park in Wrexham rather than the nearby Racecourse which was unavailable at the time and a large crowd came out to see the first appearance of what remains one of the oldest domestic cup competitions in the world.  

But for all the positivity that should surrounded the occasion, the Wrexham Guardian set a very different scene with their opening lines of the match report the week after the game. 

“The first season of the Welsh Football Association is now closed with the Challenge Cup. That difficulties should arise, is only what any of our readers may expect in an association like the above, but we hope all animosity and bad feeling will pass away, and when the next season comes round the experience of the past will prove beneficial. We have no doubt the association will do a great deal of good in creating a love for this manly game, while it is conducted by gentlemen.”  

Meanwhile, The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard chose to open with a weather report and how those who braved the conditions made their way to the venue. 

“Great interest was manifested in the match and notwithstanding the threat of a snow-storm nearly two thousand spectators assembled to witness, it, the native element being largely supplemented by the arrival by special train of a contingent from Oswestry and intervening stations. From the summerlike weather of a few weeks ago it was thought that it would be much too warm for football, and more pleasant for spectators than players, but the contrary was the case, a cold piercing wind blowing across the ground and the sun which at times gleamed fitfully served only to make the cold the more intensely felt.”  

The match was scheduled to kick-off at 4pm, but as reported in the Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser and Cheshire Shropshire and North Wales Register, this was not the case as the crowd were left waiting for the players to take to the field. 

“In order to suit the convenience of the country contingent the kick-off was put off to a late hour, and it was some minutes past four o’clock when the ball was set agoing. The Druids won the toss, and choose to play with the wind. The ball was quickly in the vicinity of the Wrexham goal, and an attempt was made to encompass its downfall, but the back lines were in first-class fighting order, and sent the ball well into the territory of the enemy.” 

The language used in the match report across all of the publications of the time offers a fantastic insight into how matches were played and journaled in those early years of association football. For reference, admission was sixpence, while the Wrexham Guardian takes us back to matters on the field. 

“It was soon apparent that the Wrexham defence was good but their attacking power weak. Wrexham’s three half-backs against the wind was all right, but with the wind in their favour we think If they had put another centre with Price they would have done better, the Druids’ backs closing in on him whenever he had a chance. Evans, junr., made some capital centre shots, but there was no one there to take them on. The passing all round was splendid.” 

The match would be decided in the final moments and in controversial circumstances, enough for the journalists in attendance to question if an appeal would be made by the Druids against the result. However, this did not materialise and it was Wrexham who would be crowned the first-ever winners of the Welsh Cup. 

The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard explains how the match was decided. 

“Cross placed the ball well in front of goal. It was headed away, but returned by Evans, junr., and rushed through the goal after a sharp tussle, and a goal thus scored to the home team just before time was called. This was the signal for immense cheering, and the excited spectators crowded over the ropes, and it is doubtful if time had not been called whether play could have been resumed, at least for some time. The captain and several of the Wrexham team were then carried shoulder high from the ground.” 

The referee for that very first final was Mr J W Thomas of Stoke, and it seemed he did not have easiest of afternoons, with Wrexham striker and Cymru international at the time John Price earning a special mention in The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard for his approach. 

“The game was a very fast one, and well contested, but if either had the best of the play we think it was the Druids, we cannot but express our great regret that the contest was not of a more friendly character, and played with less violence. Several men lost their tempers, but none went so far as Pryce (sic), who seems rather prone to fighting, at least we have on other occasions heard him threaten his opponents.” 

The sport is of course unrecognisable now to how it was then, but the JD Welsh Cup continues to be contested for each and every season. Ahead of the 134th final, 145 years on from that afternoon at Acton Park, it is a competition that should be celebrated for the important role it plays in the history of the game in Wales.

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