The Dragon Signs Amateur Trophy and a century-old controversy

Four clubs will dream of reaching the final of the Dragon Signs Amateur Trophy this weekend and move a step closer to becoming the latest club to celebrate success in a competition that dates back to 1890.

Over 60 different clubs from Wales and England have lifted the trophy, but there remains controversy over who actually won the final back in 1902, and it is that controversy that resulted in the competition being called what it is today.

In one of the lesser-told stories in Welsh football history, Wrexham Victoria are recognised as having won the competition four times between 1890/91 and 1903/04. The inaugural winners of what was then known as the Welsh Junior Cup, they first lifted the trophy at the Racecourse in April 1891 with a 4-1 win over Flint Town.

A new club would emerge following their subsequent demise and adopt the same name in 1899, and while this phoenix club would only last until 1908, three more successes would follow….or did they?

A 1-0 win over Shrewsbury-based outfit Singleton & Coles in 1900/01 delivered the trophy for the second time, but while the records show that the trophy was retained the following season with a 1-0 win over Machynlleth at Oswestry, the match would spark protests from the losing side even before the game had kicked-off on what was reported to be a cold and wet April afternoon.

Competing for what was known as the Welsh Junior Cup, the protests of Machynlleth centred around the fact that the Wrexham Victoria side included five players who had already competed in the Chester & District Senior Football League and had won the Chester Charity Cup that same season.

Intriguingly, this was the second reported protest against the involvement of Wrexham Victoria’s players in the competition that season as the same issue was raised following their semi-final win over Broughton United Reserves, also by a 1-0 scoreline.

However, Broughton submitted their protest a day late, and having missed the deadline their case was dismissed by the Football Association of Wales. To ensure no repeat, the Secretary of Machynlleth handed their written protest to the match referee, Mr R. T. Gough of Oswestry, immediately after the final whistle as Wrexham Victoria waited to collect the trophy. 

The matter was brought to public attention almost three weeks after the final in a strongly-worded letter to the Editor of the County Times from a reader named only as ‘D.T.H’ and resident of School House, Machynlleth that was published in its entirety on 24 April 1902.

Here is an extract: “I have every faith and confidence in the Association, and I feel strongly that they will see justice done in this matter and order the Welsh Junior Cup to be handed over to the gallant little team from Machynlleth who fought so hard, so bravely, and so honestly for it.”

The editor added a response, asking the question that if Wrexham Victoria were guilty, then all of the teams that they had beaten on their way to the final should also have ’cause to complain of unfairness’. 

However, the tight deadline for making such an appeal as experienced by semi-finalists Broughton United Reserves would quickly end that particular argument. The quick actions of Machynlleth in challenging the eligibility of Wrexham Victoria’s players to compete in the competition proved to be the difference to those teams they had seen off on their way to the final, and the matter would come to a head one month later.

A Council meeting of the Football Association of Wales was held at the Albion Hotel in Chester on 14 May 1902 under President Mr Stanley D. Edisbury, where Machynlleth’s protest was heard. Representing Machynlleth at the meeting were Reverend D. T. Hughes, the curate of Machynlleth (and possibly the same D.T.H who had raised the issue in the County Times), together with Mr Parsons, a committee member of the club. 

Five players of Wrexham Victoria were found to be ineligible to compete in the Welsh Junior Cup, and the protest was upheld unanimously. Wrexham Victoria were subsequently ordered to return the trophy to the Secretary of the FAW, Mr John Davies, so that it could be awarded to Machynlleth. However, despite being aware of the protest being made, Wrexham Victoria had reportedly already commissioned their name to be engraved on the trophy!

It wasn’t all good news for Machynlleth though, as they would also fall foul of the FAW in the same meeting. Following a disturbance in their recent match against Towyn, a Committee appointed to investigate the matter recommended that they should be ordered to close their ground throughout the month of September and not play within a six mile radius during that time. The recommendation was agreed by the FAW Council making it a bitter-sweet evening for the Machynlleth club. 

Despite the protest being upheld, it would not be the end of the matter, as another letter would appear in the County Times on 19 June 1902 highlighting the fact that the trophy and the winners’ medals were as yet undelivered to Machynlleth. Suggesting the author was once again the familiar ‘D.T.H’, the letter ended – “We sincerely hope that the Cup will arrive in our midst early next week, or must our mutual friend ‘D.T.H’ take a trip to Wrexham to wake the authorities to a sense of their responsibility and duty?”

Did the trophy ever arrive in Machynlleth? Newspaper reports of the era do not mention it again, no more letters were received (or at least, not published) from ‘D.T.H’ in the County Times, although the Rhyl Journal did recognise Machynlleth as the holders of the trophy as they looked ahead to the new domestic football season on 30 August 1902.

However, one significant change was made that summer as the competition changed its name from the Welsh Junior Cup to the Welsh Amateur Cup, a motion clearly designed to provide clarification over the eligibility of players competing for the trophy.

What we do know is that Machynlleth did lift the trophy again in 1931/32 with a 3-0 victory over Cardiff Corinthians. Meanwhile, Wrexham Victoria would win the trophy legitimately in 1903/04 with a 4-2 victory over Druids Reserves. However, the game was not without controversy either, with referee Mr Pearson of Crewe complaining of ‘abominable language’ from the crowd, who reportedly ‘followed him through the streets’ of Oswestry after the match to ‘throw stones and mud’ at him. The matter was referred to the Police for further investigation. 

Four years later, Wrexham Victoria would dissolve for a second time and never returned after one season in the Wrexham & District League. Despite their last success in the competition being 120-years ago, they hold a special place in the history of what is now the Dragon Signs Amateur Trophy.

The inaugural winners of the competition back in 1890/91, records show that they are four-time winners, but reports from the time dismiss this fact and revert their status to just the three titles in 14 years. If only ‘D.T.H’ knew the matter was still open to debate all these years later.

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