Little known silverware: The history of the Bass Charity Vase

Bass Charity Vase

Winning a major trophy is the dream of every fan. For most clubs, the Premier League title and Champions League are nonexistent. So, domestic competition seems a more realistic option for obtaining a bit of silverware. While winning the FA Cup or the League Cup brings serious bragging rights. Sometimes the little-known competitions are not to be sniffed at either, as a bit of silverware is better than none. 

Embed from Getty Images

For a good cause

Mostly, these types of competitions are in the form of a charity match. The possibility of winning a trophy, coupled with it being in aid of a good cause, makes it an all-around good bit of fun. And there are many of these types of competitions, some more known than others. 

The most recognised of these charity matches is the Community Shield. Played between the winners of the Premier League and the FA Cup. Unless your club happens to win both, then they will play the team that takes second place in the Premier League. Luckily the Bass Charity Vase doesn’t have that problem. 

Now if the FA Cup is the oldest Cup competition, then The Bass Charity Vase may be the oldest and longest-running Charity Competition. It was created in 1889, roughly 19 years before the Community Shield. The donators of the trophy, Lord Burton and Hamer Bass, were the great-grandsons of the Bass Brewery founder.

Bass Brewery was founded in 1777 by William Bass in Burton upon Trent. By 1877 the brewery was considered to be the largest in the world. The Charity Vase was created in 1898 with the idea that all the proceeds raised would go towards medical and hospital charities in the local area.

Usually, charity matches are either very specific, being for one particular cause, or in the case of the Community Shield, the FA distributes the money across the country and shares the gate out between all 124 clubs that competed in the FA Cup, for them to give to charities of their choice. 

So the uniqueness of the Bass Charity Vase is that it raises money for medical and hospital charities in the Burton area.  

The trophy itself is something to behold, a magnificent and colossal silver rose bowl. Inscribed all the way around and etched into the front is ‘Burton Football Charity Challenge Cup.’ It sits on top of a plinth, with all the previous winners’ names displayed. The trophy is possibly thought to be the most valuable in British football! 

Burton upon Trent 

Embed from Getty Images

At this point, Burton upon Trent had many football teams, and it was decided that a different local team would host the event. Hosts included Burton Swifts, Burton Wanderers, Burton United, Burton All Saints, and Burton Workers Union. The latter of these teams would eventually become Burton Albion. As all the other Burton teams faded away, Burton has hosted the Cup exclusively as the only remaining professional team.

The first game took place in 1890. Played between Derby and Stoke, who had been founding members of the Football League the previous year. Derby came out on top, securing a 3-1 win.

Why the first game was held between Derby and Stoke is anyone’s guess. It could have something to do with creating interest by having two teams who had been initial members of the Football League whilst also not being a million miles away from Burton. There have also been other deviations. 

The war years

During the First World War in 1918, Coalville Munitions girls hosted the Cup. They beat Shobnall girls 3-1. It had been the first time in two years that the Cup had been played and the only time a women’s team had been in the tournament. 

Embed from Getty Images

In the Second World War, the RAF would compete for the Cup. 1941 saw Burton Town play the 1st R.A.F Royal Artillery, who won 5-2. The following year the Royal Artillery competed again, playing Gresley Rovers. Once again, they were victorious, beating Rovers 4-3. 

1943 saw Derby Corinthians take on the Royal Air Force, Derby winning 3-2. The following year, Derby would play the Royal Air Force ‘H team.’ with Derby securing a resounding victory of 8-1. 

Having the RAF compete during the war years would have been particularly poignant, seen as the Cup raised money for mostly hospital charities. This was needed more than ever during the war years and also worked as a morale booster for the troops and fans alike.  

Celebrating the centenary

1989 marked 100 years of the Cup. And playing for the accolade this time was Stapenhill vs Gresley Rovers. Stapenhill is a village football team founded in 1947. They were relatively successful in the first few years of their formation, gaining promotion in their first season and winning the Division One Championship the following two years in a row. 

They went on to host the Vase on several occasions, winning it five times and coming runners-up five times too. When they hosted it for its centenary year, they had also won the Primer Division for the second year running. 

Gresley Rovers, meanwhile, would be playing their seventh time in the competition. Founded in 1882 in the village of Church Gresley, Derbyshire. The game was a stalemate, resulting in 1-1 after extra time. Eventually, Stapenhill walked away as the holders, having won 6-5 on penalties. 

Facts and stats

Notable winners have included Liverpool, in 1887, which is their only appearance: Aston Villa, West Brom, Stoke, and Notts Forest, who have all played on several occasions. Derby have won the competition the most with an impressive 20 wins. Unsurprisingly this is closely followed up by Burton Albion. 

Embed from Getty Images

When the Cup has played as a mini-tournament, usually only four teams compete. One particular tournament involved Burton Wanders playing Burton Swifts and Leicester Fosse playing Aston Villa. 

The final was played out between Burton Wanders and Villa, played at Peel Croft, the home of Burton Swifts. Bizarrely the match was kicked off for Fosse by the ex-mayor of Burton. Then during the second half, torrential rain impaired spectators’ vision and reporters at the game couldn’t give a detailed description of what was happening. 

The game was level at 90 minutes, and extra time was played. Against the run of play, Burton Wanders went on to win 2-1, clinching their first Bass trophy. 

On at least four occasions, if the game ended in a draw after extra time, the game would be replayed the following season to determine a winner. On other occasions, if a draw has been ensured, the Cup has been jointly held. 

Interestingly Tutbury Hawthorn and Greasley Rovers played each other in 1949, and whilst the score was 4-1 to Rovers, they then played each other again the following season, which ended 2-2 after extra time, so it was decided to jointly hold the Cup. Others to have jointly held the Cup are Stapenhill and Newhall United.

Record scores include Tamworth beating Tutbury town 6-0, then ten years later Tamworth beating Ripley town in another thrashing of 7-0! Derby’s thrashing of the Royal Air Force ‘H’ team 8-1 is another high score, along with Moira United beating Cotton Swifts 8-0. 

Although the trophy is presented to the winning team on the day, the team does not get to keep the Cup; instead, the Cup is displayed year-round at St Georges Park, just 8 miles down the road from Burton Albion.

Present time

Whilst the tournament wasn’t held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The following year Burton played Leicester, which was settled through penalties, with Burton, the surprise winners clinching it 3-1. 

Embed from Getty Images

Birmingham are the current holders beating Burton 2-1. This is the first time they have competed since 1932, and the second time they have won the Cup. 

Although not a trophy to pop into your calendar, the fact that it has run for over 130 years is a testament to its importance in the Burton on Trent and the wider communities. Its commitment to raising money for hospital and medical charities has ensured the competition keeps running. 

The idea that it is an invite-only trophy ensures an air of mystery as it isn’t clear who the contender will be until Burton releases the details. 2023 will see Burton take on Stoke, who will make their tenth appearance in the competition.   

Whilst not a major trophy, it has stood the test of time. With it being held in Burton and involving teams near the area, there’s not a huge variety of winners. So for those who manage to get their hands on the trophy, they can aptly gloat: ’Bass Charity vase winners, you’ll never sing that.’