An Innovative Invitation: The Watney Mann Invitation Cup 1970-1973 ⋆ An Old International

An Innovative Invitation: The Watney Mann Invitation Cup 1970-1973

Penalties are part of the game since 1891, just over 120 years. Yet, penalty shoot outs were introduced much later. The stage was a little known tournament in England that proved to be innovative then.Few tournaments can indeed considered to be as innovative as the Watney Cup. This little tournament is now largely forgotten. Yet, in the early 1970s this pre-season event was at the cutting edge of football in three areas:

  • penalties
  • offside
  • sponsoring

Penalties: It takes balls to get it right

Of those three points, the first and the last are now among the main issues in football. Penalties deliver the stuff for endless debates, feuds even. English football fans will always remember the epic semi-final of the 1990 World Cup against West Germany in Turin. It was the best performance of this England team throughout the tournament. It came late in the tournament against arguably the best side in the competition: the Germans. It ended in defeat yet it created a narrative that is still present among English football fans. Mostly, because the game was very good in comparison to previous matches in the tournament or the years before. Moreover, it re-awakened a bond between the English national team and the fans; a relationship that has been marred by violence on the one side and mediocre performances on the other. It is probably a strong hypothesis but losing the penalty shoot out, was the best that could happen to England at that point in time. It helped increasing the popularity of the team and the game. The latter has been looked upon with an entirely negative focus throughout the Thatcher years. Here was a team that defied the negative image bestowed upon them and returned home proudly and with their heads held high. It is rare that a losing team in a penalty shoot out could claim that for themselves. By then penalty shoot outs were only part of football tournaments for 20 years.

The first time that a penalty shoot out was required in a major tournament was during the 1982 World Cup in Spain. It is somehow fitting, that it was this World Cup and not any of those before or after. This competition is to this day a synonym for negativity. According to Brian Glanville, it was badly organized, the heat made playing attractive football almost impossible. The embodiment of this were the Germans. Beaten by Algeria during the groups stages, they were accused of match fixing in order to get to the second round. The nadir of all this was the semi-final against France. The game is not noteworthy for its sporting content but for a brutal foul or rather a criminal act by the German goalkeeper Toni Schumacher as he hit the onrushing Patrick Battiston, knocking the Frenchman unconscious. Schumacher was not booked; moreover his attitude during the match for many was a sign of German arrogance: the German keeper never seemed bothered too much about his opponent but was intent to play as quick as possible. This match, cynically was also decided by penalties. Cynical because as the match went into extra time, France were 3-1 up only to see two German goals by Rummenigge and Fischer equalizing. It was penalties. he French, by then favourites and supported by most lost their nerves and the shoot out. The ‘foul’ and moreover the never-say-die attitude of the Germans having rattled them to the core.

Your teeth are offside!

Any offside decision gives plenty of opportunity to vent frustration at the referee. Or mock the opponent. Manchester United supporters made Luis Suarez of their Premier League rivals Liverpool the target of a chant that focused not on his verbal or biting incidents but his protruding teeth instead:

‘Your teeth are offside,

Your teeth are offside,

Oh, Luis Suarez,

Your teeth are offside.’

During the second tournament in 1971, the organizers meant to add some attacking flavour to the tournament by allowing offside only to be given in the penalty area. This was done in order to avoid defensive football and increase the number of goals scored. Alas, it did not work! In the first edition a total of 31 goals were scored. During the second year 1971, with the experimental offside rule in place, only 23 were scored. The lowest score however came 1973 when the ball hit the net only 12 times!

It was a sign of the state of English soccer in the first half of the 1970s. Moreover, it was a sign of decline on behalf of Manchester United. Having won the European Cup as recently as 1968, they have failed to qualify for any European Cup competition. This in fact was a one pre-requisition to be invited: the clubs invited must not have recently been promoted, won the league or qualified for Europe. Instead, the best scoring clubs from each of the four professional divisions of the English football pyramid were invited. Hence the name of the tournament: ‘The Watney Mann Invitation Cup’.

Lousy Pennies

The final point that made the tournament special has become one of the biggest sources of income: sponsorship. A look at the records of any top club in England or elsewhere will show that sponsorship is now the second biggest origin of income after the income from the current broadcasting contract or merchandizing. This has reduced the dependence on match day revenue significantly and has altered the relationship between clubs and supporters. The latter feel the pinch as clubs feel free to increase the prices for season tickets, thus enlarging the gulf between clubs and their fans.

In the 1970s however, sponsorship of any kind was rare. There were no shirt sponsors, match day sponsors, ball sponsors… You name it. At most there were some advertisement hoardings around the ground and in most cases a wealthy club owner who filled any gap in the finances. The German side Eintracht Braunschweig were the first to don a sponsor’s logo on their shirts in 1972/73. It was the logo of a local spirit manufacturer – what else, if not booze? – making the link between football and alcohol even more obvious. The first English club to promote shirt sponsoring was Non-League Kettering Town FC in 1976.

Sponsorship for a tournament was even less common. The prize money was huge for the period:

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