The Watney Mann Invitation Cup (the Watney Cup to supporters) was a pre-season tournament held in the early 1970s contested by the two highest scoring teams in the four divisions of the Football League the previous season that had not been promoted or involved in European competition. Sponsored by the Watney Mann brewery, it was the first tournament in England to sell its naming rights.
The Rams were invited to take part in the inaugural competition and faced Fulham at Craven Cottage in the first round on Saturday 1 August 1970. The other six participants were Sheffield United, Hull City, Peterborough, Aldershot, Reading and Manchester United. The fixtures for the first round, semi-finals and final were drawn in advance so Derby knew before the competition began that they would have home advantage in the semi-final and final if they progressed.
The match programme describes the competition as ‘deliberately constructed to help the game. It will encourage the playing of more open, exciting football throughout the season. It will spread the honours to clubs other than the top ones – giving others an incentive to play hard and well. The donation (from Watney’s sponsorship) will help County Associations to develop coaching and training schemes; the donation to the League will benefit poorer clubs and help them to improve facilities for their supporters.’
The Watney Cup was also the first major English competition to feature penalty shoot-outs to decide a professional match drawn after extra time. The programme notes go on to state ‘What Watneys do today, Europe and the World will do tomorrow,’ as the UEFA and FIFA had also made the decision to use penalty kicks to decide drawn games from the 1970-71 season.
Derby beat Fulham 5-3 after extra time with two goals each from Hector and Durban, and one from O’Hare. Ken Adam’s match report in the Derby v Sheffield United semi-final programme read: ‘After being a goal down in two minutes, Fulham stunned First Division Derby with a three goal revival before drying up in the 80 degrees heat. John O’Hare’s outstretched foot gave Derby the lead after Kevin Hector, Derby’s most dangerous forward, had worked his way into Fulham’s box and driven hard and low into the goalmouth.
Fulham hit back when Steve Earle accelerated past Roy McFarland and shot on the run into the far corner. Then more pressure from Fulham…Vic Halom bagged a couple…and it was still only the 13th minute! Fulham were looking a long, long way from being Third Division class. But Derby didn’t panic. Well marshalled by skipper Mackay, they kept their heads and ten minutes later they were rewarded when Hector was allowed to run thirty yards to the edge of Fulham’s box, where he fired a low drive under Webster’s body. They turned around with the score still at 3-2, but Alan Durban equalised in the 69th minute and Fulham were reeling. Durban and wee Willie Carlin were being given all the freedom they needed in the middle of the field and their passes began to create head-aches for the Fulham defence.
But it was still level at full-time and the prospect of a further half-hour in such energy-sapping heat did nothing to aid Fulham’s cause. They fought hard, but Derby’s superior application brought them more goals from Hector and Durban.
And there it ended. Eight goals to delight a crowd that had been promised a footballing feast. They certainly weren’t disappointed’.
Derby County line up: Green, Webster, Robson, Durban, McFarland, Mackay (Daniel), Wignall, Carlin, O’Hare, Hector, Hinton (McGovern). Att: 18,501.
The Rams advanced to the semi-final to play Sheffield United on Wednesday 5 August, the Blades undoubtedly arriving at the Baseball Ground full of confidence after winning 6-0 at Aldershot in their first round game. The match programme praised Brazil’s success in the 1970 Mexico World Cup, with an average goals per game record yet to be beaten almost 50 years later, predicting that ‘the emphasis in soccer looks likely to switch from dreary formations devised to make sure that teams don’t concede goals and play to lose. More and more teams will be going out to attack, not just in the hope of keeping the other side out and ‘nicking’ a goal in a breakaway.’ A Word about The Managers suggests that Brian Clough was so forthright with his views due to meeting Harry Storer when a shy young man, and being told ‘in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t have an opinion about anything – and express it – he might as well be a zombie.’
McGovern scored the only goal of the game for the Rams, a strike which in present day football parlance is known as a ‘worldie’. Below is Ken Adams’ match report from the Final programme against Manchester United:
‘Using all the know-how that took them to First Division heights last season, Derby ended Sheffield United’s claim on a Watney Cup final place. But it was no easy task for Derby. United went at them from the off and even after McGovern’s first-half goal put Derby in front United never gave up. They failed because their mid-field department lacked the inventiveness of Durban and the diminutive Carlin. And, all too often, Woodward was left as the lone battering ram against the magnificence of Mackay and McFarland.
The goal was as good as the Baseball Ground is likely to see again this season. The ball came to young McGovern on the edge of the box. With hips of rubber he twisted and sent the entire United defence running away from him. The shot flew past Hodgkinson’s right hand and settled in the far corner.
Wignall came on for O’Hare in the second half and Derby tended to sit back on their lead. But they still looked dangerous on breakaways. The football was still good at this stage, but United’s forwards were continually shut out by a miserly Derby defence – they gave nothing away.’
Derby County lineup: Green, Webster, Robson, Durban, McFarland, Mackay, McGovern, Carlin, O’Hare, Hector (Wignall), Hinton. Att: 25,322.
Manchester United beat Hull City 4-5 after extra time and penalties at Boothferry Park to earn the right to play Derby in the Watney Cup Final. The game featured the first penalty shoot-out in a professional match with George Best the first player to take, and score, a penalty. After both United and Hull scoffed with their first three penalties, Denis Law’s kick was saved by Hull’s Ian McKechnie but Ken Wagstaffe also missed on Hull’s fourth attempt. Willie Morgan scored United’s fifth penalty then McKechnie had the responsibility to take Hull’s final penalty – however, his effort was saved by Alex Stepney and went over, putting Hull out of the Cup.
As a result, Derby played Manchester United in the final at the Baseball Ground on Saturday 8 August. Football League Secretary, Alan Hardaker, wrote in the official programme that the Watney Cup ‘has been an outstanding success…the three basic conditions of responsible sponsorship have been met: the sponsors have achieved what they expected. The League and clubs have benefited, as has the game in general. The spectators and clubs taking part have tasted a new pre-season entertainment’. Member of ITV’s Soccer Panel made their predictions: Jimmy Hill went for a Derby win because ‘McGovern’s goal (against Sheffield United) was World Cup class’ with Malcolm Allison also backing the Rams. Derek Dougan commented ‘Denis Law still has a lot to offer…I’ll go for the big guns – Manchester United’ with Bob McNab agreeing.
Footage of Derby’s goals from McFarland, Hinton, Durban and Mackay in the 4-1 victory can found on YouTube although George Best’s consolation does not feature. A match report was not included in the programme for Derby’s first home league game of the season against Stoke on 22 August, although the centre pages do feature several photographs from the game. Brian Clough also makes reference in the programme to hooliganism outside the ground after the game, giving his opinion that he didn’t agree that ‘the home club should have to pay up in damages.’
Derby County lineup: Green, Webster, Robson, Durban, McFarland, Mackay, McGovern, Carlin, O’Hare, Hector, Hinton.
The Watney Cup ran until 1973 before being discontinued with Colchester United, Bristol Rovers and Stoke City all winners along with the Rams. The second season of the competition experimented with the offside rules, restricting this to only the penalty area. It proved to be a success with fewer stoppages and less defensive football.
All the official match programmes for the tournament, priced at 1 shilling each, featured a similar front cover of the trophy in the background with rosettes of the 8 participants in the foreground. The Watney Cup now permanently resides in the trophy cabinet at Pride Park Stadium.
This article was first printed in issue 16 of Derby County Memories in March 2017. See the About section for further details.