The astonishing story of how Aston Villa won the FA Cup - then the trophy was ‘stolen’

This is the story of how the FA Cup trophy was ‘stolen’ in Birmingham following Aston Villa’s cup final victory against West Brom

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The late 1800s was an extremely rich period in Aston Villa’s history.

In the Victorian age, Villa were one of the most successful clubs in England. On the pitch, Scottish manager George Ramsay was moulding a team that became renowned for its short, quick combination passing which saw Villa win its first league title in 1893–94.

The club won its second FA Cup in 1894-95 which was then followed by back-to-back League titles in 1895–96 and 1896–97. But after the West Midlands club’s FA Cup win in 1895, Villa lost the trophy itself, which resulted in the FA ordering the club to make a replacement.

Ramsay’s team won the 1895 final, beating West Bromwich Albion 1-0 at Crystal Palace in London. During the celebrations which followed, the trophy was presented through the Aston area of Birmingham, and it was reserved to be held in sports shop owned by businessman William Shillcock in the local area.

But in the days that followed, the prestigious trophy went missing. It’s believed that the trophy had been stolen in a burglary during the night of September 10, but no arrests were ever made and the tophy wasn’t found. The case remained a complete mystery for 60 years, until 1985, when The Sunday Pictorial published a story with the headline ‘soccer’s biggest riddle’.

A man called Henry James Burge, an 80-year-old man at the time of the article, claimed that he had committed the burglary at the shop. The burglar even posed for a photo revealing how he broke into the shop for the story. He claimed he carried out the robbery with two other men and also took pairs of football boots as well as the prestigious trophy.

He claimed that the trophy was melted during the night it was stolen, although inconsistencies were spotted with his version of events, and it was never proved what exactly happened to the trophy. Burge was a thief, he was imprisoned for stealing cars so it’s certainly possible he could have stolen the cup, although the case was never looked into again.

Aston Villa’s 1895 teamAston Villa’s 1895 team
Aston Villa’s 1895 team

How Birmingham replaced the lost FA Cup trophy

The origional FA Cup was actually made in Sheffield. But after it was lost in Birmingham, the FA ordered Aston Villa and the city to replace the trophy. The club was fined 25 pounds for losing the trophy.

Given Birmingham’s reputation for jewellery making and craftsmanship at the time, Aston Villa had plenty of options in replacing the trophy. 40 per cent of all jewellery in the UK is produced in Birmingham, and both of the Wimbledon men’s and ladies’ singles trophies were made in Birmingham in the 19th Century.

FA Cup trophyFA Cup trophy
FA Cup trophy

In the 19th century, Birmingham was the birthplace of the industrial revolution with factories, workshops and crafts springing up all over, leading the city to become known as ‘the workshop of the world’.

At the time, Aston Villa turned to Jewellery Quarter firm, P Vaughton and Sons, to make an exact replica. The first team to win the new FA Cup trophy was Sheffield Wednesday. They defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 in front of 48,836 spectators in the 1896 final.

The Birmingham-made FA Cup remained in service until 1910. Despite the fact the trophy was lost in the city, Villa’s nickname the Villans doesn’t have anything to do with the 1895 incident, it’s actaully because the club were one of the most formidable teams in the land, combined with wordplay.

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