The wonderful history of Rugby League Trophies
When Leeds and Leigh met in the final round of the Super League Qualifiers, there was more than just another irrelevant game at stake – for the privilege of being the 9th best team in the country, the winner would receive the inaugural Bev Risman Carafe of Mediocrity:
Imagine becoming a dual international, devoting your entire life to rugby league, including coach education and student rugby league, being President of the RFL and earning an OBE, just for the cherry on top to be a £24 Baci Milano carafe glued onto some wood.
Like most sports, the really old trophies and medals are named after old guys who hung around a lot and/or had the 10 shillings to pay for the trophy in 1934. For instance, the Harry Sunderland medal was named after the man arrived in Wigan to take up the duties of Secretary-Manager in October 1938, who, when promptly terminated the following year, was awarded the naming rights as part of his severance.
Since the sport was commercialised though, Rugby League has stood out with a strong history of desperate sponsorships that have resulted in ludicrous competition naming rights and hilarious trophies.
The Challenge Cup
The Challenge Cup was famously fashioned by silversmiths Fattorini & Sons out of the bedpan of Ebenezer C Brewer during his long syphilis-induced hospital stay in 1897. Using the bedpan and fashioning such a grotesque shape with no chance of standing the test of time was revenge on the RFL for giving them no remit whatsoever, and stiffing them on the bill.
The Challenge Cup has been sponsored since 1980, with such luminaries as dry cleaners State Express, Kellogg’s Nutrigrain, Ladbrokes, and an attempt to bankrupt a university.
The First Utility Automotive Pool Hubcap
In any competition with playoffs and a grand final, no-one cares remotely about who tops the table before the playoffs. Americans sports completely ignore the feat. In Australia, the NRL strikes the winner from the records two years later, when it discovers the inevitable salary cap rorting. In Super League, the punishment is worse – they’re forced to hang around for a series of forgettable photographs, pretending to be happy and holding up the silver platter used that evening for the journalist’s sausage rolls, decorated with purple ribbons. (By the way, who puts ribbons on a plate?!)
The Rugby League Charity Shield
This terrific idea was modelled on English football’s Charity Shield, where the team that had won last season’s championship would play the team that currently held the Challenge Cup, or, if the same team won both, the second placed team in the championship took up the other spot.
Last held in 1996, the trophy has a history going back to 1895, and was so forgettable that a) the game was only held nine times in 101 years, and b) it often graced such glorious venues as the Okells Bowl on the Isle of Man. Yes, both of those things are true.
The John Player/Players No 6/Regal Trophy
By the late 80s, tobacco sponsorships were eliminated from most sports not otherwise associated with nasty deaths (motor racing, jousting) or an obese fanbase (darts). Under the obese fan legacy rules, rugby league was exempted and continued to hold the cigarette sponsored League Cup until 1996 when the last wheezing BARLA member was forced off the board. The trophy was a real treat: a football on a kicking tee dipped in lead, and sawn in half.
The BBC2 Floodlit Trophy
The BBC2 Floodlit League was an attempt to create more wear and tear on players who already played 46 league games and multiple Challenge Cup rounds in the pre-player union/player agent era.
It was a ludicrous event. Named after a TV channel, the station only televised the second half of one game a week on a Tuesday on random weeks where nothing else was on. Most games in the competition didn’t even get played under floodlights, as only 7 teams in the country had them. After forcing numerous clubs to the brink of bankruptcy by its literal insistence that another 21 of them install floodlights, the BBC then cracked the shits when they attempted to put sponsorship on their shirts in the 70s.
The Frontline Bathrooms Fair Play Award:
The Frontline Bathrooms Trophy was the pre-cursor to the Bev Risman Mediocrity Carafe. It was a reaction to the fact that only 4 clubs had won a trophy in 20 years of Super League and Challenge Cup. In an effort to share the spoils, an award was given for finishing bottom of an index of “points for the amount and type of penalty conceded, sin bins, sendings off and match bans.” Can you imagine the excitement of compiling that data into a table every week?
Winners included Halfax, Castleford, Widnes, Sheffield and Harlequins. Quins won the award twice, their only trophies ever – although they only have one, after Henry Paul got a bit drunk at the presentation night and smashed the first one.
The International Origin Trophy
Before the ideas factory at Red Hall churned out the magic 8 ball system to ensure all players were thoroughly overplayed, the work experience lad came up with the International Origin Series.
The concept was scrapped after its second year when someone realised playing it twice just mean double the financial losses. And England kept losing. The final nail in the coffin was taking a match to the graveyard of rugby league, Huddersfield, where no one goes to watch even when they’re leading the race for the hub cap.
The Buddies / Arriva Trains / Northern Rail Cup
The Trans-Pennine Cup was a short-lived competition for clubs outside Super League. It’s single motive was to entice rugby league fans to shell out further money coming through the turnstiles, buying pie and peas and pints of warm mild, thus preventing Hunslet, Featherstone et al from their 37th bankruptcy in 18 months.
Genius winter scheduling meant that, with no overflow weekends and beginning in February, postponements weren’t really an option resulting in two choices: Barry the groundsman taking a blowtorch to Crown Flatt, or London Skolars traveling to Barrow on a Wednesday night.
The competition allowed the RFL to add to their glitzy commercial portfolio with Buddies soft drinks (the pop man, basically), and two train companies; Arriva Trains and Northern Rail being gullible enough to shell out on a competition whose final was held in Blackpool.
Honourable mentions: Northern Rail 9s
In an attempt to add “more value” for blue chip sponsor Northern Rail, some bozo in Red Hall conceived a mid season 9s competition, to be played in Blackpool, over a weekend. These people clearly haven’t played Rugby League. We’re not saying that two dozen part-time Rugby League clubs travelled to the Las Vegas of the north, on the RFL’s dime, and drank their bodyweight in Bacardi Breezers in the Tower Lounge before having to play again on Sunday, but that’s exactly what we’re saying. All to win this tin thimble:
The Million Pound Cheque
Final word has to go to the doctor…