From The Vaults

07 February 2022
#FromTheVaults - The Calcutta Cup

Rupees, rivalries and revelries: An exclusive audience with a (nearly) priceless trophy

When the short-lived Calcutta Football Club disbanded in 1877, I was all that was left. Not as I am today, of course. 270 silver rupees - that's how I started life. As I sat obliviously in the club's bank vault, the club members decided that I should be put to good use. Captain, Honorary Secretary and Treasurer, Mr GA James Rothney, wrote to the Rugby Football Union and proposed that I could make a lasting contribution to the sport. What an honour!

I later realised that I was not intended to be a monetary contribution. I remember the day well. Are you joking?! You're melting me down?! It was scorching hot. It's painful even thinking about it. But from a pool of metallic sweat, I was reborn as a trophy to rival all other trophies, with cobras for handles and a miniature elephant perched on my head. Rothney suggested that I could be a challenge cup, rugby's equivalent of the FA Cup. The RFU weren't so keen on that idea so it was decided that I would be awarded to the winners of the annual rugby match between England and Scotland.

In 1878, I travelled from Calcutta to London aboard the P&O Steamer Thibet. I was looking forward to my first outing as a trophy - England v Scotland in 1879. As I watched that first match, I thought: This is a funny old game, isn't it? I didn't understand the rules back then, but that didn't stop me from trying to predict which team would claim me first. Alas, the match ended in a draw, which was somewhat disappointing for me. My big moment eventually came the following year, when I was awarded to England after a resounding win at Whalley Range in Manchester. The first time Scotland won me was at the same ground, two years later. I like travelling between England and Scotland. It's nice to have a change of scenery every so often.

It's still exciting every time I get taken out of the display case for match day. I love my display case - don't get me wrong - but I really enjoy sitting on my little podium at the side of the pitch, soaking up the atmosphere. The noise of the crowd, the smell of the food, the sound of bagpipes, the fireworks - I never would have experienced any of that sitting in a bank vault. Then there's the dressing room. I've seen blood, sweat and beers. Lots of beers.

Perhaps my greatest adventure was in 1988 when Scotland's John Jeffrey and England's Dean Richards stole me from the post-match dinner in Edinburgh. They threw me like a rugby ball along Princes Street and across the Waverley Bridge and then they took me to a nightclub. That was an eye-opener. It seemed like a bit of fun at first - I was out on the town with the lads! - but I really felt it the next morning. My head was pounding. I was 110 years old, after all, and I had sustained severe damage. I was taken to MD Hamilton & Inches Jewellers for restoration work. They were very kind to me and soon knocked me back into shape. John was banned from rugby for five months and Dean for one game, but I've forgiven them now. I'm still allowed to go and watch the game each year, but I try not to get involved in any rowdy post-match celebrations with the players these days.

I'm very proud to be the world's oldest international football trophy. I have seen so many fantastic rugby matches and my lid has been worn as a hat by so many talented players over the years. Honestly though, I'm getting on a bit now and I must confess that it's quite a relief to get back to my display case for a rest once the match is over.