Atkinson-Price Challenge Cup

Joadja Creek valley town in the 1890’s

Joadja Creek valley town in the 1890’s
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Whilst we know the oldest continually played for silverware in Australian soccer football is our Challenge Shield from 1901, however Australia’s oldest known soccer football trophy in existence is possibly the little-known Atkinson Price Challenge Cup from 1887!

This beautiful piece of silverware is believed to be founded and resided in the now mining ghost town of Joadja Creek located in the Southern Highlands. Little is known about the Cup but it is likely that it was donated by Richard Atkinson Price, a NSW businessmen with an interest in Rugby Union and later a protectionist politician.

During the 1880’s Joadja Creek was a thriving Scottish community of approximately 1,200 people mining coal and shale to produce oil and kerosene. As with other Scottish communities such as Granville, Balmain and Pyrmont, the lads started playing soccer football in their isolated valley community.

Upon learning of the foundation of the Southern British Football Association, the Joadja Creek community would later recruit their best players to form a representative team calling themselves Southern Cross Football Club. They would then challenge the best of the NSW competition and a team of players made up from a number of Sydney based teams was put together and a match was arranged on Joadja’s home turf and it is possible that they played for the honour of winning the Atkinson Price Challenge Cup. Interestingly no Granville Football Club players were selected in this mixed Sydney team despite being undefeated for 2 years – we suspect a bit of early eastern western suburbs politics may have been at play even back then..

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On the Queen’s Birthday long weekend of 21 May 1887, the Sydney team endured 5 hours and 100 miles of rail and horse and carriage travelling before playing their much anticipated match. Fatigued, they were not in the same condition as the local team and Joadja Creek would go on to win a well spirited game 2-0. It is worth noting that the game was only for one hour due to failing light as the long travel meant the game started late. The Joadja Creek lads then entertained the Sydney lads and shared an ale with the visitors at the Joadja Hotel.

The following year the powerhouse Granville Football Club team would travel to the Southern Highlands and play against Joadja Creek’s Southern Cross Football Club. As with the year before, this match was also played on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend of 24 May 1888 and the home team won again, this time with a score line of 3-1. Granville however would win the return match 2 months later on 28 July 1888 at Granville 1-0. The following year on 24 August 1889, Joadja Creek playing at home would triumph over Granville Football Club 5-2.

Throughout the 1890’s there is no accurate record of any other matches being played between the 2 clubs and soon after the turn of the century, the thriving Joadja Creek community would become a distant memory.

Sadly the introduction of the electric street light and market forces meant that the need for shale oil and kerosene diminished rapidly. Consequently the mining business slowed considerably and the community moved afar in search of employment leaving the village of Joadja Creek to become a ghost town, a victim of progress.

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So what happened to the Atkinson Price Challenge Cup?

Sadly, little else is known of Joadja Creek football. Then in 1993, local historian Leonie Knapman received a telephone call from a friend that she might be very interested in a “beautiful silver trophy” for sale in a Berry second hand store that they acquired from an estate sale from a gentlemen from Joadja. She promptly called the store to tell them she was on her way and not to sell the Cup, she was buying it!

Upon her arrival at the store she could hardly believe her eyes. She believed and assumed this is a Cup that the lads were playing for back in the 1880’s and she wanted it, to protect it and preserve it – she was amazed it was not lost or had been destroyed over time. Whilst she knew its importance to her local community she didn’t fully appreciate its importance to Australian Soccer football but after a little research it didn’t take long for that to change.

After a number of years in Leonie’s possession and contemplating what to do with the Cup, she befittingly decided to donate it to the Scottish Arm Tavern at East Bowral where it is on permanent display for all soccer football lovers to enjoy.

In 2009 the locals recognising the Cups’ importance decided to promote a re-enactment of a game played in full 1880’s uniforms, as seen on the figurine on top of the Cup. It was novel and successful with plans to make this an annual event but it never eventuated.

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Move forward to November 2018.

Whilst attending the Football NSW Associations Annual Dinner Granville Association Deputy Chairman Noel Dona delivered an inspirational presentation and tribute to Private John William Cottam and the Cottam Cup of 1907. In attendance was the Danny Josipovic, Chairman of the Highlands Soccer Association.

The following week Danny contacted Noel to advise “I think I know a Cup that’s older than your Cottam Cup” and referred him to a youtube link.

Inspired and motivated by this history, Noel suggested to Danny that the significance and the importance of the Cup be reactivated and brought back to life with the Premier League Champions of each Association playing for the Atkinson Price Challenge Cup every year commencing 2019.

Danny loved the idea and so did his Board. Equally so did the Granville Association Board noting that the Granville Association Premier League teams are now competing for the oldest continuously played for soccer football silverware in Australia – the Challenge Shield of 1901 – and the oldest known soccer football silverware in Australia – the Atkinson Price Challenge Cup of 1887.

On Saturday 28 September 2019 at David Wood Playing Fields in Bowral, Marulan FC played hosts to Auburn FC for this revived contest. It was a hard fought match with both teams putting in spirited efforts doing their best to make history and be the inaugural winner of what will be the start of a new end of season tradition. After 90 minutes of strong play it was Auburn FC defeating Marulan FC 3-2. The visitors got to celebrate their victory by holding Cup up high but both teams received specially crafted medals to mark the occasion.

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Earlier in the day the Women’s Premier League Champions of both Associations played with Rydalmere Lions FC defeating Moss Vale FC 7-1.

And now the mystery of this Cup.

Although the Cup came to light via a man whose father was from Joadja, and who said it was played for in Joadja, respected soccer historian Dr Philip Mosely points out that actually there is no record of Joadja Creek playing for the Cup, be it in 1887 or any year. The figurine atop the Cup is certainly that of a Scottish player with a round ball at his feet, which marries with the likes of the Southern Cross Football Club, but the only evidence thus far of an Atkinson Price Challenge Cup is the trophy of the same name donated by Atkinson Price in 1887 for competition among junior clubs within Sydney’s Southern Rugby Union. Confused? Dr Mosely continues his research to resolve matters but could there have been two Atkinson Price Challenge Cups?

Notwithstanding this mystery, the two Associations have still decided to play for this beautiful and very old piece of silverware as a lasting tribute and to honour the early Scottish pioneers of the round ball game we love.