That win holds a very important place in the clubs long and proud history as it is the only national competition they have ever won!.
The Debenhams Cup was one several 70’s football competitions that has long since been forgotten.
Why it was never played again was unknown as was the whereabouts of the actual trophy itself.
Over the years several fruitless attempts had been made to find the trophy.
Prior to the club’s centenary exhibition in 1999 Blyth officials contacted the FA and Debenhams in an attempt to find it.
The FA replied stating they had no knowledge of it and Debenhams didn’t even reply.
Chester City were the inaugural winners in 1977 and returned the trophy ahead of the following years competition.
In February 2001 Chester City and Blyth meet in an FA Trophy tie. City’s match programme carried the story of their Debenhams Cup win and a piece on how they had previously tried to find the trophy.
It seemed the solid silver trophy had simply vanished without a trace.
That was until a snippet of information came to light in February 2019 that amazingly led to it resurfacing after all these years.
While researching information about the Spartans manager at the time of the competition, Brian Slane, I came across the briefest of mentions of the cup in the Blyth library archives.
A small article in an 1980 edition of the Blyth News led to the crucial breakthrough.
It reported that 2 years after winning the trophy Debenhams Head Office had contacted the club out of the blue requesting their trophy back.
With the competition not being staged again and with no request for its return forthcoming the club had simply kept hold of it.
The letter from Debenhams stated they wanted the trophy back to use for a golf tournament they were holding. So in the spring of 1980 club officials returned the trophy and that was the last it was heard of for 39 years.
That was until the remarkable events of Thursday 28th February 2019 unfolded and the power of social media took hold.
Having found the snippet of information I posted the updated news about the Debenhams Cup on my Blyth Spartans history Facebook page and also on a page dedicated to ‘English Football in the 70’s’.
That post was read by West Ham fan Michael Gibbins and triggered a distant memory.
Michael worked for Debenhams and replied stating that he possibly knew of the trophy’s whereabouts!.
Michael had started working for Debenhams in 1999 so was unaware of the previous attempts to find the trophy.
However, in 2013 they had moved Head Office and as part of his job in the Debenhams Facilities team he was tasked with getting all their archive material from its temporary home in Guildford to the new office in Regents Place, London.
Upon reading the post something struck a chord with him from that move six years earlier. He recalled there had been several trophies in a store-room in Guilford that were moved to the new office.
He went straight to the ‘store-room’ and sure enough his memory had served him well.
The Debenhams Cup was indeed one of those trophies.
In disbelief that it had been finally been found and seemingly in Debenhams possession all these years I asked if Michael could send photographic proof.
Enquiring if there was any way in which my club could have the trophy back, Michael showed my post to his boss Alison Flynn and told her the background story.
They were completely unaware of the relevance of the seemingly random trophy sat in their store room.
Alison also happened to be the Executive Assistant to the CEO of Debenhams PLC, Sergio Bucher.
She approached him and explained what had happened that morning.
He was fascinated to read all about their trophy, which was now proudly on display in the main office.
To his credit he didn’t hesitate for one moment in stating it should be back where it belonged, with Blyth Spartans.
Alison informed me of the good news and that she was arranging for its immediate return.
Within a matter of days it had been sent by courier up to the MetroCentre store in Gateshead for me to personally collect.
After all these years Debenhams PLC could not have been more helpful.
For a such big company who have more than enough to deal with in the current economic climate, their involvement in its return from an employee up to the CEO has to be commended.
The remarkable story was soon seized upon by the press.
Esteemed North East Footballer writer, John Gibson picked up on the trophy’s reappearance.
The voice of Newcastle United for the North East’s Chronicle newspaper since 1966, John has been involved with Non League football for many years and is a personal friend of many of Blyth’s 77/78 FA Cup heroes so he was very keen to run the story:
The story was also picked up by the papers multimedia team who were keen to run their own feature from a local history aspect:
It was the last trophy that club legend Brian Slane won as Blyth manager and he was delighted to be reunited with it. He was completely unaware of the trophies amazing story since that day back in May 1978.
The Debenhams Cup now takes pride of place in the clubs sponsors suite to proudly show off the club’s only national trophy.
The Atkin Brothers business traces it’s origin to Thomas Law, a silversmith active in Sheffield from c. 1750 to 1775.
The firm opened offices in London, managed by Harry Atkin, in 1925 and became a limited company as Atkin Brothers (Silversmiths) Ltd.
Manufacturing a range of electroplated, Britannia Metal, silver and plated cutlery they supplied many firms in the United Kingdom and the Colonies.
Having a London office led to them supplying cutlery and silverware to Debenhams from 1928 onwards. In 1930 they were tasked with producing the trophy, however there is no record of why it was originally commissioned or its use in the intervening years.
In 1977 the trophy was re appropriated for their newly sponsored football competition.
The engraving, which was a factor part in it resurfacing, was a late addition.
Publicity photos issued before the trophy was first presented in May 1977 show it without ‘The Debenhams Cup’ engraving.
It was engraved at some point prior to Chester winning it, images of their captain Alan Oakes with the cup clearly show the wording.
The Chester v. Port Vale match programme featured an entirely different image to that used on the Blyth v. Wrexham programme a year later and neither images have the engraving. Yet the Wrexham programme from the 1978 final 1st Leg shows a trophy with the engraving, all three images are different.
*No programme from the Port Vale v. Wrexham 1977 Final 1st Leg has ever come to light so what if any image appeared on it is unknown.
Uniquely it was the first time a sponsor had been associated with the competition.
It would be another 18 years before the FA allowed another company to be associated with its world famous competition.
An iconic and important piece of English football’s history has returned from the dead and is now proudly back where it belongs.
Credits, Acknowledgements & Thank You’s:
Michael Gibbins – without his involvement absolutely none of this would have been possible.
The superb Facebook page – English Football in the 70’s – https://www.facebook.com/groups/346849565831873/
Without that Facebook page existing the trophy would probably never have been found.
Alison Flynn – Executive Assistant to CEO & Interim Chairman of Debenhams PLC for taking an interest and initiating the cups return.
Sergio Bucher – CEO of Debenhams for also taking such an interest in our club’s quest and agreeing to return the trophy.
Jo Golightly – Store Manager of Metro Centre Debenhams for arranging the hand over.
Journalists John Gibson & David Sedgwick – for picking up the story and giving it some much coverage locally.
The following newspapers for taking such an interest and running the story –
The News Post Leader
Blyth Spartans club photographers:
Kris Hodgetts – https://www.khphotos.co.uk/
who both supplied images used.