Thomas Dewar and the history of the Community Shield

After the rip-roaring success that was the European Championships, the build up to the return of top flight English football at Villa Park yesterday afternoon may have felt like something of a hangover to some, as the Olympic bandwagon pushed Manchester City’s encounter with Chelsea well and truly into the shadows. Thankfully the ninety minutes of football served up for Sunday lunch proved to be highly entertaining, but for many the Community Shield remains something of an oddity.

For one, the reputation of the of the event as a fund-raising operation can seem somewhat laughable. According to the Football Association themselves, the Community Shield raises less than a million pounds each year for charities and community based initiatives up and down the country. Though the system of dividing up funds between the 124 teams that compete in the F.A. Cup from the first round onwards each year and allowing them to donate to their chosen causes is laudable, the sense of well-doing is somewhat tainted by the parade of wealth that takes place for ninety minutes in the name of the Community Shield. Take events today; the amount raised for good causes will equate to less than Yaya Toure’s monthly salary.

It’s perhaps hard then to view the Community Shield with anything but an air of scepticism, and though the tournament has a long and rich history, and the element of raising funds for good causes is as old as the event itself, a look through the history books reveals that the competition has not had an unblemished past. The Community Shield itself has it’s origins in the Sheriff of London’s Charity Shield that was introduced by distiller and politician Thomas Dewar in 1898 as a competition played between the best professional and amateur sides in England to raise funds for local hospitals and charities. The very first final, played between Corinthians and league leaders Sheffield United, attracted a fair amount of controversy however.

After the first final played at the Crystal Palace in front of a crowd of somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 – depending on which report you consult – finished as a goalless draw, a replay was arranged. This second fixture ended 1-1, with Corinthians scoring from a retaken free-kick after their opponents didn’t retreat the required distance. Sheffield United were apoplectic, and refused to return to the field for extra time unless the referee was replaced. Their demands were not met, and the press were damning in their assessment of Sheffield United’s actions. After Corinthians rejected a request for a third game, an agreement was reached for the Shield to be shared.

The following year the committee of the Sheriff of London’s Charity Shield elected to invite Queen’s Park to take part as the amateur game’s representative as Corinthians had struggled for form. Aston Villa were chosen as the professional side, but reports at the time suggest they weren’t keen on accepting the offer, fearing a loss of revenue as a result of having to re-arrange their league fixture with local rivals West Bromwich Albion. After much negotiating the event finally went ahead, ending with a goalless draw, and the Shield again being shared.

Dewar’s invention was short-lived, with the final Sheriff of London’s Charity Shield being played in 1907 after a dispute between several amateur sides and the Football League that led to the foundation of the Amateur Football Association. Dewar too was a busy fellow. Having already travelled the world with the goal of developing his family’s whiskey brand, he turned to politics, and was heavily involved in establishing the controversial Aliens Act of 1905, which introduced strict immigration controls and legislation, and led to some coming to regard Dewar as an anti-Semite. Dubbed the ‘the man who taught the world how to drink’, Dewar had also established the Dewar Trophy in the United States of America, and become heavily involved in horse training and racing.

In 1908 the Charity Shield was relaunched by the F.A. as a competition between the Football League’s First Division Champions and the Southern League Champions. The inaugural match pitted Manchester United against Queens Park Rangers, with the First Division Champions – Manchester United – emerging victorious in a replay played at Stamford Bridge. It was the first, and last, F.A. Charity Shield final to go to a replay.

Over the years that followed the format of the competition varied greatly season to season, with the old amateurs versus professionals format of Dewar’s Sheriff of London’s Charity Shield featuring regularly throughout the 1910s and 1920s. The current F.A. Cup winners against the Football League winners setup was first used in 1921, and from the 1930s onwards this became the standard, with only occasional alternatives between 1930 and the present day. Two key exceptions were the 1950 final which pitted the England World Cup team against an F.A. side that had toured Canada that summer, and the 1972 final for which both league champions Derby County and F.A. Cup holders Leeds United declined their invitation to take part, resulting in Manchester City, who had finished fourth in the First Division, and Third Division champions Aston Villa contesting a makeshift Charity Shield, with Manchester City claiming a 1-0 win.

Curiously that was Manchester City’s last triumph in the Charity Shield before yesterday’s game. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s wealth may well dictate that his team’s name is engraved on the Charity Shield with alarming regularity over the coming seasons, but the sometimes controversial history of the competition may continue to elude many watching.

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