The Calcutta Cup, long understood to be exclusively retained by the winner of the annual England Scotland fixture, may have been won by Ireland, and indeed Wales towards the end of the 19th Century.
The cup was created when the Calcutta Football Club disbanded in 1878. In the club’s coffers were 270 silver rupees which the club melted down and crafted the famous trophy, adorned with snakes and elephants, that is currently on display in the World Rugby Museum.
Almost all accounts of the trophy refer to the strict arrangement that sees it presented to the winners of the annual Anglo-Scots encounter. This includes a number of references between the years 1895 and 1900. However within this five or six year period several interesting references describe the trophy as being presented to the winners of the Home Nations tournament between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The tournament, now better known as the Six-Nations and including France and Italy, was won by Ireland in 1896 and 1899, and Wales in 1900.
Although other accounts from the time refer to the familiar England Scotland arrangement, both the Daily News and Sporting Intelligence broadsheets refer to the trophy going to the winners of the tournament. In addition, and most pertinently, Charles W Alcock’s Football Annuals between 1895 and 1900 make similar references. The 1896 edition describes quite explicitly the Calcutta Cup ‘passing across the St George’s Channel to Ireland’. Whilst the trophy may not have physically travelled, the implication is clear.
Were it not for Alcock’s references we could assume that these were simply mistakes on behalf of the journalist. But such was Alcock’s standing, and knowledge of organised team sports, that it is very unlikely that he would have been unaware of the conditions regarding the trophy. Charles Alcock famously introduced the FA cup to soccer and arranged that sport’s first international fixture.
The existence of these references indicates confusion over the purpose of the trophy, and we can only speculate as to the root of this. Earlier accounts suggest that England and Scotland were chosen to contest the trophy as the standard of Irish rugby, at that time, was not sufficient to mount a credible challenge. This all changed in the 1890s when Ireland secured their first Triple Crown in 1894. Wales didn’t come into the reckoning until 1881 and it could be that after Wales claimed the Triple Crown in 1893 that Alcock, and several other writers, concluded that these conditions had now altered and the other two nations were thus entitled to compete for the trophy.
Whatever the cause, Alcock’s subsequent annuals from 1901 onwards indicate that the matter had been resolved and the familiar arrangement, with the trophy reserved for England or Scotland alone, resumed.