The general design of this splendid trophy gives us some clues as to its origin – at least stylistically.
Confirmation of what we might imagine comes from the hallmarks which show a crown representing the Sheffield assay office, and a date letter indicating 1896 as the year of assay.
Further detail comes from the maker’s mark which is identified as Fattorini and Sons with the likelihood being that it was made in their Bradford factory – see introductory article.
As we may guess from the date of this trophy, it came to the NWCFL from the Lancashire Combination when the NWCFL was formed in 1982.
The trophy was originally the Lancashire Combination Challenge Cup Trophy and carries the name of Eccles Borough as the first winners in the 1912/13 season on the foot of the trophy.
On the main front face we see the three lions representing Lancashire.
The Lancashire Combination was founded in 1891 and the early constitutions were made up of a mix of Football League club reserve sides from the North West and other local teams.
It absorbed the Lancashire League in 1903. In 1968 the Combination lost five of its clubs to the newly formed Northern Premier League.
In 1982 it was finally merged with the Cheshire County League to form the North West Counties League.
Allow me at this point to make a small digression. In its final year, the Lancashire Combination published a Commemorative Handbook covering the whole period of its existence from 1891 – 1982.
Full of all sorts of interesting information, we find, within the pages, a link between the Lancashire Combination and the NWCFL of today.
One of the members of the Lancashire Combination Management Committee for that final season of 1981/82 is a certain Mr. R. Naylor of Westhoughton.
Many will know Bob as the long serving Secretary of Daisy Hill FC and a true servant to non-league football in the region. There is a photo of Bob from that time and you don’t look a day older today Bob – honestly!
But going back to the story of the trophy we see something of a challenge and one which is by no means unique.
As we have seen, the trophy is named as a Challenge Cup trophy but Eccles Borough are listed as League Champions for the 1912/13 season in the records of the Lancashire Combination.
However, it is known that there was a Lancashire Combination Challenge Cup competition and there are references to our very own Bacup Borough playing in the last ever final.
Equally, we may well ask what the trophy was used for from when it was manufactured in 1896 up until this reference to Eccles Borough in 1912/13.
We have seen that the Lancashire Combination was founded in 1891 so it is entirely possible that the Combination commissioned this trophy in 1896. But what did they use it for?
Fortunately, this particular story becomes a little less mysterious in that in addition to the name of Eccles Borough for 1912/13 the trophy has several others names and dates around it.
In every case, of which there are almost 20, the clubs and dates coincide with the list of League Champions. We may then reasonable conclude that this particular trophy was used as a League Champions trophy at least until the 1935/36 season which is the date of the final crest on the trophy.
It may be that the use of the trophy was then changed to the Challenge Cup competition until it was transferred to the NWCFL. Someone out there may know something about this and, if so, we would be obliged if you could get in touch.
What we now know as the NWCFL Premier Division was known as the First Division up until the 2008/09 season. By tradition, the winners of this trophy are promoted for the following season and, hence, we see many clubs on the roll of honour who have progressed up the football pyramid.
Most notably amongst the winners we see Fleetwood Town, now of EFL League 1, and AFC Fylde whose progress towards the Football League continues.
A couple of conspicuous absentees are Accrington Stanley and Salford City who finished second in the league in their years and were promoted.
On this list we also see clubs which sadly no longer exist including Colne Dynamoes, and Rossendale United. Furthermore, we see clubs returning to the NWCFL after a foray into the higher reaches. Clubs in this category include, of recent times, current members New Mills and Padiham.
The current holders of this most impressive trophy are City of Liverpool FC who finally clinched the title in the final match of the 2018/19 season.