Bass Charity Vase

The Bass Charity Vase – A History

Although a friendly, after the match at Burton Albion on Saturday, the victors will be presented with one of the oldest and most valuable trophies in English football, the Bass Charity Vase, as Club Historian John Hutchinson explains...
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It was first presented in 1890 when Derby County defeated Stoke with both teams having been founder members of the Football League the previous season.

The Bass Charity Vase was donated by Michael and Hamar Bass, who were the great-grandsons of William Bass, founder of the famous Bass brewery business in Burton in 1777. Their father, who transformed the company into one of the largest breweries in the UK, was a great benefactor to the town of Burton and Michael (who was created Lord Burton in 1886) and Hamar carried on this philanthropic tradition.

The trophy is a magnificent silver rose bowl. The large plinth is inscribed with the names of the previous winners. Since 1890, it has been competed for annually - apart from 10 years, including during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. The proceeds are always donated to medical and hospital charities.

Previous winners include Notts County, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa, Coventry City, Nottingham Forest, Birmingham City, and Liverpool.

Leicester Fosse and Leicester City also won the trophy five times, in 1909, 1977,1978, 1979, and 1982.

Burton Albion, formed in 1950, have tasted triumph in the last 17 Base Charity Vase matches and it was against a side from the town, called Burton Wanderers, that Leicester Fosse made their first appearance, 126 years ago in April 1895.

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Michael Arthur Bass
Michael Arthur Bass

Michael Arthur Bass, who was created Lord Burton in 1886.

In the 1890s, Burton was a hotbed of football, with two sides from the town, Burton Wanderers and Burton Swifts playing in the Football League.

Throughout the 1890s, Leicester Fosse were fierce rivals of Wanderers, who were the fourth oldest side in England. The teams played some hotly-contested matches both in the Midland League and in the Football League. 

Finishing first and second in the Midland League in !894, both Burton Wanderers and Leicester Fosse were elected to the recently formed Second Division of the Football League in time for the 1894/95 season, the season they contested the Bass Charity Vase.

Both sides did well in their inaugural Football League seasons with Fosse and the Wanderers finishing fourth and seventh respectively. Four teams entered the Bass Charity Vase tournament that season.

In the semi-final, Wanderers beat Swifts and Fosse defeated the previous season’s league champions, Aston Villa. Both games were played at Peel Croft, the Swifts’ home ground.

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Peel Croft
Peel Croft

Peel Croft, the Swifts’ home ground, where Leicester Fosse first competed in the competition.

The final, between Fosse and Wanderers, was eagerly awaited and carefully prepared for by both sides. It was reported at the time that ‘no stone was left unturned to place the men on the field in the best possible condition for the final’.

Prior to the game, Leicester went to Matlock for special training, travelling to Peel Croft on the Wednesday morning, in time for the final that evening. 

The kick-off was arranged for 5.30pm to ensure a good attendance. A sizeable contingent of Fosse fans travelled by rail to the game, which was watched by a record Peel Croft crowd of 6,000. 

Shortly before kick-off, the Burton Volunteer Band left the field to make way for the two sides. Bizarrely, the ex-Mayor of Burton kicked off for Fosse, who despite winning the toss, elected to defend the railway end of the ground with the sun behind them and facing quite a strong wind!

Even though it was sunny, rain threatened. In the goalless first half, Burton Wanderers initially had the upper hand, but Fosse defended well, with goalkeeper Jimmy Thraves being particularly impressive, but towards the end of the half, Leicester began to take more control of the game.

In the second half, despite playing into the wind, Wanderers moved the ball well and hit both the bar and the post. Then the skies opened. The rain was so heavy that the Daily Leicester Mercury reporter described it as a perfect storm which made it impossible for him to continue providing a detailed description of the game.

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Leicester Fosse 1894/95
Leicester Fosse 1894/95

The Leicester Fosse squad in 1894/95.

However, he was able to report  that Fosse took advantage of Burton playing into the wind and rain and that they took the lead when David Skea ‘raced through and scored an exceedingly clever goal amid loud cheers from the Fosse supporters’.

However, eight minutes later, with the storm having abated, Wanderers equalised, making the score 1-1 at full time.

Extra-time was played and, after five minutes, the Fossils' goalkeeper Jimmy Thraves lost his footing on the greasy surface, enabling Burton to take the lead.

Wanderers then changed their tactics to a more defensive formation, but despite having more of the game, Fosse couldn’t score an equaliser, enabling Burton Wanderers to win the trophy for the first time.

Leicester's next appearance in the final wasn’t until 1909, when they defeated Coventry City. By this time, both Wanderers and Swifts had lost their league status, as had their successor club Burton United, which had been formed from an amalgamation of both clubs. 

It is now 39 years since Leicester City last competed in or won the impressive Bass Charity Vase.

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