Bolton Hospital Cup: MM looks at the history of the region’s most valuable trophy

Bolton’s top amateur football knockout was held in 1930 and was originally known as the Bolton Royal Infirmary Cup.

The competition was initially set-up to help pay for the broadcast of Bolton Wanderers matches to local hospitals via a specially installed landline.

Unfortunately, the service met an abrupt end when workmen constructing the new A666 through the town severely damaged the cables.

Since then, the tournament remained and many thousands of pounds have been raised for local charities, thanks to the hard work and dedication of volunteers and participating clubs.

During the 1930s, there was a junior competition that ran alongside the senior tournament — the first winners of that being Greenheys Celtic in 1934/35.

Whilst it’s understood that the junior tournament restarted following its hiatus during the Second World War, the exact date of its existence is presently unknown.

In 1970, the Hospital Cup flourished, with over 60 clubs entering in a bid to play on the hallowed turf at Burnden Park — the then home of Bolton Wanderers.

However, changes to the amateur game saw some clubs dissolved, including the vast majority of the works teams as factories closed, along with some clubs who joined semi-professional divisions — which almost saw the end of the competition.

By 1989, it was thought that Little Hulton United would be the last ever winners of the Hospital Cup — until a drive in volunteers and committee members like Gerry Luczka, John Bullen, Peter Conroy, Brian Frey and Andy Whittle gave up their free time to revitalise the near-redundant tournament.

In the 1990s, the interest returned and a thrilling final between Haslingden, who eventually emerged victorious, and Eagley at Burnden Park in 1996 proved to many what could have been lost.

The competition hit a further stumbling block shortly after that final, when the announcement of Bolton Wanderers’ move to the Reebok Stadium meant Burnden Park could no longer be used to stage Hospital Cup Final’s.

FINAL: The Reebok Stadium has hosted the competition for a number of years.

Atherton LR leant their home, Crilly Park, to stage finals from then on — but the final had lost its spark, until 2001, when Bolton Wanderers officials opened the Reebok doors to stage Bolton’s most loved amateur competition once more.

The first final at the state-of-the-art stadium saw Blackrod Town suffer defeat to Atherton Town — but it was the support from Bolton Wanderers that has seen the tournament grow to new levels every year since.

NEW CHIEF: Pete Gray is the chairman of the cup organising committee.

Whilst the football is of course the main focus, it’s important to remember that the competition is designed to raise money for local charities — with Bolton Hospice and Vision Aid two that have significantly benefitted as a result in recent times.

Every club that has entered the tournament since 1930 have made an important contribution towards helping less fortunate people to enjoy a better quality of life.

Whilst the competition is battled for by amateur footballers, there is nothing amateur about the silverware they play for – which is valued at a staggering £20,000 and kept under lock and key at the University of Bolton Stadium.

The cost of the huge vintage silver trophy makes it more valuable than the Premier League trophy – and protecting its worth is of paramount importance to the committee.

Present day is an exciting time for the Hospital Cup, as after issues with the University of Bolton Stadium and the Covid-19 pandemic — the tournament finally returned in 2021 after two vacant seasons.

There is a new chairman, Pete Gray, whilst members of the previous committee remain in advisory roles.

Gray said of his new role: “I was delighted to take a call from Peter [Conroy] who asked if I would be interested in taking on the Hospital Cup.

“I’ve always loved the competition. Every manager I’ve ever had at Turton will tell you, I have always stressed to them the importance of the Hospital Cup.

“I should say that this isn’t a resurrection by any stretch, the tournament was never dead.

“They just didn’t get to play the 2019 final and then football has been off ever since, really.”

Whatever happens in the future, the amateur clubs of Bolton will continue to enter and support the valued competition — and battle it out to play at the UniBol and lay their hands on the £20,000 trophy.

All images courtesy of the Bolton Hospital Cup committee, with thanks.

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