He was the Glasgow boy who found his fortune in selling cups of tea, but few are aware of Thomas Lipton’s role in helping to establish another world-famous cup.
In the early 1900s, Lipton Tea founder Thomas Lipton put his name to a trophy that is regarded by some as a forerunner of football’s World Cup.
The Lipton Crown of Italy World Cup, sometimes known as the Lipton Trophy, was contested twice in Turin, Italy, in 1909 and 1911.
Incredibly, the tournament was dominated on both occasions by West Auckland FC: a lowly amateur team from a tiny mining village in North East England, who would thrash Italian giants Juventus in the 1911 final by six goals to one.
It’s exactly the kind of odds-conquering tale that would have been approved of by Lipton himself.
Thomas Lipton was born into poverty in 1848 in a four-room tenement at 10 Crown Street, in the Hutchesontown area of the Gorbals.
In his youth, Lipton moved to the United States where he was employed in the grocery business. Upon his return to Scotland, Lipton took what he had learned in the Americas and established his own successful retail chain, and later entered the tea business in Ceylon, in what is now Sri Lanka.
As the Glaswegian tea magnate’s personal wealth increased, so did his generosity and philanthropy. Lipton raised vast sums of money to help the poor in Victorian Britain and began sponsoring a wide array of sporting events from sailing and racing, to cricket and football.
Backed by Lipton Tea and the Italian royal family, the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy was contested twice in Turin, Italy, in 1909 and 1911.
Representing England, West Auckland FC joined top sides from Italy, Germany and Switzerland in the invite-only cup.
While the tournament did not feature international teams, many football historians consider the Lipton Trophy to have served as the inspiration for the FIFA World Cup that began in 1930.
West Auckland were victorious in both 1909 and 1911, making the County Durham side the first ever unofficial world champions.
In the 1911 final, the miners further cemented their place in footballing history by defeating the then Italian amateurs Juventus by six goals to one.
The astonishing story of West Auckland’s double triumph was recently covered by YouTube vlogger Sam North, whose Footy Adventures channel has been gaining in popularity among Scottish football fans over the past couple of years.
In the video, Sam visits the village of West Auckland, which describes itself as the ‘home of the first world cup’, and discovers the replica of the Thomas Lipton trophy (the original was stolen in 1994) on display in the local working men’s club.
Following Lipton's death in London in 1931, the company he founded has gone from strength to strength.
Lipton remains one of the world's top 10 most successful tea brands and is the clear market leader in virtually every country it's sold - including the US, which differs from most other countries in that Lipton's tea is most commonly consumed cold.
The Mitchell Library holds an extensive archive relating to Thomas Lipton, comprising of more than 100 large volumes of press cuttings, photographs and memorabilia all from the Gorbals-born tycoon's own personal collection.