Men playing football. St Mark’s Church and Wellington College are in the background.

New Zealand Football Chatham Cup Reaches 100 Year Milestone

14 Dec 2022
14 December 2022 marks 100 years since the crew of the HMS Chatham presented the Chatham Cup to the New Zealand Football Association.

Contributed by Michael Chadwick

It all came about from the kindness that New Zealanders showed to the crew members during their time completing a tour of duty of the country over a three-year period from 1921 through to 1924. The crew had keen footballers on board who enjoyed fixtures against opposition at ports as the ship toured the country.

Listen to collection items relating to the Chatham Cup:

Radio preview of the 1955 Chatham Cup final and interview with Auckland team captain Tim Cooper.

Highlights and commentary of the 1974 Chatham cup final, followed by interviews with Bill Dumbell, Wellington’s coach, and Terry Conley, Christchurch’s coach, about the performance of their teams.

The Chatham cup is positioned next to some text that says ' Chatham Cup 100 Years'

Council members of the New Zealand Football Association were invited to visit the HMS Chatham for the purpose of receiving a cup. Valued at £150 the trophy, a replica of the English FA Cup, was in immediate evidence on the arrival of the members of the Association and the entire ships company paraded for the presentation. Sir Charles Skerret, Chairman of the Association, received the cup from Captain Picket. The captain stated that he had received a deputation of the ship’s company expressing a desire to give a football cup to New Zealand in recognition of the time spent in the dominion.

Crew member Joe Robertson signed up for the Imperial Navy for 12 years and joined the HMS Chatham in 1918. The NZ Government called for recruits in 1920 to serve on the NZ Station. Joe along with other crew accepted the NZ offer of a three-year term allowing them to discharge significantly earlier. Joe remained on board the HMS Chatham, which spent three months travelling out to New Zealand via Panama and the Pacific Islands.

Joe was a footballer and recalled that the entire crew were supportive of the Chatham Cup purchase from the Chatham Canteen Fund. He took his discharge in October 1923 and remained living in New Zealand.

The first Chatham Cup competition commenced in 1923 and has been played for annually since with the cup being postponed on six occasions 1937 (NZFA postponed competition due to lack of entries) 1941 – 1944 (war years) and 2020 (the COVID-19 pandemic). The 100th Final is due to be played in 2028.

The Chatham Cup remains the blue riband competition in New Zealand football competed for by over 130 clubs from Northland to Southland each year.

Jack Batty the first winner of three Chatham Cup medals

Jack Batty was a crew member on the HMS Chatham who, like a number of the crew, stayed in New Zealand on discharge. Jack lived in Auckland and in football represented the province in goal between 1922-1930.

Over a period of eight years, Jack also became the first player to win three Chatham Cup medals. Jack joined Harbour Board for the 1924 competition with the team defeating Seacliff of Otago 3-1 in extra time after being 1-1 at full time. Harbour Board were one of 450 clubs throughout New Zealand at the time.

Jack’s son John donated the Jack Batty Player of Day Trophy in 1985 which has been awarded at finals played since then. John himself won a Chatham Cup medal in goal with Blockhouse Bay in 1970 and his son Jason, also a goalie like his grandfather, went on to play for New Zealand.

Seacliff – winners of the first Chatham Cup in 1923

“Where is Seacliff?” shocked Wellington fans had to ask after Otago’s Seacliff AFC’s 4-0 victory over YMCA of Wellington. Seacliff’s football team was formed in 1922, under the auspices of Dr Alexander McKillop, the psychiatric hospital’s medical superintendent. Frank Tod wrote in his 1971 Seacliff history that McKillop ”was a keen supporter of soccer and his staff of attendants included a number of Scotsmen who were recognised as superior players.” McKillop secured attendant and gardener work at the hospital for the footballers that he scouted to build the team.

The Seacliff football team pose with the Chatham Cup in 1923

Seacliff Team, Chatham Cup.

Hocken Collections, University of Otago Library.

Arriving by rail at Seacliff to the looming Gothic towers of the psychiatric would not normally have been an auspicious event. But, in October 1923, the Seacliff football team disembarked at the railway station to rapturous scenes. Douglas Fyfe worked at the hospital and recalled the team’s arrival. “I can remember the afternoon express arriving with the team who had been celebrating all the way from Christchurch and most the worse for wear. They marched to the hospital gates with a piper and large drum being played with Dr McKillop cup in hand leading the way. The players were put to bed and a welcome home held in the school at night was chaired by Dr McKillop.”

Seacliff (Otago), Oamaru Rangers (North Otago) and Wanderers (Nelson) were the South Island provincial representatives. Travel costs determined the inclusion of Wanderers in the Wellington region draw leaving Seacliff as the South Island finalist following their win away at Oamaru.

YMCA Wellington defeated Wanderers in Nelson and then Dawber Motors of Manawatu to earn a North Island final match against the South Auckland side Huntly 3-2. That match was played on the Saturday at Athletic Park Wellington followed by the final on the Monday with Seacliff comprehensively defeating YMCA 4-0.

Dr McKillop moved on to superintend Sunnyside Hospital in Christchurch where he again was the driving force in building the team that won the 1926 Chatham Cup.

Team origins in the early days of the competition

Football clubs revolving around local communities started to form teams from the late 19th century. Alongside these clubs there was also significant involvement of various organisations forming clubs which revolved around recent immigrants to New Zealand. Teams belonging to Government and business companies flourished including those representing armed forces, harbour boards, YMCA’s, psychiatric hospitals, tramways, motor companies, mines, waterside workers, college old boys and country of origin.

Scottish-derived names for clubs became prominent throughout the country. Auckland in 1928 had such clubs including Thistle, Bon Accord and Celtic. As the years went by Government, Business and Country of Origin based clubs either disbanded or affiliated with community clubs e.g., Technical Old Boys of Christchurch appeared in seven finals for one victory prior to amalgamation with Cashmere Club to form Cashmere Technical. The combination remains strong in the Canterbury region and has won three Chatham Cup finals.

The competition attracted immigrants who formed teams at their workplaces. The old country immigrants from Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales provided players of a quality that helped the local players improve their standards over the first half of the 20th century. Some immigrants came to New Zealand in their early teens to work in mines throughout the country from the likes of Waro, Hikurangi (Northland) Huntly, Rotowara and Pukemiro (Waikato), Buller and West Coast South Island mines down to Kaitangata (South Otago) and various other areas of the country. At the other end of the spectrum there were also former top-quality players who emigrated in their early thirties who had previously given their playing days away.

The Governor General and Prime Minister are shaking hands with the Auckland football team in 1950.

Photograph from the Evening Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Governor-General Sir Bernard Freyberg, Walter Nash meeting the Auckland team Eden ahead of the Chatham Cup final at the Basin Reserve in Wellington in 1950.

A tribute to the Crew of HMS Chatham

Included in the press reporting of the 1949 final between Petone (Wellington) and Northern (Otago), it was noted that a dozen former ratings on HMS Chatham held a reunion looking over the scene which they had made possible when playing their humble parts in presenting the Chatham Cup. When the crowd was acquainted of their presence the ovation they received was likened to a goal being scored. What a scene that was to be in front of 12,000, the largest crowd to attend a final. A record that remains to this day.

The crew of the HMS Chatham, wherever they may be, would be pleased to be remembered as the donors of the Cup during the 100 years celebration on December 14, 2022 with that “ovation that was likened to a goal.” A fitting football analogy for the blue-ribbon competition of New Zealand Football.

A large collection of photographs and material relating to the tournament can also be viewed via the DigitalNZ website.

Hero image: Part of the 1950 final soccer match at the Basin Reserve between Eden (Auckland) and Technical Old Boys (Canterbury) for the Chatham Cup. St Mark’s Church and Wellington College are in the background. From the Evening Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library.