Author Robert Janning holds the Grand Challenge Cup, a trophy once awarded to the province’s top soccer team between 1892 and 1904. Janning has been in possession of the cup since 2014 and wants to donate the cup to an organization in Nanaimo due to its unique historical connection to the city. He hopes the cup will go on public display and can be competed for once again. (Nicholas Pescod/NEWS BULLETIN)

Soccer historian wants old trophy to come home to Nanaimo

Grand Challenge Cup was awarded during the 19th and 20th centuries

The owner of a trophy older than the Stanley Cup says it’s time to give it a new lease on life.

For nearly four years, Robert Janning has been in possession of the Grand Challenge Cup, a 90-centimetre silver-plated trophy that was once owned by the Nanaimo Football Association and awarded to the best soccer team in British Columbia between 1892 and 1925.

Janning, the author of Westcoast Reign: The British Columbia Soccer Championships 1892-1905, said he wants to see the trophy returned to an organization in Nanaimo, where it can be on display for the public and can be competed for once again.

“It does no good in a box,” he said.

The Grand Challenge Cup was manufactured in 1891 by the Toronto Silver Plate Company and given out to the best soccer team in the province by the British Columbia Football Association until 1904. The winners of the first challenge cup were the Nanaimo Rangers in 1892, according to Janning’s website

Janning said when the cup was purchased by British Columbia Football Association, there were some strings attached.

“There were a couple of conditions attached to them awarding the trophy to this association,” Janning said. “One was that final would have to be played in Nanaimo every year and the second was that the annual general meeting had to be held in Nanaimo every year.”

That agreement worked out well in the early years of the British Columbia Football Association’s existence. However, as soccer became more popular across the province, things began to change.

“As the game grew and the population of the province grew, teams from New Westminster, Vancouver and Victoria did not think that was a fair arrangement,” said Janning. “The people in Nanaimo, their position was, well, we put $360 for this trophy and we organized the competition, we’re entitled to these conditions. And they were unwilling to compromise.”

However, the larger communities such as Vancouver, New Westminster and Victoria decided to break away from the British Columbia Football Association and form their own league, according to Janning, who said that led to the cup being awarded to an upper Island champion annually until 1925 when the Pacific Coast League was formed.

The Grand Challenge Cup’s whereabouts from 1925 until the early 2000s isn’t entirely clear. Janning said while conducting research for his book he discovered that a family in Ladysmith had the cup. After months of discussion and negotiations, Janning ended up purchasing the cup, which was in rough shape, on behalf of a partnership group made up of donors committed to restoring and reviving the trophy.

“It was in a cardboard box and it was all tarnished and black and beat up,” he said. “It was in pretty sad shape. It wasn’t lovingly taken care of.”

Since taking possession, Janning and his group have restored it and purchased a custom-built case for it. Janning said they want to donate to an organization that will commit to putting it on display for the public in Nanaimo. He said his group also want to see the cup competed for on an annual basis.

“The whole purpose of the trophy was for it to be competed for,” he said. “I don’t know if anybody is going to agree with me on organizing a match once a year with some kids. I think it would be a great thing for the truth and reconciliation process.”

Janning said there have been discussions with the Nanaimo Museum, but that it is time for the cup to return to its original home.

“Hopefully somebody can take over from me,” he said. “I think I’ve run as far with this as I can go. I am not really an organizer of soccer tournaments and I don’t have a museum to show it.”

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