The rugby teams of England and Scotland face off in Twickenham on Saturday vying for a trophy that was made in Calcutta in 1878 by melting 270 silver coins withdrawn from the bank by members of a famous club in the city who disbanded for a while.
The Calcutta Cup is currently awarded to the winners of the England-Scotland tie in the Six Nations Championship, an annual competition involving European nations. England and Scotland have played for it since 1879, but it is the Calcutta connection that makes for a fascinating story.
The Calcutta Football Club — football for them meant rugby — was founded in 1872 when there were army units posted in the Eastern Indian port city. "A lot of people with interest in rugby would also arrive on ships," said Ravi Kidwai, the vice-president of the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CCFC), the modern avatar of the Calcutta Football Club.
In 1877, however, the club was closed when membership dipped because "some army units were posted outside Calcutta". The increasing popularity of other sports, particularly polo, may have also played its part.
"The club members withdrew the remaining funds from the bank that were in the form of silver coins and melted it down to create a trophy and handed it over to the Rugby Football Union (RFU, the governing body of the game in England)," Kidwai said.
The 18-inch Calcutta Cup is engraved with three silver cobras forming the handles and the lid has an elephant on top.
The trophy arrived in England in 1878. The pro-amateur RFU decided to use it for international competition. England and Scotland, the two strongest national sides, started playing for the Cup in an annual fixture from the next year.
The original trophy is now too fragile to be handled by a bunch of victorious rugby players and has been put on display at the museum in Twickenham. England and Scotland both have full-size replicas.
Back in Calcutta, the revived Calcutta Football Club was set up in 1884. Another silver trophy was unveiled for the local championship and it too came to be known as the Calcutta Cup.