The Bettmann Cup

Our Bettmann Trophy competition has been in existence since 1908 – over a century of internal club competition. 100 years of equality of opportunity.

Scoring:- 1st position gets 7 points, 2nd – 6 points, 3rd – 5 points, 4th – 4 points, 5th – 3 points, 6th – 2 points. All other competitors will have 1 point each. Races are handicapped … some are sealed when the allowance is not revealed to the runners until after the finish, yacht handicaps are when each runner sets off at different times, the slowest goes first etc..

The Annie Bettmann Cup victor is the runner with the most points at the conclusion of the series of races.

The story of the Bettmann Cup

In the early years of the 20th century, the Club was having severe financial difficulties. This was not a new problem. As early as 1888 (Feb. 22nd), the Club accounts shows a balance of £1 12s 6d (£1.67) from a total income of £39 8s 6d (Oct. 16th ‘86) and £44 11s 2d in ‘83 (20th Nov.). F.W.Smalley writing in 1944 (a contemporary of these events), put the loss down to the high expense of travel to the Championship Races. It might be significant, that in the 1888 / 89 season, Godiva did not enter any of the Championship Competitions! Even in the first year of the Club’s existence (c.f. Expenses 1880 / 81), financial alarm bells were ringing when a loss of 4s 6d was recorded from the Chase (stay out) to Berkswell, together with the cost of 1s 6d for transporting the clothing. Only nine members turning out for the run instead of the 23 who had promised !! The shortfall in cash was regarded as serious, with the secretary, J.Johnson doing the ‘honourable thing’ by tendering his resignation at the next committee meeting.

In 1908, Mr. Bettmann came to the rescue with the offer of a 3[30?] guinea donation if Club members could match the sum! In 1943, former Club secretary, Jim Roberts referring to this act of generosity, wrote that ‘this generous gesture was to be the turning point in the Club’s financial position’. Why Bettmann adopted this philanthropic attitude to the Club is unclear*, but he was also to donate a very expensive cup (The Annie Bettmann Trophy) which was to be competed for each year over a series of seven races over the winter season. He also paid for a gold medal, which the winner could keep, and a framed portrait of the runner posing with the trophy for the club records and a facsimile which was to be given to the winning runner. (Bettmann seems to have been a naturally generous man… as a J.P. he once fined a youngster 10/- for the misdemeanour of not having a license for his dog. When the boy asked for time to pay for the fine, he promptly paid 5/- of the fine himself as the boy came from a poor background… a farm labourer’s son of Wall Hill Lane, Allesley!).

In the references to Bettmann and his connections with the club. mention is always made of Bettmann’s resignation from the position of Mayor, half way through his term of office because of the rising tide of anti German feeling with the imminent threat of War. The belief and reiteration of this ‘fact’ is a graphic illustration of the way the picture of the club’s roots have evolved. Bettmann certainly did resign in the May (28th) of his term of office. There was understandable anti-German feeling in the City at the time. But if the two were connected, then they concerned the local politics of the time.

Bettmann was deeply respected as a philanthropic liberal councillor. His actions as Mayor got the city moving after an apparent period of inaction on the part of the council. In May Alderman W.Andrew’s death caused an aldermanic vacancy. Traditionally, the Mayor filled any vacant post, but not automatically. In this case, the conservative majority on the council created a precedent by calling for a vote and presented their own candidate, Dr. Charles Webb Iliffe, who was elected by 19 votes to 14. Bettmann resigned as a matter of principle, in which he was backed by the press and other local dignitaries. The city affairs ground to a halt. In those days, the mayor’s office operated in the same way as the Mayor of London operates today. After a great deal of discussion at all levels, over the next fortnight, Bettmann was persuaded to withdraw his resignation, and only then was the city able to return to normality. Although born in Germany, Siegfried Bettmann was a naturalised citizen of this country, and his worth was repeatedly recognised at all levels of civic activity during his life time. (He died in 1951). As a recognition of the difficult situation that the war might put him in, he decided not to stand for a second term as mayor, although it was accepted that had he stood, he would have received the full support of all parties on the council even the members who had opposed his elevation to alderman!.

By offering the Cup for Club Competition, Mr Bettmann wisely gave most club members a raison d’être. In the early years of the nineteenth century, there were very few winter events for club members. Inter club races were popular but rare, championship competition even rarer. Clubs had to create their own meaningful competition as a variety to hare and hound races, pack runs and paper chases. Hence the importance placed on Bettmann Cup competition. The Cup is keenly fought for ninety years later, with Olympic athletes vying with Club joggers to get their name on the Cup’s plinth. To allow everyone a fair chance of winning, the races are run on a handicap (open and closed) basis. The handicapper is elected annually at the Club’s A.G.M.. Bettmann along with Schulze founded the Triumph bicycle company, which evolved into one of Coventry’s car giants, to be taken over by the ‘Standard’ in 1945. (See Club history for the involvement of his M.D. with the club).

The largest recorded field was 63 runners The smallest recorded field was five. For many years each competitor had to pay an entry fee …. 6d originally. Every early race used to have an expensive prize list provided by one of the main wealthy backers that the club had from time to time. The first few years of competition had the runners following a paper trail laid immediately prior to the start, often by the club captain who then ran! Sometimes the trail as laid by the veteran members of the club, who set off to mark the trail carrying a couple of heavy bags of shredded paper each. One year saw the third race ‘rerun’ four times. The first time was extremely windy and the trail blew away, the second time the trail crossed another local clubs trail and runners from both clubs ended up at the wrong finish! The third time saw a torrential down pour between the trail being laid and the race being run. The course crossed a stream, which had become so swollen and deep with flood water that most runners refused to cross!! Runners had to wade across streams, climb fences, struggle through thickets and often had to run for more than an hour in the races before the WW II.

There has been a Youths Bettmann Cup and also a Ladies Bettmann Cup in the past, but both trophies, like many others, have been lost. The Ladies Bettmann Cup has now been re-instated.

Races have been organised outside Coventry; quite often the January race was at Exhall, and the final one was at Kenilworth. Balsall Common has been used, so has Barston and Brinklow. All out of town races were followed by a social, returning to Coventry in the early hours!

Denis Flude has won the trophy more than any one else, and there have been occasions when we have had joint winners. When the original plinth was full of names in the 1950s, the shields were remounted on an oak presentation shield, which has since been lost. It was often rumoured that the handicapper used to fiddle the handicaps as the race progress to make the final outcome more interesting … but that was only a rumour …