If you have been following these early season of the Wigan Warriors Rugby League Club, there really isn't much to mention. Games were scarce, playing members turned up at will and the losses and drawn matches mounted up. More established clubs were playing regularly each week and building up their fan bases. The public wanted to have recreation on Saturday afternoons once they finished work and enjoy what was left of the weekend. Watching a rugby match, especially Wigan and the way they were, was not the thing to do. Would you? A game played poorly by the upper classes in the town, and played poorly? No, I wouldn't either. But they stuck with it... just.
But first the Cricket Club had to finish their willow season. Eventually, October came which meant matters turned to the winter game. The October 13th (a Friday) edition of the Wigan Observer published a sort of plea to the Wigan public to try and raise the fortunes of the club. The 1875/76 faded away without much interest, despite the poor winter weather getting better by February. The use of numerical (brackets) is for below...
WIGAN FOOTBALL CLUB
A general meeting of the members of the above club is announced to be held at the Dicconson Arms on Monday evening next. For the last two years the club, owing to unavoidable circumstances, has suffered a succession of reverses which have nearly caused it to die out (1), but it now only requires hearty co-operation on the part of its members to restore it to its original healthy condition (2), and make it one of the best clubs in the county.
Our young men require healthy out door occupation during the winter, and football is a game which supplies this want in a very substantial manner (3). We believe the season is too far advanced for arranging many matches, but if the members will only work together a successful season is yet in store for them (4).
At last there have been signs of trouble for the Football Club publically. The meeting on Monday 16th October at the Dicconson Arms would have hoped to reignite interest in the Club and sort out some issues. You can dissect each line of the news and reinterpret what it meant.
(1) - Wigan's reverses reflect on-field results which had seen the Club lose more than it won. Despite fixture lists being drafted in October, Wigan still seemed to find it hard to send a full squad to away fixtures, sometimes playing with 9 or less men. Sometimes players used to turn up mid-way through games. Match reports in time had got used to Wigan fielding an under-strength team by highlighting that fact with sarcasm or irony. The weather played a part, causing the end of the 1985/86 season to be non-existant. Folly Field was not a purpose built venue, it was just a field with raised sections, especially on the in-goal, and when the weather was bad, well, it would have more resembled a bog than a playing field.
(2) - There had been a number of resignations since the Club was formed. The last general meeting of October 1875 only gained a moderate attendance where Mr Woodcock and Mr. Clare (two old boys since the start) resigned their posts. Their lack of appearances since meant that Wigan had lost experience if not quality - rugby was still unfamiliar to many onlookers. Reading between the lines, it could be seen that there may have been a rift between gentlemen for reasons unknown, gentlemen who were now gone. Also, the obvious is true, in that one would think that to be a success, players, board members, spectators and affiliates have to pull together to make things work.
(3) - An advert to encourage newcomers. For Cricketers it was simple: Cricket season finished in September and wanted to continue their competitive sportsmanship. Rugby, being tough, fulfilled their need to be competitive, something that Bowls or Curling (popular sports back then) couldn't give. Opening up to the working classes more could be seen here because remember, many who played were solicitors, barristers, architects or engineers, not pitmen or the like. Working classes would find it hard to get into Cricket, a most noble of sport.
(4) - Another sign of a rift, if only the members worked together.
Duly, when Monday 16th October 1876 came, a lot was discussed amongst the "good muster of members". Here is how the Wigan Observer reported it on the 20th October edition:
WIGAN FOOTBALL CLUB
A meeting of the members of this club was held at the Dicconson Arms on Monday evening, when there was present a good muster of members. It was decided that the club should be continued, and that a deputation wait upon the Wigan Cricket Club committee to ask permission to play upon the cricket ground.
Several members of the Upholland Football Club attended the meeting, and the question of amalgamating the two clubs was raised, but the matter was left over to be decided at an adjourned meeting to be held this evening - On Tuesday the deputation met the Cricket Club committee, when the necessary permission to play upon the ground during the coming season was granted.
The adjourned meeting regarding an amalgamation with Upholland would have taken place on Friday 20th October 1876. So why Upholland? The meeting between the two clubs last January (it was frosty) only saw six Wigan men turn up on home soil whilst eleven came the short distance from Upholland. Not much, if anything is known about the fortunes of the Upholland club but after reading the plea a week earlier in the Wigan Observer, to which that publication was available in the Upholland area of course, being in Wigan, it would seem that there was a keen group of rugby players who wanted to continue and saw Wigan as a Club with similar fortunes. An amalgamation seemed obvious and at least a strong squad of players could be relied upon who could play rugby without recruiting and trialing new members who hadn't played the sport before.
It is unknown why Folly Field was unavailable or not chosen to be the home ground. The obvious logically explanation would be for the Cricket Clib to cash in on gate money and move the rugby club onto their lovely pitch without having to pay any rent. The Cricket Club had after all redone their ground and needed extra income to fund their Pavilion, a steady stream of income throughout the winter seemed an obvious solution. It perhaps wouldn't have been difficult to arrange as the Football Club was to some extent the Cricket Club anyway. So Prescott Street it was.
As we know, the amalgamation, or merger, took place on the meeting of October 20th and reported a week later in the Wigan Observer who simply stated that "The opening game of the Wigan District Football Club will be played on the cricket ground on Saturday. An amalgamation of the original Wigan Football Club with the Upholland Club has taken place hence the new title ". The game schedueled for Saturday 28th October would be a sort of trial match to see what players would have a shot at playing in the new Wigan District Football Club. Apparently the weather was very fine with a good muster of members being present. A fixture list was now available to the new-look club, possibly adopting Upholland's schedule and adding a few games in also:
Wigan now had two weeks to prepare for their first match against Dingle on Saturday 18th November. The match was to be played on Princess Park in Liverpool, very near Toxteth of all places but still, a pleasurable park even today.
FOOTBALL - Wigan District v. Dingle
This match, the first one of the Wigan District Football Club, was played in Princess Park, Liverpool on Saturday, in very unfavourable weather, rain falling heavily during the whole of the play.
The Dingle captain won the toss, and about 3.30 H. Wall kicked off for Wigan. The ball was kept well in the middle of the ground for some time, until a try was obtained for Dingle. The place kick which followed was a failure. This success on the part of their opponents made the Wigan players much more determined, and the forwards, playing well together, carried the ball close to the Dingle goal line, when a try was obtained by Williams. The place kick (by Marsden) appeared to all the Wigan players to be successful, but the Dingle umpire was of the contrary opinion. Nothing else of importance occurred before half time.
On changing ends Dingle obtained another try, the place kick, however, sharing the same fate as the former ones. After this tries were obtained by Peck and Williams, the place kick in each instance being unsuccessful. For the last quarter of an hour the play was very severe, but no other point of importance was scored by either side; the game resulting in favour of Wigan by three tries, one touch in goal, and two touches down, against two tries and three touches down.
For Wigan, Peck and Williams played well, and for Dingle, Bean and Richardson. Wigan were indebted to the dingle captain for the loan of substitutes, who worked very hard.
WIGAN - J.C. Pickering and T.H.D. Berridge, backs; H. Wall and A. Fletcher, half backs; J. Williams and sub, quarter backs; C.D.C. Ross, G. Kenney, J. Knowles, J. McConnell, A. Nicholls, J. Marsden, A. Peck, and two subsitutes, forwards.
DINGLE - Moors and Daglish, backs; Lindsay, half back; Wilson and Bullock, quarter backs; Cannington, Bean, Honeyburn, Hinshaw, Holworthy, Goss, Roberts, Kenyon, Stepford and Richardson, forwards
A match will be played on the Wigan Cricket Ground, on Saturday, between Wigan and St Helens.
Wigan versus St Helens: first match at a new stadium now who would have thought of that? Lady luck one would assume. So, Wigan started their new lease of life well, despite needing three Dingle players to fill in in atrocious playing conditions. As you can see there are a few new names on the Wigan squad list as the Uphollanders bedded in their talents. All was set for a derby match against St Helens on 25th November, 1876 at the Frog Lane ground:
FOOTBALL - Wigan v. St Helens
On Saturday last the first football match played at Wigan this season came off on the ground of the Wigan Cricket Club, when the weather was most miserable and consequently the spectators not numerous. Only eleven men put in an appearance for the "Saints", but strange to say Wigan was represented by a full team and this difference in numbers told very favourably on the result of the game.
The Wigan captain kicked off half an hour after the advertised time, and the visitors were "pinned" at once, Lawrence very soon getting a touch down. The try was not successful. A description of the game until half time would be merely repetition, for the play of the "Saints" was simply attempting to prevent the Wigan half backs running in, but in this they were not very successful, for when half time was called Wigan had gained four touches down only, one of the tries, however, that kicked by Peck, being successful.
On resuming play the game was if anything a little more even, but by exceedingly good runs three more tries were obtained by Wigan, Nicholls converting one of them into a goal, the other two being failures. No point whatever was scored by St Helens until just before the conclusion of the game, when, owing to some misunderstanding about what a free kick was, they were enabled to score a touch down. The try although a long way from the goal was successful, the kick being an admirable one. The score at the call of "no side" was Wigan, 2 goals, 5 tries, 5 touches down, and 1 touch in goal to St Helens, 1 goal. The players who showed best form were Lawrence and Wall for Wigan; Pritchard and the captain of the forwards for St. Helens.
It will be seen from the score that out of seven tries all easy ones Wigan was only able to kick two goals, and it is evident that practice in place kicking is very much needed. If two goals out of seven place kicks to be the average more matches will be lost than won.
WIGAN - T.H.D. Berridge, R. Pennington, backs; J. Williams, three quarter back; H. Wall (captain), J. Lawrence, half backs; J. McConnell, A. Fletcher, J. Knowles, A. Mason, G. Kenney, A. Nicholls, A. Peck, J.C. Pickering, C.D.C. Ross, and J.J. Wilson, forwards.
ST HELENS - W. Rawlinson (captain), F. Pritchard, backs; J. Burrill, R. Pennington, half backs; F.G. Taylor, and W. Marsden
A match will be played against Chorley at Chorley on Saturday.
Wigan at full strength? St Helens not knowing what a free kick was? Same old, same old. Anyway, things were looking bright for Wigan, apart from the weather, two wins from two and up next were Chorley on December 2nd.
FOOTBALL - Wigan v. Chorley
On Saturday last a football match between these clubs was played at Chorley, a considerable number of spectators being present. The weather for the previous days had been wet, and the ground was very soft, but the afternoon was very fine and suitable for the game. Play was commenced soon after three o'clock, and it was at once seen that Chorley were greatly superior to their opponents as regarded weight, and they were enabled to have their own way in scrimmages.
The ball was kicked off by the Wigan captain, but almost immediately afterwards it was carried towards the Wigan goal, and by good play a touch-down was obtained by Stock. The try, however, was a failure. Shorlty afterwards John Lawrence obtained another touch-down, but his brother was unable to convert it into a goal. The play was much more even afterwards, but Wigan was unable to score but they prevented their opponents from gaining any material advantage until half time.
On resumption of play the game was more balanced, the Wigan forwards working well together, and being well backed by the half-backs and backs. Chorley, however, obtained two more tries, but both were failures. Wigan at one time playing well up got the ball over the Chorley goal, when unfortunately for them it touched the boundary hedge, and so prevented them from gaining a touch-down. The score at the conclusion of the play was - Chorley, four tries, and four touches-down to Wigan one dead ball.
The following were the Wigan team:- J. Marsden, R. Pennington, backs; A. Fletcher, G.H. Sowter, half-backs; H. Wall, captain, J.J. Wilson, quarter backs; T.H.D. Berridge, Evans, G. Kenney, J.R. Knowles, J. McConnell, Alf. Peck, J.C. Pickering, T.H. Stone, C.D.C. Ross, forwards.
On Saturday next a match, which ought to be one of the best during the season, will be played on the cricket ground between Wigan and Bolton.
Chorley were a good side and well supported. Wigan were going into December on the back foot, being outclassed by Chorley yet again but next were old rivals Bolton, who had the upper hand over Wigan in recent times in a match played at the Cricket Ground on December 8th, 1876.
FOOTBALL - Wigan v. Bolton
A match between these clubs took place on the Wigan Cricket Ground on Saturday, when the day being fine several hundred spectators assembled to see the game. Both teams were fully represented. The visitors were much the heavier team forward, but the Wiganers played so well that this was not of much advantage to them.
The Wigan captain kicked off at three o'clock, and a number of capital scrummages resulted which were very toughly fought, the honours being very evenly divided. The Bolton halfbacks, however, by capital runs managed to gain two tries, both of which, however, were failurs. Wigan worked hard afterwards and gradually got the ball over their opponents touch line, where Mason obtained a touch down just before half time. Nicholl endeavoured to convert it into a goal, but failed.
On the resumption of the game the play was harder than ever, Williams for Wigan playing very well, but not sufficiently well to get past the whole of the Bolton team, who, mainly by the excellent play of Shaw and Chambers, scored two more tries before the conclusion of the game, one of which was converted into a goal by Holden. Williams, Ross and Pennington played best for Wigan, and Chambers, Shaw, J.H. Kevan, and Holden for Bolton. The score was Bolton one goal, three tries, and five touches down; Wigan one try.
WIGAN - C.D.C. Ross, A. Mason, J.C. Pickering, A. Nicholl, A, Fletcher, S. Atherton, J. Price, J.R. Knowles, A. Peck, forwards; H. Wall (captain), J. Williams, quarter backs; R. Pennington and T.H. Stone, backs.
BOLTON - Holden (captain), J.H. Kevan, W. Kevan, Cannon, Hopper, Lomax, Chambers, Watkins, Johnson, Barlow, forwards; Wolfenden, Shaw, half-backs; Ferguson, Chambers, three-quarter backs; Marsh, back.
On Saturday a match will be played on the Wigan ground against the Lowton club.
Wigan were again over-matched in the forwards which was becoming an all-too familiar theme. Recruitment was a problem before amalgamation, and it seems that it was still present months after. If Wigan were to compete then they had to attract tougher, bigger players or else face being bullied out of games early on and leaving the Wigan backs vulnerable to injury without adequate protection. Not to worry though, Lowton were next to play Wigan at the Cricket Ground on December 16th, surely Wigan couldn't lose against the small village neighbouring Leigh and Wigan...
FOOTBALL - Wigan v. Lowton
A match between these clubs was played on Saturday on the Wigan Cricket Ground, when, in consequence of the miserable state of the weather, the attendance was very small. Lowton only mustered eleven men, but to make the game more even, three Wiganers played for them.
The Wigan captain kicked off, and it was immediately seen that the home team was much the stronger. Lowton, however, played well together, and it was some little time before any score was made. Gradually the ball was worked to the visitors goal, and a try, after a maul in goal, obtained by Howarth. The kick by H. Wall was successful. No further score was made up to half-time. Brewis, by capital runs,, mainly contributing to this result, as although the ball was very often nearly over the Lowton goal line he was always there or thereabouts to recover the ground lost by his side.
After half time Wigan had the wind at their backs, and with this assistance they were enabled to score three more touches down, two by Sowter, and one by Williams. The first of Sowter's was too far from the goal posts for a try, so a punt-out was resorted to, from which Sowter ran in again and Marsden, by a good kick, gained another goal. The other try was not successful. The game throughout was an exceedingly pleasant one, and although completely overmatched, the visitors played in a remarkably plucky manner. The Wigan team played better together than they have done before, special praise being due to Howarth, Williams and Sowter, whilst the brothers Brewis showed the best form for Lowton.
The score was - Wigan two goals, one try, one punt-out, and four touches down, and Lowton nothing.
WIGAN - H. Wall, G.K. Twining, Jno Williams, F. Howarth, G.H. Sowter, C.D.C. Ross, J.R. Knowles, J.McConnell, A. Mason, R. Pennington, T.H.D. Berridge - Evans, A. Peck, J. Marsden and A. Nichol.
LOWTON - R.S. Brewis, K. Holt, Joe Brewis, J. Thorpe, H.T. Arnott, C.E. Arnott, C. Henry, W. James, T. Berwick, J. Brownlay, J.J. Wilson, J. Underwood, A. Fletcher and T. Knowles.
Wigan won the one-sided game but were made to fight for it against a plucky team. For Football, that was it until the New Year had turned into 1877. There was a bit of political interest in the tie against Lowton, but not much. T.H.D. Berridge of Wigan later became a Member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington, representing the Liberals in the 1906 General Election. For Lowton, one of the Brewis brothers John was President of the local Conservative Club's in Golborne so, even something miniscule, you could imagine a fair few big hits when those two men collided. Up next was 1877 and a game on the road against Farnworth, but the weather was still shambolic. Here is how the events of January 6, 1877 were reported by the Wigan Observer.
FOOTBALL - Wigan v. Farnworth
A match was played between these clubs at Farnworth on Saturday last in miserable weather. In consequence of the late arrival of the Farnworth train play did not commence until 3.30, the Wigan players having the pleasure of waiting about an hour in a pouring rain. Farnworth, having won the toss elected to kick with the wind, and Peck kicked off for Wigan.
The game needs but little description, as from the state of the ground (there being large pools of water in different parts) and the ball (which was only partially blown up) and good play was quite impossible. When "no side" was called Farnworth had obtained a goal, a try (both of which were disputed) and a touch down against nothing.
WIGAN - Ross and Marsden, backs; H. Wall and Fergusson, half backs; J. Lawrence and R. Pennington, quarter backs; Peck, Mason, Berridge, Pickering, McConnell, Fletcher, Howarth, Atherton and Knowles, forwards.
FARNWORTH - Cooper and Naylor, backs; Lomax, three quarter back; McCormick and Clark, half-backs; J. Welch, Stavely, Nuttall, Platt, Hope, Allanson, F. Wild, A. Wild and F. Bleakly, forwards.
What a farcical game of football that would have been for the Wigan players... delayed train, waiting in the rain, partially blown up football, disputed scores and the rest would have left the Wigan men feeling rather downtrodden. The next game against Preston Rovers shows no record of taking place. Perhaps the weather was to blame, being the middle of January n'all. The Rovers were one of several rugby teams in Preston at the time. Of course, Wigan had played the Grasshoppers the season-last (and lost) but to compete alongside the Rovers and Grasshoppers were Preston Olympic, Preston Atheneum, Fishwick Ramblers and a certain North End (yes, the present day football club). Who knows, the weather may have called off the match or the Rovers were simply defunct during this period. Sure enough the weather improved by 20th January 1877 for the return match against Dingle, at Wigan Cricket Ground.
FOOTBALL MATCH - Wigan v. Dingle
The return match between these clubs was played on the Wigan ground on Saturday last when the weather being bright and fine there was a large attendance of spectators. The visitors were late in putting in an appearance and then had only eleven men, and consequently it was half-past three before play was commenced.
The ball was kicked off by Dingle and was sent well into the Wigan quarters, but a good run by H. Wall brought it back nearly to the Dingle goal line where Wall was well tackled. A short scrimmage followed from which Lawrence got the ball and ran in, the Dingle backs being all in the wrong place. The try was successful. The ball was again kicked off by Dingle and almost immediately afterwards Lawrence by another good run gained another try which also was successful. Up to half-time Wigan obtained three more tries all of which were converted into goals.
After half-time the back play of the Wigan team was admirable, and that of the Dingle team miserable, consequently the game was merely a succession of kicking off by the visitors and running in by the Wiganers. When no side was called the total score was Wigan: eight goals, two tries, and three touches down, to Dingle nothing.
This was quite comfortably Wigans biggest victory of the time and for once, the goal kicking was spot on! It is good to see that the popularity of the sport of rugby was quite healthy in Wigan, weather permitting! Lowton on the other hand were due to play Wigan again in a return match (also played at Wigan) in a match not on the original fixture list at the start of the Wigan season. The 10th February was the return fixture between the two sides but it was reported that Lowton were struggling and were receiving help from neighbouring townships to get enough men together to face Wigan, or indeed to finish their own season. Which brings us onto the game versus Lowton on February 10th, 1877:
FOOTBALL - Wigan v. Lowton
The return match between the above named clubs was played on the Wigan ground on Saturday, and although rain fell during the whole of the time the match was being played, there was a good attendance of spectators.
The ball was kicked off by Lowton, but was immediately returned towards their goal line, and they were compelled to touch down. On being brought out again a number of capital scrimmages resulted, and although the visitors were stronger forward than their opponents the capital playoff the Wigan backs made the game a very even one. Up to half time Wigan scored a try, a touch down, and a dead ball to nothing.
On the resumption of play the Lowton team worked harder than before, and the ball travelled quickly from one end of the ground to the other, the play on both sides being very good. No score, however, was made on either side, until by a capital run nearly the whole length of the ground, H. Wall touched down for Wigan, and a good kick by Nicholls scored a goal. The visitors brought the ball out, and following up well, one of their team got the ball within six inches of the Wigan goal line, and from the scrimmage which followed Wigan was compelled to touch down in self-defence. A short time afterwards the play in the meantime having chiefly consisted of scrimmages, one of the Lowton men scored a try, but the "place" was so far from the posts that no goal resulted. Nothing of any importance occurred, subsequently the score at the call of no side was - Wigan 1 goal, 1 try, 2 touches down, and one dead ball, the home team thus being victorious. Howarth and H. Wall showed best form in the Wigan team, and Brewis for Golborne.
The teams which were 14 a side were as follows:
WIGAN - R. Pennington, T.H. Stoner, backs; G.H. Sowter, H. Wall, three quarter backs; F. Howarth and J. Williams, half backs; T.H.D. Berridge, A. Fletcher, J. McConnell, J.R. Knowles, A.W. Mason, A. Nicholls, J.C. Pickering, C.D.C. Ross, forwards.
LOWTON - W. Lomas, back, H.T. Arnott, W. James, 3 quarter back; J. Brewis, T. Mathieson, half backs; C.E. Arnott, Ashton, H. Bennett, J. Roydell, J. Bromley, C. Henry, W. Hilton,, Savills, Waterworth, forwards.
On Saturday the return match between Wigan and Farnworth will be played on the Wigan ground. The first contest at Farnworth resulted in the Wiganers defeat, and so they are putting forth their strength for Saturday, a good game may be contested.
Wigan were outmatched again in the forwards, even against a Lowton side that were put together to make up numbers. Because of the way the game was back then, a bit brutal, Wigan were feeling quite vulnerable in the forwards and it would only be a matter of time before serious injuries occurred due to lack of strength, if nothing else. A week later, on 17th February, 1877, Farnworth made the short journey through Westhoughton, Hindley and Ince to face Wigan.
FOOTBALL - Wigan v. Farnworth
On Saturday the return match between these clubs was played at Wigan, when the weather was fine, and a very pleasant game played, the attendance being larger than on any previous occasion. Play commenced by Farnworth kicking off against a strong wind, but Williams getting hold, the ball was speedily brought back to the centre of the gorund, where the first scrimmage took place.
In a few minutes, by smart play in the loose scrimmages, the Farnworth forwards worked the ball into Wigan territory, and Lomax getting a chance, cleverly ran in and secured the first try for his side. The Wigan umpire, however, disputed the try, alleging that one of the Farnworth team had played "off side" before Lomax got the ball, and it was agreed to consider it a disputed try. The try at goal was a failure, but the Farnworth forwards following up promptly compelled their opponents to touch down. On the ball being brought out Wigan pulled themselves together and carried the war into the visitors' quarters, but did not succeed in scoring anything beyond a touch-down and a dead ball, and before half time was called the ball was again over the Wigan goal line and had to be touched down.
After ends were changed, the Wigan forwards, bent on scoring, threw themselves into the game with great energy, but being as energetically opposed, gained little ground until the ball, falling into Lawrence's hands was carried by him within a few yards of the Farnworth goal line. Here commenced a series of furious scrimmages which ended by Wigan coming with a rush, and carrying the ball fairly over the goal line of the visitors, where a severe maul took place, which was not decided at the expiration of the stipulated two minutes.
On kicking out they soon squared matters by forcing Wigan to touch down twice in rapid succession, and at length Lomax again ran in and scored a try, from which Perkins kicked a splendid goal. From this point to the end of the game Wigan fought hard to retrieve the day, but without avail, and when time was called the fight was being carried on in dangerous proximity to their goal line. In the packed scrimmages the Wigan forwards, who were a heavy lot, had won the advantage, but when the ball got loose the lightness of the Farnworth team told strongly in their favour.
Score: Farnworth, one goal, one disputed try, and four touch downs. Wigan, three touchdowns, and a dead ball. The following were the teams:
FARNWORTH - Backs, T. Naylor and Constantine; three quarter backs, Lomax and Perkins; half-backs, Cooper and McCormick; forwards, J. Welch (captain), J.M. Clarke, J. Platt, J. Nuttall, R. Hoyle, J. Atherton, H. Staveley, J. Kershaw, J. Goodwin, and C (or G*). Haddock
WIGAN - Backs, W. Wall and R. Pennington; three quarter backs, F. Howarth and H. Wall, half-backs, J. Lawrence and J. Williams; forwards, G.H. Sowter, C.D.C. Ross, P. Nicholson, T.H. Stone, Atherton, Fletcher, Berridge, Nicholls, Mason and McConnell.
It sounded like an epic match in front of Wigans biggest ever crowd. Looking at the players names it seemed that Wigan had started to have the same men playing for them week in week out, with some exceptions. The forward line seemed to remain the same with Sowter, McConnell, Berridge, Stone, Ross, Mason and Nicholls etc... H. Wall running things there too whilst his brother chipped in for this game in the backs. The reported for the Observer certainly seemed encouraged by what he saw, a fantastic game in front of a big crowd. He described the match like a battle of war which in turn shows what kind of play Wigan could do - they could fight. "Furious", "severe", "fight", "war". Wigan certainly needed another performance like this if they were to beat Bolton in yet another game where the Wiganers went into it as underdogs, but this time with a bit of fight in them - or at least everyone hoped they would have some fight in them... Saturday 24th February 1877 saw Wigan travel to Burnden Park to face Bolton and by now Wigan had a travelling army with them.
FOOTBALL - Wigan v. Bolton
The return match between these clubs was played on Saturday last at Bolton and again resulted in a victory for Bolton. The day was an exceedingly unpleasant and disagreeable one, but notwithstanding this a considerable number of spectators was present, no small portion of them hailing from Wigan. The visitors won the toss and chose to play up hill, but sided by a strong wind which blew towards their opponents goal, and on the Bolton captain kicking off a number of capital scrimmages resulted, the Wigan forwards playing better together than on any previous occasion and, although, only half the size of the Boltonians, they managed to more than hold their own. The backs of the home team played up very well, and up to half time no point whatever had been scored by either side, the ball remaining the whole of the time near the centre of the ground.
When ends were changed, however, the Wiganers soon got into difficulties, and had to touch-down twice in self-defence, and twice the ball was kicked into touch-in-goal by the Bolton backs. Ferguson soon afterwards made a capital run in all along the touch line, but the try, which was rather a difficult one, failed, and Wigan again touched down. The visitors, after the kick out, made an excellent rally, and by quick scrimmaging and a judicious run on the lower touch line, penned their opponents right on their goal line, from whence, however, the ball was slowly worked away, and a punt into touch by Shaw brought the game again into neutral ground.
Some time scrimmaging, ending in a run by Slater, gained another try for Bolton, but so remote from the posts that a punt out was arranged, and Holden attempted another run in, but was stopped about a yard outside goal, and some fierce scrimmages followed, in which the brothers Kevan were particularly conspicuous. No more points were scored, and the game thus resulted in a victory for Bolton by two tries, three saves, and two dead balls to nothing. Both the Bolton three-quarters backs did their side good service, and for Wigan, Williams and Falke at half, and Pennington at full back, and Ross, Evans and Mason forward played well.
BOLTON - F. Barlow, W.W. Cannon, W.F. Chambers, A.T. Holden, J.R. Hopper, J.H. Kevan, W. Kevan, W.H. Lomaxm F. Watkins, and R.N. Wolfenden, forward; J.H. Shaw and G. Slater half-back; A.E. Chambers and A. (cant read) three quarter-back; J.H. Ferguson, back; T.W. Shaw, umpire.
WIGAN - S. Atherton, Evans, Fletcher, J. Knowles, A. Mason, J. McConnell, Nicholls, Pickering, and C.D.C. Ross forward; Falke and J. Williams, half-backs; T.H.D. Berridge and F. Howarth, three-quarter backs; R. Pennington and T.H. Stone, back. H. Wall, umpire.
A match will be played against St. Helens, at St. Helens on Saturday.
Umpires? For the first time in match reports of any description regarding Wigan, the names of the umpires were given. Against Bolton, H. Wall took up the umpiring instead of playing in the three-quarters with future MP Mr. Berridge moving there from the forward line. It seems that players were also nominated or chose to be the club representatives for the umpiring during matches. It is unknown who were Wigan's umpires before this game. T.W. Shaw, of Bolton, played in the first match between the sides at the Cricket Ground earlier in the season.
Now, another meeting against St. Helens. At the time, it seemed like Wigan v. Bolton matches were the big games not St. Helens. The "Saints" as they were referred to in the first match of the season, were not as strong a team as Bolton now did they have the same success over Wigan. But you have to start somewhere. With the weather improving and a hint of Spring in the air, March came around as Wigan travelled through Billinge to face St Helens on March 3rd, 1877... sadly, the weather turned out to be miserable once again.
FOOTBALL - Wigan v. St. Helens
This, the return match between the above clubs was played on the ground of the latter on Saturday last, when, considering the state of the weather, both sides were fairly represented, each playing 13 men. The ground being of a sandy nature was comparatively dry, and gave the players a fair opportunity of displaying their powers.
The Wigan captain won the toss, and the ball was kicked off at 3:45 by St. Helens. Wigan speedily scored one touchdown, after which, for a time, the home team more than held their own, and just before half-time Jackson placed the ball behind the Wigan goal line, this, by a good kick, being converted into a goal.
Upon changing ends the visitors had matters entirely their own way. An easy place kick from a try obtained by Twining, however, was a failure. Before the ball was again brought out or touched-down by St. Helens, Twining claimed to have again touched-down, but as the point was somewhat doubtful to the umpires it was waived in favour of St. Helens. Up to the call of time the score was - St. Helens, 1 goal; Wigan, 1 goal, 5 touch-downs, and 1 touch in goal. The game was, therefore, won by St. Helens.
You may be thinking what kind of trouble were Wigan really in? Fixtures seemed to be happening each week as planned and a good number of players turned up to play, unlike before. On the face of it, the 1876/77 season seemed to be going well. Up next were two games against Liverpool Wanderers who hailed from Seaforth. The first of these matches was to be played at Liverpool on March 10th with the return fixture to be played in Wigan a week later.
FOOTBALL - Wigan v. Liverpool Wanderers
The first game between these clubs took place on Saturday last at Seaforth. The Wigan team consisting of only twelve men, their opponents kindly favoured them with three substitutes, but notwithstanding their assistance our townsmen suffered defeat by three tries, four touch-downs, and four touch in goals to nothing. As the Liverpool gentlemen cannot get a team together to play the return match on Saturday next, this is the last game of the season.
Out of eleven matches played this winter, Wigan have won five and lost seven.
That was it then, as simple as that. The return fixture schedueled for March 17th would not be completed and the return fixture against Preston Rovers didn't happen either. The season had finished and an encouraging start for the Wigan and District Football Club had seen two clubs merge and most fixtures fulfilled. Wigan had won five matches, that of: Dingle x2, St. Helens, Lowton x2; with losses to Chorley, Bolton (x2), Farnworth (x2), St. Helens and Liverpool Wanderers.
The new Cricket season was upon everyone's minds as the gentlemen had time to relax with the willow during the summer. After a meeting with the Cricket Club, it was stated that the Club had a debt of £25 for the last year on its books. But, this was mainly due to the building of the new pavilion and other expenditure regarding the ground at Frog Lane. Although Wigan Football Club didn't charge spectators (of which money would go to the Cricket club mostly) the Football did gain a bit of money through subscriptions only. It is unknown if there was any financial gain in having the football played on the Cricket Ground.
As the summer came to an end it seemed that a popular sportsman had a good summer. H. Wall had finished at the top of the Cricket Club's batting figures. After 15 games played, he averaged 30.1, comfortably the best batsmen at the club. So, inevitably, it was time to start the winter sport of rugby football again. On November 5th, 1877, the Wigan and District Football Club held their (adjourned) general meeting. Here is how the Wigan Observer reported it:
On Monday evening last an adjourned general meeting of the members of this club was held at the Royal Hotel. Mr. Alfred Peck resigned the secretaryship, and Mr. Jos. Monks was appointed to the post. Mr. Torrance again undertaking the treasureship. Arrangements were made with the committee of the Wigan Cricket Club whereby the Football Club have the use of the cricket ground for practice and playing matches. Several good matches are being arranged, amongst which are Bolton, St. Helens, Leigh, Lowton, and Dingle. The club, financially, is in a good position. The committee are very anxious that persons who are desirous of playing should be on the ground on the opening day. It is to be hoped that the club will be carried on with vigour, and that there will be no lack of members to represent our town in this most popular of all winter games.
Famous last words or not? Things seemed to be working well for the rugby club. Financially, the club was fine and matches were being arranged with clubs that Wigan knew and trusted, which made administration matters easier I suppose. November 10th would be the first match of the 1877/78 season to be played at home against Leigh. The speeding up of the downfall would start against the Leythers.
FOOTBALL - Wigan v. Leigh
On Saturday last the Wigan Club played their first match this season, on the ground of the W.C.C. The weather, unfortunately, was adverse, and the ground heavy, preventing the players showing and particularly good form. Wigan won the toss, and at 3.20 the Leigh captain kicked off from the Southport end.
The ball was well returned by the Wigan backs, and for some time little progress was made by either party, until the Leigh quarter-backs, making several runs, compelled their opponents to touch-down in self-defence. Rain now came on heavily, but the contestants, with commendable courage, played through it all. The Leigh team at this stage showed a marked superiority over their opponents in passing the ball, and this speedily enabled them to get the desired try, which was successfully converted into a goal. The Wigan team now played better together, and by a little untied and fast play on the part of the forwards, the ball was worked over their opponents' goal line, and they were compelled to touch-down.
On ends being changed at half-time, the fortunes of war were still favourable to the visitors, as they speedily obtained another try, which was unsuccessful, and the home team were again compelled to touch-down. After this the ball was kept in neutral territory until the call of time, when an enjoyable game was brought to an end.
It should be said that Wigan only played 13 men, and a little before half-time their captain was placed hors de combat, thus adding to their disadvantage - The score was: Leigh, 1 goal, 1 try, 1 touch-down; to Wigan, 1 touch-down
On Saturday the Wigan Club play the Liverpool Wanderers, when we hope they will be favoured with fine weather and a good number of spectators.
Leigh had beaten Wigan at the Cricket Ground but more importantly the Wigan captain H. Wall was badly injured. In the past injuries were not a matter for reporting but such was the circumstance or profile of the player, the Observer felt the need to mention it. Earlier the club were finding it hard to recruit members to play but after the fortunes of the opening match who would turn up to play? The Club had another crack at fortune when the second match of the season came around against the Liverpool Wanderers. The Wanderers were a quality side who had previously beaten Wigan on two occasions, quite comfortably it must be said. The second game of the season took place on 17th November 1877.
FOOTBALL - Wigan v. Liverpool Wanderers
The second match this season of the Wigan and District Football Club came off on Saturday last on the ground of the Wigan Cricket Club, when the home team again sustained a defeat. The visitors were by far too many for the Wiganers, who were not allowed to secure a single point during the afternoon.
Play was not commenced until half an hour after the time announced, and the consequence was that towards the close of the game the light became very bad; to this we will charitably put down the fact that one of the visitors was allowed leisurely and with little opposition to secure a touch immediately behind his opponents' goal and so enable them to score the only goal kicked. After kick off the ball was sent into the visitors' territory, but was quickly returned into the Wiganers' ground, from where it had hard work to travel. Repeated touch-downs had to be resorted to by the home team for safety, and these became so frequent that we lost count.
On changing ends the Wanderers still added to their laurels, showing an unmistakable superiority over their opponents, who seemed to be all at sea. The visitors scored one goal, two tries, and innumerable touch-downs to nil. The Wiganers showed up well in the scrimmages, but lacked "go" in following up the ball. The team, however, is comparatively a young one, and on this ground some allowance must be made for them. They need much practice, and if only they would imitate the example of the Wanderers in passing the ball, they will no doubt make a better show for themselves on subsequent occasions.
Nothing happened after that, literally, nothing. There had been no mention of the Wigan club after the 23rd November 1877 and this continued throughout 1878. The only bits of information one could find were gentlemen such as G.H. Sowter, H.T. Byrom, T.H. Stone, H. Wall and his brother W. Wall. Apart from all being linked to the Cricket Club (The Wall's were both opening batsmen for Wigan, and high scorers), for Mr Sowter was the captain of the Wigan Rowing Club, a club to which all the men mentioned were apart of. As reported elsewhere in the very little past of Wigan RL History, the club really did 'pack up and shut up shop' for a whole year as far as records show.
The 1877-78 season had some promise with a good muster of fixtures arraned with other clubs during the summer, but as you can see from the results at the bottom of this page, these fixtures were not fulfilled. We, of course, at earlyWIGANrugby will always be on the lookout for any missing fixtures because you never know, something may have happened that had since not been reported or come to light.
The game against the Liverpool Wanderers was perhaps a game too far. You can see from the reporting that Wigan were struggling on and off the field. In theory, playing at the Cricket Ground was a good move for the Club, with the new Pavilion and 'managed' playing surface benefitting all who played on it. The amalgamation with Upholland was a desperate moved to brighten the fortunes of the Club, a move initially started by members from said club, not Wigan. Wigan's problem was that they all too often attended matches home and away without the required number of players. This surely did much to lower morale even before a ball was kicked. To be totally outclassed, as was the case with Liverpool Wanderers, is understandable, something training can improve, but to be outclassed by opponents who Wigan played on a regular basis (Bolton for example) put a downer on morale.
The Wigan Club, since 1872, had been that of gentlemen or wealthy. Players owned businesses, not on the shop floor. Solicitors or Magistrate workers you'd imagine wouldn't really be comparable to a man coming from Trencherfield Mill in terms of physique would they? Of course, many of Wigan's opponents were wealthy men too, Old Boys from southern schools, not the sons of pitmen. It simply did not happen for Wigan, despite efforts, the Cricketers couldn't muster enough genuine quality to play during the winter. The Wigan public however loved the game. On numerous occasions it had been reported that the support was numerous. Financially, the Club was safe, relying on subscriptions only.
The Wigan and District Football Club disbanded for good, only for the story to continue in 1879... The seeds had been sown in Wigan on a sport growing exponentially in popularity. Anyone associated with the Wigan club in 1878 may not have thought so then, but it was about to become boom time in the Borough for the game they called Rugby Football as many clubs, including small hamlets outside Blackrod, would fight to become the dominant force in the District.
For Upholland, they would eventually revert back to their own club soon after. Wigan had a full season to get the players to gel. If you look at the teamsheets the make up of the new Wigan club was starkly different form that seen at the end of the 1876/77 season. Two clubs had been bashed together without much training so it was obvious that Wigan were going to struggle against decent opposition.
From that point on the cricketing 1872 Club disbanded and ceased to exist. I can argue that there are NO links whatsoever between the 1872 and 1879 club. Officially, Wigan Warriors claim to be formed in 1872. Although I do get this, it is incorrect. The true formation, for reasons which I shall write in an essay (lol) at some point, is 1879.