Since 1872 the Wigan Club has come a long way from Gentlemen trying to raise a team to a stable and profitable working mans (mostly) team. The exponential growth in Rugby Football across the country gave many towns, villages, churches and public houses a chance to join in the revolution. For the Wigan Wasps, their inaugural season after a vacant 1878/79 had proved to be a success. Two teams were playing under the Wasps banner which raised a lot of money via subscriptions. The Club was also charging a small fee for supporters to watch the matches. More importantly, Wigan seemed to be winning often.
After the summer of 1880, it was again time to get back down to Rugby. By the end of September the Club was ready for their trial matches at Upper Dicconson Street, Folly Field. There was a good muster of men who turned up and around 32 took part in the game. In the absence of the captain and vice-captain sides were chosen by Mr. Wallwork, the secretary. Fittingly, Wallwork's team won by one goal and five touch-downs to five touchdowns. In total, 18 matches were scheduled to be played over the coming season, starting on October 9th versus Chorley. Either lack of interest or taking bad weather into account, no matches were scheduled from mid-December until the end of January 1881. Fixture cards were often put together at the back end of the previous season and early summer. Simply, Wigan just couldn't find a team free to play.
Chorley turned up at Wigan on 9th October with a number of "kind men". The Wigan public had been starved of full contact sport and lined Folly Field in their numbers. Chorley were a strong outfit. Jim Slevin was Wigan Captain now. Having chosen to kick with the wind, Chorley let Wigan start the match. The opening stages were quite even, with defence cancelling out attack. That was until midway through the half when Chorley managed to dribble the ball down after some time towards the Wigan line, resulting in two touchdowns. After halftime Wigan were down by two touchdowns and two dead balls but had very much the better of play at the restart. Some "doggy" runs by our man Slevin, Horrocks and Galvin, the ball was brought up to the Chorley touch line to which Wigan waited patiently for an opportunity to score. Luckily, a chance presented itself and after a bold rush Taylor scored near the goalposts, the Chorley defence unable to prevent the onslaught. Galvin managed to kick the easy goal and at the end of play Wigan won by 1 goal, 2 touchdowns and a dead ball to Chorley's two touchdowns and two dead balls.
The following week Wigan travelled back to Southport after a couple years absence. This time it was Southport Olympic the opponents in a match played at their Scarisbrick New Road ground. The ground, not here today, was on the corner of SNR and Ash Street. On this particular day - October 16th 1880, the Wiganers actually missed the 2.42 train from Wallgate Station which meant the normal kick-off time was put back to 4.35pm. Due to the hazy nature of the weather and the late time, it was agreed that each half would last 20 minutes each way without any rest at the interval. The game started well for Wigan, after receiving the ball from kickoff the 'leather was soon over their opponents goal line' but the Southport umpire, who was probably annoyed at the late kickoff, claimed to have a scrimmage 5 yards out from goal. Southport relieved the Wigan pressure and managed to kick to safety and at half time, the match was scoreless. In the second 20 minutes Olympic were much the stronger, pinning Wigan back which resulted in Wigan touching down twice to save themselves. Only towards the end of the match, the Wigan forwards managed to get close to the Southport line and as "no time" was called the match ended up as a draw.
The late Wiganers were: J. Underwood and E. Clegg, backs; J. Slevin and T. Galvin, three-quarter backs; J.E. Horrocks and J. Taylor, half backs; J. Proctor, J. Berry, J.W. Almond, H. Marsden, J. Baines, W. Marsden, S. Waddington, J. Wardle, J.W. Turner and C.A. Cronshaw, forwards.
Luckily for the pie eaters (no, they weren't nicknamed that by then), they had a week 'off' from action and as a result, the first team, on the 23rd October had organised a match between the other 25 members of the club, a sort of trial or training match. Nothing was reported about this but the Club were ready to face Halton View Wanderers at home the following week. The men from Widnes were playing in their first match against the Wasps, or Wigan and were up for the challenge. As the picture above indicates, the ball was kicked off at 4 o'clock and after quite even play the teams retired for half time with one touch down separating the teams (in Wigan's favour) and both teams claimed a try. The second half saw Wigan starting to edge out the Halton View men as our man Slevin and Heyes worked the ball down to the opposition goal. Sadly, the ball was seized by two opposing players but luckily for Wigan they were forced over their line in a play which resulted in a maul. Success came with a try for Wigan but it was disputed by the Halton View umpire. Under protest the goal was kicked. Just before "no time" Heyes again made a good play and ran in to score a try, converted by Cronshaw. Another Wigan win, albeit with a disputed goal, but their tally of two goals (one disputed), one try, one touch down and two dead balls bettered the Wanderers tally of one try, one touchdown and one dead ball. Slevin again played magnificently along with halfback Heyes and forward Finch.
Thomas Galvin, the wing three-quarter for Wigan played his last game for Wigan against Southport. It was reported that he was cautioned for playing football in the streets. He was out of the team.
It was a good win for Wigan, again watched by plenty of supporters. Next up were Higher Broughton at Folly Field. Not to be confused with Broughton Rangers or Broughton later on in the story. Due to the strength of teams hailing from the Broughton area, Wigan expected this fixture to be a tough and close affair. Fortunately it wasn't to be. The team from Higher Broughton were not as good as some thought and it became apparently shortly after 4 o'clock (time of kick off) that Wigan were in for a stroll in the park as we pass over to the Wigan Observer for this record match:
WIGAN v HIGHER BROUGHTON
On Saturday last the Higher Broughton team came to Wigan to fulfil their engagement. Owing to there being two or three first-rate football clubs in Broughton the Wiganers expected to have a hard struggle if they must win, and, of course, got up a pretty good team.
However, when the visitors arrived it was quite evident they were not so strong or even so quick as the home team. At four o'clock Wallwork started the ball for Wigan, and from this point to the call of "half time" the visitors had not been able to score, whilst the home team had got the goal, three tries, one touchdown, and two touches in goal.
On resuming play, Wigan scored point upon point, and the visitors were unable to keep play in the middle of the field. During the game Horrocks secured five tries, Slevin three, Chambers, Gillett, Wardle, Wallwork and C.A. Cronshaw, one each. The Broughton men were properly overmatched. At the call of "no time" the score stood, Wigan five goals, eight tries and about ten minor points, to Higher Broughton nil.
WIGAN:- G. Chambers, fullback; J. Slevin (capt.), W. Gillett, J. Wardle, three-quarter backs; J.E. Horrocks and C.A. Cronshaw, half-backs; T. Finch, J. Proctor, J. Berry, W. Marsden, E. Clegg, R.J. Cronshaw, N. Wallwork, J. Taylor and R. Hardacre, forwards.
A couple of records there for Wigan, firstly the score - the previous Wigan & District club failed to dominate an opponent and the Wasps had never piled on the points as much. J.E. Horrocks goes down as the first man to score five tries for Wigan even before the 1895 Northern Union split. A little known fact there. Does it count? of course it does! Our man Jim Slevin put in a captains performance once more, this time scoring a hat-trick for himself. Something else that was new was the match report featuring in the Observer of the Wigan 2nd team. The 2nd string had gained some virgin column inches after their match against Pagefield at the opponents ground on Woodhouse Lane. Regular first teamers Ellis Wardle, J.W. Clegg and H. Marsden featured in a win for the 2nd team. Why is this important I hear you ask? Well, as mentioned this was the first time the 2nd string had a match report which is important, or interesting, due to the growing popularity of the Wasps club. Pagefield is only a stones throw (or 11 stones if you're good) away from Folly Field but the big boys were indeed the Wasps.
Tell that to St Helens Recreation on November 13 1880! Hell bent on township rivalry and wanting to do anything to get one up on the men from over Billinge Hill, the Recs welcomed the Wasps a week later in a poor manner. Only 14 Wigan men managed the trip up and over the Hill due to some of the better players being unavoidably absent. A.N. Other (who's rugby career lasted up until the 1990s with many many appearances) filled a spot in the forwards but Wigan could only manage to raise 14 men. The reports suggest that the St Helens men played "off side" in a shameful manner - cheating in other words. During the second half, Cunliffe for the Recs, on the Wigan "25" flag, got possession and headed to run in for a try. Our man Slevin collared him in time as they both crossed the line. A maul in goal resulted but the spectators thronged upon the scene and jostled the Wiganers and their umpire; during the struggle the St Helens man lost hold of the ball with one hand as one of their own players kicked a Wigan hand to dislodge it. A battle ensued. This little bit of foul play on the part of St Helens left their men leaving the field 10 minutes before the call of "no time", meaning the game resulted in a draw.
Imagine the scene when Jim Slevin and Cunliffe of the Recs were mauling in goal try to score/prevent a try, and suddenly the spectators join in unannounced! It's true to say that the Wiganers didn't like this visit to St Helens (who does?) on that day even with the game tied up in a drawn match. It is unknown whether the next two matches against St Lawrences of Chorley and Padgate took place, I shall revisit this. The Observer was full up with election business and something to do with a very long court transcript about something or other meaning less column inches for Rugby news.
What we do know is that the Earl of Balcarres and Crawford at the time died at his summer villa near Florence, Italy at the end of November. Sad sad news... his heirs didn't really get much to be honest. Birkacre, in between Coppull and Chorley, were up next for the Wigan men on December 4th. Nothing interesting happened and thus, nothing much was written. Birkacre won by 2 tries, 2 touchdowns and 1 dead ball to Wigan's dead ball. Slevin and Chambers couldn't get into the match as the Wasps played well below their usual form. Something of interest though was a small sentence in the Observer commenting on the Wasps 2nd team match against Swinley Rovers: "The second team of the premier club was again successful..." What is interesting about this was the use of "premier" aimed at the Wigan Wasps team. It is now clearly apparent that the Wasps club was the biggest and most important footballing club in the town which could have only been a healthy thing in only this second season of business.
The premier team in Wigan didn't feel oh so premier a week later on December 11th when they were scheduled to face Halton View at Widnes. Before the match even begun there were problems in the Wigan camp. Seven players had failed to turn up at the train station. Infuriated, Jim Slevin, the Wigan captain, refused to travel to the game and sent a telegram to the Observer:
This sort of thing will very soon bring this club into disgrace and those members who were absent will no doubt be remembered by the committee and cannot expect to be allowed to play at home if they will not play away - Jim Slevin, Wigan captain.
It was not stated who were the main culprits but a lot can be said of the actions by the Wigan captain. In times past a Wigan club would turn up very under strength and get beaten regardless. Slevin refused to travel, apologising to the Halton View club, and sent a frank and very public telegram in which there will be no messing on his part if players wouldn't turn up. Maybe the seeds were sewn at the St Helens Recs match when Wigan played with 14 men. Maybe Slevin didn't want to be understrength again. One thing for sure is that the Wasps set-up was a serious one and there was no way of cutting corners to miss the odd match here and there. No play took place until the New Year as the game against Leigh, as far as I can see, didn't take place.
The return match against Southport Olympic at Folly Field, Upper Dicconson Street, didn't take place either on February 5th 1881. Olympic sent a telegram informing the Wigan club that they couldn't raise a team that weekend. That period in time saw a harsh winter set in across the North of England especially with frost quite bad that time of year. So, it was left up to Higher Broughton to give the Wiganers a much needed game on 11th February 1881 in the return fixture. The match report is on the left.The reason why Higher Broughton requested the Wigan A-team to play was quite simple, they got thrashed the first time around. In a somewhat fitting set of consequences the Wigan Wasps could only manage to assemble some "sort of" team to play Higher Broughton anyway owing to the bad frost and a weak team turned up. A more even match was played as a consequence in what I suppose must have been enjoyable for the senior Wigan players in the team. It is alright thrashing a team in a one-sided match but after a sustained period of no rugby due to bad weather and other factors, it was good to get a good workout ready for the next match (St Helens Recreation).
Saturday 19th February 1881 saw the arrival of the Recs to Upper Dicconson Street. The first meeting was overshadowed by foul play by the St Heleners and quite a rough crowd towards the Wigan men. Owing to the lateness of a few Wigan men, the start of the match was delayed until 3.45. The first half was quite even and neutral. The only piece of play of note was that of Slevin who, after a long period in the Wigan "25" picked up a loose ball and ran to the centre, where upon the ball remained until half time. No score. Yawn. Luckily, the second half proved quite more eventful from the off as C.A. Cronshaw capitalised on sleepy Recs defense and a Wigan rush to secure a try. The ball was taken out and Slevin tried to improve it by running in again, but was collared. Try to think of this in American Football terms. If you score a "touchdown" you gain 6 points and then you have the option to kick for goal (1 point) or try and score another touchdown instead of a conversion (2 points). This is similarly what Wigan did and where American Football gained most of it's rules if it wasn't already apparent with 'touchdowns' and 'punts'.
The Wiganers had much of the early play their own way, sustained pressure eventually forced the Recs to touch down in self defence. St Helens finally created some momentum for themselves and forced Wigan back to their "25". Cunliffe managed a try for the Recs and two touches-down later they edged Wigan by the time "no time" was called.
The end of the season came pretty quickly for the Wasps. The match against Padgate again didn't happen. Padgate being north-western Warrington near Birchwood. Their ground was a stones throw away from the train station (as was custom). The season fizzled out. So at the end of the footballing season (and the start of the cricket), the Wigan Wasps club had managed to arrange their first Annual Soiree on Thursday 17th March. The venue was the Public Hall and the Soiree held in the Lecture Room. The Lecture Room was "prettily" decorated by Messrs. Meek and presented a "very pleasing appearance". It was reported that a lot of singing and dancing took place and that the club viewed this event as a great success.
A nice way to end their season with their first annual do. It goes to show that throughout the season, the Wasps had secured first billing in the local papers and were thought of as the 'premier' club in the Borough. A hard line from Jim Slevin regarding the nonsense of no-shows and a healthy membership only meant that the 1880/81 season was a complete success.
Wigan were now ready to reach higher. Unless the team got their act together and turned up!