Wigan were Champions of Lancashire. Well, the Lancashire Senior League. On May 28th, Wigan held their annual meeting of members at a new headquarters: the Princess of Wales Hotel, Greenough Street. Over one hundred members attended at the new meeting place, just outside their new ground: Central Park.
The Chairman, Councillor Prescott, said that he hoped that their new venture would be a very prosperous one, and he did feel that with the help of the matches they would make it successful. He also stated that the ground would be something to hand down to their younger generation when they were gone. He stated that the taking of the field off Greenough Street would be the best thing for Rugby football that had ever happened in Wigan and the district. During a normal meeting of an AGM, finances were discussed and elected officers hired. Out of the now 38 vice-presidents (this was by now getting a bit silly), James Slevin still kept his position. Perhaps the most important part of the meeting from an historical point of view was that a resolution was carried unanimously that the ew ground be called "Central Park".
On Friday 31st May, a Concert was held at the Public Hall in order to swell the funds in aid of the new ground known as Central Park. It was a fine do with dancing, singing, fun and games. During the interval the medals were awarded to the Wigan team by Harold Jevons, the town clerk. It was announced that captain Joe Nelson was unavoidably absent, so instead Harry Ball took the honours on behalf of the team. Medals were awarded to Ball, Barton, Rouse, Webster, Eckersley, Barr, Rothwell, Brown, Hilton, Collier, Rigby, Halliwell, Vickers and Macauley. The players were applauded as they received their medals.
And now to the business of the Northern Union First Division. At a meeting of the League at the Exchange Hotel, Manchester, the business of extending participants in the top tier from fourteen clubs to eighteen was discussed. By reason of Wigan's success in gaining promotion, they were one of the new clubs. Of course. Brighouse Rangers, the bottom club in the Northern League, were again re-admitted on making application. Three more clubs were needed and so commenced an exhaustive vote. In the end, St. Helens, Widnes and Hull Kingston Rovers were successful in gaining promotion to the new 18-team League.
By mid-August the Wigan club were making final preparations on their new ground, Central Park. The draw for the Northern Union Cup took place, to be played in mid February, with Wigan drawing a home tie against Stockport. Optimism was in the air with Wigan being promoted and a new shiny ground (with sheep grazing on it) at their disposal.
With the addition of their own stadium, the rugby club could now afford to raise a second team which would play at home when the first team were away. This would undoubtedly add to the clubs finances and include much needed competition for places.
As for the team, not many big names to this point had joined Wigan. During practice matches at Pemberton, Aspull, 'a field near Hill Cottage' and at Central Park had revealed the fact that there were several rough diamonds who only needed more practice and experience to become most skilful footballers. Every playing member that represented Wigan the season before were again up for selection to the committee. A new player in Jack Anderton, a fullback by trade, would add much needed competition in that position. His powerful kicking will suit the new rules whereby long placing into touch will materially benefit any side. Macauley, the fullback of last season, showed much promise in the centres. Rouse excelled in these training matches, with Barr and Eckersley again being available on the left wing.
Rothwell of course would command his half back position but the old captain Joe Nelson had the doubts of some. Would he last the pace of the Northern League? We shall see.
A week before the first game of the season against Batley saw several thousand people assemble at Central Park to witness a trial match between teams selected by the committee from the players at their disposal. The Committee introduced the crowd to two new players, that of Billy Anderson, a half back, and Jack Mason, a fullback from Morecambe. In the half that they played, they both showed promise. Anderson seemed to fit well with Rothwell, and Mason (or "safety pin" as his nickname would be) showed himself with a cool temperament. However, Anderson would be absent for the first two matches, owing to a suspension picked up at the end of the previous season.
The match ended with a Wigan win by fourteen points to eight. It was a victory well worked for, and without any element of flukiness. As was the story the previous year, the Wigan forwards were to the credit of the club. The Wiganers dominated a very good Batley side in all aspects of forward play. Scrimmage after scrimmage was dominated by the Wiganers. The pick of the forwards fell to Billy Halliwell, gaining two tries, backed up by terrific play from Harry Ball and Jack Hilton, amongst others. The Wigan back play was sometimes good, and would have been better if the players kept away from injury. At one time there were three of the four threequarters limping around the field for one reason or another.
Jimmy Barr got the distinction of scoring the first try at Central Park after securing the ball from a scrimmage near the Batley line. He forced his way through the Batley defenders. Rothwell had a good enough angle to convert the try to put Wigan 5-0 ahead.
The good feeling in the town would not last. Salford were next to have a look around Central Park. Again, around eight thousands spectators paid their monies to witness the match but many of them quickly became disappointed when it was announced that Eckersley and Barr were absent due to their injuries picked up playing against Batley the previous week. Their replacement were Downs, the ousted fullback, and Brooks.
Wigan started well, it wasn't long before the cherry and whites were operating near the Salford line. Rothwell and Rouse being prominent with some fine play whereas Macauley nearly got his try after a good rush but came up short after good Salford defending. This was about it for Wigan as the woes started to mount up. When Salford finally managed to get into Wigan territory, Rouse had to be assisted off the field due to a severe kick after he tried to stop a Salford rush. This meant that Harry Ball had to leave the forward pack and fill in as a three-quarter back.
Still, Wigan managed to hold their own despite a weakness in the forwards but despite good play by Jack Mason at fullback, Salford managed to get the breakthrough as a forward pass enabled Riley to score a try, being converted by Griffiths. Of course, many of the 8,000 supporters did not like the decision of the referee to award the try and a chorus of boo's rang around the ground. The second half was edged by Wigan, in fact, you could have argued that Wigan were the better side throughout the afternoon, only losing by a try obtained via a forward pass. The score of 0-5 to Salford was the end result. The referee was escorted off the field by a couple of constables and the Chief of Police.
The next match was away at Halifax. Jimmy Barr still hadn't recovered well enough to resume his place on the wing so Downs kept his place and Webster filling in at centre instead of Brooks. The story was as you could guess. Both sets of teams at Hanson Lane that afternoon equally did their fair share of defending. The marked difference was in the back division. A new rule had come into effect whereby the punt out had been abolished which ultimately meant more scrimmages. Here, the Wiganers outplayed their blue and white hooped opponents. One could tell that the Wigan team were not confident with their back line as the ball kept being kicked into touch at almost every scrimmage. There was not enough confidence to pass the ball out to the wingers simply. Or that was the theory. Halifax, in comparison, opened up the play form their scrimmages and executed their movements with precision. This is how they obtained both of their tries.
There became more injury woes for Wigan as Nelson, Macauley and Webster suffered some sort of issue. Macauley and Webster had bad enough injuries that they had to be carried off the field. Macauley had to go to the Halifax Infirmary after fracturing a couple of ribs whereas Webster suffered a sprained ankle.
Wigan Leigh the visitors next at Central Park, a game which also counts towards the South West Lancashire League, a huge amount of interest was afforded to it. Rumours were flying around that two of the best backs had decided to sever their connection with the club, and that things were altogether in the greatest mess imaginable. Of course, these were only rumours. Mason occupied the fullback position, with Barr, Eckersley returning on the left wing. Wigan were now strengthened if anything with the inclusion of Billy Anderson at half back alongside Dicky Rothwell. A new signing in Alex Duffy, of Millom, would partner Benny Rouse on the right wing. The talk of town was that of Anderson. Those who had seen him play are expecting that he will almost revolutionise the Wigan attack. Time will tell.
The Leythers brought with them a goodly number of spectators on several trains. Records fell. The crowd that assembled exceeded all expectation. Upward of 2,000 spectators came from Leigh and when the kick off time came there were estimates of over 12,000 people crammed into Central Park. The amount taken at the gate was more than £250 and already the Wigan club had amassed more money than was the case a season ago but one! With the gold flowing through the committee's hands, people were still questioning why Wigan had not a team to compete at the business end of the League. Mind you, you have to think about the considerable cost o the new ground first and foremost. There were still large contractors' accounts that had to be met and other expenses before the Club could think about adding quality signings.
A winning team in Wigan is a paying team. Up to this point, Leigh remained undefeated from their opening fixtures. Wigan felt that they must not concede to a team that they beat twice the previous season, and so local rivalry took centre stage. Alas, it was a dogged and stubborn game. It was a somewhat disappointing finale for the Wigan supporters as a couple of good chances went begging to win the match in the end. Despite having Brown sent off the field by the referee (he maintained that he did not hear the ref's whistle and carried on being rough), the game ended with a try apiece. Dicky Rothwell doing the necessary for Wigan.
As October came, Wigan found themselves mid-table after four matches. Winning one, losing two and drawing against Leigh. Hull found themselves in a similar position to Wigan. The feeling of the locals was that they would win in the forward line, but as it played out, their opinion changed as the game went on. We know by now that Wigan have possession of a fine set of forwards.
Wigan took the lead thanks to a penalty, kicked by Rothwell near the centre mark. Hull, unable to get onto equal terms, found themselves sniffing around the Wigan line for quite a while. The Hull players of Brown, Cook and Parry just could not get over to score. Once Wigan allowed themselves up field again, the score increased to 4-0 thanks to a goal from a mark by Rothwell. Nothing else happened for quite a while, with an even game. Wigan spurning their chances when they came... you've guessed it... when the backs got hold. A doubly quick score by Jaques via a try and penalty were enough for Hull to go 5-4 ahead. It remained that score.
The Wigan team was not the strongest that cold have turned out. Barr was absent due to an injury received against Leigh, whilst Eckersleys knee gave way not long into the match. You can see him hobbling in the video!
When news arrived in Wigan of the scoreline, many people were quite satisfied that they had only lost to Hull by a single point. But the Wigan public have always been anxious to have a winning side. They always have and always will. This led to the Wigan committee having to have a mass of changes for the following tie against Oldham. The logic was for a new fullback to operate in place of Mason, who would fit in at centre, whilst Bootle, a local runner and jumper, will partner him on the wing. Duffy and Rouse to occupy the other wing position.
As it turned out, "Safety pin" Mason were on the injured list once Saturday came. Eckersley, Macauley and Barr were still injured which left Wigan with two untested rugby men at fullback, McDonald of Radcliffe Rangers, and Bottle, athlete. No wonder the feeling before the match was that it was a guaranteed win for Oldham. The youngster Mark Vickers, brother of Peter in the forwards, was also called up after being recruited from Askam.
Oldham were at full strength. But rugby is a funny game. Wigan started strongly and pinned back Oldham for a time. Vickers almost got over the whitewash but was held perilously close to the line. Rothwell then started to 'devote his attention' to kicking the ball over the goals. He was close, the leather striking the woodwork. Given this promising field position, the Wigan forwards got to work and penned back the young Oldham backs near their line. When Oldham did find some room to pass and run, they did it brilliantly. Wigan were lucky to keep the score 0-0 at half time. The match reported suggested nothing happened for the first twenty minutes of the second half. I can believe that. The deadlock was broken when Oldham were penalised for an infringement within striking distance of the goal. Rothwell made no error to secure the two points on offer. Wigan held on, largely thanks to stunning defensive play by Bootle on the wing, using his great turn of speed to track down the Oldhamites. Wigan won 2-0.
Wigan were afforded a week off, so they took the chance to try out a trio of Welshmen in a practice match: A, Short, of Carlton, fullback; Charles Cochlin, half-back; and Edward Richards, centre, of Cardiff.
Short (who was six feet high by the way) played a fullback, whilst Cochlin played alongside Anderson in the Wigan halves. The game, between the first and second fifteens was just to see where the new trialists stood. Short was a disappointment at fullback, his fielding of the ball being very faulty. Richards did well and made an impression. Cochlin struggled with the Northern Union rules. Hatton, a Wiganer and youth player who had played with Warrington, showed up well
A couple of thousand people turned up at Central Park to watch this trial game. On the tuesday after the trial match, no fewer than 7 men were signed on by the Wigan club: the three Welshmen, Hatton, McDonald, Mannock and Magrath. Wigan were spending and adding to their squads. But what about quality?
Strange things happen in Hull. Wigan for a long time had named their strongest squad for the trip: fast backs and tough forwards. The Rovers had only won once so far this season so Wigan had every reason to be confident of bringing home the two points. When it became announced in Wigan on Saturday night that the Wigan team had been defeated, there was more disappointment than could be described. Five-hundred supporters took advantage of the railway excursion to travel across the country to watch the game.
The first bit of bad news came when new signing Richards could not take his place in the team, owing to an issue regarding the working clause. Hull Kingston Rovers took advantage themselves of Wigan's long rail journey and started quick off the blocks. All of the Rovers' 8 points came in this first half.
Despite this, the Wigan forwards again excelled and made a good account of themselves. But, for those who saw the match, the blame fell at the hands of Rothwell who continuously made reckless passes to Anderson in the halves. This meant that the inferior three quarters (Bootle in place of Richards) were poorly fed. A waste of a long day for many of the 500 Wiganers who made the excursion to East Hull.
As October tipped into November, Hunslet were the next visitors to Central Park. Swinton and Wigan would do business once again in terms of playing staff. Billy Yates would join his brother Edward, who left the club earlier in the year, in exchange for Morgan, a promising half back.
Six thousand was the "gate", "2-0" was the score. There had been differences between Rothwell and the committee leading up to the match, with rumours flying around that a prominent half back would be appearing for the match to partner Anderson.
Wigan were lucky to win at all. The famous Albert Goldthorpe did not bring his kicking boots that day, missing several pretty kickable attempts. Wigan had plenty of chances themselves. Harry Ball, in the act of dropping on the ball to score a try, had it kicked from under him; Hilton was tackled a yard from the line when a score seemed certain; and during the last minute of play, new boy Richards had the line at his mercy but opted to make a drop at goal, for reasons unknown.
For Wigan, they gained two valuable points.
The famous Swinton club were up next. As you can see from the League above, they were flying in terms of point scoring. 108 points compared with Wigan's 29. In their team, they had the recently transferred Yates brothers. Morgan, as it turned out, was not transferred to Wigan, opting to stay with Swinton after all.
For Wigan, a new signing in the back division came in the shape of Herbert Wilson, of Morecambe. A fisherman by trade, he was chosen to fit in alongside Richards on the left wing, with "Safety-pin" Mason returning back to his fullback position. As for Joe Nelson, last year's captain, he was newly appointed to become a trainer at Wigan. With age catching up with him, the writing was on the wall so it was good business by the Wigan Committee to offer Nelson such a role with the club.
On match day, the second largest attendance on the new Wigan ground was achieved. The luck was with Wigan in terms of weather, at noon it was anyone's guess what would happen up to kick off, but luckily the sun came out and in came the people in their thousands... even a flurry of spectators came at half time.
Wigan were by far the superior team in the first twenty minutes. The players played with their dominance and actively encouraged the crowd to get behind them. Swinton would have had difficulty recalling a time when such constant pressure was applied to their own goal lines, such was the success of Wigan's play.
One more than one occasion, the crowd believed that the ball had gone over the goal posts for a score, be it from a drop goal or place kick, yet they were not given for Wigan. The opening quarter of the match were there to simply warm up the Wigan forwards. After this, they were the dominant force, more than equalling the effort of Swinton. Herbert Wilson made a good account of himself and now the crowd were starting to shout "safety pin" whenever Mason, the fullback, cleared the lines. The Wigan A team were badly beaten by Swinton A... least because there was a certain Jim Valentine playing for them! He was still going!
Next up would be a South West Lancashire League tie against Widnes, the team whom Wigan pipped to the championship the previous year. A well-supported Wigan won by 2 points to nil, thanks again to the boot of Dicky Rothwell. Over 1,000 Wiganers made the trip down towards the Mersey, and it was said that the attendance was the largest seen at Widnes so far this season.
Wigan's forward line were hampered by the absence of Barton and Vickers. New lad Jim Hatton and Aspey taking their place. From the off, Widnes used the wind to their advantage and peppered Mason at fullback, who duly replied impeccably well. Nothing much of note happened in the first half. In the second, Wigan used Widnes' tactics of kicking with the wind. The game was heading for a draw late on, until Rothwell got the ball from a scrimmage and dropped the ball over the goal posts. The enthusiasm of the Wigan section of the crowd 'had no bounds'. In a rough game, no fewer than seven Wigan players needed injury assistance at some point, whereas for Widnes, Taylor had his shoulder bone displaced.
A loss away at Bradford was on the menu the following week, but the Committee yet again delved into the transfer market and came up with Dickinson of Birkenhead. He was currently a Cheshire County man and can play either wing or centre. You get the sense here that Wigan are still struggling in their back division, and they were.
In gloomy and threatening weather, the Huddersfield team were next to visit Central Park. There was cause for optimism in the Wigan crowd as a good run of fixtures were ahead of them. Huddersfield, Brighouse Rangers and St. Helens were all up next, along with a game against Warrington sandwiched in between.
With the poor weather conditions on play against the team from Fartown, it was bound to be a close game with the backs not having much luck. Wigan won an uneventful match 3-0, thanks to a try via Wilson, but the talk was of the Wigan half backs, especially Anderson, who seldom passes to Rothwell, his other half back partner, instead choosing to run from the scrimmage more often than passing out to the outside backs. A win was a win.
The Warrington match was called off due to frost in early December. it was late in the day when word reached Wigan of the call. All week the Warrington club did not manage to make proper arrangements to cover the ground sufficiently with chaff to stop the frost. In the end, they missed out on what would have been a large "gate".
In Wigan's favour, up next was Brighouse Rangers who were busy propping up the league table. Two points were not all certain as the Rangers had already defeated fourth-placed Salford and drew with second-placed Broughton Rangers over recent matches. Wigan's only concern was Wilson being injured, meaning "safety pin" dropped into the three-quarter line whilst McDonald played at fullback.
New signing Dickinson made his first appearance for Wigan since signing from Birkenhead and the Cheshire representative made a quick impression on the Wigan supporters with some fine play alongside Duffy on the left wing.
Wigan won by three goals, and two tries to nil. Anderson redeemed himself from previous weeks playing a man of the match performance. The win placed Wigan in 10th position in the League ahead of a trip to bottom side St. Helens on December 20th. This time, Dickinson and Barr will be partnered together, further increasing Wigan's backline attack.
Out of a total of 3,000 spectators at Knowsley Road on December 20, 1902, 1,100 came from Wigan, again thanks to the train excursions who were making a tidy profit this season! With time running out, everybody thought that the game was safe for St. Helens, who were leading 3-5. Anderson swung the ball across to Barr, who walked over at the corner, and practically snatched victory from the "Saints". It was really only the good tackling of the St. Helens backs that prevented a big score for Wigan. Anderson was again impressive for Wigan, building on his recent form, operating well behind the Wigan pack, who we know can play. The win gave Wigan two points in the League, and also in the South West Lancashire League competition. Which was nice just before Christmas.
Speaking of which, Wigan played a game against Birkenhead on Christmas Day, the transfer of Dickinson having something to do with it.
Being played in a friendly manner, the game was a tame affair. Wigan had bigger fish to fry over the New Year period against Runcorn and Broughton Rangers. The Birkenhead men played a tough game and it was clear that the Wiganers did not exert themselves fully. However, Wigan won 7-5 in front of a good crowd who took advantage of the half-price entry.
Some seven thousand people turned up the witness the Runcorn match on December 27th, fuelled by Wigan's recent successes and slow march up the League table. Dickinson was away visiting relatives whilst Wilson was inured, which meant a shuffle in the backs with Mason going to centre and McCauley occupying the fullback role.
The game was tight all the way through, and with Runcorn leading 3-0 with time running out, Anderson broke through the Runcorn defence and made for the line. On the way, however, he touched the referee (Mr. McCutcheon) with the ball and then passed to Beesley who ran over to score. The supporters went "ape" apparently when they failed to understand why the try had been disallowed. The referee thought the ball was dead upon touching him, and also stated that it was a forward pass to Beesley. The authorities anticipated that there might be bother. Luckily, the Chief Constable and a couple of officers managed to get the referee away without any bother. It was reported too that some of the Runcorn players were ill-treated in their passage through the crowd. Earlier, Benny Rouse had been disallowed a try after the touch judge ruled that he had gone into touch whilst scoring.
The tie was set up for a great encounter. The opening saw Broughton have the upper hand. The Rangers forwards were outplaying, just, their Wigan counterparts. A mistake by "safety pin" Mason, the Wigan fullback, saw him make a kick which was too low bounce straight off a Rangers man. All he had to do was gather the ball to open up the scoring, which he did. Wigan continued to pepper the Broughton lines but the Rangers went further ahead when dubiously a seemingly forward pass allowed a try to be registered by the referee.
The second half was much better from Wigan. The Wigan forwards were on top and so were the Wigan backs, a rare moment. Rothwell, gathering the ball kicked it nicely into Rouse's corner, Benny ran his hardest and picking up he overcame Eckersall's opposition and dashed in at the corner. There was jubilation amongst the 2,000 Wigan supporters.
Rouse, Mason and Barr continuously pressurised the Broughton defences but they held firm until eventually Anderson gave the ball to the centre Duffy who slipped through like an eel to score. The Rangers defence was rapidly falling to pieces, and it didn't take long for Wigan to near the line again. The ball was sent to the Rangers' fullback, and he tried to run around to clear. But whilst he was under his own posts, the ball slipped form him and Duffy fell on it to claim another try. "The enthusiasm amongst the Wigan spectators was something to be remembered. Hats and sticks were thrown into the air." The slightest slip by Rothwell in the mud would have meant a Broughton win. His conversion was an important one. The Wigan half back kept his cool and planted the ball right between the sticks. The game ending in a memorable 13-all draw.
The Wigan team were off-colour when they visited Batley's Mount Pleasant ground a couple of days later on the 3rd January. The forwards looked fatigued ad the backs were nowhere near the form of the past few games. In the end, a disappointing game saw Batley triumph 9-0 which left Wigan 10th in the League.
Wigan did redeem themselves the following Saturday against fourth-placed Salford. Salford, in their defence (or lack of it) had many players selected by the County, as well as Cumbria asking for their key half back. Smith, Norris, Lomas, Heath, Rhapps, Tunney and Buckler were all absent for Salford.
The thirteen points to nil victory of Salford greatly pleased their supporters and strengthened their position in the League. With several home games yet to be played, people were starting to be encouraged by the run in and to see Wigan in a lofty position in the League table.
The match against Halifax on January 17 was called off due to a frosty pitch. Not enough effort was afforded to make the pitch playable by the Committee, but trouble was brewing within the town regarding the club, as this following letter reveals, from the Wigan Observer of January 23, 1903:
But, it all came crashing down as we shall see. Between January 10 and April 14, Wigan would win only one more League match in a devastatingly poor run of form, which included a couple of draws.
Wigan took with them between 2,500 and 3,000 followers to Leigh the following Saturday to witness a 2-2 draw. Of course, a large gate was expected and executed. Wigan held the upper hand in each of the two games that they played against Leigh during this season but yet again, their superiority could not be turned into points, the spoils shared for another season. Yet again, the differences between Wigan's backs and forwards were easily evident. It was reported that had Jimmy Barr played his average game, he must surely have scored on more than one occasion. The good news was that Wigan's Anderson was easily the best half back on the field. The bad news was that his partner in the halves, Duffy, was all at sea.
The "Third Porters" of Hull FC were next on the card to travel to Wigan at the end of January. Barr had been given a rest on the wing and was to be replaced by Dickinson, with Dufy reverting back to centre. Sadly, here is where this bad run begins. The Hull men were right through quicker on the ball, more complete and thorough in their ideas, and likewise, be it said, much better tacticians than Wigan. The Wigan scrimmagers, of course, were outstanding and got the ball on many occasions, but once the ball got out of the scrimmage, the half backs and backs for Wigan fell to pieces. A familiar story.
With infighting being apparent in the local press (see above) the fortunes of the playing side were deteriorating. Despite a fine crowd of around 10,000 against Hull, the re-arranged fixture with Halifax also drew a great crowd of 6,000, despite being played midweek. School boys were playing truant, workmen "bobbled" (didn't turn up for work), and bosses wisely gave some of their workers a holiday. The Halifax team turned up late and the last quarter was played in almost darkness. A 2-0 loss to the men of 'Fax wasn't good enough, the public were starting to demand that point should not be dropped at home. Wigan were lying 12th in the League, awaiting the visit to Watersheddings, Oldham.
Wigan were handicapped by the absence of Hilton in the forwards, Mason at fullback and Benny Rouse through an injury. Eckersley took up "safety-pins" position at fullback and was found to be none too reliable there. He was rusty, and also responsible for a couple of the Oldham scores. Nothing more is to be said to be honest. Wigan again were poor despite Jimmy Barr grabbing a couple of tries.
Perhaps a rest bite was up next in the Northern Union Cup competition (Challenge Cup). Wigan had been drawn to play away at Stockport, but the Wigan club had made arrangements whereby the game could be played at Central Park. Money talks. Stockport were doing quite badly in the Second Division so it was expected that Wigan would progress further in the competition. This they did.
With the change of venue, on the face of it, the Wigan club wanted to run up a big score to boost morale and ignite a bit of form going into their waning League campaign. There was a win certainly, but many people were so utterly disgusted with the feeble play of the Wigan backs that they did not hesitate to say Wigan never deserved the victory. The players to blame were the backs who, with one or two exceptions, played absolutely without judgment or cohesion. Oldham were drawn to play Wigan in the second round of the Cup... which meant an early exit, again. To score only 8 points against Stockport was seen as a failure by many observers. Stockport were by now a poor team, long detached from the stronger days a decade or so earlier. Many clubs in either division had piled the points on them, whereas Wigan could only muster eight.
Many of the 500 or so Wiganers who travelled over to Watersheddings had begun to think that the match would end in a draw against Oldham in Round 2. The weather was that bad and vile, only a small crowd assembled and Wigan's share of the gate receipts were not as would have been hoped. Oldham at this time had a large following. A draw would have given Wigan quite a lot of money to trouble the treasurer had the game gone to a replay at Central Park, nut alas, it was not meant to be. Matters were settled by Oldham towards the end of the match, and despite losing 6-14 two weeks previous, the Wiganers went out of the Cup with a 4-0 loss. Improvement, maybe.
Mason earned his nickname "safety pin" after his safe display at fullback. Jimmy Barr had an extremely good game but was let down by his centre partner. Despite Anderson being the stand out player in the halves, no matter what opponent he was up against, Wigan still needed some changes to partner him. A week later, Hunslet would be the opponent in the Northern League, and the Wigan committee decided that Threlfall should be given a chance to partner him.
By now, Hunslet were looking safe in mid-table but had the emerging Albert Goldthorpe pulling the strings in their side. So, of course, Goldthrope played a great game against the Wiganers. His versatility and kicking were the difference between the two sides as Hunslet gained the league points, and as you can see, Wigan were dropping down the ladder. Many people who saw the match said that there was not much difference than the 11-0 score line suggested. Wigan were without Collier and Halliwell in the forwards but their replacements, Ellison and Aspey, did not disappoint.
A daunting trip to Swinton was next for Wigan, and the day did not start well. Firstly, it was raining. Threlfall was absent after having injuries against Hunslet, along with Wilcock. The committee were unable to secure the services of Rothwell as he was dealing with a bereavement in the family. Instead, at short notice, the Wigan committee called upon Healy and Gleave, of the second team, to start at half back, with Anderson moving to centre. The game ended 21-0 to Swinton. The afternoon was a bad one for Wigan, as a muddy, cold and wet ground agitated the men. Three minutes from "time", Morgan, of Swinton, was "set on" by three Wigan forwards after dropping the man who tackled him. A free fight amongst both sets of players took place. Berry of Swinton and Wigan's Barton were given their marching orders by the referee.
At a meeting of the Northern Union League Committee, held on the Monday afterward, Barton was suspended until April 4th for his involvement in the fight, which meant a ban of 4 matches in real terms. Barton would miss the crunch match against Widnes, the team whom they pipped to the Lancashire League the previous season and and who lie directly below them in the table.
Off the field, concern was growing over the running of the club, as this letter to the local paper illustrates:
Against Widnes, I shall let "Free Lance" of the Athletic News describe his opinion of the game:
"The falling away has been tremendous, and something more than a disorganised three-quarter line is wanted to explain away the disaster... I went to Wigan under the impression that I should see a keen struggle, and with a feeling that Wigan would just about win. Let me say candidly I came away disappointed with the poor display of Wigan. They were outclassed at every point of the game, and in no department did they excel over the smart young team from Widnes."
The season continued to be poor from Wigan, descriptions of each game needn't be had. A 7-all draw against Bradford on March 21 was backed up by a tight 2-3 loss away at Huddersfield. It was only when we came to mid-April on Easter Monday that Wigan had managed to gain two valuable points away at Warrington, by this time, their position in the League was dire.
On Easter Saturday two days previous, Wigan had a trip to Brighouse Rangers, the team directly below them in the League. a loss of 0-3 was not welcomed by many in the town. The only glimmer of hope for the Wigan club was that Brighouse themselves and a small club called St. Helens were ding even more poorly than the Cherry and Whites. Mathematically after the win against Warrington on Easter Monday, Wigan were safe.
Throughout the season, Wigan had failed to gain a single point on their trips to Yorkshire. Against Brighouse it was the same old story on ineffectual back play, or opportunities ae by the forwards and missed by the backs. Duffy was hurt against Broughton on Good Friday and Threlfall was also absent for the trip across the Pennines. Bootle and Gleave were in their places. The back play was awful and the only joy the travelling Wigan fans got was that the back play of Brighouse was just as bad.
With the season grinding to a halt, so did the interest in the players - if they could not try any less. A loss against St. Helens and a win against Hull Kingston Rovers were just exercises in fulfilling fixtures. The only thing of note came when Hull Kingston Rovers reported to the Northern Union that they had an abortive journey to Wigan on April 1st (this, played on the 22nd was a re-arranged fixture). The ground as unfit to play on so now they had applied for expenses under "Rule12", but Wigan refused to recognise the claim on the ground that no real claim had bee sent in. The committee ordered Wigan to pay £13 3s. 9d., the players' return fee.
The dead rubber remained against fourth-placed Runcorn on the last game of the season. Remarkably, it ended in a 5-all draw.
The 1902-03 had seen the Wigan club experience the highs, and the lows. So many lows. It started well, a new ground in Central Park and a good run of form saw the Wiganers keep touch towards the top end of the table. But what lied underneath was the complete failure of Wigan's back division and their inability to, well, score. The good news was that Wigan had stayed in the top division. Hopefully, the 1903-04 season would be better.
What Wigan needed was a class three-quarter back. Could the Wigan club find one in 1903?