~A BLACKROD RIVALRY~
Blackrod. Once a powerhouse in the sporting world, Blackrod gained plaudits in the 1880s as one of the best rugby clubs in Lancashire. Here we will look at the small, unassuming village to the North of Wigan. Blackrod used to be in the Wigan Poor Law Union, basically, under the governance of the Wigan District 'back in' day'. Today, you would not associate the small village on the drumlin with a rich sporting heritage, but this small mining village (near my neck of the woods) produced some of the best rugby footballers during the 1880s. Here we will look at some of the stories and events that occurred between the Wigan and Blackrod footballing clubs and hopefully we can champion this once Great footballing hub.
The Blackrod club began during the 1880/81 season, with the first inkling of a match report coming in the March of 1881 after an unsuccessful match against Aspull. The Blackrodians were nilled with the newspaper report simply stating that they were a strong and promising team, yet need practice. A young David Banks featured in their three quarter line that day (and for Aspull Dick Seddon and J. Pilkington also featured, future Wigan stars). By the end of summer 1881, the local Blackrod Amateur Dramatic Society were putting on an evening of fun and entertainment, with proceeds going towards the Cricket and Football club in the township.
Their 1881/82 season saw them play teams primarily around the Chorley and Bolton area, which was more easily accessible than going in to Wigan by train or road. The Blackrodians had their first ground adjacent to the Red Lion Pub in the village. Today, it is where Ridgeway and Vicarage Road West meet overtaken by housing developments. Daff Banks, one of the original founders of the Blackrod club said that the landlord of the Red Lion took up a keen interest in the lads and lent them the field. It was necessary to take out a hedge to increase the playing space, and Banks recalled with amusement how he and his pals worked very energetically to accomplish the task. The ground was situated on a hill, sloping down from north to south.
It was a tough and challenging start to rugby football life for the 'Rodians. James Ewan, captain of the Aspull Club wrote a letter in to the Wigan Observer in October 1881, claiming that during the match between those two clubs, several Blackrod men challenged the Aspull players to a fight and that the captain and Daff Banks played with spikes in their shoes! He stated that Blackrod only came on to the field to either 'win, tie, or wrangle,' and that their umpire admitted to not knowing the rules. "Blackrod secured their solitary try not by the "splendid play of the forwards," but simply owing to the abominable state of the field spoiling our backs' play, the man who was left to return the ball sinking ankle deep in the clay, which runs right down the field, a hedge having recently been taken out, and so missed the kick," explained Ewan.
Over the next couple of years, Blackrod operated in a different circle to the Wigan club. As stated, their fixtures were focused along the main rail line running between Preston and Manchester whereas Wigan operated on a much wider scale. That's not to say that the two clubs could have met earlier. It was in March 1884 that these two clubs finally met each other under the auspices of the Wigan Union Charity Cup Competition. This competition was initially set up by a member of the Blackrod club who wanted to jump on the success of other local township cup competitions and quickly, everything had been arranged for it's inaugural season.
The two teams met for the first time on neutral ground, in Aspull, for the second round tie of the Charity Cup.
An estimated 2,500 crowd turned up on the Moors at Aspull to witness the tie. In the betting scene Wigan were regarded as the clear favourites, a lot of money being wagered on them with some bets even placed on Blackrod not scoring a single point. The Blackrod supporters in the week leading up to the tie had expected, or hoped, Wigan to be excluded from the competition after not turning up for their first round tie. Of course, Wigan found their way through. The attendance was large and was quite a surprise to the local Aspull villagers to see such numbers coming into their village. Such were the numbers, the officials occasionally had to brandish their sticks to keep off encroachment onto the playing area.
The game ended in Wigan's favour by three points to two. In the first half, the Wiganers were quite disappointing but id better in the second half. Blackrod were seen as the better team, despite the score. The 'great treat' of the match, as the local newspaper report called it, was the play of Blackrod fullback Rylance. He only made on mistake, and his long, safe punting, coolness, and good humour were characteristics that were fully recognised by the partisans of both teams.
To be fair, this was an ordinary match. It would be another two years before the teams met again. At the start of the 1884/85 season, Blackrod lost two of their main players to Wigan. "Daff" Banks, the half-back, and three-quarter Charlie Samuels had decided to try their luck for the town team.
At the start of the 1885/86 season the newly formed West Lancashire and Border Towns Union came into being. This was seen as an answer to the much larger Yorkshire Cup competition and an attempt to wrest control of rugby matters away from the traditional strongholds of Manchester and Liverpool. Given his good form, "Daff" Banks earned a West Lancashire Cap against Batley, then a premier Yorkshire team. But the real plat du jour was the West Lancashire Cup Competition to be staged in early 1886. Wigan and Blackrod had be drawn against each other in the first round. Already, the game had been hugely looked forward to. In a letter dated February 2nd, "Spot", a Blackrodian, shot the first shots.
Still a bit of sour grapes after Wigan poaching Blackrod's better players. In the end, the tie had been agreed to be played at Blackrod on February 27th with a special train being ran by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company for the occasion, (along a now disused rail line). Excitement was now growing. It had been reported that "two staunch friends of the Blackrod team have promised them half a cow (without the usual acres) and half a barrel of 'Old Peg' if they can take Wigan down from their peg in the Border Towns cup tie." What other encouragement do they need?
A local member of society in the realm of Blackrod was "Old Peggy" who said that she had lived there all of her life and had never knew "O chep trip" to come to Blackrod afore". She is "quite uz footbaw is makin aw th'yung foak crazy un if hoo wur o'member o'perliment (uz hoo owt to be) hoo'd make th'wed chap stop o'whoam un rock th'cradle un th'yung uns hoo'd hev turnin th'squeezers." If you can make that out if you're not familiar with Wiganese. Sadly for Old Peggy, football must be played, and the people must travel to watch it.
Alas, old Jack Frost did his work on game day. Just before noon, a deputation from Wigan arrived at Blackrod , and after carefully examining the field pronounced it too hard. During the afternoon, the sun did all it could to defrost the field, and between three and four o'clock great numbers of supporters arrived at the ground. Bitter disappointment however when Mr. Higson, the Blackrod secretary, tried to spread the news of the postponement as quickly as he could. Quite a number of sceptical supporters stayed at the ground "for fear of being duped." The "tupn'y pie" makers of Blackrod, anticipating a crowd of hungry travellers, had made special preparations for the travelling Wiganers and when news came that the game was called off, they were in visible shock. As the Wigan Observer stated: "If "Owd Peggy" saw all the wry faces of the visitors and the inhabitants of Blackrod on Saturday even her stoney heart would have been moved to sympathy, and forgetting the interesting occupation of "cradle rockin un squeezer turnin" she would have sighed to "shuv Jack Frost o'er th'yed i'th'dollytub."
A week later, Lancashire was still under the silvery white spell of Jack Frost. The Wigan club were due to play away at Broughton whilst the Wigan second team would have fulfilled the fixture with Blackrod. But it was not to be. At least these postponements gave someone some time to think of something amusing...
After much anticipation and upset, the eagerly awaited match between Blackrod and Wigan was finally played on March 13th, 1886. The interest taken in the meeting by Wiganers was great, but in Blackrod the feeling was of a most intense description, every man, woman and child it seemed did nothing in the village except talk of the football match. At half-past three, Blackrod kicked off and elected to play down hill. Against many thoughts, Blackrod went into half-time with a lead of three points (5 minors to 2 minor points). In the first half the Blackrodians seemed a little too rough on their part. They were of course spurred on by the villagers who, well some of them, lost their tempers when Wigan got the slightest advantage, and urged their pets to "punch their yeads off.," "screw his neck round," "purr his shins from under him," and so on.
When Wigan changed ends, the story of the match also changed. Old boy Banks and Hindley Smith gained two tries for Wigan, with Jack Anderton converting both for a goal. Wigan besieged the Blackrod line and eventually came out easy winners by 21 points to 7. The hero of the match was Banks, whom the spectators affectionately designated "Little David". Of course, Banks still resided in the village and knew almost everyone of the people inside the enclosure that day. All was forgiven on his part. Apart from the Blackrod club themselves that is. After the match, it seemed that the Blackrod Football Club were still a bit bitter of Banks' leaving a couple of seasons earlier. They lodged a protest against Banks, on the ground of professionalism. The West Lancashire committee, sitting in Liverpool, refused to entertain the protest.
Anger raged a week after the game from a Blackrod supporter, writing to the Wigan Observer in response to the match report.
"To show that Wigan is not without its smooth-tongued friends, I will quote a remark made by one of them when Rylance was lying stunned on the ground. One man said, 'Aw wish he'd dee,' and when the Wiganers were going through the streets, after the match, some of them shouted to the people standing at their doors, 'Poo'th blinds deawn Rylance has got kilt.' I no not wish Wigan to think I call the authors of these sweet remarks their partial supporters, because I am aware that they could not possibly be responsible for their utterances, nor do Blackrod wish to see such irresponsible creatures described in your official notes as their supporters."
The Blackrod team did not win their half cow and half barrel of "Old Peg".
Their next meeting would in a years' time, 16th April, 1887. It was a day out for James Slevin, the Wigan Captain. Jim scored five tries and Tom Brayshay kicked seven goals from ten attempts (although one goal was marked off for being touched by a Blackrod hand).
These two teams would play against each other for the final time on September 3, 1887. The Blackrod team wore their new kit: royal blue with white stripes. It was an easy win for Blackrod as Wigan turned up short of men and viewed it simply as a pre-season warm up match. By now, Daff Banks had returned to Blackrod and was their captain. In their team that day was a certain Ned Bullough and Richard Seddon - both would later become Wigan stalwarts and Bullough would go on to play for England. I guess they were just helping out Blackrod for the day getting fit as their allegiances lied with the Aspull club a few fields away.
And that is that. Blackrod would eventually cease playing rugby football and leaned more towards the association game at a lower level. But the fact remains that this little village on the hill at the northern most point in the Wigan district helped shape rugby football in the town.
What could have been.