Aspull - Wigan Union Charity Cup Final
24th April, 1886 - Folly Field, Wigan
Perhaps the greatest game that was ever seen on Wigan's first ground at Folly Field, Upper Dicconson Street was the last game to take place there. This game had gone down into legend and memory for generations but is now, sadly, forgotten. And Wigan didn't even win it! The game was against Wigan's greatest rivals of the time Aspull, in the Wigan Union Charity Cup Final of 1886.
In this period of Wigan's history, rugby was still finding its feet. Wigan were by now aiming to become one of the leading football clubs in Lancashire. So too were Aspull. Wigan and Aspull played in differing football circles and this was to be the fifth meeting between the two rivals since 1882. For some reason, the secretaries of both clubs did not manage to arrange fixtures between themselves each year. The only meetings after their inaugural one were contested in the now established Wigan Cup.
In this competition, rugby teams from the Wigan District competed at the end of the footballing season to win the trophy, with all proceeds from the matches going to the Wigan Infirmary. Wigan had won the the competition in 1883 and 1885, whilst Aspull had won it in 1884. The rivalry, however, was the tasty bit. During this period in the town of Wigan, Aspull and the town team both laid claim to be the best footballing team in the District. Aspull's fixture list comprised many leading Lancashire and Yorkshire clubs, as did Wigan, and they were very successful too. The "Dark Blues" had beaten Wigan in the 1883 Final in front of 5,000 spectators and a year later Wigan avenged the defeat in the semi final in front of 8,000. These crowds, for the time, were massive. But the events of April 24th, 1886, would dwarf any that had gone before it.
Wigan had easily despatched New Springs in the first round of the cup and then easily defeated Haigh in the semi final on the 10th April. 8,000 turned up at Upper Dicconson Street (UDS) to watch the New Springs game, which was remarkable in itself as they also played Liverpool Old Boys in the afternoon straight afterward! After the Haigh game, the town was buzzing at the prospect of a Wigan v Aspull Final.
Aspull had just faced Warrington in the first West Lancashire and Border Towns Union Cup (or West Lancs) Final, at Liverpool. Warrington won, but the Dark Blues were in terrific form. News was circulated that on the 24th April, Wigan's tenancy of the UDS ground was up, and were actively looking for a new ground. In short, the Cup Final would be the last to be played at Folly Field before moving in with the Cricket Club at Prescott Street. Now we have the last game at Folly Field, against their biggest rivals. Central Park and St. Helens anyone?
A week before the Final, the great Swinton club with a young Jim Valentine in the team, one of the best in Lancashire, turned up at Folly Field in front of 8,000 spectators. Wigan lost, but the crowd was great. Straight after the game, and in the papers, the Final was all the talk of the town, and beyond. The weekend of the 17th April, to come by way of a comparison, Black Rovers faced Bolton Wanderers in the Lancashire Association Cup. Being 'soccer' and Blackburn being the FA Cup holders, the game attracted only 7,000 spectators. Wigan v Swinton had 8,000...
The tension had been building in the town all week leading up to Saturday. Both sets of supporters were confident their 'pets' would come away victorious and large sums of money were placed at betting venues around town. Everybody knew that the interest this game was generating would mean a bumper crowd... but nobody knew that a Monster crowd would witness the match.
Up until kick-off, the lower estimated crowd was 15,000 persons, with some newspapers reporting a high of around 18,000! The ropes around the field were lined with a mass of eager faces, the grandstand was packed, and every eminence was crowded. Amongst those who watched the game from the grand stand, the VIPs as it were, was the Mayor, Mr. Alderman Park and wife, Mr. Alderman James Smith, and Mr. W.H. Hewlett. The major portion of the throng had their hopes fixed on the Wigan team, and many of them showed their colours by displaying in their caps or hats small cards printed in red, bearing the words "Play Up Wigan", "Play Up, Slevin". There was strong support from the collier village of Aspull too, wearing in their caps blue writing of "Play Up Aspull".
Wigan were the favourites of the majority of supporters, and were expected to easily defeat the villagers, with many other suggesting Wigan would win, but only just.
A large cheer rang out when the Wigan captain, Charlie Holt, brought his men onto the field first. The Aspullites responded as their men jumped the ropes moments later. Instead of their famed "Dark Blue" jerseys, Aspull turned out in white with a "soft" texture, as it was reported. The teams were as follows:
WIGAN: John Anderton snr ("Parrot") back; 'Jack' Anderton, Smith and Slevin, three-quarter backs; Hunter and Banks, half-backs; Jones, Holt (capt.), Simm, Wardle, Brayshay, Hogan, Atkinson, Astley and Lowe, forwards.
ASPULL: Pilkington, back; Seddon, Samuels and Roberts (capt.), three-quarter backs; Cartwright and Hulme, half-backs; Bramwell, Hampson, Monks, Haydock, Brooks, Lawson, Baxendale, Lindsay and Hesketh, forwards
Referee: Mr. A.T. Kemble
It is to note, that Dick Seddon of Aspull would eventually join Wigan and later become captain when Jim Slevin retired in 1891. So too Johnny Roberts who came to Wigan to fill the void left by Slevin and Jack Anderton. Roberts also became captain of Wigan and a vice under Seddon. Charlie Samuels was a Wigan favourite also. But that's all for a different day. Now back to 1886.
Almost from the very start of the match the spectators began to encroach within the ropes, especially on the side opposite to Dicconson-street, where, in spite of every effort to keep them back, they soon formed a thick line in front of the grand stand, thus preventing those on the lower seats of the stand of seeing the players.
Johnny Roberts won the toss, and placed his men to play uphill and against the wind. Charlie Holt and Roberts agreed that they should play two forty-fives! At around 15:45, Tom Brayshay kicked off for Wigan and the ball went straight into the spectators behind the goal (quite a good kick considering the balls in those days). A minor point was scored for Wigan as a result.
After a couple of scrimmages deep in the Aspull half, Jones gained the ball and dropped over the line. The noise was terrific, for a second, as the referee discovered a rule to be broken whilst in play, so the ball was taken back. From this, Aspull broke clear towards the Wigan goal but Jack Anderton saved well and returned for Wigan, gaining another minor point.
To and fro. The most prominent player midway through the first half was Samuels, for Aspull who had several attempts of breaking clear but each time failing. By now, every time Wigan tried getting on the front foot with Jack Anderton and Hindley Smith, the Aspull forwards blocked any sort of progress. The same forwards then started to dominate the Wigan pack in the scrimmages but made their first major error when, after a lineout, the Aspullites failed to stop a rush as Jones scored Wigan's first try amid 'vociferous cheering' from the legions of Wigan supporters. Jack Anderton failed at goal.
Play was even after this with both sides kicking well to try and gain possession.the following extract of the match report sets out how the play was:
... Anderton, senior failed to stop the Aspull attack and Brooks succeeded in grounding the ball over the Wigan line to the delight of the Aspull supporters, who filled the air with their cheers. Dickie Seddon failed at goal. After this try, Aspull started to play more freely and gained the best of the play. As half time approached, Aspull got close to the Wigan line again but the supporters moved forward and stood on the goal line. The referee had no choice but to stop play until the goal was cleared. Maybe the Wigan fans saved a try?
Wigan eventually cleared and moved up-field with a couple of strong kicks by Jack Anderton and Smith. Half time came ever nearer and by now the Wigan line was under siege. Jack Anderton did his best saving a couple of Aspull attempts at a try but eventually, the powerful Aspull forwards broke through near the corner flag. Pilkington this time made an attempt at goal but fell just short. When the referee finally blew his whistle for half time, the score stood: Aspull, two tries and two minor points; Wigan, one try and two minors.
Aspull had the upper hand in the second half: playing downhill and with the wind at their backs. If anyone has been to Dicconson Street in Wigan, you'd know that the hill is noticeable where you play North-South or East-West. The second half was a mismatch. Aspull dominated. On a few occasions, the referee again stopped play as the spectators encroached on the playing area (in the Wigan half). it didn't stop Aspull from scoring eventually though. Try as the Wigan backs might, the Aspull forwards overpowered their opposites and were backed up by the fast men with their superior kicking. Aspull scored a couple more tries. The referee stopped play a couple more times.
Towards the end of the game, the ball was kicked to the Wigan end. The referee stopped play again until the field was cleared of spectators but in the confusion, many people believed he blew for full time. There was great confusion and extraordinary scenes as the Mayor presented the junior cup (which ran alongside the senior competition). Once people were cleared, the referee commenced play yet again. The second half needs no description for Wigan. They were poor. The end result left Aspull the winners by 31 points to 6.
Several times during the game, the spectators were stood underneath the cross-bars. The last occasion, when the Mayor presented the Junior Cup, the referee was misunderstood as it was thought the game had finished. The ropes were immediately broken through on every side, and the ground completely inundated with people. The canvass all around the field seemed to melt away like snow before the sun until all the posts holding it together were completely bare! The players rushed off the field as a great crush ensued, and the reporters were compelled to make a hasty rush to the grandstand in order to witness the presentation of the junior trophy to the Scot Lane Club.
Remember, the game isn't finished!
The Mayor eventually appeared. He made his speech about the pleasure of being there, how this great English game should be perpetuated, etc. After about 5 minutes of niceties and the presentation of the junior trophy to Scot Lane, Mr. Peter Turner, their captain then made a speech. The referee looked at his pocket watch...
The confusion, which had somewhat subsided during the speaking, again became intense, and the crowd in front of the grand stand swayed to and fro, rendering the position of a number of women and children, who were being pressed against the boards a very dangerous one. The half-dozen or so policemen were next to useless controlling 15,000+ people. It was noted that an old lady and a couple of children who were crying out through illusage had to be dragged up out of the densely packed crowd and handed on to the grand stand for safety. This scene lasted quite a while. The reporter mentioned that as order was trying to be restored and the match to resume, they saw some children calmly playing see-saw underneath the grand stand with a plank of wood.
Eventually, the players returned onto the field around 17:45. Two hours after the start. One man who had been doing his best to keep his crowd control in order lost his rag. A fist fight started as tempers flared but was quickly stopped by the policemen before it got any more serious. At six o'clock, and without further score, the referee had enough. The spectators were the touchline. The referee blew his whistle and ran one way, the throng of supporters stampeded in the other direction towards the grand stand for the trophy presentation. The dense mass of supporters here were all Aspullites. The Wiganers vanished into the spring evening quicker than Offiah at Wembley '94.
The severity of the contest could now be seen in its fullest. All the players were scratched about the face and shoulders; one had, under the right eyebrow, a cut about an inch long. The eyebrow of another bore a nasty looking open gash. Johnny Roberts, the captain, was so sick that he had to be supported by his comrades. The Mayor presented the trophy to Aspull and said that he hoped they (Aspull) would hold it as long as the Wigan players would allow them to do so, amongst a ring of laughter.
The players of Aspull got changed at the Crofters Arms and headed for the White Swan on Queen Street. The ale flowed. After a while, waggonettes appeared to take the Aspull and Scot Lane teams back home, along with the All Saints' Brass Band. It must have been a scene! After passing through Whelley and up hill, it was evident something unusual had taken place, as various flags, banners etc, were hung across the streets. The cheering was deafening all the way to Aspull.
Wigan licked their wounds. The defeat came as a shock to the Wigan supporters, and Aspull ones too! Jim Slevin never got into the game, only receiving two passes all afternoon and he was well watched by Roberts and Samuels. It was said in the papers, perhaps jokingly, that Aspull would refuse to meet Wigan again in the future so that they could keep hold of the Cup. There was a bad feeling between the supporters of the clubs. Rumours circulated that Slevin had drawn a lot of money, which meant he had backed Aspull to win. This was false.Slevin made a direct denial in the papers. The betting scene were totally in on these rumours and misstatements. Perhaps the same people who, in a few years time, would push Jack Anderton out of the club.
The Athletic News stated that they received a letter from a 'well known gentleman from West Lancashire' who attended the match:
"I never witnessed such a splendid sight in my life. The spectators in and outside the ground must have reached quite 18,000. They were on the house tops, and all over the place. The Aspull men astonished everybody, their combined play was excellent, and they outplayed Wigan at every point..."
Another gentleman, Mr. E.S. Lang, who travelled from Oldham to see the match wrote:
"I journeyed to Wigan, on Saturday to see the great struggle for the charity cup, and just a word about the arrangements before I proceed to the game itself. I think it will be admitted on all sides that the accommodation was far from being adequate for the large number aseembled. I noticed that a great many evaded the money-takers, some were ready with money in their hands to pay for admission, but were carried in by the crowd."
The game was a Classic. Yes, Wigan lost, badly. But it will be and shall be remembered for the sheer volume of people at Upper Dicconson Street. Between 15 and 18,000 people. If you have had the great pleasure of ever visiting that part of Wigan you'd ask yourself how possibly can that number of people fit? It was an amazing scene. A scene fit to end the life of Folly Field in my book.
During the same weekend, have a look at the following:
Nottingham Forest v Glasgow Rangers - 4,000
Burnley v Darwen - 2,500
Blackburn Rovers v Hibernian - 5,000
Preston North End v 3rd Lanark - 8,000
Wigan v Aspull - 15-18,000
I shall leave you with this... an Aspull supporters taunt...
One of the Greatest rugby matches Wigan has taken part in.