New Zealand 1907
The biggest match that had ever taken place in Wigan, and especially at the new ground Central Park, came around on November 9th, 1907. The opposition were New Zealand, and a monster crowd of 30,000 were there to witness it. Here is one of the Greatest games ever witnessed in Wigan.
It all started when an idea popped into Albert Baskerville's head that he should get a group together and go on a professional Tour to Australia and on to the Northern Hemisphere. You have heard of Albert Baskerville, his name to this day is attached to the Baskerville Shield, which is awarded to the winner of England v New Zealand test matches. Baskerville recruited many test and provincial rugby players and headed to Australia, where he recruited Dally Messenger. At this time the Northern Union was well established but something needed to happen in the Southern Hemisphere in order for 'League' (if you like) to be kick started. This Tour was the pioneering start that was needed.
The details of the Tour can be found elsewhere such as here but in short, the New Zealanders arrived in Folkestone at the end of September 1907. Here is a list of the men who stepped off the Empress boat at Folkestone. One particular name that stands out for Wiganers in a Mr. L. Todd - but that's for another day.
After acclimatising in Leeds for two weeks to the new rules of the Northern Union (by now the great split of 1895 had seen alot of changes to the new rugby code compared to rugby union), the New Zealanders played their first match against Bramley on October 9th (they won 25-6) and further matches against Huddersfield, Widnes, Broughton Rangers, Wakefield Trinity, Leeds, St Helens, Merthyr Tydfil and Keighley before they were due to face Wigan on November 9th, 1907.
The "All Blacks" were unbeaten after they had dislodged Keighley 9-7 on bonfire night, and indeed were unbeaten in all 9 of their newly learned Northern Union rules. The largest gate was 24,000 at Wheater's Field, Broughton... but now it was the turn of Wigan.
Back in May of 1907, the Wigan club had got word of the upcoming New Zealand Tour party and set about working with the Northern Union to get a premier match against them (a Saturday basically). It was to be on the 11th July, during a meeting at the Grosvenor Hotel, Manchester, that Wigan knew the date of their engagement with the New Zealanders, and luckily for everyone involved with the Wigan Club a Saturday game day was granted. Throughout the summer the Wigan club had started preparations for the visit of the All Golds, as was customary for a Wigan club in those days. Nineteen years earlier, many Wiganers would have remembered the visit of the New Zealand Maoris and what success that gave to the town back in 1888. Wigan were not to be outdone by anyone in 1907.
George Taylor, the Wigan secretary of the time, was among the Northern Union party to give a hearty greeting to the New Zealanders when they turned up at Leeds train station after arriving at Folkestone.
In the run up to the game, Wigan were going along just fine in the League. Leytham and Blears played in a county game between Lancashire and Yorkshire on the 2nd November at Halifax so were warming up themselves for a big game against the unbeaten New Zealanders. Leytham, the Wigan captain, had an 'erratic' game and was out of the game. Not to worry though. Wigan were ready for the biggest match that had ever been seen in the town. The following is basically what was written in The Wigan Observer, November 12, 1907. I couldn't put it any better myself (I literally couldn't) so here is most of the story as told by the newspapers...
The long-looked-for game between Wigan and the New Zealand team at present touring in the Northern Union England, took place on the Central Park ground on Saturday. Throughout the whole Union is was pretty well recognised that the "All Blacks" would meet with the severest test up to then, but outside opinion favoured their chances. Nor even in Wigan was there any great amount of sanguine feeling as to the result. People preferred to think that the visitors would have to fight hard for victory, and that the result would show a very close game. The attendance of the afternoon indicated what an astonishing interest was taken in the game. All records of attendance were easily broken so far as Wigan is concerned, and it is probably correct, as has been stated, that up to Saturday there had never at any time been seen such a gathering of spectators at a Rugby football match in Lancashire. The gae attracted people from all parts of the kingdom. Scotchmen from Glasgow, Welshmen from South Wales, and small crowds from Yorkshire districts, and Lancashire towns where the other code reigns supreme. A trainful arrived from Lancaster to see their fellow-townsman, Jimmy Leytham, distinguish himself. Warrington and Leigh supplied a great number of spectators, and but for the attraction of the Salford and Broughton Rangers cup tie many Manchester people would have swollen the crowd.
The gates opened at one o'clock, and straight away there was a tremendous rush for positions. By two o'clock, so rapidly did the people enter, there were quite fifteen thousand people present. In another hour the attendance had grown to thirty thousand, and fifteen hundred pounds had been taken at the gates and in ticket money. Of this, the New Zealanders took 70 per cent., which made a very handsome contribution from Wigan towards the expenses of the tour. The orderliness of the people was generally commented upon. On the shilling side, where the people were massed together in ranks of thousands, the greatest restraint was exercised. Many of the more ardent spirits on the stand acted in distinctly bad taste in booing and hooting at the referee when anything did not go to their pleasing. The rails on the Standishgate side broke down twice under the unusual strain at exciting moments; and it speaks well for the conduct of the crowd that although these gaps were made they did not onc make an effort to overflow on to the touchline. They simply maintained their formed positions, and were largely assisted in this by the terracing that had been made on the embankment. Had there been simply a continuous incline from top to bottom the results might have been very serious. The terraces enabled the people to steady themselves safely.
This tremendous attendance of people should put an end to many discussions as to the capacity of the Wigan ground. Thirty thousand were present and those on the banking affirm that fully five thousand more could have been accommodated if needs be. Several terraces were quite unoccupied.
The music of the Old Borough Band, and an acrobatic performance in the centre of the field enabled the people to pass the time on pleasantly until the arrival of the teams. Both lots of players came in for a terrific reception, and as they lined up facing each other Wigan gave three lusty British cheers ad the "All Blacks", led by that splendid forward, "Bumper" Wright, at once gave their Maori war song, in which they declare it is a fight to the death. Mr. Farrar of Keighley, was the referee, and Mr. Smith, of Widnes, and Mr. J.B. Cooke (president of the Yorkshire County), the touch judges. Mr. Cooke had to act in the absence of Mr. Houghton, of St. Helens.
Wigan: Sharrock (full back); Leytham (captain), Jenkins, T. Thomas, and Miller (three-quarters); J. Thomas and Battersby (half backs); Cheetham, Silcock, Blears, Brooks, Wilcock and Myers (forwards)
New Zealand: Turtill (full back); Messenger, Rowe and Wrigley (three-quarters); Smith and Todd (five-eighths); R. Wynward (half back); Wright, Tyler, Cross, Lile, Pearce, and Byrne (forwards)
James Leytham, Captain
The game commenced at three o'clock, the visitors playing towards Powell Street, and Wright set the ball in motion. Sharrock was at once tested, and the extremely quick movements of the visitors led to Wigan being bothered for a few minutes. They required a little time to steady down. But in those opening minutes the wigan line almost met with disaster, and it required Wigan to tackle with unerring skill. Todd, Wynyard, and Wrigley were uncomfortably dangerous from a Wigan point of view, and the feeling prevailed that something was going to happen.
However, the pertiacity shown by Wigan in these anxious moments of defence had its reward. The pressure was eased. Sharrock and Tomy Thomas put in some timely kicking, and the home forwards soon found themselves busily engaged in the centre. Messenger, the famous goalkicker, had a long shot at goal that was a long way off the mark. Another fine movement by Wynyard seemed destined to be successful. He slipped away from the scrimmage like a hare, swerving and bluffing successfully. Had he not stumbled we believe he would have been over. Wrigley was bounced into touch when going for the line in his bustling style. However Wigan were improving all the time, and when about half was the ball was swiftly passed among the backs until it reached Leytham. He took it beautifully, applied his foot, and then getting his head down ran for all he was worth. Messenger and Rowe were clearly beaten. Leytham regained the ball and ran over the line with a splendid try. How the spectators cheered! It took them quite a ling time to get quiet again. Leytham's goal kick met with no luck.
After this, New Zealand bore down upon the Wigan line, the play being mainly on the stand side. Miller was often in the thick of it, and his lack of weight placed him at a disadvantage when in the clutches of the burly Colonials. However, the pretty passing of Wynyard ad Todd had its reward as Wrigley soon had the ball and the line at his mercy, and ran over before Sharrock could get near enough to tackle. At this not too difficult place Messenger was expected to land the goal. His attempt was good, but not good enough. with the scores level the sides went into the game ding-dong. It was surprising what interest was maintained. Not a dull moment. Something attractive was always taking place. Either the "All Blacks" were putting in short kicks with a fast follow up, or the Wigan forwards were seen as steady as rocks in the scrimmage, and the half-backs and the centres playing with a certainty and keenness that no New Zealand adroitness could overcome. Again was an opening in the visitors' defence made. Johnny Thomas receiving from Battersby gave to his name sake Tommy, who handed on to Jenkins. He struggled hard to free himself from opposition, and succeeded in sending out to Leytham, who catching the ball on his speed rounded Turtill with a fine burst, and scored his second try. The cheering was greater than ever. Tomy Thomas was the kicker this time, but also had no success.
Wigan now seemed to have the measure of their opponents, their great advantage lying in the easy manner in which they secured the ball in the pack. Sharrock was occasionally hard pressed because of the little room they gave him to kick, but the attack was generally nipped in the bud before it became very dangerous. Miller was bestowing excellent attention to Wrigley, finding that if he went low enough he could always stay his progress; and on the other side Messenger did little else than kick. Very little seemed to be seen of Rowe and Smith. Leytham again provided some excitement on his wing with a kick and fast follow up. He seemed to be on the point of scoring when knocked away from the ball, and he appealed for obstruction though with no success. Just before half-time, Battersby broke away with a fine individual effort. He passed inside to Johnny Thomas who flung the ball then to Thomas, the centre who, however, could not hold on to it. It was seen that Battersby was injured, and he had to be led off the field. Wigan were cheered for their fine play as they had their usual half-time interval.
When the game restarted one could see that Tyler, the burly forward, was taken out of the scrimmage on Leytham's side to keep an eye on the Wigan captain. The visitors by fast open play set up an attack, and a couple of forwards had a fine chance of scoring, but blindered. Messenger gave the people an idea of what he could do... Sharrock was doing magnificent service for Wigan, and Wrigley as tackled by Miller in a way that caused the spectators to shout with delight. Tyler was doing useful work on the wing now. Messenger having gone centre.An accident unfortunately befel Blears. He was heavily tackled, and an opponents foot or knee must have caught above the eye, and inflicted a nasty wound. Dr. Monks was at hand, and the members of the St. John Ambulance Association clocking very smart in their help. With all this aid, Blears was patched up after a few minutes, and was able to resume and do his best. He was however, not the ame player afterwards, nor was Battersby at his best, for he was limping quite painfully. No one could complain that Wigan were not well holding their own. They were playing with the greatest determination, and rarely making a mistake.
Brooks in his eagerness tried to pick up, when he might have dribbled over easily, and then Tommy Thomas brought down Wrigley with a magnificent tackle. Thomas and Miller were always effective on their wing, and doing something useful. Then Leytham took a penalty shot at goal, and was unlucky enough to see the balls trike the posts and bounce back into play. Tyler and Messenger were working desperately hard and Smith was here-abouts seen to great advantage. He was noticeable for his magnificent running - a great high stride. But very often he simply progressed across the field, not finding a single weak spot in the defence that Wigan extended to him. It was very pretty, like a lot of the passing, but not effective. Yet New Zealand were always dangerous when the ball became loose, and they required a vast amount of watching.
At last, the Wigan backs freed themselves from their lusty tacklers. They passed, the two halves, then Tommy Thomas to Jenkins, with fine speed and accuracy, and Leytham finally had the ball. He put on such a magnificent burst of speed that he shot away from the fast men of New Zealand, and completed a try of a character that is rarely seen - a truly great effort, and Leytham received ovation. Tommy Thomas failed badly at goal. What followed was remarkable. For a few minute the New Zealand defence became disorganised, and broke down. The ball got loose and Jenkins dribbled through at full speed. At the right moment it bounced properly for him, he picked up, and scored another capital try. A goal was not kicked by Leytham, but Wigan were ahead by nine points. Little time remained for New Zealand but they nerved themselves for a great effort, and one could not but admire their courage, their fierce rushes and trickiness. If Wigan had not remained steady all would have been over with them. But they were just as stubborn as New Zealand were impetuous, and kept their line intact until the last few minutes. Then the visitors had a free kick and did not go for goal, but kicked up. Blears, with his sight damaged, was beaten by Cross, and before Sharrock knew where he was the "All Blacks" had scored. Turtill kicked an easy goal, and five points were knocked off. In the short remaining time the visitors held a slight advantage, but they could find no more openings, and the whistle blew for time, the score being:-
Wigan .......... 0 4 - 12 points
New Zealand... 1 2 - 8 points
The delighted crowd rushed on to the field, and Leytham, the hero of the hour, was carried off shoulder high.
THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN
Immediately the match was over the players lost no opportunity of congratulating each other and seeking for mementoes of the occasion. A Wigan player had the ball under his arm, but we are told he handed it over to Smith, when that player made an earnest request for it as something by which he would always remember the game. "Bumper" Wright's desire was the jersey of Leytham, and in fact there was a general interchange of jerseys among the players, and at the conclusion the Wigan Club were minus thirteen of their jerseys. Many of the players fraternised most cordially, and souvenirs passed from one to the other. It is stated that several exchanged watches, and that Johnny Thomas received from Todd a pendant which he will retain to mark the happy day. In a couple of finely decorated waggonnettes, marked with the word of welcome to the Green Fern of New Zealand, and their brethren from over the seas the players left Powell Street, and passed through a wildly cheering crowd along Standishgate and Wallgate, with the Old Borough Band at their head. Such a tremendous scene of excitement and enthusiasm has rarely been seen in Wigan streets.. Flags were waved from the conveyances, and cheers for both teams were continuous. It was a triumphant procession the whole way, and the New Zealanders were certainly happy with the interest their visit had created.
It will be said that James Leytham was the hero of the hour for Wigan. His tries were the result of brilliant individual efforts of the highest order. Another newspaper exclaimed that "to score three tries against the redoubtable "All Blacks" is a feat that will possibly not be equalled by any man during the tour. Leytham as a player has been noted for many great deeds, but he eclipsed everything by his superb play on Saturday." High praised indeed for Leytham in what was until this moment his greatest ever performance.
With the Wigan captain giving the best of himself against New Zealand, next for praise were the two centres of Bert Jenkins and Tommy Thomas. They gave an exhibition of sound play, intermixed with aggressiveness which left no doubt as to their intentions. Joe Miller played a solid game without being brilliant, and Battersby, at half back, was a worker in every sense of the term. Johnny Thomas was equal to the needs of the occasion, and at full back Sharrock fully maintained the reputation of being one of the best men in his position in the county.
After the match, both teams were entertained to a banquet at the Masonic Hall, Tower Buildings. Mr. John Counsell, the chairman of the Wigan Committee presided, and among the gentlemen present, apart from the Wigan Committee, were the ex-Mayor Councillor O'Donahue), Dr. Monks, Mr. Jim Slevin (the Old Dog), Mr. G. Hardy and later in the evening the Mayor (Councillor S. Wood). Mr. Baskerville, the organising secretary of the tour, and Mr. H.J. Palmer, the manager of the visiting team, were also present. The whole of the New Zealand players, including all reserves, were present, fraternising with the Wigan players. Mr. and Mrs. Greenwood, of the Dog and Partridge Hotel, catered admirably, the tables presented a charming appearance, and the hospitality of the Wigan Club was unbounded. In no other town, said the New Zealanders, had the Colonials been received more handsomely or with greater kindly consideration.
During the evening great enthusiasm was aroused by the receipt of a Royal telegram. In the morning Mr. Palmer, the manager, had sent a telegram to the King, on behalf of the team conveying their congratulations and good wishes to his Majesty on the occasion of his birthday. The message in reply read, "I am commanded by the King to thank the members of the New Zealand Football team for their good wishes on the occasion of his Majesty's birthday - Kollys.". The New Zealanders at once rose to their feet, and gave three rousing cheers for the King. Following the banquet, the Chairman gave the toast of the King in appropriate terms, and the National Anthem was given with tremendous energy and enthusiasm.
Joe Miller, wing
The Chairman, in proposing the health of the New Zealand team, said there had never been a team from New Zealand before that could compare with the present one, and the Wigan Committee took it as a great honour that they had been able to defeat them with the Wigan team. However, there wa not the slightest doubt they were a splendid side. Up to now they had met some of the most formidable teams in the Northern Union, and had played two matches a week which was trying for any team. That day they had made a long journey from Ilkley, and being in a train several hours made a great difference to any team. They in Wigan knew how it told upon players when they made a journey into Yorkshire.
"Bumper" Wright, in responding, said that for the first time in England his position was somewhat reversed - he had to reply to that toast as one of a losing team. But he was not a bit ashamed of that. None of their team were. They had been defeated that day by a better team, and they were proud to say that they were glad to be defeated by such a team. He could only say that Wigan had defeated the best footballers they could produce in New Zealand, and it clearly showed to his mind how the Northern Union game had advanced over the amateur game. The game that day had been a most enjoyable one. The Wiga players had been to them the best of sports, likewise the crowd that were watching.
They could not have got a better crowd anywhere in the world. They would like to congratulate Captain Leytham and the team of Wigan for the magnificent performances they had put up that day. Mr. Wright did not hesitate to express his opinion that Leytham was the finest three-quarter he had seen in England, and this opinion was also shared by Messenger himself. Mr. Baskerville was most enthusiastic when talking about the ground and the crowd. He said it certainly was the finest crowd they had played before, and the ground he considered admirably equipped.
The toasts and pats on the backs continued. It was a great evening. The New Zealanders have an exhibition of their vocal efforts in the native language, which was at once startling and amusing to the British ear. "Bumper" Wright thanked the Wigan Committee for the very handsome way in which they had entertained them that night, and asked his players to once more give the war cry. The players, led by their captain, repeated the war cry with great gusto, and afterwards left the masonic Hall to catch the Yorkshire train just before eight o'clock. They expressed their delight at the way they had been received, and also applauded very enthusiastically the singing of Mr. Walter Ainscough and Mr. J. Sumner. Large crowds accompanied the New Zealanders to the train station, and were given a very hearty send-off.
The crowd of 30,000 was a monster crowd. It by far eclipsed any crowd on this particular New Zealand tour of the Northern Union, with Broughton Rangers managing an excellent 24,000 themselves a few weeks before this Wigan match. Of course, records were broken. Record receipts were taken of £1,249 6s 3d. The second highest gate was £482 0s. 3d. in the Broughton Rangers v Hunslet Cup match. It was a monster.
One thing is for sure, the legacy of James Leytham. The more that is written of him the stronger his legacy. This game against New Zealand was Leythams finest hour. Our Captain.
Saturday November 9th, 1907, will go down as one of the finest rugby matches Wigan Warriors have ever taken part in. James Leythams high water mark.
The All Golds, as dubbed by the Sydney press later on, would go on to have a great Tour but tragedy struck whilst they returned towards home in 1908 when Albert Baskerville sadly died of pneumonia on a ship between Sydney and Brisbane on May 20, 1908, aged just 25.
Jimmy Leytham would go on to play against the New Zealanders for the Northern Union at Headingley, Leeds and at Stamford Bridge, London. He scored in both encounters. But although missing from the third test at Cheltenham on February 15, 1908, Wigan did however come away from the match with one important piece of news: the signing of a certain Mr. Lancelot Beaumont Todd and Massa Johnston.