Wigan vs Swinton. During the time we are interested in, Swinton were the team to beat. Spearheaded by the immortal Jim Valentine and Bumby in the halves, Swinton were a formidable force. Wigan at this period were at the peak of their powers in the pre-Northern Union days and commanded the position of the best club in West Lancashire, if not, Lancashire itself.
Billy Atkinson and Ned Bullough, the Wigan forward duo, were now regular sin the Lancashire County side, alongside Valentine and Bumby, alongside Tom Brayshay who, like Wigan's legendary captain Jim Slevin, was saving his best form until last before retirement.
Earlier in the season Swinton had avenged their New Years Day defeat from the 1889-90 season by beating Wigan in front of 7,500 in early October. On that day, 2,500 Wiganers journeyed to Swinton to see if Slevin's men could get another one over Valentine and co. Sadly, the Lions gave Wigan a lesson in game management, winning by a Dropped goal and try to nil. The Wigan public had to wait half a year for the re-match... and what a spectacle awaited them.
In his 'Football Notes' following the game, "Crossbar" takes us through events:
"The largest number of people ever seen on the Wigan Rugby Football ground was seen on Saturday, and I should imagine that the gate money amounted to a handsome sum. However much it is, it would have been considerably augmented had more complete preparations been for such a rush of spectators. In my opinion the Wigan committee, although they know that the match with the Swinton Lions would be productive of a large attendance, had no anticipation of the crowds which wended their way down Frog-lane. The gate staff and preparations were on a scale quite large enough to cope with an ordinary number of five or six thousand persons, but proved themselves to be totally inadequate when the great rush was made.
"The gates gave way slowly before the pressing mass, and the people rolled on to the ground in hundreds, overcrowding the feeble opposition in much less time than it takes to write this. It would be foolish to say that the people wished to obtain a good seat, and as they found themselves unable to get near the booking-office the gates were forced to give way.
"All this meant considerable loss to the Wigan club, and more so when the entrances to the reserved portions of the ground were swept on one side and the excited people had quickly picked out favourable spots from which to view the game without producing the necessary coin. When the game started it was a fine sight to see the countless numbers of spectators with eager faces, all ready to witness a fray of so great an importance.
As for the match...
An enormous crowd assembled to witness this important match on the Wigan ground of Saturday, and every available stand was taken up by the spectators. Various estimates were given as to the numbers present, and it may be safely be stated that there were over twelve thousand persons on the field. Even the top of the covered stand was thronged with enthusiasts, whose ardour, however, considerably cooled when it was rumoured that the erection was not able to bear the strain, and it was in fact giving way. Numbers jumped off the stand to escape the impending catastrophe, but fortunately no accident occured.
The crush was so great that any people obtained admission to the ground without payment, the entrances being forced open, and this must necessarily have entailed some loss by the Wigan club.
"Crossbar" continued... "When the two best clubs in Lancashire meet one naturally expects to see something out of the common, and when he is brought face to face with tactics such as those displayed by many Swintonians, he becomes disgusted and expresses in free terms his indignation at a club of their standing resorting to such sorry devices in order to keep themselves at the top of the Lancashire football tree.
"Whatever Swinton may think, Wiganers are decidedly of opinion that the borough club is superior. They have been defeated twice it is true, but on each occasion Swinton would be acting falsely if they contended that they had more of the game than their foremen. On SaTurday, no club in the world was more surely deprived of a draw or even a win, when such was right and deserving. Wiganers are having a hearty growl at the referee, and his appointment does certainly seem enveloped in considerable mist.
"Let me premise by stating that Swinton are most particular in the choice of a referee when playing Wigan. The latter nominate a gentleman from Yorkshire who has no interest in either club, and they object to the name. At last the name of Mr. Durandu, of Liverpool, is submitted, and as Wigan understand, he is elected. Judge of their astonishment when at the last minute Mr. Hunter, of Birch, near Manchester, is appointed as referee, Mr. hunter may try to be fair enough, but it i at once apparent that in an important engagement such as that was, the referee should have no local interest whatsoever.
Two forties were agreed upon, and Swinton having won the toss Atkinson kicked off towards the Railway goal, and Winterbottom returned into touch. A scrimmage ensued at centre, and Winterbottom came away in fine style, but did not gain much ground, as he practically ran across the field. Hallam was next conspicuous, and W. Halliwell got away from a scrimmage and kicked to Paul, who was well collared by Atkinson, but the ball was brought back and a scrimmage formed. Scrimmage after scrimmage ensued, and they were most stubbornly contested.
Wigan pressed, and a free kick was awarded to the home team for off-side play. Anderton landed the ball well up field, and Paul was hooted for a bit of soft play. Billy Halliwell threw to Anderton, and Jack made a capital run towards the Swinton line. The Swinton backs relieved their lines, and a rush of their forwards was well saved by Halliwell, who kicked to Pearson, but the latter was held by Anderton before he could make much headway. "Smiler." who along with Wardle wa working very hard, threw the ball to Anderton, and he kicked to Paul, the latter making his mark. A huge punt sent the ball well into the Wigan quarters, and J. Lowe in stopping a rush of the Swinton forwards was temporarily injured.
The Wigan backs gained ground with their passing, but Anderton was eventually collared. Valentine put in a tall kick, and Winterbottom following, pushed Halliwell into touch before he could return. Swinton caused operations to take place in the Wigan quarters. J. Halliwell was hard pressed, and though he relieved several times his kick was eventually charged down, and Hall got over for Swinton, a soft try ensuing. Paul missed kicking a goal from an easy position.
Anderton dropped out and Paul returned well to the Wigan line, where a scrimmage was formed. The visitors, for a time, were having the best of matters, but Wigan broke through a scrimmage and removed the venue of play to the Swinton end. Exciting play followed, and Pearson made a futile drop at goal. Anderton retaliated with a good run, and Seddon further improved matters, but the efforts of the Wigan forwards were neutralised by the Swinton backs.
Another run by Anderton was spoiled when he passed to Atkinson and the latter knocked the ball on. Wardle was very prominent, and for a time Swinton were pressed. Valentine kicked, and after Halliwell had returned, the international knocked the Wigan full back down. The collaring on both sides was very effective, and Wigan were again pressing, but they could not break through the defence. Slevin and Seddon both tried at goal, but their kicks were charged down.
Swinton again attacked, and some fumbling on the part of the Wigan backs resulted in a touchdown for Swinton. Half-time arrived with the score:- Swinton, 0-0-1; Wigan, nil.
Valentine re-started, and Atkinson's kick was charged down. Scrimmaging was the order of play until Valentine took a flying kick at goal, a minor only resulting. From a long throw out Hatton received, and he put in a very useful kick which gained Wigan some ground. W. Halliwell and Wardle were instrumental in taking the ball down the field. Valentine got hold, but before he could get away Seddon had him fast.
The game now became more exciting, and the players were not particular in their style of collaring. Offside play by Swinton caused Wigan to have a free kick. Swinton rushed up the field, and Hatton saved. He passed to Seddon, who ran well, and then turned the ball over to Slevin, who tried to get away, but after running some distance he was pushed into touch. The Swinton forwards rushed up the field, and J. Halliwell made a capital save, getting the ball away under exceptional difficulties. Hatton was again conspicuous, and after running a short way he passed to Slevin, but the latter was well collared by Winterbottom, and a trial of strength ensued. In the struggle both players fell to the ground, Slevin uppermost, and this piece of work apparently delighted the popular side, as they were loud in their applause.
The Wigan forwards, with a combined rush, made an attack on the Swinton fortress, but the backs were equal to the emergency, and the ball was out of danger. Wigan were, if anything, having the best of matters, and though Valentine gained a free kick from an overhead by Hatton, the Wigan forwards, headed by Brayshay and Donnelly, dribbled towards Paul, who was collared with the ball. Wardle passed to Anderton, who failed to stick to the ball, and Pearson, rushing up, got past Anderton, but he was well tackled by J. Halliwell. Wigan pressed, and relief was only brought about by conceding a minor. Swinton dropped out, and Anderton returned well, and another minor fell to the home team. Time was now drawing to a close, and Swinton were pressed in their own quarters. After Anderton had put in a run, Dick Seddon dropped at goal, and Slevin following up, touched the ball down. Valentine also rushed up, and kicked the ball from under him. The ball went into touch in the field of play, and, strange to say, the referee allowed a dead ball.
Shortly after this time was called, leaving Swinton the winners of a hard game by 1 try and 2 minors to 3 minors.
Swinton: - Paul, full back; Winterbottom, Valentine, Pearson, three-quarter backs; Bumby and Brockback, half-backs; Hodgkiss, Hallam, Rothwell, Lomax, Hall, A. Sharples, G. Sharples, Evans, and Walker, forwards.
Wigan:- J. Halliwell, full back; Slevin, Seddon, and Anderton, three-quarter backs; W. Halliwell and Wardle, half backs; Atkinson, Brayshay, Lowe, Donnelly, Hatton, Dempsey, Seddon, McNamara, and Bibby, forwards
Touchline guardians, Messrs. J.T. Seddon and J. Underwood. Referee, Mr. T. Hunter, Birch.
As "Crossbar" continued in his football column the following week in the Wigan Observer... "Swinton won by a try. This point Wigan allege was unfairly obtained, as Halliwell held the ball, but was forcibly carried over the line. Unfortunately he then lost his head, and making a miskick let in the Swinton men.
"The Press stand was excessively crowded," regarded Crossbar, "and it is time the committee made inquiries as to the title of some persons who spend their Saturday afternoons within the enclosure. They are not pressmen, and if not reporting they certainly ought to be ousted. It may be said on the other hand that there are acknowledged pressmen on the stand who do not appear to be working during the afternoon, but journalists have a great many duties to perform beyond simply jotting down the items of play, and mental notes have to be taken which are useful at a later date."