West Lancs Cup 1887
The season of 1886-87 saw new things for the Wigan Club. The Collier Men had by now settled into a new ground at Frog Lane/ Prescott Street, sharing their abode with the Cricketers and also attracting better competition, facing crack teams such as Llanelli (the Welsh Cup holders), Wakefield Trinity and Batley.
A season earlier, the West Lancashire and Border Towns Union Cup was established,with the inaugural final being won by Warrington. Wigan did not take the competition seriously. Blackrod were eventually flicked aside after several postponed fixtures in the first round due to frost, and Edge Hill were disposed of quite easily in the second round as a Slevin-less Wigan won by 6 tries and several minor points. The third round would have seen Wigan face off against the mighty Runcorn but, money talked! On the 27th March, Rochdale Hornets, one of the best rugby teams in the country, were visiting Wigan and a nailed on gate could not be sacrificed. Wigan sent an 'a'-team to Runcorn and lost heavily. It wasn't to be the first time Wigan thought of gates over Cups. (Wigan beat Rochdale if you're interested).
In the end, Warrington won the first West Lancashire Cup and were in no mood of giving it up. Wigans start to the 1886-7 season did not start very well, indeed, Wigan carried on where they left off, losing. With the move across town to join up with the cricketers at the Frog Lane ground happening, Wigan enjoyed a success over Wakefield Trinity but then went on a six-game winless run. Come November 1886, Slevin, Whittle and Brayshay had been called up to represent West Lancashire to face Westmorland at Kendal. Slevin gained his customary try on the same day that Wigan defeated Oldham via a try from Sam Kay and goal by the kid "Jack" Anderton. To hope that Wigan's fortunes would improve heading into the festive period would be foolish. When the New Year eventually arrived, Wigan had only registered four wins since the opening day, viz., Wakefield Trinity, Rochdale Hornets, Liverpool Old Boys and Oldham. Fantastic teams arguably but Slevins men were not at the races.
Personal tragedy struck James Slevin, the Wigan captain, at the start of 1887. His daughter Annie sadly died aged 2 years old and Jim missed several games because of this. Upon his return there was a marked uptick in results, defeating Jim Valentines Swinton, Liverpool Old Boys and drawing with Oldham as February came into play.
Who knows? Perhaps a disappointing season and tragedy needed the Wigan Club to refocus their efforts and have an aim, instead of gate money (of course gate money always won). Wigan knew that they would be in for the Wigan Union Charity Cup come April but the success of the West Lancashire Cup spurred them on. Come late February, the relevant committees gathered together at the Goat Hotel, Liverpool and up started yet again the second battle for the West Lancashire and Border Towns Union Cup.
In regular matches, Aspull had defeated the Cup holders Warrington quite well. The Wigan Observers' "Cross-bar" stated that Warrington got too cocky and felt that they were invincible. alas, they were not. Daff Hulme and Dicky Seddon were coming into form just at the right time for them.
In January, the West Lancs (for short) confirmed a limit to the number of clubs taking part to 16 clubs for that years competition: Aspull, Blackrod, Bootle, Litherland, Liverpool Wanderers, Leigh, Southport Olympic, St. Helens, St. Helens Recreation, Tuebrook, Tyldesley, Walkden, Walton, Warrington, Widnes and Wigan. On tuesday 11th January the first round draw took place with the first named club having choice of ground:
Tuebrook v Tyldesley; Liverpool Wanderers v Walton; St. Helens v Warrington; Widnes v Blackrod; Walkden v Leigh; Bootle v St. Helens Recreation; Litherland v Wigan; Aspull v Southport Olympic.
On the fourth of March, a day before the first round tie away at Litherland (Wigan tried to get the fixture in the coal town but failed), Jim Slevin had more sad news with the death of another close family member, his father John. Of course, Jim did not feature. For the match, Wigan were without "Jack" Anderton and fullback "Parrot" Anderton owing to injuries. Wiganers felt that Litherland were a poor team. True, but still a game had to be won regardless and it was expected that the Wigan forwards would win the match themselves. However, a few minutes before the train was due to depart some of the 'demon dribblers' had not turned up, and matters looked bleak for Wigan. There was much hurrying to and fro, and just in the nick of time the requisite number of players were got together.
Due to the kerfuffle scuttling along Wallgate trying to get the players on the train, Grundy, a reserve forward started the match. It quickly became apparent that Wigan had 16 men on the field. Grundy thought that not everyone turned up so he decided to start playing himself! It was stated that he knew all men had turned up but regardless, he got dressed and joined the game! As for the game, the Wigan forwards did not have a good time of it. Their recent good form deserted them. Owing to the superior passing of the Litherland backs, Wigan forward Whittle changed position and within 10 minutes we had gained a couple of tries and a try.
Charlie Samuels was the hero of the hour, scoring twice and kicking the two premier goals. If it wasn't for the loud shouts of the Wigan spectators, samuels would not have been entrusted with the place kicks. If the match had been played at Wigan, both clubs would have benefited. The gate at Litherland realised the magnanimous sum of £4 6s. The expenses came in at £4 11s., leaving a deficiency of 5s. and Wigan, instead of receiving something, had to pay 2s. 6d. to make up the deficit. Any road, Wigan were through and into Round 2.
Aspull had easily negotiated past Wiganite friends Southport Olympic, whereas the Cup holders Warrington kept up their run disposing of St. Helens.
March 12, 1887. Wigan travelled to ten or so miles to Walkden with a following of around 1,000 supporters for the second round tie including many enthusiasts from Tyldesley and Leigh. Captain Slevin had returned to the team with Jack Anderton occupying the fullback role. "Parrot" Anderton had informed the club that he would no longer be a part of the team.
Slevin won the toss (his knack) but weirdly he decided to play against the strong wind. Perhaps the peculiar pitch and its slope had something to do with Mr. Slevins decision. Wigan struggled in the first half and were penned around their goal for a time as Walkden played the wind perfectly. In the second half the wind died but i the end it all came good. The Wigan forwards had a better day in the office with their scrimmaging far superior to that of what Walkden could manage. A spectator remarked, "Walkden have never been pushed about before, but the Wigan forwards can do it." Due to this onslaught, Walkden tired in the final 20 minutes and it showed. Slevin knew that Walkden would mark him, and they did. Instead, Slevin turned creator rather than finisher, setting up a try for Jack Anderton and showed off his customary knocking-off powers: "The Slevin Chuck" as Central Park spectators still referred to it as many decades later.
Wigan won the game by 1 goal, 2 tries and 6 minors versus 1 goal and 5 minor points.
So, as it was, Wigan had a semi final tie lined up against the Cup holders Warrington. The "Wire-pullers" had overcome a tight match against Widnes. Aspull had easily disposed of the St. Helens Recreation club by three tries to nil and faced the Mighty Bongers of Tyldesley in the other semi final. The ties would be played on neutral ground. Aspull and Tyldesley would settle their differences at Wigans ground at Prescott Street whereas Wigan and Warrington would meet each other at 'neutral' St. Helens' Recreation Ground.
12,000 spectators filled the Recreation Ground in St. Helens for the semi final tie against Warrington. Around 3,000 travelled from Wigan via special trains. The Wiganers had principally gathered on the threepenny side, and a great cheer was given for Slevin on entering the enclosure. Slevin, of course, won the toss and decided to play with up the slight incline. In comparison, Tyldesley v Aspull attracted a crowd of 3,500 over in Wigan.
The Warrington supporters had been vocal pre-match as to their superiority and thought they would win. It was their year. Alas, it was not to be. Within nine minutes, Slevins men had gained nine points and Warrington never got close. Forward Whittle took two Warrington men across the line with him in the act of dropping on the ball, with Jack Anderton kicking the premier goal. Wigan didn't really score until the last twenty or so minutes so a description of the game is not needed. A tough battle perhaps. Wigan eventually won comfortably by 12 points to 6. Jim Slevin was carried off the field and on arriving at Wigan the warm-hearted and popular skipper was borne to his hostelry (Bulls Head Hotel, Market Place) on the shoulders of his admirers, followed by a big crowd.
Aspull pluckily negotiated past Tyldesley in the other semi final played at Wigan. The Cup will be coming to the town but the question was, who would win it?
Tragedy is the running theme to this particular phase of Wigan's journey. All week, the town and district of Wigan were buzzing with the news that rivals Aspull and Wigan would face each other for the West Lancashire Cup, that was being played for at Fairfield, Liverpool.
On the afternoon of the Final, 26th March, hundreds of Wigan supporters (and Aspull too) gathered at the London and North-Western station to take advantage of cheap train tickets and journey to Liverpool. The platform was soon filled by around 1,600 excited people, and the efforts of the officials of the rail company proved insufficient to keep the impatient crowd in order. Two trains had been organised. When the first train started slowing to a halt, there was a tremendous rush forward. Even when the train was still in motion each door was assailed by the struggling combatants for seats. A loud cry was then raised that a man was under the train.
So great was the noise that the train could not be stopped at once, but as soon as it was brought to a standstill it was seen that this was the case. The deceased was a young man named John Killis, from New Springs and lived on Cale Lane, home of Aspull. His body was frightfully mangled and that's all that is to be said. Ellis was looking to journey to Liverpool and witness the Cup Final. It ended in tragedy. Employed by the Wigan Waggon Works, he intended to return down south (according to close family) and settle down with relatives near London.
Aspull travelled to the Final in the morning. Wigan, however, were travelling in the afternoon and the whole of the Wigan Rugby Football Club were at the station when the tragedy occurred. Of course, witnessing such horror had an impact on the game, which I shall let you know now, Wigan lost heavily. Wigan travelled quietly in the carriages, with the talk not about how to beat Aspull but of the death of the supporter. It was gloomy. Aspull would have had no idea at all, unless the news were to be wired to them.
In short, 5,000 spectators turned up to witness the Final tie, almost all hailing from the Wigan borough. The crowd could have easily been four-times that if it was staged at Wigan, or St Helens' ground. Aspull outshone Wigan in every department. Their backline included Pilkington at fullback, Johnny Roberts, Dick Seddon and Ned Bullough. All these men would later play for and captain Wigan but for now, in 1887, they were very much only thinking about their pit village. Daff Hulme and Cartwright were their half-backs, said to be one of the best pairings in the pre-Northern Union days whereas their forwards included the Lindsay brothers, Monks, Haydock and Baxendale.
For Wigan, Slevin played at fullback with Anderton, Hunter and Samuels in the backline. Jack Mitchinson partnered Tommy Morris in the halves. It was a mis-match. Mitchinson was still young and learning his trade, but made a good account of himself, being noted that he was the best player on the field. Wigan were outplayed in every department overall though.
Richard Seddon, the future Wiganer who would answer to Slevin raised the trophy for Aspull and was carried off shoulder high to the delight of the Aspull travelling support. In Wigan, the news of the Aspull victory was received with mingled feelings. Hundreds of persons stood before the Observer office awaiting the result, and when a telegram arrived a little before six o'clock saying that Aspull had won by 20 points to one the sympathisers of the Wigan team unhesitatingly declared that someone was practicing a joke upon them. Fifteen minutes later, another telegram arrived from CrossBar of the Wigan Observer stating it to be true and this eventually convinced the crowd of the result. The Aspull contingent within the mass huddle cheered and hastily travelled north to greet their heroes home. The Wiganers slumped off into the early evening.
In Aspull, the news of victory was greeted with "utmost enthusiasm". When the train containing the players arrived at Dicconson Lane station (now defunct on the Westhoughton border), about half-past nine, a large crowd had assembled, and the victors were received with every demonstration of delight. The Hindley All Saints' Brass Band rushed up Hall Lane and was present, and headed the procession to the Aspull Headquarters at the Hare & Hounds pub. Dick Seddon was carried shoulder high, holding the cup in his hands, and a couple of lamps were borne on each side of the trophy in order that it might be seen by those standing on the roadside.
There has been no greater sporting moment in the village of Aspull than that. As for Wigan, we would have our day of course. Aspull did the Cup double, a month later, they defeated Wigan again in the Wigan Union Cup. If you cant beat them, sign them! Isn't that Wigans motto of recent times? Aspull's fortunes slowly declined over politics and this that and another. Richard Seddon would throw his lot in with Wigan eventually to fall under the command of Jim Slevin. Ned Bullough, who at the time was playing three-quarter back would eventually find himself in the Wigan ranks playing as a forward. He would excel and represent England RU. Johnny Roberts would pick up the captaincy left by Dick seddon and again carried Aspull to more success before joining Wigan in the early to mid 1890s when Wigan needed to replace Slevin, Anderton, and eventually Seddon himself.
It is hard to believe how good Aspull were. As the reader, who knew about Aspull before this website? earlyWIGANrugby cannot just be about Wigan RLFC it is unfair as all the clubs in the district are interlinked.
Tragedy then in 1887. But it is one fine story! But not for Aspull and their Cup glory (below) Dick Seddon stood middle, three medals behind the smaller Wigan Union Cup.