Diary of John Counsell
One can build up a picture of life in the Rugby Football World by using one's imagination when reading events in old newspapers, as I do. Stories may be passed down and events may be remembered first hand. When it comes to a diary, you are looking into the window of someone's life. It is their first hand account of events that happened and their own views on matters. We come to John Counsell.
The following is an excerpt from the Wigan Examiner from 24th September, 1927. It is an introduction to John and the roles he played in the history of the Wigan Football Club. The following source material, unedited, is supplied thanks to Mike Latham.
If any man can claim to be a real "out-and-out," "dyed-in-the-wool," Wiganer it is surely John Counsell. His father was born in Wigan, and lived to be over ninety; his grandfather was born in Wigan, and he too lived to be over ninety years in the "Ancient and Loyal Borough."
How many other ancestors were natives of the old town is not known; from his two immediate forbears he has certainly inherited the title of a "hundred per cent." Wiganer.
His own age? Well, he is what he looks and what he feels, still a young man (the writer, this week, happened upon a photograph of his subject taken over twenty years ago, and marvelled that the past two decades - perhaps the most wearying and trying in the world's history, had aged him only in an imperceptible degree).
But Mr. Counsell remembers the days - it is inevitable - that one's mind should immediately turn to thoughts of Rugby when John Counsell is the subject - he remembers the early struggling days of the Wigan Rugby club, when Tommy Morris, the half-back, used to score in "Morris's corner," on the Upper Dicconson-street ground, when such names as Joe Wardle, Joe Clegg, doughty three-quarters, and Ingham, a forward from Chorley, were names which stirred the Rugby fan as the names of Seeling, Jenkins, Leytham and others did a few years before the war, and that of Sullivan does to-day.
In those days the club needed "dough," and perhaps it was a fellow-feeling on John Counsell's part which prompted him to take up a collecting book for the club - for young John "kneaded dough" also at that time, being an operative baker.
And right along from that time John Counsell has stuck by the club, through change after change, change of ground, change of fortune, the inevitable change of personnel, and the change which surely he must have voted whole-heartedly for - the change in numbers from fifteen to a "baker's dozen."
But he is not the man to talk over much about himself or his doings anyway. Had he been he might have added an Australian tour to his fond memories.
There is nothing of the swashbuckler about him, nothing blatant or domineering, but just a placid philosophic serenity, which is perhaps the secret of his perennial youth. Still, his work is none the less effective without "bally-hooing" or window dressing.
One cannot remain a member of such bodies as the Rugby League Council, the Northern League Council, and the Lancashire League Council for sixteen years as Mr. Counsell has done, without having earned distinction by hard work, even if it has been unheralded and unsung. Indeed, only this season has Mr. Counsell been awarded the Northern League's Long-Service Medal a very rarely conferred distinction.
We shall not attempt to record his career chronologically, but will say that he first saw the light-o'-day in St. Thomas Ward; that as a boy he attended St. Thomas's School; that he commenced work in the bakehouse of Mr. William Marsh, of Chapel-lane; that on attaining his majority he joined his brothers William and Thomas in a bread-baking business in Wallgate, later, had a shop in Caroline-street, and eventually removed to the premises in Appleton-street, where the firm of Counsell Bros. flourishes to-day.
During his career as a baker and provider of the "staff of life," Mr. Counsell has held the positions of secretary to the Wigan Branch of the Operative Bakers' Association and President of the Wigan Master Bakers' Association, filling the former position for twenty years and the latter for the past eighteen years.
In politics a Conservative, Mr. Counsell in 1908 was elected a member of the Town Council for Victoria Ward, defeating the Socialist candidate, Mr. Wm. Stoker, who previously had created a sensation by defeating the late Mr. Thomas Fyans. John Counsell remained a member of the Council for thirteen years, and was elected Alderman in his twelfth year as a Councillor. In all probability he would have been still a factor in our Local Government, had not a "contretemps" arisen in which he refused, and rightly so, to be made into a "sacrifice" as part of a political bargain.
He resigned after one year on the Aldermanic Bench. Wigan surely lost a sane and level headed legislator. But the Council's loss was the Wigan R.F.C.'s gain, for, already a member of the management since 1902, he threw himself whole-heartedly into his work, and to-day there is no one more respected nor admired in the Rugby football world than John Counsell.
To be sure, there have been times when he, along with his fellow committee, have been anathematised by fickle supporters, who seek to temper the sting of defeat by the sight of the directorates' head on a charger. It goes for nothing that for years, with a consistency unequalled by any other management in the Rugby League, the directors have provided the highest class of football fare, and that they are ever seeking to serve up the same standard.
After all, directors really should be supermen, be omniscient, and possess second sight - but this is all by the way. Whatever praise or criticism has come Mr. Counsell's way, it has not affected him one iota. And he must certainly have had his share of both during his twenty-five years' membership of the Wigan Committee and his seventeen years' chairmanship.
As you can tell, Mr. Counsell was a very busy man. To navigate between the pages of his diary just click on the links below. The Diary has been issued in parts in old newspapers, in Wigan Council's Past Forward magazine and bits and bobs elsewhere. This is the first time the full diary is available for all to see. Many thanks to Ron Hunt of Wigan World who kindly lent me a full copy of a book he had of the diary. John White, an avid Wigan supporter also supplied information and cuttings for this to happen. Without Ron and John this wouldn't be seen by you all. Very many thanks.
Here are a few photographs of committeemen that feature prominently over the 40 year period: