Looking back through the earlier days of the Wigan Rugby club purely as a hobby, you get to know quite a lot of things about how the game of rugby developed over time, the characters that graced football fields across Lancashire and beyond, and interesting facts that not many people had come across before or even remember.
Using the British Newspaper Archive and in older days film reels at the Wigan Museum (which took an age to find what you wanted, that's if the bulbs on the projectors were working) really brings to life stories of old. Of course, not all material or newspaper articles are uploaded to the BNA or kept on a film. You always wonder that there is more to be found out somewhere. Luckily, from simply growing this hobby/project you get people who have nuggets of information sent to you via email out of the blue: great-great grandfathers stories or medals, an obscure picture or maybe information on old players from births to deaths to random facts that literally changes their heritage number depending on whether or not the Wigan club recognised War League games or not.
A goldmine of information had been sent by a proper Rugby League historian and current Leigh Centurions chairman Mike Latham (unlike me he knows what he's talking about) concerning, among a lot of things, conversations with old players which were features in the Wigan Examiner after the turn of the century when Wigan were finally starting to be a power. I knew that these articles existed but couldn't get any access to them. In fact a gentleman related to Billy "Smiler" Halliwell, the great Wigan halfback pre and post-Northern Union, mentioned that the interview with Smiler was a cracker.
Opening up the files and reading the first "chat" was literally like opening up the Ark from Indiana Jones (without being incinerated). My aim has always to share the earlier days and I am utterly grateful to Mike Latham for sending me these cuttings. A proper rugby man.
The concept is simple: interview an Old Boy and ask what it was like back then when it all began and during their playing days. Of course, these men played 30 or so years prior to the interviews. In some you can see how different the game was in the early days, how 'raw' as I like to refer to it myself, it was. It's wonderful! The following men played or helped with clubs in the Wigan area in the 1870s, 1880s or 1890s from Wigan to Aspull and Haigh. I've decided to share them with you. As you can see from some of the photographs, a bit of timber around the waist and less foliage on top for many!
So here we include members from Wigan but also of Aspull and other local clubs. It would be wrong to ignore the role played by these and other clubs in the Wigan District at this time because their timelines and course overlapped so well. Wigan, of course, became the premier club and in time the Greatest and most Famous Club in world rugby (there is no argument against that fact, even with my rose-tinted glasses on). Aspull, for example, made Wigan play better, made Wigan want to achieve more and made Wigan want to win at all costs to for the delight of their supporters and the pride of the town. Without the roles of Aspull, Walkden and many other defunct local clubs we probably wouldn't have a rich history and succumb to mediocrity. These clubs and the men in these interviews were pioneers and pushed forwards progress. That's all they wanted wasn't it? Progress? (And to be paid in an envelope after each game on the sly).
(some photos not great quality I know)