A chat with... Daniel Rickards
*note - some of the source material is missing but will still present the conversation as best as.
...The writer was with Mr. John Hope, of Aspull, when he met Mr. Rickards returning in his black garb from the pit, and he promptly indicated his willingness to relate his experiences.
Rickards has the distinction of being one of the founders of the old Aspull club. He stated that he could not be positive in his dates, but he thinks somewhere about 1877 or 1878 he along with Mr. John Hope and Ellis Baxendale were going to practice cricket at St. Elizabeth's cricket ground, near what was commonly known as Barton's Pits, when Mr. Hope suggested they should have a football team. He (Rickards) replied that he would put it before the members of the cricket club, after the practice, otherwise there would have been no play. He afterwards called the members into the cricket tent, and as soon as he mentioned the idea of a football club they all "seemed to jump at it". The only difficulty, he added, was that Hope wanted a Rugby club and Baxendale was in favour of Association. Ultimately they decided upon Rugby, and Ernest Seddon, who was a member of the cricket club, said he could get some rules from their Bob, who was very intimate with certain Wigan supporters. Cricket did not last long after football was started, the club being defunct in two or three seasons. They secured the rules from the Wigan club, who came up and gave them an exhibition game on a field near Woodshaw Pit. Of course, Wigan ran away with the Aspull lads, and the only encouragement they got was from the following comment by a Wigan player, "You don't know the game, and you lack speed, but you might make good players some time." As events proved, Wigan had good cause to remember the improvement that took place in the Aspull team. Looking up the "Examiner" the writer found that the Aspull team on that occasion was: I. Cooper and E. Baxendale, backs; J.G. Ewan and D. Rickards, three-quarters; W.J. Hedley and J. Hope, half-backs; J. Hampson, J. Seddon, J. Rickards, H. Ambrose, J. France, W. Coates, R. Higham, J. Jones and A. Holker, forwards. Mr. J.R. Knowles and Mr. J. Wardle were the umpires.
Rickards was treasurer for the club for about four years, and Hesketh acted as secretary. He accounted for Aspull's progress by the fact that the me used to put in a lot of practice, and kept themselves in condition by following their employment right up to Saturday dinner-time. There was not much money stirring at the start of the club, and Rickards himself found money for the first ball that they played with. They did not have any real "gates"; the people used to come on the field without paying and the officials had to go round with the hat to get what they could. In addition, the players had to pay their own expenses when they went away. Aspull started off as poor a club as could be found, but the position of affairs improved as the club got known. The players used to invite other teams to come and look them up at Aspull, and the reply they got was, "Well, it's such a character of a place." But when they did go they were made very welcome, and, added Rickards, "they cum again." With the exception of one or two, all the players could be found within a stone's throw of the Finger Post. The evening practice games were "a knock-out." When the ball was brought out they played nothing but Association, and in good time they had about twenty aside. Of course, there were official practice games in addition, but that was the nightly exercise. "The reason we played Association," said Rickards, "was because we thought it helped us on the field; we could dribble champion then. I have heard people on the Dicconson-street ground say about the Aspull players, 'the ******* ball is glued to their feet; there's not getting it away.' Aspull got a good reputation through their dribbling, and when I left them I should think they were about the best club in Lancashire."
When the cricket club dropped out the Rugby team changed it's name to Aspull, instead of Aspull St. Elizabeth's. They removed from the field near Barton's Pits and went to one near Dicconson-lane Station. The field was really in Westhoughton but the club-house was in Aspull. After a couple of seasons there, a Mr. Gregory sent for Rickards (and proposed to use of a field that Mr Gregory had *missing from source material but that is the gist).
Rickards informed his fellow members of the generous offer and a sub-committee inspected the land and chose a field near the Pumping Pit on the back side of St. Elizabeth's Church. They occupied that field until 1887. Rickards was married about this time and went to live at Wigan, otherwise he does not think that Aspull would have removed their headquarters to New Springs. The Aspull field was taken from them with the withdrawal of Rickards' influence. About twelve months previous to the club leaving Lower Gullet he was asked about the ground being changed to New Springs. He at once put forward an objection and told the promoters of the scheme that it meant the breaking up of the club. At Aspull nearly everyone could get to practice, but if the club went to New Springs they would be a mile and a half or two miles from home, and they could scarcely be expected to walk that distance and back after practice and then go to work early the following morning. "They got the club down at New Springs, eventually," added Rickards, "and they did not last very long afterwards; they broke up three or four years later. That was due to a shortage of players; Seddon, Roberts, Lawson, and other well known men having left them."
Rickards did not say very much about his own experiences on the field, his excuse being that the other Aspull players had pretty well filled the "Examiner." He stated that when he first started he was the oldest player in the team, and he gave up after about ten seasons. He was assisting the club when they beat Wigan for the Wigan Charity Cup in 1884 by 39 points to 6. Wigan had previously beaten Aspull in the final at Highfield. He remembered that game in particular, because Tim Galvin assisted Aspull. He hailed from Leigh, and came with a big reputation as a sprinter. He was the quickest man on the field but he never out himself out to go for the ball. Rickards out the ball in from touch with the intention of Galvin getting it, but he was too slow to reach it and Charlie Cronshaw snapped it up and ran three-parts of the length of the field to score a try.
Rickards was considered a very useful forward in his day, although he did on occasions play in the three-quarter line. He nearly always occupied a place in the first three, having Tom Hesketh on one side of him and James Sharrock (no relation to the present James) on the other. They were terrors to stick together. "There was no getting through us," remarked Rickards, "because we used to lock ourselves together. I shall never forget one practice game when William Cooper was with us. We got him round the ribs, and he then told us it was impossible or him to get away." He was assisting Aspull in 1886-7, when Aspull beat Wigan at Fairfield in the West Lancashire Cup final, by 24 points to 1 point. On that occasion a supporter who intended being at the match was killed on Wigan Station. Rickards recalls a match at (sic) which he won by scoring a try. The ground was in a terrible state - it might be described as mud and water - and when he scored he was almost buried in the mud. He also related an incident which occurred in a match with Swinton when Bumby was playing. "We were both trying to get the ball out," he said, "and Bumby got lower than me and gave me one under the chin with the back of his head. It was not a bad tip, and I said... I would make it come in useful. I know I gave him one back later in the game ad he said nothing about it."
Another story which has reference to a well-known Aspull Councillor has its humorous side. Aspull were due at Clifton, and when they arrived they were a man short. The aforesaid Councillor, who played occasionally, was drafted into the team, but there were no football pants for him. The difficulty was overcome by borrowing certain articles which were not usually worn by males, and when he appeared he caused endless amusement to the crowd. On an occasion after he had given up the game Rickards met the Aspull team going to Werneth, and they persuaded him to go with them. He got a shilling besides his railway fare, and that was the only time in his life that he ever got paid anything for football playing.
Rickards, who is now 61 years of age, and resides at Church Grove, Wigan, still follows his employment as a collier at the Moor Pit, Scot-lane, Aspull. More power to his elbow!
...Put into Context
The author of this website hails from just across the border of Aspull, to the north of this map, which was published in 1894. Highlighted is St Elizabeth's Church in the top right corner. Further east, you would go downhill towards Dicconson Mill Bridge and "Lower Gullet" where Aspull used to play before their move to Cale-lane in New Springs (highlighted bottom left). Woodshaw Pits, the scene of Aspulls exhibition game with Wigan at the beginning of their journey lies central on this map. If you know this area well, today if it just fields and old slag heaps. Living around this area and first following the history of the Wigan club I have always been fascinated by "Aspull St. Elizabeth's" in our early days under the Wigan Wasps banner. The map shows you quite clearly the number of pits and collieries are in this small village. Daniel Rickards, still worked at Moor Pit well into his 60s! Moor Pit is just south of the Finger Post (missed off the top of this map).
The headquarters of the Aspull club for a long while was the Hare and Hounds pub, between St. Elizabeths and the Dicconson Lane Bridge.
You can also see from Mr. Rickards account how hard it was for a club like Aspull to get going. Being a village they could not command the crowds that the premier town club, Wigan, could draw. Well after Mr. Rickards stopped playing and when Aspull were at their peak, one of the finest clubs in Lancashire, they couldn't afford to pay players expenses. Numerous accounts point to players having to pay their own way on Tours to South Wales or Northumbria. These men have today been forgot, so too the Aspull club.
You can get a grasp of how Aspull gained their nickname Moorites given the landscape they played on.
The next time you pass St Elizabeth's Church just have a look round and think that once, one of the finest Rugby clubs in the land hailed from that pit-riddled area.
St. Elizabeth's Church, Aspull
Dicconson Lane Station adjoined Aspull's ground when "it was in Westhoughton". The Aspull club had many successful returns to here and was the base for their travel across the country. Now long gone, all that remains is a nice path (full of nettles but still...)