A chat with... Jack Hunter
In the olden days of Wigan football, one of the brightest "stars" in the local firmament was undoubtedly "Jack" Hunter. The subject of this week's sketch was born in Cumberland, where the first twenty years of his life were spent. He learned his football with the Workington team. Most of us are aware that Cumberland has produced, and is still producing some really capable Rugby exponents, and although Mr. Hunter's modesty will not allow him to lay claim to being one of the "good," we think the fact of his having retained a place in Wigan's premier contingent for upwards of half a dozen years entitles him to more credit as a player than his own claim permits. He captained the Workington Club for several seasons, and played for his County against Northumberland, at Newcastle, and against Durham, at Sunderland.
When it became known that he was leaving Workington and likely to take up residence in Wigan, he received invitations from both the Wigan and Aspull clubs to join them, but as it was the tail end of the 1884-85 season, and as he was suffering from a damaged shoulder, received whilst operating in his last match for Workington, against Carlisle, he decided not to turn out again that season.
Prior to the opening of the 1885-86 season Hunter was again invited to become a member of the Wigan team in their initial match, and he made his first appearance against the then famous forces of Swinton, on the "Lions'" ground. As Jim Valentine, Beswick, and Bumby were in the home ranks, Mr. Hunter confesses there was sufficient talent in the opposition to test his qualities as a half-back, whilst he further admits that during the game he found himself considerably mixed up with the powerful and clever Valentine.
During the next six years he took part in nearly every one of Wigan's engagements, sometimes figuring in the three quarter line, and sometimes amongst the forwards, but chiefly at half-back, thus proving himself a very useful member of the team. The writer has seen many an ugly forward rush stopped by him when it looked any odds on a score being registered. hen at half-back, among the many partners he had were Tommy Morris, Banks, Le Peton, Tucker, Tommy Aspinall, Mitchinson, and Billy Halliwell, "and sound players in their day," he remarked. He held the position of vice-captain for a few seasons, and in the absence of the popular skipper, "Jim" Slevin, captained the team on several occasions.
"It fell to my lot," Mr. Hunter observed, "to 'boss' the Collier lads in a match against Barrow, and as a good many reserve men were included in the team, victory did not look by any means certain, or even probable. However, before leading my colleagues onto the field I addressed a few words to them, pointing out the golden opportunity they had of covering themselves with glory - and mud! And sure enough, the glory - along with the mud - came our way, as the contest terminated in a victory for us by one dropped goal to nothing." Mr. Hunter thought that the surprising feature of the game was not the victory, but the fact that he himself dropped the goal. He does not remember that he ever repeated the performance, but we seem to have some recollection of him once scoring a very clever try against Leigh on the Frog-lane ground. Didn't he o that occasion get the leather at his toes in his own half, and dribble through a bunch of Leigh players to score in a favourable position?
Mr. Hunter says that when the famous Maori team visited Wigan on the 17th December, 1888, "he assisted Wigan to lose!" and then "In my usual position at half-back I was opposed by a burly wing forward, probably fourteen stone man, who pounced on me every time I touched or attempted to touch the ball. As my playing weight was from nine and half to ten stone, I was usually the 'bottom dog.' and I was sore accordingly for many days afterwards. The ancient war cry of the Maori is, 'Ake, Ake! Kia Kaha,' which means 'For ever and ever be strong.' That particular forward proved conclusively to me that he was faithfully carrying out the ancient command of his forefathers."
Mr. Hunter was tried on a couple of occasions in the Possible team against the Probables for Lancashire, but he is open to confess that in each trial he gave a poor display. We well remember the period in the Wigan Club's history when an epidemic of "cap" presentations broke out. Many of the players were the recipients of beautiful plum-coloured velvet caps, adorned with heaps of gold braid and huge gilt tassels, the gifts of groups of their admirers. At one stage it looked as though Mr Hunter had no admirers, but that gentleman had afterwards reason to think that he who laughs last is usually the best pleased. The lady members decided that Mr. Hunter should have a cap, and it is now amongst the most treasured mementos of his football days.
The football career of "Jack" Hunter ended in a match against Widnes, when he had the misfortune to get his collar bone broken. During his enforced rest it dawned upon him that he was never likely to make a living by playing football, and as responsibilities in other directions were accumulating, he decided to retire, although with a good deal of regret, leaving, as he says, "his old and respected colleagues, J. Slevin, J. Anderton, E. Bullough, W. Atkinson, W. Halliwell, and others to uphold the honour and prestige of Goold old Wigan."
Mr. Hunter now holds an important post in Rotherham. May the Fates ever be kindly disposed towards him.
...Put into Context
Jack Hunter did indeed make his debut against Jim Valentine's Swinton on 26th September, 1885. He became a mainstay in the Wigan team for several seasons. It was rare, when the Wigan team were settled, that he was left out of a half-back pairing. Jack Anderton, the famous three-quarter, at that time was a hefty nipper playing in the forwards but soon moved alongside Jim Slevin and Hunter was key with his passing and distribution to feed these quality Wigan backs.
The game with Barrow occurred on November 3rd, 1888. Captain Slevin, along with Dicky Seddon and Billy Atkinson were the key men absent whilst they were at a Lancashire County trial match at Whalley Range (Billy Atkinson got the nod if you're wondering). Depleted, Wigan sent up a mixture of reserve men and first teamers. Over the previous couple of seasons, Wigan had a bad travelling record up in the Furness area of Lancashire. This was at the time when Ned Bullough (if you've been keeping track elsewhere on this site) was playing in the Wigan backline struggling to fit in and club stalwart Ellis Wardle helping out in the halves. It was remarkable that Wigan got a result. He must have been the most pleased man on the train journey home to Wigan that evening. Good on him.
His injury, that caused him to retire, couldn't have come at a worse time in Wigan's progression to the top. 21st December 1889 saw Wigan face Widnes and of course his collar bone got broken. Hunter had strung up a powerful and clever partnership with Billy "smiler" Halliwell. Wigan had until that season only lost once (against Brighouse Rangers) and a week later the biggest game before the Northern Union was coming up against Swinton on New Years Day. It was a blow to igan and his loss was deeply felt in the team and in the town. He was a popular player. But, swings and roundabouts, that gave Jack Mitchinson his chance to cement his place into the first team and of course, his partnership with "smiler" was one of the best half-back pairings Wigan ever had!
Jack Hunter played over 100 games for Wigan and left with a Wigan Charity Cup medal and a West Lancashire and Border Towns Union winners medal. He missed another Wigan Charity final through injury, sadly, but it was only against Poolstock which Wigan won 56-8. Also, eventually, his velvet cap!
With utmost thanks of course to Mike Latham for the source material from the Wigan Examiner