A chat with... Jack Mitchinson
Perhaps the best remembered half-back pair that represented Wigan in the days of old was that of "Jack" Mitchinson and "Billy" Halliwell. They were a very clever and noted couple, and were often the subject of good-humoured remarks on account of their premature baldness, which made them look much older than they were. On one occasion when they were on tour and opposed Barnstaple, the other thirteen players had gone on the field before them, and when the half-backs appeared the spectators imagined that the visitors were short-handed and had pressed two committee men into their service. "There's two owd men comin' here, they've had to make their team up," was one remark which the players in question heard as they stepped on the field. The spectators, however, were soon disillusioned on this score, for the Wigan half-backs gave a sparkling exhibition, one or both of them registering a try.
It will probably surprise many people to learn that Mr. Mitchinson played for Wigan for sixteen years, and that he was a member of the team when they operated on the Dicconson-street ground. He began his football career at the age of fourteen, when he assisted Trencherfield Wanderers, whose ground was at Swan Meadow. Harry Carrington, Harry Wells, and William Hall Ashurst were members of the same side. In those days the subject of our sketch operated at wing three-quarter and he also appeared in that position for St. James's. He was sixteen when he joined the premier club, and he figured at wing three-quarter in the second fifteen before gaining a place among the seniors. His initial match in the latter team was against Walton, and Jack Lowe also made his debut in the same game. Mitchinson scored the only try.
These interesting facts were recalled by Mr. Mitchinson in the course of a chat last week, "I got my place at half-back," he added, "through one of the players being off in consequence of a bereavement. That was the match at Fairfield, and my partner was Tommy Morris. I have also played behind the pack with Le Peton, Hunter, Tom Aspinall, and Ellis Wardle, besides Billy Halliwell, but 'Billy' was my principal partner. Many people think we did not vary our tactics behind the scrum as they do now sometimes, but we used to indulge in a few tricks, such as running one way and then turning round, after having drawn the opposition on to you, and slipping the ball back to your partner, while we often went to one side of the scrummage and then threw the ball over to the other side. We also tried to find out any weakness in our opponents' back division, and it was heaven help the man who was weak."
"I suppose you have played in several finals?"
"Yes, I played against Aspull, in the final for the West Lancashire Cup at Fairfield, and also in another final at St. Helens against the same team. That day I played on the wing. We beat the Aspull men in that match. There was also a final for the Wigan Charity Cup against Aspull on their ground, and i think they defeated us by a few points. I remember that Mr. A.N. Hornby was the referee. Tom Coop played for Wigan in that match. He came from Tottington, but he wet to Leigh soon after. I think I have about a dozen medals that I gained while playing for Wigan."
"Did you ever play for anyone else?"
"Only to assist Walkden and Aspull on one or two occasions when Wigan had no match. Jack Brown also helped Walkden in one game
when he was a member of the Wigan St. Joseph's, and the Walkden committee wanted him to play for them. I advised the Wigan officials to approach him, and he then joined Wigan and was afterwards selected for the County. I went on tour with Wigan three or four times, and we were billed as the champions of Lancashire. When we played such clubs as Cardiff, they got very big gates - anything from 12,000 up to 16,000 or 18,000. After one match at Cardiff I have a recollection of being carried off the field shoulder high, and i was once carried back from the station at Wigan, after a cup-tie against St. Helens Recs. I may say that I was the vice-captain during the season that Billy Halliwell got hurt at St. Helens, and I acted as captain for the greater part of the season while my older partner was off."
Asked if there were any tries which stood out above the others in his memory, Mr. Mitchinson recalled several successes which were of an especially good description. "Jim Slevin scored a remarkably fine try at Manningham, and it will seem strange to say now that it was not allowed for about six months. Slevin went through practically the whole team before he got over. They kept coming at him one after the other and he kept knocking them off, but the referee was afraid of allowing the try. We appealed and after a good many months we were awarded the try. Jack Hunter, who was one of the most unselfish players I ever saw, also scored a grand try that I well remember. He dribbled single-handed from is own quarter and grounded under the posts. I believe it was against Kendal Hornets.
"Are there any tries of your own which you can recall?"
"The best try I scored was against Widnes. A man named Wilson from the North should have played on the wing, but he did not turn up and I figured in that position. I got pass from David Yates (who was at half-back), near our line, and after putting in a short kick I followed up, got the ball again, and scored after a desperate race with Brennan and Hardman, the quarter-mile runner. Another try that I have been reminded of lately when discussing these chats with old footballers was one against Manchester Free Wanderers at Wigan. I got the ball at half-way, and I ran in zig-zag fashion. I remember "Phillistine" of the "Athletic News," describing it something like this: "At every moment he would appear to be caught, but he put in an extra swerve, and although to all appearances he was done up he bounded over the line like a gay gazelle."
"The best half-back I have played against? 'Buff' Berry. He was not fast, but he was an extraordinarily hard man to tackle. Unless you knew him thoroughly you were lucky to get at him, and it was a difficult matter to bring him down. He was very clever at drawing opponents on to him, and then throwing a pass. On one occasion when we were playing Tyldesley, 'Buff' had the ball and Jack Fearnley was running down with him. He kept shamming to pass, but at last I pretended to go for Fearnley and then made a sudden dash at Berry and brought him down. Jim Valentine, who in my opinion was the best three-quarter Lancashire ever produced, was also a very hard man to tackle. He once 'closed' both of my eyes with a knock-off. After I had been off the field some time I returned and Alf Wallwork had just got Valentine by one leg and I could just see to grip the other before the famous three-quarter could get loose. The whistle went soon after and we won.
In answer to a few other questions, Mr. Mitchinson expressed the opinion that "Ned" Bullough was the best forward Wigan ever had, although "Billy" Atkinson was a fine hard-working scrummager. The subject of our sketch, who played for Wigan longer than any other man, figured in every position on the field - full-back, wing three-quarter, centre, half-back, and wing forward. In the early days there used to be many a squabble when the umpires, one of whom represented each side, made an appeal to the referee.
Since this interview took place Mr. Mitchnson, who is the licensee of the Machine House Inn, has been elected a member of the Wigan Town Council as a Labour representative for Victoria Ward.
With utmost thanks of course to Mike Latham for the source material from the Wigan Examiner