A chat with... James Pilkington
Continuing our series of chats with old players we have this week pleasure in reproducing an account of an interview with Mr. James Pilkington who made a great reputation for himself as full-back, hailing from the old Aspull Club. He was born in Marsh Green but removed to Aspull when he was only five years of age, so that he may lay claim to be a "gradely Aspull chap." He was eighteen years of age when the Aspull club was formed, and he threw in his lot with them and operated at full-back. The team was then called Aspull St. Elizabeth's, and they owed their existence to the fact that they had a good cricket team. The first season they opposed such clubs as Wigan, Walkden, Ringley, St. Helens, and St. Helens Recs. Two or three seasons afterwards the Wigan Charity Cup competition started. That season Wigan beat Aspull by one goal and two tries in the final on the Highfield ground. In the following season Aspull won the cup by beating Wigan in the final on the Upper Dicconson-street ground, the score being 30 points to 6 points. Wigan got their tries in the first five minutes, but they never scored afterwards. Pilkington rendered good service in the goalkicking department.
In 1888-9 and the following season Pilkington played for Wigan and assisted them to win both the Wigan Charity Cup and the West Lancashire Cup. He explained the reason why he left Aspull and came to Wigan. At Aspull there was no pay for the players and they paid 3d. each every week towards what they termed a "sick and accident fund." Towards the end of one season Pilkington was injured whilst playing for Aspull, and he was unable to work for eight weeks. All that he received was 10s. a week from the sick club and this had to keep him and six or seven young children. He accordingly migrated to Wigan and playing for nothing in his first match. But after that he was paid "day wage and expense." "We weren't supposed to be paid," said Pilkington, "but there's many a road of getting it." He got paid for every match but that one after leaving Aspull.
In those days there was no such thing as fastening a man down to one club, and borrowing a player was quite a common occurrence, especially with a man who had made a name for himself. Pilkington was recognised as a great full-back and consequently was frequently borrowed. Amongst other teams Pilkington was asked and played for St. Helens Recs. on three occasions, and the Recs. won every match, Pilkington being amongst the scorers on each occasion. He also helped St. Helens against Swinton at Swinton, and assisted the Saints to defeat the redoubtable "Lions'" brigade. He played both forward and three-quarter for St. Helens, and it is his proud boast that he has figured in every position on the field.
The only time that he played for Lancashire was at West Hartlepool in 1887, the match ending in a draw. His position on that occasion was full-back. Pilkington also related the fact that when Aspull went on tour in South Wales, Johnny Roberts scored as good a couple of tries as ever he saw, and the Welshmen said they were the only Lancashire club that had ever scored two against them. He expressed his admiration or the Swansea ground, which he declared had considerably more grass on it than Central Park and yet was five yards faster. Pilkington added that he played for West Lancashire County against Westmorland at Aspull. On that occasion Mr. A.N. Hornby was the referee, and it was a very bad day.
"Monkey" Hornby the famous cricketer and rugby official
It had been freezing up to Friday night and then it began to thaw quickly, the result being that the ground, which had not been covered, was in a shocking state. West Lancashire kicked a goal and scored two tries in the first half, and when they changed there was no further score. Pilkington kicked the only goal. In that match "Daff" Hulme, Tom Monks and "Dicky" Seddon were playing.
Amongst other teams he had played against was Blackrod when they were in their pomp and he assisted the Duke of York, Chorley. For the latter club he played centre three-quarter and kicked a goal from the touch line, which won the match. At that period he was in great demand and operated at full-back for the "Pluckies" in the season when they won two cups.
Referring to the Welsh tour, Pilkington related one or two amusing incidents. When they played Swansea, he remarked, they generally had !a good do" after the match, and on this occasion there was no "cutter-up." There were three chickens to be divided and Pilkington offered to breech as the carver. He cut one chicken in two parts and put half on his own plate and the other half on another player's, The latter then remarked "Good lad thee, thar't shaping summat like." On a latter day they played Cardiff and they found out afterwards that nearly all the players were Roman Catholics. "There weren't any in our team," said Pilkington, "and when the match was over and we went for tea, one of the visitors remarked, "Is this what we have to eat, is there no beef in Cardiff?" He was then informed that it was Friday and the Cardiff men were Catholics. But if there was no beef, we had a good spread for all that."
Two days later the team went to Llanelly and Pilkington played half-back. The Welshmen got very rough and three of the visitors were "laid out" about the same time. Dicky Seddon was the captain of the Welshmen an the referee together, and said: "If you don't stop this there's going to be some more 'laid out' besides us." After that the game went on very quietly and the visitors won comfortably. "At half-time," said Pilkington, "we had a gallon of ale in a bottle and we supped it in turns from the bottle neck. The crowd stared at us and then roared in laughter."
Asked for his opinion on the present game, Pilkington said he occasionally visited Wigan to witness the matches, but nowadays "he went fishing oftener than watching footballers." He did not think the present game was any faster than the old. "If I had had to play this game at full-back I think I could play for ever," he remarked. He thought the full-back had nothing like so much work to do as in the old days when they played fifteen aside. He also criticised Wigan's forwards. "They don't want so many ten stone men for the game. When we played Wigan at Fairfield I was 7 stone 17lbs, but I was 5ft. 10in. I like good little 'uns. I think Daff Hulme was one of the cleverest players that I know." He recalled the try which "Daff" scored at Swinton when Wigan borrowed him, and said the little Aspull chap would have been over twice if "Billy" Halliwell had known the dodge. The first time "Daff" tried it he collided with "Billy," but the next time he worked it and scored whilst Jim Valentine was standing under the posts totally taken by surprise.
He also recalled another incident connected with the Aspull team. One day Pilkington had bad eyes and his place at full-back was taken by a young player named Parkinson, who had two "club" foot. "He could kick a ball further than any an in Wigan," said Pilkington, "and when we got to Ashton-under-Lyne they thought we ha brought him for a joke. They found out after because Aspull beat them. At the time Parkinson, who was bigger than me, worked with me in the pit. I think he is living near Chorley now."
Jimmy Pilkington made his debut for Wigan on November 24m 1888 in a match at home against Morecambe. He turned out in his Lancashire jersey with the aim, no doubt, of making a scene for himself. In all he played in 24 matches for Wigan. His last match was against Poolstock in the Wigan Charity Cup Final.
With the Charity Cup, Jim also played against his old friends Aspull in the West Lancashire Cup competition, defeating the Aspullites in St. Helens to help Wigan win their first double Cup season.