A chat with... Jim Slevin
There are many still remaining with us who actively participated in the pastime of "Rugger" in former days, and from time to time it is intended to reproduce here the impressions of some of the members of "the old brigade". Seeing that he was a founder of the organisation which developed, by varying stages, into the present prosperous club which has its home at Central Park, probably it was fitting that we should approach at the outset Mr. James Slevin, who for many seasons stood out as he most popular exponent of the handling code who wore the Wigan colours.
"It is a far cry back to the year 1876, or thereabouts, when Jack Underwood, Joe Wardle, Billy Baldwin, and myself founded the Wigan Wasps, and commenced playing off Dicconson-street, on a pitch for which we paid the magnificent yearly rental of £2 10s. 0d. For some time we battled in the open, but we became sufficiently enterprising in time to have the enclosure canvassed round, and I well remember Charlie Cronshaw obtaining... some collecting boxes from St. Thomas's Church to enable us to make a collection at the matches. I think the first takings amounted to (low sum), so you will see that the grist to the mill in those times was indeed very small as compared with receipts at present-day matches in the town. After three seasons the Wigan Wasps took unto themselves a more pretentious title, that of the Wigan Rugby Football Club."
"We fought many a gallant fight on the Dicconson-street ground, more particularly with our formidable neighbours of Aspull. Somehow or other I always fancied the Dark Blues frightened us; the men from the Moorlands were in those days a power, and they continued to be so until such players as Dicky Seddon, Pilkington, and Charlie Samuels were induced to come across their own... and throw in their lot with Wigan. Those Charity Cup struggles, however, served a very good subject, for some of the 'gates' produced upwards of £100 in aid of the Infirmary."
In reply to a query as to the players who were associated with him, Mr. Slevin recited the names of many exponents of the old days, Jack Underwood, Joe Wardle, Joe Clegg, Tom Brayshay, W.S. Grime, S. Grime, Jack Hunter, (Alf) Le Peton, Charlie Holt, Charlie Cronshaw, W. Hindley Smith, Jack Anderton, J. Halliwell, J. MItchinson, W. Halliwell, Hampton Jones, Jim Hatton, and others. It was modesty itself in regard to his own achievements in the arena, but he confirmed one of two notable performances, which won him considerable notoriety at the time.
"Yes, I recall the Manningham incident you mention," he remarked. "Manningham were a crack side in those days. During the encounter I received the leather in my own twenty-five, and after handing off a few of the opposition ran the full length for the try. The Tykes claimed that I had gone into touch, and as the referee declined to give a decision on the point, an appeal was lodged with the County Authority, which awarded us the try."
Mr Slevin thought of his best performances was furnished against a picked team chosen by Tom Sutton, then editor of the "Athletic News". Sutton was in the habit of taking a crack contingent to oppose club sides, and pitted a team which included seven internationals and eight county men against Wigan, on the Frog-lane ground. "on that occasion," added Mr. Slevin, "I had the distinction of registering three tries, and also dropped a goal, whilst the local representatives had the honour of sending home the internationals and county men without any of the laurels."
In further conversation Mr. Slevin stated his liveliest recollections of the winter pastime were those days in which he figured in the three-quarter line with Jack Hunter and Jack Anderton - at that period there was not a fourth man in the third line - and he disclosed a fact known by a few, that he was selected to tour with the first English team to visit the Colonies. "As a matter of fact," he added, "I had the agreement in my possession, but I did not sign it, and Jack Anderton went out in my stead."
It is interesting to recall that Mr. Slevin captained the Wigan team when they carried off the local Charity Cup in the seasons 1887-8 and 1888-9, and he continued his playing association with the club a few years after it removed to the Prescott-street enclosure. After a period of retirement, he was again persuaded to figure in an engagement against St. Helens during the engineers' strike, and then the curtain was rung down on his football career.
In his day, "Jim Slevin," as he was familiarly known to thousands in the Wigan district, possessed a fine turn of speed, but it was probably his handing-off power which brought him the greater fame. Even to this day, "Slevin's chuck" is often heard of-in former times it was a kind of sleight-of-hand trick which oft worked the oracle when the opposition had to be accounted for. In his day and generation he was as fine a hurdle racer as he was a three-quarter, and as an athlete won fame throughout the county in both branches of sport. May his shadow never grow less.
Truly, his interest in "Rugger" has in no way diminished; a row of wild horses would be required to keep him away from Central Park, that is when he is free from his important duties as the Electrical Engineer for the Borough of Wigan.
...Put into Context
As you can tell, Slevin speaks well. He had respect without demanding it. By simply reeling off one player after another with whom he enjoyed playing with he comes across as a character who was liked by all. Afterall, I cannot put this any simpler, he was a superstar the same as we'd associate with Ellery Hanley or Sam Tomkins in the town. A very humble character.
He literally helped Wigan grow and gain a foothold on the rugby ladder via sheer stubbornness. He just wanted to play rugby for Wigan. Isn't that true of Kris Radlinski? Terry Newton? Liam Farrell? Sean O'Loughlin? Slevin is Wigan. earlyWIGANrugby's Crusade will be found elsewhere in promoting Slevin to the upper echelons of Wigan folklore to the masses. It's part of the ethos of this website and hobby. But he was a class player!
It was often said that it was a travesty that Jim Slevin never represented Lancashire at rugby. True, with players like Swinton's immortal Jim Valentine and Broughton Rangers' J. Robertson, Lancashire had an embarrassment of riches in the three-quarter line. That did not stop him excelling when he was picked for West Lancashire. Slevin was a deep rooted family man and ultra-loyal to the men and people who respected him. I've never seen anything to suggest this, but he took 'Jack' Anderton under his wing when he was an up and coming youth in the Wigan a-team and treated him as a brother. As in the interview, I am sure that James Slevin would have been the happiest man alive when Jack wet to Australia in his absence.
Personally, the author of this (me) has a thought of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit: Jim Sullivan, Ellery Hanley, Billy Boston. No rugby club in the world can boast such a quartet. (I am in no way religious). Jim slevin sits beside them.
On James' interview, the game against Manningham was indeed a fine moment in his career. The referee totally bottled the decision and had to wait for police to escort him off the field afterward. During the match with Mr. Suttons team of crack players, on 26th March, 1890, Wigan were at their absolute peak. So too was Slevin. You get the sense that James had a point to prove against the Lancashire selectors and he fulfilled it with flying colours.
Jim was one of Wigan's Greatest Captains