A chat with... Reuben Sharrock
The subject of our sketch in this week's "Old Footballers" series is one who led the forces of Aspull after Johnny Roberts transferred his affections to Wigan. There are some men playing football who are no younger than Mr. Reuben Sharrock, and yet it is about seventeen years since he retired from the football field. But he bids farewell to the game, as far as playing is concerned, at an age when many men are only arriving at their best. On the other hand he was participating in first-class football much earlier in life than the vast majority of exponents. He was one of the youngest players to earn a place in a premier "15" in the Wigan district, for he had only just celebrated his eighteenth birthday when called upon to figure with the Aspull team. One of the reasons why he retired so early was that he sustained a rather serious injury to his knee - which is weak to-day.
Prior to giving his services to the Cale-lane club he had been one of the foremost members of Aspull Albion for three seasons. He joined them at the age of fifteen and played at centre three-quarter, a position in which, with very few exceptions, he figured up to the end of his career. For two seasons he undertook the duties of secretary, and was also the captain. "In those days," remarked Mr. Sharrock to our representative, "we had to pay for our football; we had to buy our jerseys, boots etc., pay our own railway fares when we went away, and provide other expenses to carry on the club."
His first appearance with the "Blues" of aspull, was a rather unexpected one. Aspull were opening the season with West Leigh as visitors, and whilst chatting to some friends he was told that Johnny Roberts, who was captain, wanted him to play. The youthful exponent did not consider he was "class enough" to figure in such company, but at any rate he turned out and must have given satisfaction, since he was afterwards a regular member of the "15" up to the time that the once famous side went into obscurity. In his first season, in fact, he headed the list of scorers, his bag of points including many drop goals; and he was invariably the most prolific scorer. In one match against Askam he registered six tries and his partner, Johnny Roberts, crossed the line five times.
Mr. Sharrock had to admit that he had no memento to show for successes on the part of the Aspull club. At the same time, they were hailed League champions one season, but for some reason best known to the controlling body at that time the club was not able to gain possession of the cup, neither did the players receive medals. He once went on tour in South Wales with Aspull, the clubs opposed including Swansea and Neath, and he also visited several Northern clubs on tour.
"A very unfortunate accident happened in our opening match in my second season with Aspull," continued Mr. Sharrock. "The game was at West Leigh and, as I could not play, Johnny Roberts figured at centre three-quarter instead of on the wing. During a tackle he had his leg broken and was kept off the field or a long time. We never played together after that, for the Wigan club, who had been very generous to our captain in his misfortune, induced him to join them. I was then elected captain of Aspull, while I carried out the secretarial duties for two years. In 1894 I was presented with a gold medal by a few friends as a small token of appreciation for services rendered. I believe I played in the first game that Mr. J.H. Smith, of Widnes, refereed. That was when Aspull played Bowling, the Yorkshire club, on the Cale-lane ground. One of the hardest games I ever took part in was for Aspull against Mr. "Ned" Bullough's team, which was arranged for the benefit of our club. In addition to Ned Bullough there were such players on the other side as Jim Valentine, Billy Cross, Tommy Sudlow, of St. Helens, and Billy
Halliwell. I had the task of facing Jim Valentine, and very early on I was given a practical lesson on the value of tackling low. I received two lovely black eyes in attempting to collar Valentine round the neck. But I brought him down several times after, much to the delight of our spectators, and I also had the satisfaction of intercepting one of his passes and dropping a goal."
"I was very youthful looking in my early days with Aspull. Once when I went to St. Helens and was mounting the step of the old waggonette in which the players were conveyed to the dressing room, the man in charge got hold of my arm to pull me back, with the remark 'Here this is for players only.' Singularly enough I scored one of the best tries of my career in that match. I received the ball about ten yards from our line and beat more than half the St. Helens team before I crossed the line. I might say that we beat Wigan in the last match that was played between the clubs. Dick Lowe scored the only try. I remember the game very distinctly; it was decided in a perfect gate and we played four quarters in consequence. In those days the 'gates' were very small and towards the end of the club's existence we could have managed on an average of £5 a week; but we did not get that. In one match, however, a West Lancashire Cup-tie against Walkden, we had a 'gate' of £100."
"Dropping at goals seems to be very much neglected nowadays," suggested the interviewer.
"Yes, it is almost a lost art. Of course a drop goal in the old days was worth four points and half-backs and centres frequently dropped at goal. I have won many matches in that way when it had been difficult to cross the line. Dodging is almost forgotten now. If the juniors in the Wigan district would cultivate this art I feel sure they would make better players and materially improve the game. I contend that a clever dodger is an opponent to be feared and certainly very interesting to watch."
Describing how he sustained the injury which later led to his retirement Mr. Sharrock said he was thrown down in a tackle, and on getting up he found that a piece of broken bottle had run into his knee. The injury kept him off the field for three months.
"Did you ever play for any other club?"
"Yes, I assisted Wigan in a few matches and I played for St. Helens Recs, and occasionally for Leigh. I also participated in Lancashire trial games at Whalley Range. There were George Rigby and Billy Unsworth, of Wigan, Bob Holmes, of Morecambe, Billy Briers of St. Helens, and Lowis, of Swinton, on the same side, while I played against Sammy Lees and J.P. Taylor, of Oldham, in a trial game."
Comparing the old game with the new, Mr. Sharrock expressed the opinion that the style of play adopted by "Jim" Cartwright and "Daff" Hulme, the old Aspull halves, would have just suited either Wigan or Huddersfield. Hulme, he added, was exceptionally nippy and wonderfully fast for about thirty yards. He is of the opinion that the reduction from fifteen to thirteen has had a good effect in improving the game, but he does not like to see too many wing forwards. He considers there should be four good scrummagers in a pack.
An interesting race, open to footballers in the Wigan district, which was run at sports promoted by the Aspull club, was recalled. The competitors had to pick up a Rugby ball after covering half of the distance in the race. J.J. Rylance, of Blackrod, was the favourite, but he only came in fourth or fifth. The winner was the subject of our sketch, Arthur Lilley, of Aspull, was second, and Jim Walkden, of Wigan, third. Mr. Sharrock believes that cricket (is) good exercise, especially for backs. He played for Haigh Cricket Club for a good many years and only ceased his connection with them four or five years ago. In addition to Jim Sharrock, Wigan's ex-captain, Reuben has another brother who has also figured on the football field though not with the same success. This is Jack Sharrock, who played a few games with Wigan "A," and afterwards appeared once or twice in Salford ranks. We might add that Mr. Sharrock is an enthusiastic supporter of the Wigan club, and has been a member for many years.
With utmost thanks of course to Mike Latham for the source material from the Wigan Examiner