When Wigan travelled to Warrington in December 1886, any lovers of the rugby code were in high spirits claiming an easy victory for Wigan. The holders of the West Lancashire Cup, Warrington, were keen to shut up the Wigan following. On a cold December Saturday, with the frost thawing, 2,000 Wiganers took advantage of cheap rail fares put on by local train companies and journeyed the several miles to the wire pulling town. So many Wiganers turned up that they troubled the train company and the Warrington club as the arrangements for tickets were deemed to be inadequate.
Warrington so happened to be opening their new stand at Wilderspool and had fixed the West Lancashire Cup to it. Wigan were without Whittle and Booth, their forwards and Jack "parrot" Anderton was making a return at fullback, much to the amazement of the local news reporter who had deemed him to be not fit to play after suffering 'wounds' against Runcorn two weeks earlier. It was up to Jim Slevin, Wigan's captain, who should play, and it as a fatal mistake. After twenty minutes' play, Parrot hobbled off the field, and a large section of the Wigan support went from certain victory in their minds to panic mode. Of course, Wigan ended up losing the match by 1 goal, 1 try and 5 minor points to nil.
Meetings of indignation occurred that evening in Wigan, and one gentleman was compelled to write in to the local press...
"Dr. Cross-bar, my name is Bill Snooks, and I want to tell yo' of a meetin' as as been held at eaur house abeaut that footbaw match as were played betwixt Wiggin and Warri'ton o' Setterday. I'm a real good supporter o' th' iggin club. I goes to atch um well nigh ev'ry Setterday, and yo'll oft see me on th' threepenny part sheautin' among th' rook. Me and some o' my pals made it up to go to Warri'ton, but when we geet to th'station we fond as a lot moor were gooin' too. I yeard some chap say there were two thousand on um, but he mon ha' been exaggeratin' a bit though there was a big creaud.
I tried to get a ticket, but could no' get near th' pigeon hole at aw, but fortunately a friend thrutched in among um and geet the pieces of papper both for me and my chums. Hean cheerfu' we were goin' to the seen of encounter. 'Who's goin' to win to-day?' sez a little chap i' one corner of the carriage. 'Why Wiggin', we aw sed. He made no reply, but whistled a bit as much a to say 'I think not.'
When we landed at Warri'ton, off we seet as hard as we could for th' greaund, and after payin' eaur threepences loike men we marched on to th' field and waited for th' teeams. Neau you know very weel what took place. Eaur men geet nilled somebody cawed it, but I think he meant milled, for they got nowt at aw, and t' other chaps geet a lot. Me and my mates were reg'lar wild wi' passion. I felt properly pugilistic, yo' known, and Jem Speers, him as is my buzzum friend, pood off his coat and waned to feight some o' th' Wiggin players, but we stopped him, and geet him safe to th' station.
When we geet to Wiggin one on my comrades sez, 'Let's ha'a hindignation meetin' abeaut this match, and tell th' iggin chaps what we think of um.' 'That's a good idea,' I sez. 'It is,' sez all the others, and it were arranged theer and then as we should aw meet at eaur heause o' Sunday neet. I went whoam and told th'owd woman abeaut it, and who seet to and cleaned th' parlour eaut, and th' meetin' were held.
My son John, aged 18, geet a pen and sum ink and sum papper and this is his report: 'Present: Bill Snooks, Jim Speers, Jack Shinall, Teddy Washin'ton, Dick Breawn, Bob Jollicay, Freddy Jones, Ike Davison, Seth Orme, Pe Tootle, and Tom Seel. Bill Snooks was appointed cheermon.
Cheermon: Yo' aw know what we en coom heer for. (Aw said 'aye' quite sharp.) Weel we'll tell um what we think abeaut um. Has anyone owt to say abeaut th'forwards? - Pe Tootle: I think they played weel at times. They were oo leet for Warri'ton, but that's not their fawt. They showed moor science than Warri'ton - Fred Jones: Why didn't Whittle turn up? - Dick Breawn: I heered he did no send word he were no comin'. - Cheermon: P'raps he were coursin'. - Fred Jones: He does no coortin'. - Cheermon: I sed coorsin' - rabbit runnin'. - Fred Jones: I begs pardin - Cheermon: I thinks he owt to be censured for not turnin' up. - Ike Davidson: Aye, but do it nicely, for he's a good mon, and may he ne'er be absent agen. - Resolution passed.
Cheermon: Well, what about these forwards? - Jack Shinall: I think they mit follow up better than they do. (No one spoke for three minutes.) - Cheermon: Yo' don't seem to know owt agen um, so let's pass on and tawk abeaut th' hawf backs. - Bob Jollicay: Yo' can't say owt agaen little Tommy Aspinall. He played weel. - Cheermon: Aye, that's true. - Bob Jollicay: He both passed weel and aved weel, too. - Cheermon: Are yo' aw o' th' same mind? (All cired 'Aye,') Has anyone ought to say agen Hunter? - Tom Seel: I thinks he mit pass more. - Teddy Washin'ton: I thinks he mit 'show feight' a bit, as th' lads say. He's more like a volunteer. - Dick Breawn: Don't thee say owt agen th' volunteers. - Teddy Washin'ton: I'm not dooin'. - Dick Breawn: Tha wur sneerin' when tha sed he wur like a volunteer. I'm a volunteer, dost know, and I won;t stand it. - Teddy Washin'ton: When I said he were like a voluteer, I meant as he were awis on th' defensive, and seldom on th' offensive.- Dick Breawn: Awis savin' tha means, and ne'er tryin' to do owt else. - Teddy Washin'ton: Aye. - Cheermon: He's a good mon. He knows heaw to play. - Teddy Washin'ton: I know aw abeaut that, but he mit play better. - Cheermon: Shall we censure him for it? All: Aye - Resolution passed.
Cheermon: Neaw for th'three-quarter backs. - Seth Orme: I propose as we censure Jack Anderton for not passin' more. Everybody were cryin' on him. - Resolution passed.
Cheermon: Owt abeaut Samuels and Slevin? Jim Speers: Samuels played weel. (Hear, hear.) I wish he'd geet a try. - Tom Seel: I think we owt to censure Slevin for playin' 'Parratt.' He weren't fit to play at aw. - Jem Speers: I heeard as he towd Slevin as if he did no' play agen Warrin'ton he would no' play for Wiggin agen. - Dick Breawn: Well, he would ha' had to give o'er. - Jem Speers: They sen as Jim Slevin were freetened and leet him play. - Dick Breawn: Well, Slevin's a nice mon for doin' it. Th' match were losy thro' that. - Jack Shinall: I seed Roger Crompton standin' at th' station. Why didn't Slevin tek him? - Seth Orme: I thinks Parratt lost us game. - All: Hear, hear. - Cheermon: Will yo' censure th' captain? - All: Certainly, he deserves it. - Resolution passed.
P.S. If anybody axes yo' where Bill Snooks lives don't tell um."
Of course, quite a bit of fun (I think) but you never know how seriously things panned out back then. It's also nice to see letters written as spoken, which I guess was the whole idea for publication and for entertainment purposes.
In February 1888, Jim Slevin produced one of his finest tries away at Manningham. The Manningham skipper contested the try but Slevin held firm and ordered his kicker for a 'try at goal'. The try was disputed for weeks until the RFU finally awarded it. Anyway, at this time Wigan were getting to their height of pre-Northern Union fame. There were two admirers in the crowd the following week watching Jim play. Alfred Shaw and James Lillywhite took the trouble to go and watch a Wigan match and so impressed were they by the play of Slevin, they offered him an invite to the football tour of Australia, New Zealand, and America. Shaw and a gentleman named Shaw of Swinton, almost got Jim to promise to go. Either way, to be selected for 'England' as it was seen as a spectacular moment for rugby in the town of Wigan. In the end Slevin decided to stay in Wigan and in his place went Jack Anderton, who by that time was playing for the Salford club.
This had compelled many rugbyites in the town to band together and think of something to try and show their appreciation towards James Slevin. Headed by a gentleman named Jack Saxon, being 'chariman' of the posse, James Slevin received a special gold-embroidered cap in recognition of his valuable services to the Wigan Football Club. The presentation took place at the headquarters of the Wigan club, the Legs of Man Hotel, with Jim 'most suitably responding' on receiving the gift.
After an "A" team match between Wigan and the Silverwell Hornets, a crowd of lads appeared at the Legs of Man with two beautiful silver embroidered caps, which they wished to present to Jim Slevin and Charlie Samuels, but on hearing that Jim had a cap given to him the night before, they decided to give the one they had got for him to Tom Brayshay as sub-captain. The presentation took place in the large dressing-room and it appeared by all accounts that nobody from the Wigan club knew anything about these 'lads' who had gone to this effort in sourcing caps. They had managed to collect amongst themselves the sum of one guinea, and it was believed they limited the subscription to sixpence each. The leader of the supporter group said: "Well, Charlie Samuels, me and a lot of my mates have watched you and Jim Slevin play in many matches, and we thought we should like to show you the esteem in which you were both held amongst us lads. We hope you may both live long, and that the day is far distant when you cease to play for our good old town team, and that you may win both cups." That the other cap was given to Tom Brayshay, the question arose whether if Slevin had his choice he would have preferred the silver one after finding out where the cap came from.
Below: Slevin with his gold embroidered cap. It was made with purple velvet and exists to this day with his living relatives.
Tragedy struck in March 1887 on the day of the West Lancashire Cup Final between Wigan and local rivals Aspull. The match was to be held at Fairfield, Liverpool, which meant that a large amount of spectators from the District would be travelling by rail westwards that day.
A deep gloom set in amongst the spirits of hundreds of Wigan supporters that afternoon. The scene was at the London and Northern-Western Railway station in Wigan. A magnificent amount of joy as had in and around the town when it was known that Wigan and Aspull would lock horns to fight for the silverware available. Special trains were put on by rail companies eager to cash in on a day excursion as they expected thousands of followers to make the journey to Liverpool. Shortly after two o'clock the platform was filled by around 1,600 excited Wiganers. Efforts made by rail officials were insufficient due to the sheer number of people on the platform. There was no order. When the first train came into view and rolled towards a halt at the platform, a tremendous rush forward was had. The officials had no chance of keeping order. Carriage doors were flung open and people scrambled for a seat causing quite a scene of mayhem. Then, confusion set in as cries were heard that a man was under the train. Such was the noise, the train could not be stopped immediately but when it did finally come to a halt, the information being screamed by witnesses was true, a mans body as seen mangled in the train wheels.
Several persons were able to name the deceased male as a Mr. John Ellis, a young gentleman from New Springs. He was intending to go to Liverpool on other non-rugby business and had decided to take advantage of the cheap rail fares on offer. He was going to see a vessel upon which he had previously worked on, which was docked in Liverpool. Mr. Ellis had arrived at the station about ten minutes past two and bought a copy of "Tit-Bits" from the stall. A witness, named Benjamin Powell, was with the deceased on the platform and thought that the train was going quite fast considering the number of people on the platform. Ellis had grabbed one of the door handles of a carriage and attempted to open a door, but on doing so the rush came and he was knocked around and fell onto the track.
This made an impact on the day. The trains left for Liverpool quite in sombre mood. The Wigan players no doubt heard the commotion. Aspull won the tie quite comfortably that afternoon.
Supporters of the rugby code often took advantage of local train companies offering cheap rail fares for big matches. So too, local train companies took advantage of Wigan supporters who travelled in numbers to away matches to watch their 'pets'. The most popular matches included trips to Warrington and Swinton where between 2,000 and 3,000 supporters travelled regularly. You would expect that if we played Warrington or St Helens today, the Wigan public of the 1880s would easily fill the away end.
As for the home matches, Wigan regularly attracted over 7,000 supporters by the late 1880s. The rugby code often dwarfed those seen on the same weekend at Association Football matches around the country. Up until 1895, Wigan had 18 matches that attracted over 8,000 supporters on home soil whilst matches against Warrington, Swinton and Oldham were a big draw on away days.
As you can see, these attendances would stand up to any Super League crowd today. On more than one occasion there were times when accommodation for supporters was quite inadequate. The obvious match as written around this website was the Wigan Union Charity Cup Final of 1886 between Wigan and local rivals Aspull. Top estimates given topped 18,000 supporters crammed in to the Folly Field enclosure and surrounding streets. So much was the number of spectators that hundreds sat on the roofs of terraced housing along Upper Dicconson Street, Wrightington Street and Dicconson Terrace to catch a view of the match. One enterprising home owner even offered the use of a ladder for a small fee to sit on his roof, whilst charging again for people to come back down!
The match against the Great Jim Valentine's Swinton in 1891 also saw the Wigan club authorities struggle with demand. As the local sports commentator "Crossbar" wrote:
In my opinion the Wigan committee, although they know that the match with the Swinton Lions would be productive of a large attendance, had no anticipation of the crowds which wended their way down Frog-lane... The gates gave way slowly before the pressing mass, and the people rolled on to the ground in hundreds, overcrowding the feeble opposition in much less time than it takes to write this. It would be foolish to say that the people wished to obtain a good seat, and as they found themselves unable to get near the booking-office the gates were forced to give way. All this meant considerable loss to the Wigan club, and more so when the entrances to the reserved portions of the ground were swept on one side and the excited people had quickly picked out favourable spots from which to view the game without producing the necessary coin. When the game started it was a fine sight to see the countless numbers of spectators with eager faces, all ready to witness a fray of so great an importance.
Again, Wiganers found themselves perched on rooftops. On one of the main covered stands, at least 100 spectators had managed to climb on to it. Somehow. Rumours started to circulate that the stand would collapse due to the weight put on it which led to a scene of people jumping from the stand to avoid catastrophe. The stand was safe in the end, perhaps the Wigan officials really needed to get those people off!
That covered stand at Prescott Street had been used before. The 1888 Charity Cup first round match against Aspull witnessed 14,000 spectators, with many standing on top of the stand and surrounding houses. It was said that it was the largest gathering of rugbyites in the town, eclipsing the Final of a few years earlier. The local Police chief, Inspector Peers, did a 'grand job' in making sure the touchlines remained clear and that no spectator interfered with the play.
After a loss to Aspull in the Wigan Charity Cup Final of 1887, three-quarter superstar Jack Anderton left Wigan and joined the powerful Salford club. He was falsely accused of throwing the match so that Aspull could win, and win some bets. There was a small storm in the town regarding this, and it helped Jack move to Salford. Jack was insulted by many for the loss against Aspull due to his poor performance. The truth was some ignorant people betted on the match and when Wigan lost, Jack got the flack. The same happened to with James Slevin few years earlier after another Final loss against Aspull. Many supporters argued that Slevin had put a wager on for an Aspull win. It was of course false.
After a Tour of Australasia, Jack was welcomed back to Wigan like a Rockstar. He was mobbed.
Monday 12th November, 1888 "Crossbar", Wigan Observer:
A reception worthy of a king was given to Jack Anderton on his return from abroad on Monday night. As a member of the English team of footballers, Anderton has gained distinction while o'er the water, and his numerous friends in Wigan, who have read every scrap of information about his footballing out there, have been pleased to note how popular Jack was wherever he went. The good ship, Kaikouri, which conveyed the team from England on March 10, brought the players to Plymouth on Sunday morning, and on the following night Anderton landed at Wigan hale and hearty and looking a lot benefited by the trip.
There was a great crowd at the station to welcome him back, and all sorts of plans were adopted to get on the platform. Who was that who "showed his hand" by asking for tickets for Ince? Aye, and who was that silvery voiced gentleman who surprised the (Preston) North End footballers suddenly opening the door of their saloon carriage and commanding them to put Jack forth, when he was in another part of the train?
When Jack was found he was besieged with welcomes, and the scene testified how popular Anderton is with his townsmen. If he would play for Wigan again, how the people would love him!
Today, we see rugby players in Aldi and people just pass them by, the public thinking just another lad in a branded hat and tattoos, wearing sandals and shorts.
Supporters showed their... support... by wearing the colours of their favoured team. It could have been a red flower in the lapel, a scarf or taking with them a sign. One such way of showing support were the wearing of Baines or Sharpes cards in their hats. The popularity of these cards was noted down in the Press. Commenting on the 1887 West Lancashire and Border Towns Union Cup Final between Aspull and Wigan, played at Fairfield, Liverpool, it was observed that may supporters were wearing these coloured cards, depending on their following, in their hats. "Play Up" in red for Wigan, "Play Up" in blue for Aspull. Remember, this was long before the days of replica jerseys and training wear. Although, there was nothing to stop fans buying their own handmade jersey in the colours of their team from local sports outfitters.