Cherry & White

...a question. When did Wigan first play in the famous Cherry and White Jerseys? On the official website for Wigan Warriors it is stated that they wore the jerseys from the 1886 season. The real answer can be traced precisely to the date of September 19th 1885 when Wigan faced Bury at Upper Dicconson Street in front of 2,500 spectators!

You should never believe what you read online, even what you are reading now! You should always question facts, so I did.

At present (June 2020) the official Wigan Warriors site states that the club played in Cherry and White in 1886. Wikipedia states the same, saying that until this date Wigan played in blue and white hooped jerseys. This is simply incorrect.

Indeed, Wigan did play in blue and white hooped jerseys before 1886, but plenty more besides, they did not play in blue and white hoops all the time from day one. At the start of the 1884-85 season at a general meeting of the club, it was decided that a white 'Maltese Cross' was to be placed on the playing jerseys. From a photograph taken after defeating Haigh in the Wigan Union Charity Cup Final (well, a few months later once medals were awarded, so maybe september 1885), the Wigan team is shown with black jerseys, white knickers and black stockings. This colourised image clearly does not show blue and white hoops! There may be a case that these jerseys were not black, but navy in colour. I am always open to finding fact and changing my own authors perception of information which comes one's way.

Neath RU, 1880s and the white Maltese Cross that was put onto the Wigan shirt at the beginning of the 1884-85 season. However, it is unknown how long the cross stayed on the jersey. The origin of the cross is up for debate but a strong argument originates from a house named “Hutchinson” at Rugby School and adorned caps the boys wore. When they went “home” with the caps, clubs adopted the motif... So maybe a powerful committee member thought of the idea?

Nor does it show the white Maltese Cross. Famously, the Neath Rugby Union Club play with this design to this day. Here is a photo from the 1880s of a Neath player donned in his black jersey and white Maltese Cross. But you can imagine Jim Slevin or Charlie Samuels in this livery back then.

Wigan also played in white jerseys with a red Maltese Cross on the front in the mid-1880s.

Similarly in 1885, Wigan played in an all-white jersey on several occasions. When Wigan faced the "Dark Blues" of Aspull in Round 2 of the Wigan Union Charity Cup there was an obvious colour clash, so Wigan went white. Again, it was noted Wigan played in white versus a Liverpool and District side in April 1885. What is remarkable is that Wigan had kept in favour of a maltese cross with the white jerseys but it was quite larger and in a more central position on the white jersey... and they were red! Imagine the player of Neath (above) in white, with a red cross.

An amusing tale from the 1885 Wigan Cup Final against Haigh at the end of April (Wigan obviously defeated Aspull en route. Wigan played in their white jersey, on home soil. Haigh had gone all out for their Cup Final against Wigan and had donned their newly dyed Red shirts for the big occasion. However, the rain fell, heavily. The gate wasn't a good one (3,000) due to the very poor conditions but it quickly became apparent (as seen in this newspaper report below) that the red dye stained heavily on the pure white Wigan jerseys. How the crowd laughed! It must have been like inside of an abattoir.

At the beginning of the 1886-87 Season, Wigan moved into their new ground at Prescott Street, the home of the Wigan Cricket Club. To freshen things up a bit, and with a new start, it was reported that the first team appeared in black stockings and "rich coloured jerseys". The rich colour was an interesting combination: Chocolate and Coral. The Chocolate and Coral jersey was of hooped design also. Wigan kept the white jersey still, for example, playing against Cardiff at Easter 1887,but it is unknown how many times Wigan turned out in Chocolate and Coral.

At the beginning of the 1887-88 campaign, Wigan played in a variation of jerseys. One letter, sent to the Editor of the Wigan Observer was quite upset at Wigans form and blamed the 'variation of jerseys' between the players for the inept play Wigan had been showing. Wigan started the season losing 9 of the first 11 matches... so blame had to be put somewhere. Think of Manchester United losing to Southampton playing in their infamous grey jersey. Warrington, 26th November, 1887 saw another kit change... that being of white and coral hoops. The love affair with coral continued. An old player, Billy Baldwin, stated in an interview that this game was the first time Wigan adopted this colour scheme full time, although the red was referred to as 'coral', it would be later that the press would refer to the kit as 'cherry' red.

And still no hint at all of blue and white hoops.

24th November, 1888. Billy Atkinson and Pilkington (of Aspull making his debut, filling in at fullback for quite a few matches come to think of it, anyway... filling in at fullback...) donned their Lancashire County jersey, the first time seen on a home side after Billy got his first Cap a week earlier against Cheshire. It was common that the players donned their prized jerseys for matches, Atkinson started the trend, at least in Wigan colours.

Here, for example, is Dick Seddon in his Lancashire jersey that he played in after the 1890 Wigan Charity Cup Final... it was a few seasons since Dickie had represented Lancashire too (over a year earlier against Durham).

Players often wore their County Caps during matches. The first of note was that of Alfred Le Peton on 1st October, 1887. Alf had just gained a job at the Wigan Grammar School and so had moved into the town. A premier player (but ageing) he had gained County honours in seasons past. This game against Manningham (today Bradford City FC) at home, 5,000 spectators turned up. The local rugby writer Cross-Bar noted how the crowd were amazed at the sight of Le Peton running up and down the field in his strange wondrous cap! Alfred dibbled and dabbled with Wigan but later focused on the Grammar School.

Now we come to the game where we had a new Cherry and White colour scheme by name. December 22, 1888 against Wakefield Trinity saw Wigan don this World Famous jersey and stick forever to be known as the "Cherry and Whites". There is no reference in later matches that Wigan deviated from this colour combination and gradually, footballer/rugby writers started to call Wigan the "Cherry and Whites" to state the Wigan team, much like they would write of Swinton as "The Lions" or Oldham as the "rough-yeds". Wigan before this time were not identifiable as the "Cherry and Whites"...

Some more notable playing kits were adorned in time. 'Jack' Anderton (real name John) played in his Anglo-Australian jersey (and cap) in a match against Leigh on 24th April, 1889. It was a fantastic colour scheme and jersey, beautiful in fact! It was much prized by Jack. The reason he may have opted to play in it was because, as Wigan had a disappointing "gate" in the Charity Cup Final against Poolstock, not enough money was raised for the Wigan Infirmary, so Wigan organised a game against Leigh to boost the competitions donation. Jack decided to wear his jersey to help boost the crowds. What a sight that must have been!

Ned Bullough, Billy Atkinson and Tom Brayshay occasionally wore their County jerseys, mainly for big matches to show strength that the Club had. And a novelty value of course. Ned Bullough became Wigans ONLY England Rugby Union International in 1892. After helping England defeat Scotland and win the Calcutta Cup (a drawing can be seen if you click his name), and winning his third and final cap, Ned turned out against Halifax a week later wearing his England shirt! The crowd went wild! Despite now being a mega star and the pride of the town, the first Wigan man to represent England, showing off your International shirt against Halifax on 12th March, 1892, the extremely loud cheers when he entered the pitch were not enough for the Wigan fans. Sadly for Mr. Bullough, an even louder cheer raged when Jim Slevin made a one-off appearance entering the field moments later. You can wear a pretty white shirt with a rose, amaze the spectators but to Wigan fans, the retired Jim Slevin was still the man... the Old Dog trumped all (and Wigan lost).

Here is Ned in his England shirt a week before the Halifax game. The Rose emblem is quite striking isn't it.

The Leigh Myth

"You borrowed our jerseys"

It is known in local rugby circles that supporters of the Leigh Club claim that Wigan had been lent their red and white hooped jerseys and "didn't give them back". Any Leyther who tells the tale says it matter-of-factly with a smug grin on their face, knowing that it can possibly be the only stat they have to get one-up on a Wiganer. That and beating Wigan at the Leigh Sports Village in 2017, but there you go.

I can debunk this myth, but I would like to invite anyone to challenge this, by all means.

It's a romantic story. The world famous Cherry and Whites actually coming from the Leigh Club. It's false. Rubbish. If we look at the dates. Wigan, as we know first played in cherry and white at the beginning of the 1885-86 season during a match against Bury. It was stated in the local paper that Wigan were going to be playing in this jersey. So Wigan had a jersey ready a week before. Wigan up until then had played a friendly match against Standish (who the Wiganers stated they should try Association football due to the heavy win, Standish refused and stuck with rugby) and a normal match against Southport Olympic. There was no rush to get a jersey at all!

Wigan and Leigh operated in different circles, as did Wigan and arch-rivals Aspull. In the 1880s, Wigan and Leigh were a world apart and had no connection at all to each other. For Leigh to 'lend' their red and white hooped jerseys to Wigan, Wigan would have had to forget theirs for a start. Previous to September 1885, when Wigan first wore Cherry and White, the last Wigan v Leigh fixture was way back in 1882! Between then and 1885, Leigh had in fact disbanded and ceased to exist. After 1885, when Wigan had started donning cherry, the next fixture against Leigh would be New Years Day, 1887. (Wigan won convincingly).

So, there is no possible way that the Leigh Club could have given Wigan their Cherry and White hoops.

If any Leyther tells you otherwise, here is the evidence. Unless, of course, Wigan did borrow the kit and never gave it back...