1924 Challenge Cup

When we look back on great achievements one accomplishes, we always have to have a starting point. For example, Wigan's famous eight Challenge Cup successes were started on a muddy pitch with a 2-0 win over Bradford Northern on 30th January 1988, and Wigan's survival revival from relegation in 2006 could arguably be dated back to 20th April 2006 when Brian Noble took over as head coach. The Greatest story that runs right through the Wigan club is that of the Challenge Cup. Since the competition began back in March 1897, Wigan had failed to lift the already famous trophy up until 1924. In that 27 year period, Wigan had won everything under the sun and were one of the biggest names in the game, but somehow the Challenge Cup had eluded the Central Park Club for over a quarter of a century. The 1923/24 season saw to that and with Wigan's first triumph saw a love affair with a piece of silverware that is just as strong today as it was back in 1924.

Before the 1923/24 season however, Wigan had only reached the Final on two occasions, losing both to Broughton Rangers in 1911 and Huddersfield in 1920. It would take 102 years until Wigan avenged their defeat to Harold Wagstaff's men!. Wigan hadn't been at the races at all in the competition and with their 2 Final losses, they had also lost in 4 other Semi Finals. Hopefully, that was to change in the 1923/24 season. Wigan now boasted a terrifying back line that included free-scoring wingers Johnny Ring and Attie van Heerden, along with goal-kicking prince Jim Sullivan at fullback. In the League campaign, Wigan got off to a flyer by winning their first four matches against Wigan Highfield, Halifax, Salford and Hull FC before losing away to Leigh 13-9 (Johnny Ring scoring a hat-trick). A win against Barrow and another 13-9 loss, this time to Batley, gave Wigan a bit of time to think where they were at. By the end of October, Wigan started another run of form with four more comfortable wins on the trot before Oldham stopped the Central Park march on the 1st December with a 10-2 win at Watersheddings. It was only a blip however, as Wigan went through December unbeaten by thrashing Salford 49-0, defeating Huddersfield (18-10) and Swinton (10-4), thrashing local rivals St Helens 44-2 (four players scored 2 tries each) on Boxing Day before ending the year by narrowly pushing aside Broughton Rangers 5-0. 1923 ended with Wigan at the top of the League competition having played 17, winning 14 and losing 3, giving the club a leading total of a 82.35% win rate. Batley were sat in second place on 73% whilst Hunslet occupied third on 69%.

As you can see, things were looking bright for Wigan who were a full 10% of wins clear of Batley. The form continued throughout January though Wigan lost twice to Widnes (2-0) and Broughton Rangers (8-2). Although Wigan had now lost 5 games, their greatest loss was by 8 points or fewer which says a lot about the Wigan defence at the time. Even better, Wigan had 5 Great Britain Tourists called up for their Tour which included Jim Sullivan, Tommy Howley, Jack Price, Johnny Ring and Danny Hurcombe. You couldn't have asked for five better British players in the same team at the time, Wigan were lucky!

As February came around, people were starting to get excited again for the Challenge Cup. Wigan's involvement in the Lancashire did not last long, losing in the second round to Oldham at the end of October, so the Wigan public were feeling hungry for a bit of Cup rugby. They were soon to get it! The back story so far in the League is that Wigan were doing fine, clear in the table with a tight defence. The league form, people hoped, would elevate Wigan to their first Final triumph but first they had to negotiate three rounds before any thought of a Final appearance. Wigan were due to play Leigh in the first round on Saturday 16th February and Wigan surely got a perfect warmup courtesy of Hull Kingston Rovers. A week before the first round tie, Hull K.R. travelled to Central Park in harsh sleety conditions. Wigan won 36-5 yet Attie van Heerden managed to cross the line five times in front of nearly 9,000 spectators. The mean Wigan defence managed to keep Hull KR out for most of the match but with the win, Wigan were first in the League, having played 26, losing 5 with a win rate of 80.76%. A local derby was next, in the Challenge Cup! An interesting fact thus far was that Wigan had only lost on one occasion at Central Park in the Challenge Cup, that was to Huddersfield, so the omens were good.

Saturday 16th February 1924. Challenge Cup Round 1 vs. Leigh @ Central Park, Wigan. 7-5 att: 32,226

Local derbies are always fun affairs. Households are divided by loyalty and workplaces are like battle grounds. Wigan started their 1924 Cup campaign at home to bitter rivals Leigh, a team that had previously defeated Wigan in the league 13-9 at Hilton Park. Such was the attraction of this Cup tie, the Central Park secretaries had decided not to take any monies at the ground on match day but instead, told supporters to pre-purchase tickets beforehand or entry would be refused. The idea of this was to keep the crowd levels DOWN so that there wasn't to be thousands of fans locked out on gameday. Due to a big crowd being expected, the Central Park pitch was covered a couple of days before gameday just in case the weather got to it. In all, 32,226 spectators were in attendance which was comfortably the biggest attendance the game had seen in many a year with gate receipts of £1,786 breaking many records of the time. In comparison, the next best attended game of Challenge Cup First Round day was that of Oldham vs. Rochdale where 15,790 had taken the trouble to witness Oldham progress. You can imaging the scenes beforehand, train cars brimming with Leythers en route to Wigan Wallgate with Hindley and Ince being swarmed with an army of people marching towards Central Park from the Eastern frontiers of the Borough. A large crowd expected a classic match, and they got it

The Wigan Observer reported on the day of Hull Kingston Rover's mauling, that Leigh had gone into special training, similar to when they won the Cup a few years earlier against Leeds. New foods, 'less' alcohol, longer walks etc... were all in preparation for the Challenge Cup. Leigh were up for this one.

It was a thrilling game by all accounts. The conditions were harsh but the ground was playable thanks to it previously being covered. The cartoon (left) gives an idea as to how the game went. Leigh took the lead via Wally Mooney, the Pocket Hercules with a try that was converted by Boardman to give Leigh a 5-0 start. The Leythers were on the front foot for most of the first half, always attacking the Wigan line but the defence held firm. Wigan's league form had shown that whatever was thrown at Wigan, the defence would hold firm. And so it did. Johnny Ring managed to scramble over late in the first half to peg the game back to 5-3 but Wigan captain Jim Sullivan missed the conversion attempt.

Shortly after the restart, Wigan were gifted with a penalty after Leigh had failed to play the ball correctly on their own goal line. Jim Sullivan took the two points and to equal the score up. It could have gone worse for Wigan when Leigh back Mooney broke through and kicked the ball over Sullivan's head. The ball was picked up and passed to E. Thomas but luckily for Wigan he knocked on with a certain score on the cards.

With twelve minutes left on the timekeepers Golden Albert, Wigan took the lead through a penalty kick by Sullivan. Leigh had gifted Wigan the 2 points when Leigh were penalised for obstruction in their own half. Sullivan landed the goal amongst "scenes of great enthusiasm" by the home support. Through the second half, the Leigh defence held firm, as did Wigan's. Leigh could have snatched it towards the end when Wigan back Owens made a mistake which gave Leigh the opportunity to score. Thankfully, Wigan had Jim Sullivan in the team and with a fine tackle saved a score at the end. Wigan were now through to the second round draw, which would be made at Headingley, Leeds the following Monday. Wigan were drawn at home to play Broughton Rangers two weeks later in Round Two.

Saturday 1st March 1924. Challenge Cup Round 2 vs. Broughton Rangers @ Central Park, Wigan. 49-0 att: 22,000

After the well received Cup win against neighbours Leigh, Wigan were now drawn to play Broughton Rangers at central Park in Round 2. The clubs had met twice in the league, both games being an extremely close affair. Just before 1923 came to a close, Wigan edged out Broughton 5-0 thanks to Johnny Ring and Jim Sullivan. The Rangers got their own back at The Cliff, defeating Wigan 8-2 in mid-January to make meetings between the two sides 1-1 for the season. Broughton had already won the Cup twice, in 1902 and 1911 where they defeated Wigan 4-0 in the Final at Salford. Surely it was now time for Wigan to get their own back but who knew which was the score would go after the two league meetings had been close encounters. In the league game that was sandwiched between the early rounds of the Cup, Wigan comfortably defeated Huddersfield 27-8 to extend their lead at the top of the Championship over second placed Leigh. Wigan were now winning at 81.48% whilst the Leythers in second were at 69%. Broughton went into this Cup game sitting in ninth place winning at 58%.

Broughton had rugby legend and Great British winger Billy Bentham in their ranks that day but could he do one over Wigan? With the Wigan public still on a high from their hard fought victory over Leigh, it was only fair that 22,000 attended this game with gate receipts of £1,120. The next best attended game for Round Two was that of Leeds v Wakefield Trinity which had 20,000 at Headingley taking in £860. Cup fever had gripped the Wigan public's imagination yet again and for most of those 22,000 in attendance, not many left Central Park disappointed (save for the 1,000 or so Broughton supporters). Many critics were expecting a close game and any other day, Wakefield Trinity's win over holders Leeds would have been the shock result had it not been for the fine form of Wigan.

Wigan started the game on the front foot, eager to gain the upper ground and control the game through their forwards. Broughton had a reputation for having some of speediest backs in the game but Wigan's Howley, Ring and van Heerden ran riot against Bentham's lot whilst Jerram and Hurcombe in the halves controlled and dominated the game from the scrum. Jim Sullivan was again faultless at fullback in defence whenever he was called upon whilst his attacking movements which included several turns of speed and accurate passing mesmerised the Broughton defence repeatedly. Up front in the forwards, where the game first and foremost had to be won, the Wigan pack of Price, van Rooyen and Roffey dominated their opponents.

Wigan lost the toss in the gleaming sunshine (as depicted by the above newspaper cartoon) at Central Park. Wigan started the better and after a kicking exchange that, would have bored many at Twickenham, between the fullbacks, Sullivan eventually found touch near the Broughton ten yard line. From the scrum, Johnny Ring dashed to within a yard of the line before Jerram picked up and darted over after just four minutes of play. Although the angle for Sullivan to convert wasn't hard, Old Jim (who was actually young in 1924) misjudged the wind and missed. Wigan continued to press against the Rangers line when Hurcombe and Howley nearly forced their way over before Van Heerden was forced into touch after a terrific pass by Parker. Wigan furthered their lead shortly after when, despite Broughton making way up field for once, Sullivan kicked a penalty from 3 yards inside his own half after Broughton were penalised for being offside. When Broughton thought they were just about to get back into the game after being under pressure since the start, Johnny Ring intercepted a pass to run in unopposed under the posts.

After an exchange of penalties Wigan went further ahead by Howley. Good play from Jerram and Hurcombe ensured that a well placed pass sent the Wigan centre under the posts and another 2 point gift for Jim Sullivan. The game was over by now with half time approaching but Billy Bentham refused to give in. After a break, he scooted down field with only Sullivan to beat but decided to kick and have a foot chase to the line. Sullivan was too good and fielded perfectly to stop the Great British Tourist from letting the Rangers get a foothold in the match. Immediately afterward, Van Heerden was loudly cheered for wonderful play. The South African received a pass from his own 25 yard line near the touchline and sprinted downfield. He was challenged by the Broughton fullback Rowlands but cleverly, Attie kicked over Rowlands head, collected and scored under the sticks. Wigan could have scored twice more before halftime when Ring was bundled into touch and Parker knocked on a yard from the try line after a low pass by Howley. The whistle sounded with Wigan going into the Pavilion 20-0 at half time.

Wigan immediately carried on as they had finished in the first half. Sullivan floated a pass out to Van Heerden who again ran up most of the field. This time the fullback Rowlands got his man and Van Heerden was tackled. Luckily for Wigan, Jerram was close by and a quick pick up saw him score. Had Jerram not have been near the scene, the referee would have surely given Wigan a penalty try as Van Heerden was obstructed earlier in play. Four minutes into half time, Roffey scored near the posts with Sullivan adding the conversion. Wigan now were going to score at will and that they did. Sullivan kicked a penalty from the halfway line after Broughton gave away a penalty whilst Sullivan and Van Heerden linked up well. Ring scored twice more with Roffey gaining another to end the game 49-0 to Wigan. This was one of Broughton's heaviest defeats and one they would rather forget at the time. Wigan were electric that day, the backs' of Ring, Howley, Parker and Van Heerden were unplayable with their passing moves being top quality. Many people said Wigan had never played a game of rugby league any better in thirty years. Wigan's record of losing only once in the Cup at Central Park would be carried over to 1925 (Flimby & Fothergill anyone?) as the Quarter Final draw meant that Wigan were to travel to Hunslet in a draw made at the Griffin Hotel, Leeds on Monday 3rd March.

Saturday 15th March 1924. Challenge Cup Quarter-Final vs. Hunslet @ Parkside, Hunslet. 13-8 att: 23,500

Wigan warmed up for the Hunslet game against a dogged and tough Warrington team who played with only 12 men! Like Wigan, Hunslet had already made two Final appearances but the difference between the two sides was that Hunslet were triumphant in one of them with a 14-0 victory over Hull FC in 1908. Wigan were yet to play Hunslet in the League home or away so it was difficult to see how the game would go. Hunslet were seventh in the League on a 64% win rate compared to Wigan's 82%. The bookies made Wigan favourites but it would be a tough encounter, especially as 12-man Warrington had made it difficult for Wigan the weekend before.

For Wigan fans, this Cup-tie was seen as the biggest post-War match the club had participated in. The Cup was still coveted by the Wigan public and this was justified with a record 23,500 attendance at Hunslet's Parkside ground with record receipts of £1,738. Such was the popularity of the Cup-tie in Wigan, two special excursion trains were put on to cope with the away support. Going up to kick-off time, thousands of supporters were still trying to enter the venue and an estimated 20,000 supporters were inside at 3pm, half an hour before kick-off. Luckily, everything went well and all managed to fit inside somehow. The Wigan team were largely unchanged from the one that defeated Warrington with only Lou Brown replacing Percy Coldrick in the forwards.

Percy Coldrick missed the game against Hunslet

Hunslet started the better as they set their stall out from the off, Wigan hardly had a chance to do anything other than to defend. The Parkside forwards were up for this encounter and actually managed to cross the line. They would have taken the lead had it not been for Danny Hurcombe to snatch the ball from Clarkson and clear it in time before it was grounded. With this effort from Hurcombe, the game seemed to sway Wigan's way. eventually, the ball kept finding the hands of the Wigan backs as they settled down to their usual routine plays. The next half hour was all Wigan as a Howley-Ring partnership was a joy to watch with darting runs, clever passing and clean breaks dominating the Hunslet equivalents. The Hunslet forwards were dominant in the scrummages, a continuation of the domination they enjoyed in the early stages of the game, but the difference was Jerram and Hurcombe at half back. They had the know-how to send the ball out wide as quickly as possible to the backs, knowing that the Wigan forwards were second best. Wigan took the lead through Van Heerden after a fine break by Danny Hurcombe had given van Heerden an easy score and was to be the highlight of the match. Tommy Howley scored again for Wigan after good play from Johnny Ring which let Wigan go in 8-0 at half time.

Hunslet were still in the game, they were beating Wigan in the forward department but lagging behind in the backs. After the break, a quick breakaway by the Hunslet pack ought to have resulted in a score, but it was the Central Park men who secured the points. A few minutes after the re-start, Howley cleverly intercepted a pass by Young to Cottam. The Wigan centre ran up field, made a short punt and followed up to score near the posts. Sullivan kicked the tricky goal to give Wigan a 13-0 lead. The Hunslet forwards kept at it though, continuously edging up field from scrummages and winning the tackles. Wigan's hero was to be Attie Van Heerden. The South African intercepted several passes near the Wigan goal, on one occasion, one interception saved a certain try for Hunslet. However, Hunslet were rewarded for their continued pressure as eleven minutes into the second half, they got onto the scoresheet at long last. From a scrummage, one of their forwards literally pushed his way across the defending Wigan backs over in the corner but failed at the conversion attempt to make it 13-3. Such was the Wigan three-quarter dominance, Clarkson of Hunslet was moved from the forwards into a back position to try and cancel out whatever the Wigan quartette threw at them. The numerical advantage did not help as the speed and passing of Wigan was too great for the five Hunslet backs to cope with. Hunslet scored a late consolation try after frantic play by both sets of players, chief of whom Sullivan, led to the ball being free and finding a hunslet set of hands to go in for the score. Wigan had won and now were in their seventh Cup semi final, just a game away from the Final.

Saturday 29th March 1924. Challenge Cup Semi-Final vs. Barrow @ The Willows, Salford. 30-5 att: 20,376

Nearly 78,000 people had already seen Wigan play in the three rounds of the Challenge Cup so far in the competition, easily a record if there was such a one being kept. Such was the popularity of the Cup in Wigan, many fans believed this was to be their year at long last. The only thing now that stood in the way of Wigan and a third final appearance was Barrow. The Furness team were sitting below mid-table in the League with a 46% win rate, compared to league leaders Wigan who were on 83% thanks to recent fine wins over Leigh (43-9) and Rochdale Hornets (57-5). Two weeks before the semi, Wigan enjoyed seeing another mammoth crowd when Leigh were defeated once more and a week later, Jim Sullivan scored a record 12 conversions for a League match against Rochdale at Central Park. Johnny Ring scored four and Van Heerden scored a hat-trick in the Rochdale game, with Parker and Price scoring twice also. It wasn't looking good for Barrow at all with any hope of a win was dashed in that two-week period.

Hope is a funny word in sport, for example, St Helens hoping to emulate the success of Wigan. Or Warrington hoping to win a Championship. Both very funny. Barrow hoped that they would face Oldham or Huddersfield in the semi, not Wigan. They also hoped to catch Wigan on an off day at Salford. A year earlier, Barrow were in a similar position when they earned a replay against eventual winners Leeds but lost. The men from Northern Lancashire had never reached a Challenge Cup Final and were just as desperate as Wigan to get into one. Barrow started their Cup campaign with a short travel up the Cumbrian coast to Dearham, just north of... Flimby & Fothergill... and east of Maryport. Despite being 18th in the League at the time of the semi final, Barrow had then beaten Hull Kingston Rovers and Warrington in the Cup to progress, both close affairs. The venue of Salford, The Willows, was a common one in those days. most grounds in Lancashire were inappropriate for such an occasion. The other Semi-Final between Oldham and Huddersfield took place at Thrum Hall, Halifax, a venue which was deemed to be 'half-way' between the two towns. One thing for sure, all eyes were on Salford that Saturday when the big day came around.

One thing that may have bugged Wigan was that The Willows was the scene of their first Cup Final in 1911, that day Broughton Rangers were victorious in front of 8,000 spectators. Today however, 20,376 crammed into the Salford ground (receipts of £1,600) in the hope that (for the majority of spectators) Wigan would earn a place in the Final for a third time. The other semi-final attracted roughly 20,000 people but took more in terms of receipts (£1,700) as the entrance fee was slightly different. Same old RFL. Wigan started the game as favourites, being league leaders of course but also due to their previous win in league competition by 28-8 the past September.

Once all were inside, the referee was happy to blow his whistle and commence the match. Wigan won the toss and captain Jack Price decided to play with the wind in Wigan's favour. The opening of the match was quite an equal affair, Barrow had their moments through centre Carr, whilst van Heerden's now trademark chip-and-run tactic failed to deliver up the other end of the field. The fullbacks gave great early exchanges as Sullivan, of Wigan, and Spender of Barrow equally outdid each other finding touch with long punts. Wigan took the lead when after a stubborn defensive effort by Barrow, Tommy Howley kicked a neat ball out wide to Johnny Ring who followed up well and swerved around fullback Spencer to score at the corner. Jimmy Sullivan failed at the conversion attempt but it was still early in the match. Although Wigan took the lead after seven minutes' play, they were not producing their best form for they neglected their usual combinational plays from their backs and opted instead to let Jim Sullivan kick Wigan about everywhere. Wigan gave away a penalty a few moments later for obstruction near the Wigan line which got Barrow back into the match with a penalty kick.

Earlier in the game, Barrow suffered the loss of their forward Daniels who had a nasty cut on his head. Upon his return, Daniels got the Barrovian's moving again and being more than aggressive with the Wigan boys. Barrow were now on the front foot and could have taken the lead when Braithwaite passed to centre Carr who advanced toward the Wigan line, but luckily he was tackled in time and without support, surrendered a fine scoring opportunity. Just as things were going well for Barrow, it got a lot worse. Gunning went off injured and almost immediately after this, Johnny Ring scored his second try of the game, evading four tacklers to score at the corner. Sullivan again missed the attempt as Wigan moved up to 6 points.

Barrow then came close again via Thornburrow who only had to receive the ball to score on the line but failed to get hold. Less than a minute later, Barrow came within inches of the Wigan line after Wallace made a burst up field before passing to Scott who was ultimately tackled just in time. Wigan were on the back foot again as Scott tried his luck once more but Jim Sullivan managed to snatch the ball and kick it clear at the goal line. Wigan needed a break, and they got it via Danny Hurcombe, literally. Hurcombe found an opening after a scrummage in midfield and ran up field before passing to Parker who then gave to Attie Van Heereden to score in at the corner. Van Heerden had now scored in every round of the Cup but more importantly, for now, was that Sullivan had missed his third difficult kick of the afternoon.

Harry Banks, the Wigan forward, dribbled the ball upfield for an age. he looked certain to score when he only had the Barrow fullback Spencer to beat. Spencer heroically dived at Banks' feet and somehow prevented a certain score. In a fantastic bit of play for the spectator, Spencer then got up, collected the ball, passed to centre Carr who then ran halfway upfield before passing to Thornburrow who transferred a low kick towards the Wigan goal line. Luckily for Wigan it found touch just before it got to the corner flag. Just before halftime, and after several Barrow efforts at a try, Sullivan missed his fourth kick of the game after Barrow were penalised when Wiganer Rowley was tripped. Half time came with Wigan leading 9-2, but it should have been a lot more.

Danny Hurcombe was 'average at best' against Barrow

After the interval, Wigan only took five minutes to get on the scoresheet once again. Howley initiated a fine movement when he drew the opposition in before creating an opening for his pass to Hurcombe who easily scored unopposed. Finally, the name 'Sullivan' appeared on the scoresheet after his first success of the game. Wigan were then awarded a penalty after the Wigan stand off Hurcombe was obstructed whilst trying to collect a kick through he made. Again, for the fifth time out of six attempts, Sullivan failed at the attempt at goal. The game then got a bit ugly when in a scrummage, Jerram of Wigan and Barnes of Barrow were sent off for striking. Both players retired to the touchline and were settling down to witness the contest, when the referee stopped play and sent them both to the dressing rooms. Captain Jack Price, now playing in the halfbacks thanks to Syd Jerram's absence, was making a real difference in his new role. With a dribble, Price kicked the ball into the Barrow goal but unfortunately, a Barrow hand touch the ball dead before a Wiganer could dive upon it. Harry Banks drove towards the line moments later but was held up inches short. Playing the ball to himself, Banks dove over to score Wigan's fifth try and give Sullivan a chance to kick his second goal, which he did. Barrow were down to eleven men moments later when Daniels, who suffered a head wound early in the first half, retired still suffering from his injury. Despite the number difference, Barrow scored their first try which was failed to be converted.

Johnny Ring then thought he had a hat trick of tries but for only it to be ruled out via a forward pass. Not to worry though, Hurcombe, who must have been the Man of the Match by now, put in a kick from a scrummage and successfully pounced upon it to score a minute after Ring's disallowed try. Sullivan kicked his third goal. Barrow with eleven men were now waiting for the hooter. Wigan scored two more tries via Price and Van Heerden, both failed to be converted by Terrible Jim. It didn't matter... not one jot! Wigan were now in the Cup Final for the third time in their history with their 30-5 win over Barrow.

Oldham had successfully held off Huddersfield in the other semi final to make it an all-Lancastrian affair for the first time since 1911. Weirdly, Wigan were in the 1911 Final but lost to Broughton Rangers 4-0. The press and fans were now asking whether it would be third time lucky for Wigan and rightly so. Oldham had appeared in three previous Finals but had only been successful once, 25 years earlier. By all accounts, the Semi against Barrow was a dull occasion. Wigan had failed to emulate their League form whilst their backs lacked fluid passing, resourcefulness and accuracy. In fact, only one passing move resulted in a try from the Wigan backs - the last try of the game via van Heerden. Jack Price took great pleasure in showing how to get the ball from the forwards to the Wigan backs when he filled in for Syd Jerram at halfback. The pairing of Jerram and Hurcombe was average at best and the fluidity of passing was only sparked once Jerram was sent off and Price filled in. All that mattered was that Wigan were into their third Cup Final... against Oldham.

Saturday April 12th, 1924. Challenge Cup Final vs Oldham @ Athletic Grounds, Rochdale. 21-4 att:, 40,786

The time had now come. Would Wigan make it third time lucky and win the only competition they had eluded them thus far? Oldham had beaten Huddersfield in a close encounter at Thrum Hall, Halifax, in the other Semi Final and were keen to win the Cup for only the second time. This was Oldham's fourth Final and they were keen to win it for the first time since 1899. Preparations for the Final had begun weeks before. Playing at the Athletic Grounds in Rochdale, a record crowd was expected between the League leaders and third placed Oldham. Oldham had only a few miles west to travel whilst Wigan only had to negotiate Bolton. The choice of Final was a popular one, the Athletic Grounds could hold upward of 35,000 spectators and the authorities estimated that the current record of 35,500 (occurring in the 1922 Final at Headingley) would easily be broken. So popular in fact that Rochdale Magistrates Court, on the 7th April sanctioned the opening of all public houses at Rochdale from 11am - 10pm with the idea that with the public houses being open longer, road traffic and congestion would be eased as upwards of 40,000 people were to be expected. The Oldham Rugby Club made preparations of their own. They had also gone through the town's Magistrate to ensure that their club house would be open until late if Oldham happened to win the Cup as celebrations were obviously to be expected. In Wigan however, the Borough's Chief Constable didn't see it necessary to open until 11pm and an extension of licensing for the evening of the Cup Final failed to materialise, much to the disappointment of many a Wiganer.

Wigan went into the Final as favourites, despite their poor demolition of Barrow in the Semi Final. The Central Park outfit lost their first two meetings against Oldham in the Lancashire Cup and League tie but beat the Oldham lot 20-3 at the end of January which sparked a 13 game unbeaten run. Despite Wigan being favourites, Oldham were on quite a good bit of form themselves, dislodging Huddersfield and Leigh in the League table and moved up to third, behind Batley. One thing was for sure on the morning of 12th April 1924, the towns of Oldham and Wigan had emptied. The Wigan team for the Final was: Sullivan, Ring, Howley, Parker, Van Heerden, Jerram, Hurcombe, Webster, H. Banks, Van Rooyen, Brown, Roffey, Price. Oldham, for those interested in these things, was: Knapman, Rix, Hall, Woodward, Corsi, Hesketh, Bates, Collins, Baker, Tomkins, Sloman, Brough, Hilton.

The twenty-fourth Final was responsible for scenes without parallel in the history of the rugby code. So great was the interest manifested in the Wigan-Oldham meeting that the crowds invaded the playing pitch and the game, which more than once appeared likely to be brought to a premature conclusion, was played throughout under abnormal difficulties, so far as the players, referee, and linesmen were concerned. The Athletic Grounds at Rochdale were thankfully generous in terms of space behind the goal posts and touchlines, otherwise, the game would not have taken place due to the sheer number of people inside the stadium. As was expected by many, the gates saw a record for any game of the code played in England. The highest figures previously recorded were the 35,500 at Headingley in the Final of 1922. The Wigan-Oldham tie attracted 40,786 paying spectators with a further couple of hundred who had complimentary tickets and others who somehow entered the ground, with an estimate of 41,500 at this Final. The receipts of £3,611 were not, however, a record. They fell £280 short of the first test match between England and Australia at Leeds in 1921, but for the historic game the admission charges were a bit higher than this 1924 Final (otherwise the receipts would be a record).

Half an hour before kick-off the congestion on the popular side of the ground caused a number of people to jump the barriers and take up positions on the cinder track which surrounds the playing field (used for Speedway... Rochdale Speedway didn't last long, up until around 1930). Almost immediately there was a rush from all sides of the ground, and the pitch was invaded by thousands of fans. The three mounted policemen, reinforced by two others, ambulance men and club officials of Rochdale made strenuous efforts to clear the ground but it was not until the Rev. Mr. Chambers, the referee, called the players out and lined them up that the spectators could be persuaded to retreat over the touchline. Several times the game had to be stopped due to encroachment but the officials prevailed and the game thankfully was completed. From all parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire thousands of Rugby enthusiasts piled into Rochdale for the Final. The larger numbers were from Lancashire of course, but despite having no Yorkshire representation for the first time in 13 years, many from the White Rose County made the trip over the Pennines for the occasion.

Early in the morning, people started to arrive from Wigan and Oldham. Six special trains left Wigan, three from the L. and Y. Station (Wigan Wallgate) and three from the L. and N.W. (Wigan North Western), by which route the players travelled. Two special trains travelled the 6 miles from Oldham, and the roads leading into the town from Manchester, Bolton and Oldham were crowded with motor cars and char-a-bancs. Finally, it was reported that four men walked all the way from Wigan, starting at three o'clock in the morning over a distance of 26 miles!

You can picture the scene. The roofs of both the stands swarmed with people, but the only accident befell a Mr. Garside, of Ashton New Road, Manchester, who fell from the main stand a distance of 30 feet severely damaging his ribs and suffering shock. Many more spectators even climbed up flag poles to get a view! In the week leading up to the Final, newspapers were tipping a Wigan win. Oldham's last and only in up to that point was in 1899 - a quarter of a century earlier but Wigan's backs were in startling form. But this was a Final and anything could happen!

It seemed like a dramatic build up, and it was up until kick off finally came. The start of the game itself was a brisk affair as one might expect, each team trying to get the upper hand early on. It was Wigan who gained an advantage when the game was forced into a kicking duel between Jim Sullivan and his opposite number, Knapman, of Oldham. Knapman's third effort in returning Sullivan's kicks ended up into touch. It was nip and tuck early on, each side playing safe until Wigan gave away a try after Danny Hurcombe made an error which meant Sullivan had to kick the ball to safety. The ball however was charged down and Oldham may have scored if it hadn't been for Van Rooyen being in the right place at the right time to make the ball safe. Wigan's first chance to score points fell to Jim Sullivan who had an attempt at goal after Wigan's skipper Price was obstructed. The wind took care of the ball and Sullivan missed. The game up until now had little by way of handling, and this showed when a freekick by Sullivan earned Wigan a strong chance of opening the scoring. The usual fluency of the Wigan backs wasn't on show as of yet and the Oldham defence held firm, tackling anything that came their way.

Oldham had their turn to press at the Wigan line. A faulty pass by Van Rooyen put Sullivan in a rather tricky situation, but the daring young fullback, with help from Hurcombe, prevented Oldham's Brough and Hilton from scoring. Oldham took the lead after a penalty was given during a scrum, and Knapman easily kicked the goal to send Oldham into the lead after the quarter-hour mark. Oldham fans were happy - for less than half a minute! Fred Roffey's kick out was knocked on by Oldham's Corai and before an Oldham hand could get to the ball, Fred Brown, the Wigan forward, passed it back to Roffey who then ran through to score in at the corner. The score stayed at 3-2 as Sullivan missed the awkward conversion attempt. Johnny Ring then officially got into the game on defensive duties when Rix and Hall of Oldham made a break down his flank, but the Welsh wingman was too clever and made a great tackle, which was heavily applauded by the supporters. Both teams gave away good opportunities to score as the game was starting to become neutralised.

Nobody told Attie van Heerden this though. The Wigan scoring machine scored after the half hour mark when Parker's kick was watched by Knapman and Corai going into touch. van Heerden instead ran and collected the ball unopposed and ran in under the posts. The never say die attitude of Van Heerden earned Wigan 5 points as Sullivan couldn't miss. Van Heerden had now scored in every round of the Cup, this being his seventh try of the tournament. The memorable thing about this try was that van Heerden actually scored behind a police horse which was on the pitch trying to keep the crowd at bay.

The game had to be stopped due to crowd encroachment on the playing field, but once under way again, Van Heerden was unlucky not to score another try when his fine run was terminated by Hilton, who bundled the South African into touch. Wigan went in at half time 8-4 to the good after Brough earned Oldham 2 extra points from a penalty. Oldham had thought that their spirited tackling had kept Wigan within arms reach. The second half was a reality too far for Oldham. Despite starting the first half well, the Oldham forwards were gradually worn down by Wigan. The Wigan backs of Ring, Howley, Parker and Van Heerden started to work their magic. Tommy Parker edged Wigan further ahead on the 47th minute of proceedings but due to the wind and angle, Sullivan again missed at the conversion to make it 11-4. Wigan's superiority in the forwards was now showing when Skipper and loose forward Jack price got on the scoresheet to all but end Oldham's hopes of a win in the 55th minute. A final try from Johnny Ring with 10 minutes remaining put the icing on the cake for Wigan and earn the Cherry and White's their first ever triumph in the Challenge Cup.

Wigan had finally done it, it had taken three finals and many years but their name was on the famous trophy, alongside the great sides such as Huddersfield, Batley and Leeds. The Cup was presented to Jack Price by Mrs Dannatt of Hull, who was the wife of Andy Dannatt, the President of the Rugby Football League. Mr. R. Gale of Leigh, the vice-chairman, introduced Mrs Dannatt, who congratulated Wigan on their performance and success. Price, accepting the thanks, said that he thought that there could be no doubt that the better team had won and knew that Oldham would be stronger in the forwards. He also said that he hoped Oldham would win the competition again, but not when Wigan were the opponents. The town of Rochdale was abuzz with rugby fans from across the North that evening, many rival supporters drinking together, either in celebration or in mourning.

Who knows what happened to those four Wigan men who set off at 3.30am to walk the 26 miles to Rochdale. I am sure they were part of the homecoming celebrations though! Wigan, on returning home, had a magnificent reception from a crowd of 100,000 people. Yes, an estimated 100,000 from all across the borough had descended upon Wigan to welcome home their heroes. The townships of Aspull, Standish, Pemberton, Ince and as far as Ashton united for this historic occasion. Half an hour before the Wigan players returned home on train, Wallgate and Standishgate were impassable for vehicular traffic, and the tramway service had to be suspended. All along the processional route, Wallgate, Standishgate, Greenough Street, Scholes and Rodney Street were a concrete wall of people and whilst the excitement was high, the crowd remained somehow orderly. Only two men, out of 100,000 or so were arrested for drunkenness (probably football fans) and no accidents were reported. The Chief Constable had no problems with his men and would have been quite relieved that his decision to not allow public house openings times to extend was a successful one.

The band of the 8th Batallion Manchester Regiment assembled at the L. and N.W. Station and led by a posse of mounted police, with the team in a galley decorated charabanc, and another motor vehicle conveying the direction, they proceeded to the Town Hall where the civic reception took place. After a while of congratulatory handshakes and speeches, the team set off again along King Street, up Wallgate and down Standishgate to the club headquarters through a dense sea of people. Scenes like this had never been seen before in Wigan. It was late into the night that the crowd started to die down and even the mounted police horses were dressed in Wigan colours of cherry and white. Everywhere you looked you could see streamers and banners congratulating Wigan from house and shop windows to flag poles and barges on the canals. That day lived long in the memories of who was there to witness it.

During the civic reception at the Town Hall, the players were greeted by the Mayor Mr. J. Cavey in the Old Council Chamber. They Mayor was supported by Mr. J. Allen Parkinson MP and Alderman James Walkden, the president of the Wigan Club. The Mayor gave a speech:

"The Wigan Rugby Football Club had been in existence for a very long time, and had won every trophy that was to be won except the Northern Union Cup. They had come very near winning it on several occasions, and that day they had brought it off with honour and credit to themselves and the town. There were no two opinions about the merits of the two teams. and the Mayors of Rochdale and Oldham even acknowledged that the better team had won. The game had not been more than fifteen minutes in progress when it became the general impression that Wigan were a winning team. The question of a civic reception may cause some quibbling, but he would not make any apology.

It went on...The Mayor looked upon the sport as something that was good for the people and for the betterment of people. Mr Cavey thought that it was an honour for him to be the first Mayor to welcome home a successful Wigan team. With a little bit of foresight, the Mayor had hoped that the time was not far distant when the Rugby League authorities would see to it that a bigger and better ground was secured for such an occasion as the Cup Final.

top left to right, Webster, Van Heerden, Hurcombe, Brown, Roffey, Van Rooyen, Banks, Price (cpt), Sullivan, Ring, Parker, Jerram, Howley

It is also good to see how the game was viewed by the critics:

"The match itself was another revelation of the all-round brilliance of the Wigan team and more particularly of the real effectiveness of their forwards. It was in the pack where Oldham's hopes lay, but they were even beaten at their own game, and getting down to solid solid scrummages, the Blues (Wigan) obtained possession time after time. When the ball came loose, there was only one team in it, and that was not Oldham. With rapid movement and brisk short passing, Wigan were always forging ahead, and the men from Watersheddings spent practically the whole afternoon endeavouring to stem onslaughts on their own lines. Looking back, I cannot recall Oldham being really dangerous more than three times in the whole match" - Daily Courier.

"Wigan were full of sparkle, and were always relishing their work. The forwards have not played better this season, finishing as strong as they began. There were two outstanding men, and these were Van Rooyen and Price. The South African was brilliant, using his great weight to advantage, and always being in the thick of the fray, whilst Price was always giving out judicious passes and being altogether a successful rover. At half back, Jerram and Hurcombe were superior to Hesketh and Bates, though the Oldham pair did some clever things without materialising. There was, however, more variation about the play of the Wigan pair. Jerram was always changing his tactics, while Hurcombe's defence was as strong as his attack. Parker was the pick of the Wigan centres. He had a safe pair of hands, gave out some judicious passes, and was a dour defender... Ring on the left flank, was none too prominent. It was only in the closing stages he began to show his paces. Van Heerden, on the other hand, was always in the picture, his work being stamped with the hall-mark. What a dangerous tackler he is!.. Sullivan also at full back was strong. He went down in great style to forward rushes, and so far as I could see made only one mistake during the whole course of the game. He was superior to Knapman, for the Oldham full back's defence was at times shaky" - The Sporting Chronicle.

Job done. Wigan were there at long last and what an occasion! For Oldham, they reached the Final in 1925, 1926 and 1927, only losing out in 1926 to Swinton. They had their days in the sun. Wigan, on the other hand, went from one historic Cup game to another. The next game in the Challenge Cup concerned a little Cumbrian amateur team named Flimby and Fothergill on Valentines Day 1925... the rest, they say, is history. Wigan failed at the second round stage for the next three seasons, losing all ties to Leeds strangely. Wigan's next Final was another historic occasion, in 1929 where the Cup Final was played at Wembley (or the Empire Stadium) for the first time... but that's for another day.

And in 2022... Wigan is still winning this famous old trophy!