St. Elizabeth's, Aspull -1879

One of the early games that the current Wigan Warriors ever played came against St. Elizabeth's of Aspull. Way back in the autumn of 1879, the St. Elizabeth's cricket club had wanted to try their hand at football. Discussions took place with members as to which code they wanted to have a hand in: Association, backed by Ellis Baxendale, or Rugby, backed by John Hope. One evening, after practice (or else no play would have occured), Daniel Rickards put the idea to the members in the cricket tent. A lively discussion ensued and eventually the cricketers decided to go down the Rugby route. A Mr. Ernest Seddon said that he could get a copy of the rulebook from a family member who had connections to the Wigan Club. For those who don't exactly know the geography, Aspull lies 2 miles north of Wigan and was a prominent pit village in the 1870s and beyond. (It lies closer to Bolton Wanderers' stadium than it does to the Wigan Warriors' current home).

Mr. Rickards got enough money together to purchase Aspull's first ball and eventually the Wigan Wasps were invited up to play an exhibition game. As you will see, there is not much to talk about the game itself. It goes down as a Classic Game having been the first for the soon-to-be famous Aspull Club and the first match between these two bitter rivals. Just, they didn't know it at the time how strong each club would grow to become.

The previous week, Wigan had played their first non-practice match against St. Lawrence's of Chorley and lost quite heavily by 6 tries to one. On the morning of November 15, 1879, the Wigan players woke up to a bitter frost but J. Williams, the Wigan captain, gathered his men and made the short journey north to the fields behind St. Elizabeth's Church in Aspull.

A football match between the above clubs took place last Saturday at Aspull, and resulted in a somewhat easy victory for the Wasps, by five tries, six touchdowns, and three touches in goal, to nil. Owing to a severe frost the ground was hard and slippery, and to this may be attributed the timidity shown by the back players at the commencement of the game.

The Wigan captain won the toss, and the ball was set i motion by Blinchorn, and was followed up with quick play and loose scrimmages. The Aspull men are a strong lot, but short of practice, and consequently played off side very often.

Ewan (captain) Hedley, and Jones worked hard to score for Aspull, but failed. Williams, the Wigan captain, was often applauded by the spectators, and some very nice runs were made by Slevin, Heyes, and Turner. Almond was of good service to the Wigan forwards, who played much better together than on the previous Saturday.

The tries were obtained by UNderwood (2), Waddington (1), Heyes (1), Flemming (1). The kicks at goal were entrusted to Williams, Blinchorn, and Heyes, who failed to convert them into goals.

Wigan Wasps: C. Blinchorn, back; J. Slevi, A.J. Hodgkinson, 3/4 backs; J. Williams (captain), R. Heyes, 1/2 backs; J.W. Almond, J. Berry, T. Waddington, H. Flemming, J.W. Turner, J. Tabern, W.L. Baldwin, J. Turnin, W. Marsden, J. UNderwood, forwards.

Aspull: T. Cooper, E. Baxendale, backs; J.G. Ewan (captain), D. Rickards, 3/4 backs; W.J. Hedley, J. Hope, 1/2 backs; J. Hampson, J. Seddon, J. Rickards, H Ambrose, J. France, W. Coates, R. Higham, J. Jones, A. Holker, forwards.

Messrs. J.R. Knowles and J. Wardle, umpires.

Not much indeed to tell. Back then football was still evolving and not many column inches were used to give detailed accounts of gameplay. This would change as the 1880s and the game developed. From this game between Wigan and Aspull St. Elizabeth's, played near the Woodshaw Pit (bottom centre of the map below - the highlighted 'football ground' was their Cale Lane home in the 1880s/90s), some Wigan players did give some notes of encouragement. As Daniel Rickards later explained in an interview decades later, he recalled a Wigan players say "You don't know the game, and you lack speed, but you might make good players some time"

Aspull, of course, went on to become a mighty player in English rugby. In all, Wigan and Aspull faced each other on 28 occasions, Wigan winning 18, Aspull 8 and drawing twice. St. Elizabeth's dropped their name two years after forming when the cricket club disbanded - they were rugby lads now!