In this section we shall have a look through the Wigan Rugby Club's representatives at County level mainly for Lancashire. In time there will be a section of Lancashire representatives after 1895 but for now, we shall delve back right to the beginning of the Lancashire Rugby Union and explore the role Wigan and Wiganers played in building arguably one of the Greatest set of rugby players ever to be assembled.

As we know, there was a Wigan Football Club formed in 1872 and disbanded in 1877. The Cricketers were not very good at the ball-handling game as it turned out after all. The first County match that Lancashire took part in was against Yorkshire in 1870, 2 years before the formation of Wigan. The major player in the selection process for County honours fell to the powerful Manchester Football Club. Wigan in the 1870s were no major player. They did not have the players or prestige, or simply oomph to have any sort of influence amongst the more mainstream clubs such as Manchester, Swinton, Rochdale Hornets or Free Wanderers. With an emergence of new clubs and working class players becoming dominant around Manchester, Broughton FC thought that it was about time to have a bigger say in Lancashire County selections. In 1881 a general meeting of Lancashire Clubs was called at which the following clubs were represented: Manchester Rangers; Free Wanderers; Broughton; Swinton; Walton; Rossendale; Oldham; Manchester Athletic; Rochdale Hornets; Chorley Birch; and Cheetham (source). There was no Manchester Football Club, they would join on December 22, 1881 and helped constitute the Lancashire County Football Club. Home matches, and headquarters, would be at Whalley Range, the home of Manchester FC.

That's the formation in a nutshell. We are sat in 1882 and the current Wigan Warriors club, formed in 1879 is still a fledgling baby bird. Wigan are by now trying to establish itself in the District before thinking about the wider County. Not only do we need to think about Wigan, but that too of Aspull. Today, Aspull is a village to the north of Wigan - closer to Bolton Wanderers' stadium than it is to the home of rugby in Wigan. Back then, Aspull was a foundry and pit village whose rugby team grew parallel to that of Wigan as they became fierce local rivals. These two teams would take several more years to be considered the premier clubs in Lancashire - but we shall get to that.

It's reasonable to note some of the notable players in the early days of the newly formed Lancashire County Football Club.

Albert N. "Monkey" Hornby

Manchester F.C.

A member of Preston Grasshoppers and Manchester FC. Hornby was a superstar sportsman of his day, excelling at Cricket as well as Rugby, captaining England at both.

John Henry Payne


Robert L. Seddon

Broughton Rangers / Swinton

Robert Seddon was capped by England and the British Isles in 1888. Tragically, Bob never returned from the Tour as he drowned in the River Hunter whilst sculling alone. Jack Anderton (the Wiganer who was at Salford at this period) found his body some time later.

On November 22, 1884, a fresh faced 18 year old three-quarter back from the Swinton club made his debut at Whalley Range against Yorkshire: Jim Valentine. Valentine would go on to represent Lancashire on 60 occasions and later England. But we shall get back to Valentine. The make-up of the Lancashire team still consisted of players from the older established teams. For example, in November 1885 against Cheshire, the players were made up from the following clubs: Broughton Rangers (3); Broughton (3); Manchester F.C. (2); Swinton (3); Liverpool (2); Liverpool Old Boys (1) and a W. Kinnish from Barrow. Kinnish was the second player to buck the trend of the original member clubs who formed Lancashire County FC a few years earlier. Barrow were a million miles away (not literally) to the close-knit city clubs at the heart of the Industrial Revolution.

Rugby Football was growing in popularity. Jim Slevin's Wigan club were attracting five-figure "gates" and attracting the "bigger" clubs to play against. Kinnish would be joined in 1886 with A. Little from the Barrow club as the old guard of Manchester, Liverpool Old Boys and the like diminished. Salford had by now started to get a foothold in the Lancashire team with players such as the Legendary Harry Eagles, Sam Williams and the the three-quarter back Slater forming a decent partnership with the, by now, undroppable Jim Valentine.

As Lancashire were pushing forward, over in the Western part of the County a new Union was being formed. Clubs such as Aspull, Runcorn, Widnes, St. Helens and Warrington had joined Wigan and others to group together in simple terms to form their own Rugby Union away from the confines of the powerful Manchester and Liverpool gentlemanly clubs. Notice the names in this Union - they are still around today (apart from Runcorn and Aspull of course).

On Friday September 18th, 1885, the first match of the Union took place at Widnes against the Yorkshire Champions Batley. Some names involved would go on to become Greats within the game: Jim Slevin of course, championed by earlyWIGANrugby, Harry Speakman, of Runcorn, and Johnny Roberts of Aspull were called up. The Wigan captain of the time, Charlie Holt resumed his captaincy with West Lancashire and Old Blackrodian Daff Banks was the third Wigan player who had the honour of representation.

As the game and thirst for rugby football grew in West Lancashire so too did the talent coming through. Players such as Aspull's Hulme and Pilkington, Tom Coop of Leigh, Povey of Warrington, Pyke of St. Helens Recreation and Wigan's own Billy Atkinson and Ellis Wardle were becoming regular attendees. Aspull, Warrington, Wigan and Tyldesley had all won the West Lancashire and Border Towns Union Cup in front of record crowds - outnumbering association football matches! But still there was no West Lancashire representation in the Lancashire Football Club over the next couple of years.

Lancashire was still dominated by Liverpool, Swinton, Salford, Manchester Rangers, Liverpool Old Boys, the Broughton clubs, and the like. West Lancashire Clubs were attracting the larger gates and attracting the bigger clubs in Wales for mini-tours. The quality was there but Lancashire did not bat an eyelid. It was not until 28th January, 1888 that the first West Lancashire player was selected for Lancashire. John Pilkington of Aspull had the honour. PIlkington would later join Wigan and be the fullback during Wigans first great era.

So why now? Why 1888 did the 'establishment' start to look towards the colliery towns? In a way Lancashire did not really need to change the way they were ran. Since 1885 they had won 11 of 15 County Matches, losing three. Jim Valentine of Swinton, Harry Eagles and Sam Williams of Salford and Rob Seddon were safe in their respective positions and catching the eye of England. I suppose Lancashire thought their talent pool in and around Manchester and Liverpool was good enough to depose of any opposition that they came up against - apart from Yorkshire.

As a point, lets have a look at how Wigan faired against the clubs that supplied Lancashire between 1885-88. Playing against Manchester, Rochdale Hornets, Walton, Salford, Liverpool, Swinton, Oldham, Owen's College, Liverpool Old Boys and Broughton Rangers, Wigan had a won 20, lost 16 and drawn 5 times against the Lancashire clubs. The only team to have Wigan's number were Salford - not surprising with players like Williams, Eagles and Kent in their line-up. It was clear that Wigan could hold their own against the 'establishment'. But one thing was to change. Players such as John "Buff" Berry, Billy Cross, Ned Bullough, Billy Atkinson were thriving in the West Lancashire competitions with Wigan, Tyldesley and Aspull the major clubs to reap the benefits of the talent that were emerging.

Pilkington was about to throw in his lot with Wigan permanently from Aspull by the year end of 1888 but he remained the only West Lancastrian, as it were to don Lancashire colours. This changed in November and December 1888. Not one, or two, but three West Lancastrians were selected for Lancashire against Cheshire on November 10th, 1888. G. Woodward, W. Dillon and Billy Atkinson of Wigan all were selected in the forwards. We will look at why the sudden shift shortly but it wasn't for a lack of trying.

At the end of October 1887, Wigan's Tom Brayshay was selected for County trials as matches against Cheshire and Northumberland were approaching. Aspull's Pilkington was also at the trials at full-back, opposite Jack Anderton Jnr, formerly of Wigan and at this point with Salford (until 1888). Neither fullback made an appearance with the Free Wanderers' Bull gaining the honours in the end.

As the Spring of 1888 came into blossom, the first British Isles rugby team had been chosen and set sail for a tour or New Zealand and Australia. Wigan's Jim Slevin had been invited to go on Tour, despite having no Lancashire honours. Perhaps it was the fact that Jim Valentine, Robertson of Broughton and Flower of Broughton Rangers had not been chosen (Lancashire stalwarts) that the powers that be invited the next best in the County -Slevin. Of that British Isles Tour squad of 22 players, 10 were Lancastrians, 4 Yorkshiremen, 5 Scots, a Manxman, a Cambridge University player and Andrew Stoddart of Blackheath. Lancashire were strong. Of course, there were plenty of reasons why more Southerners didn't go but that's socio-economic and class-related etc.

As a new decade approached the make-up of Lancashire would change... this will be explored in Part 2.