Billy Atkinson

Billy Atkinson - forward

Cowie and Skerrett, Gee and Banks, Bullough and Atkinson.

You may not be aware of the third partnership named here of Ned Bullough and Billy Atkinson, but in their day they were inseparable in the forward pack and struck fear into any opponent that had the nerve to line up against them.

In 1892, the Manchester Examiner chose for it's article on "Local Football Celebrities" Wigan's William Atkinson, and here is that article which gives an insight into Billy.

"The fact that our subject of this week is personally known to few footballers in the immediate neighbourhood of Manchester would denote that his prowess is better understood by those within his own circle, but all the same few players have done more for Lancashire Rugbyism during the last three or four years. It may appear a ridiculous statement to make, but it can be argued that it is not so foolish as it would appear to say that many men owe their initial appearance in county and other important teams to the manner in which their supporters acquit themselves in the shouting line. As an instance of this, a fact can be stated which can be controverted, and that is that when promising youngsters are getting tried, say for Lancashire for instance, the enthusiasts who accompany them to witness their displays invariably perch themselves on either side of the structure which does duty for a Press box at Whalley Range, and it may be safely be depended upon that during the whole of the game, if their champion is a forward player, they can never bring themselves to see him away from the ball.

The consequence is that right throughout the play his name is continually being sounded, and as reporters are not infallible, and often do not know the men, many players are innocently written up with advantage to themselves. And what has this got to do with Atkinson? Nothing beyond this, to furnish a chance of pointing out that Atkinson is one of the exceptions, owing his place to not party intrigue, but having attained to prominence purely on a point of merit, and having once got his head to the front it is wonderful with what consistency he has kept it there.

The story of his career will not require much telling, for it has been one of a very ordinary description, as must always be so in connection with a player who has gained his laurels by honest labour in the pack, and who ha often been working like grim death when even the keenest watchers of the play have hardly been able to recognise him.

Born at Blackrod, a neighbourhood in which the Rugby game has always been played very vigorously, Atkinson is now 26 years of age, being 5ft 8in. in height and 13st. 1lb. in weight. His early connection with the game was much of the usual order, commencing as he did at the tender age of 14, and Scot-lane Football Club was the organisation with which he first ventured. Following many fluctuations, none of which, however, were of great moment, he eventually landed at Wigan, and as that was some six years ago it may be taken that that period really marked his introduction to anything like first-class football.

Just then the Wigan Club was by no means a power in the football land, and as they were about gaining a footing with the leading clubs in Manchester, every man amongst them had to strive for what he was worth. None worked harder to raise the fortunes of the club than did Atkinson, and after two years had passed he got his reward by being included in the trial matches. Such an opportunity it may be taken for granted was not wasted, and, as above stated, being one of the real hard workers, he quickly found favour with the members of the County Committee, and has practically been a permanency in the team ever since. Only four men cn claim one distinction in connection with the matter of the Lancashire County Fifteen, viz., to have played in every match in the season the county championship went to the wearers of the red rose, and of these four Atkinson was one, the others being Coop, Berry and Whittaker. In the lot of matches that year he scored two of the tries obtained, and although this is not a very remarkable feat, no other forward crossed the line oftener, and Atkinson is fully entitled to any credit there may be attached to the points.

It follows as a natural consequence that he has been in at some of the most exciting of the local matches in the Wigan district, and having officiated in the final for the Wigan Charity Cup four times, and assisted in the final for the West Lancashire Cup on three occasions, he has had plenty of experience in encounters which have never been remarkable for gentleness. Of Atkinson's style enough has been said, and it only remains to add that he and Ned Bullough have supplied Lancashire with two of the finest forwards of recent years.

(photo) Atkinson sits unassumingly alongside the great Jim Valentine of Swinton in a Lancashire County photo of 1891. Ned Bullough, partner in crime for Wigan, sits front row first left.

A quiet and unassuming man was Billy. He made his Wigan debut in a loss to Mossley on 7th November, 1885 and stayed in the team ever since. He formed a formidable partnership with Tom Brayshay, Ellis Wardle and Jack Lowe - long before his partner in crime Bullough joined the Wigan team. He failed to score in his first season but he played in the famous Cup Final of the Wigan Union Charity Cup against Aspull, the last game at Upper Dicconson Street in front of 15-18,000 spectators.

Billy's first taste of representative honours came in January 1888, whereby he was chosen to play for West Lancashire against Westmoreland alongside fellow forward Ellis Wardle and captain Jim Slevin. Again, by April, he played against Westmoreland again alongside Wardle and Slevin, and Alf Le Peton who threw his County cap in with Wigan as he gained a job at the Grammar School before retiring as such as a rugbyite). This caught the attention of the Lancashire selectors and by the time the 1888/89 season came, he was selected to go for County Trials along with Jim Slevin and Dickie Seddon, the Wigan backs. Only Atkinson was selected and gained his first County Cap against Cheshire on the 10th November, 1888. He again was selected, this time alongside club pal Seddon to play against the touring New Zealand Maoris at the beginning of December and so, basically, he stuck with the Lancashire men throughout the rest of his rugby career alongside Ned Bullough, who by now had transferred to the forward ranks.

Such was the respect for Billy, a game was stopped against Walkden on February 18th, 1893 when Billy unfortunately suffered a seizure. The crowd were visibly shocked as the two captains, with 15 minutes left of play, decided upon a drawn game (it was 4-4 at that time anyway). It was well advised that he would not play again during the 1892-93 season. Sadly, he was named in the Rest of England v Yorkshire match to be staged a week later and was (almost) guaranteed his first International Cap. How hard that was. So bad, also, that Ned Bullough made his return to action after being injured since September of the 1892-93 season, but after seeing Atkinsons injury and not being fit, Bullough decided to call it a day! It's like a very old married couple when one passes away, the other isn't far behind (that sounds bad but you get the drift)

Such was Billy's reputation at Wigan, in April 1909 he was given a Benefit Match at Central Park. In 1908, Billy's health deteriorated and the town and Wigan club got together to try and do something for him. The sides consisted of the current first and second team players of the time such as Bert Jenkins and Johnny Thomas, and twenty veterans from the olden days when Atkinson played in the 1880s and 1890s - players such as Houghton, Mitchinson, Jimmy Halliwell and of course, Ned Bullough. It was an amusing tie, as the old codgers refused at half time to change ends because it was windy! It amazed the few thousand spectators as the past players did not play to the Northern Union rules, playing as they did in the early 1890s! Billy's team of Past Players won 30-18.

William "Billy" Atkinson was one of the finest players Wigan had in the days before Jim Sullivan or James Leytham. He was one of Slevins men and took Wigan from a district team to the head of Lancashire. If you think Neil Cowie or Andy Platt, you'd be close.