Billy Curran

Wigan, as we know, has been blessed with fine wing three-quarter men over the years. Billy Boston, Martin Offiah, Johnny Ring and Jason Robinson spring to mind. But here we have William Curran, a New Zealander who played for Wigan between 1913-1915. A fine player. Here is his story...

Any other player who played 60-odd games for Wigan would not command such prestige as to be written about in a Blog and remembered. If we skip to 1915, Billy scored 6 tries against Hull KR and ended the month of January with 16 tries to his name from 6 games. So that alone prompted me to have a look into Billy Curran and what happened to him once he left Wigan.

By the time 1913 came, Wigan were riding high in the League table sitting in second place having played 18, winning 15. The famous Huddersfield sat pretty at the top of the table so far winning all 18 of their games and well on their way to a League and Challenge Cup Double.

The Wigan Committee accepted his services "on the recommendation of as good a judge of a footballer as can be found in either hemisphere". William Curran could play full-back, stand off, wing or centre and was a very athletic character. He was also a very competent and proficient boxer!

As The Wigan Observer explains: "The officials of the Wigan Football Club had maintained the greatest possible reticence in regard to the steps which were taken further to strengthen the Central Park contingent. There were excellent reasons why this policy of silence should have been observed, and probably the principal fact which influenced the management was that of making sure of the services of a player who having won considerable distinction in the Colonies is likely to achieve big notoriety in the counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire".

Wigan were in need of a wingman after the sad passing of James Leytham to a boating accident in Morecambe Bay a few months earlier. Lance Todd had too intended to leave Wigan also. The Wigan Club had hoped that Curran would fit the bill. Wigan had been trying to get the services of Curran for several months and their need heightened after the passing of Leytham. Curran seemed to fit the bill after he shot to prominence in 1912 whilst playing for New Zealand against the Australians. Arthur Francis, who was himself from New Zealand, knew Curran well and recommended Curran to the Wigan board himself stating that he was a fine and exceptionally clever player after playing with him at his native Newtown Rangers club.

The Wigan officials had been fully assured as to Curran's abilities as a footballer; they had presumably been in communication with the famous Colonial, George Gillett, whilst Curran was not unknown, from a playing standpoint, the fact that he had represented New Zealand was in itself an excellent credential to have.

Doubts were cast however, whether or not Curran would arrive. Wigan had got word that he had left New Zealand by boat and was on his way but they were worried that he did not have the papers necessary that would permit his transfer. Anxiety gripped the Wigan club and to stop any other Northern Union club getting the services of Curran, on Christmas Day 1912, directors and representatives for Wigan travelled south to meet William off the boat. However, normally such vessels would dock as Plymouth, but for some reason this was "impossible". The boat journeyed around to London. Despite this delay, the Wigan agents met Curran and confirmed that he was in a position to join the Wigan Club. As Curran set foot in London on the Friday, he was stepping off the train at Wigan at half past two on the Saturday! (not even having chance to see the Great city of London, his first sight to draw breath would have been Wallgate... just think eh!)

He was immediately escorted up Wallgate, down Standishgate, and into Central Park to witness his first Northern Union game on December 28 against Leigh (Wigan won thanks to a Bert Jenkins hat-trick and Lance Todd with 2). He was "quickly recognised by the crowd and accorded a hearty cheer as he took his seat in the grand stand". Later that evening, Curran signed for Wigan with a 'stiff' price being paid to him.

Wigan had hoped to line him up against Pemberton in a Northern Rugby combination (reserve league) tie just off Greenough Street. He duly did make his appearance against Pemberton on New Years Day 1913. A large crowd turned up, they say the largest for an A-team game for some time, to see Curran make his first appearance in a Wigan jersey. Curran started the game in the fullback position before moving into the centres in the last quarter of an hour. As the Wigan Observer writes "The moment he joined the threequarter line - an event hailed with applause by the crowd - he showed himself as adept as a centre. The game was at once enlivened by his sparkling play, the vigour of his rushes, and the accuracy of his passes. The crowd became highly enthusiastic, and came away with the highest opinion of the new player".

Not bad. Curran needed to get match fit after spending a few weeks on a boat and getting used to the Lancastrian winter weather. He played at centre in another A-team game against Halifax and then again against Runcorn A when he scored three tries! Not that the A-team needed Curran. He partnered Curwen in the centre and so far during the season, the A-team were 13 from13 and clear of the chasing pack!

Curran made his debut against Broughton Rangers on February 7th, 1913 a week after scoring his final hat trick for the A-team against Warrington A (Wigan A were now 15/15). To be honest, the Wigan supporters were too eager to see Curran try his hand in the first team. And what better way to chuck Curran in against third placed Broughton Rangers?

As Shrove Tuesday approached, Wigan had by now scored more points than Huddersfield in the League (466) playing 21, winning 18 to Huddersfield's' 20/19 ratio. It was nearly time to unleash Curran! But not yet... after a couple more A-team matches Curran for some reason was not yet ready for the first team. That changed. Quickly. When Wigan faced Morecambe, lets cut to the chase, Wigan won 85-0. In todays money that would be 108-0. Wigan scored 23 tries and 8 goals with Curran scoring five of them and kicking a goal too.

Broughton Rangers, that famous defunct club, came to Central Park on Saturday February 8th in front of 15,000 spectators. The League gap between Huddersfield and Wigan was closing but it was time for Curran to make his debut. Curran scored twice in an 11-2, hard-fought victory. "Curran fully satisfied the Wigan people. He is energetic and intelligent. When he does fail he does his best to minimise and cover up his failure with a never-say-die vigour. When he gets away he runs for all he is worth. He is a conscientious try scorer, we are certain." noted the matchday commentator.

As you can tell, Curran was a bit special. Here is not a place for all of his glories, we shall get to his brilliant 1915 shortly, but the 1912/13 season fizzled out for Wigan in the end, as Huddersfield beat Wigan in the League and they won the Challenge Cup also. Curran ended up playing three matches that season scoring just the twice on his debut. The 1913-14 season was 'normal' shall we say for Billy... playing 22 times in the League scoring only 14 tries. Not really worth mentioning.

It was the 1914-15 season however that Billy Curran unleashed his talents onto the Northern Union. In 31 league matches he scored a whopping 42 tries, with 44 tries in total in all competitions. Only the Great Joe Miller (47 1908-08) and James Leytham (47 1909-10) had achieved better than Curran. The season started well for Wigan with a routinely gritty win over Broughton Rangers with Curran scoring the only try. He bothered the match reporter again the following week at home to Barrow with another simple try but by the time November arrived Billy had played 6 league games scoring three times and a try against Oldham in the Lancashire Cup at the end of October. Unremarkable I know. In the big wide world we the Great War was in full flow but the Northern Union had to this point no intention of stopping matches.

November 1914 proved to be a turning point in Williams season and career. So far at Wigan the great expectation placed upon him since his arrival had somewhat fallen away but after a standard 1913-14 season with Wigan, Curran was now a fully fledged starter. When the League started back up after Lancashire Cup involvement (Wigan had by now reached the Final in December) Curran had his boots firmly tied up! He scored tries in the next four League games against Oldham, Halifax (2), Leigh and Salford (2) only having a break in a loss to Rochdale in the Lancashire Cup Final on December 5th.

Huddersfield, that Great Huddersfield team of the 'Team of all Talents' proved too strong for Wigan on December 19th in 'wretched weather', but Boxing Day was when Currans' remarkable run started. The Old Enemy of St Helens were the opposition and Curran scored when he "tore his way through the opposition" to score in at the corner. He could have had a second try after an intercept but the Saints fullback won the battle at the line whilst Curran was in full flow.

New Years Day saw Hull Kingston Rovers come to Central Park a week after losing to Wigan on Christmas Day. It was a one sided score and William Curran scored 6 tries in a 46-5 win. Curran opened the scoring with a fine try that pleased the wounded soldiers sitting in the stands at Central Park. His last two tries came after long bursting runs. The next gme was against Barrow away, in fact the next day. Curran was left out of the side to rest up as he was unable to play after his exploits the day before.

When he had had a weeks rest after scoring 6 times against Hull KR, Curran bagged another 5 against Broughton Rangers on January 9th. Usually games against Broughton were quite close and tough affairs but Curran especially liked playing against them having scored earlier in the season and on his debut, twice. On the 9th, it was reported that Curran all of his tries came from very clever work on his own account. Two easy tries for him in the first half, a hat-trick in the second. His third try was the try of the match. On the right wing, Curran got the ball after a good passing move then he punted the ball forward, beat Broughton's Davidson on he wing with his speed , collected and scored. Curran was at his best and had now 12 tries in his previous 3 games.

By mid-January Wigan were still third in the table behind Rochdale Hornets and Huddersfield but had played 2 games fewer. Total tries, however we were catching up to Huddersfield and Wigan were dominant with points scored. Wigan were loving January 1915, and so too was Billy Curran. Next up was Swinton at Central Park... and the news didn't change. Wigan won 45-0 with Curran adding another 4 to his recent tally; 20 tries - 4 games. He was at the "zenith of his powers".

A double against Widnes on January 27th brought his total to 23/6. He failed to score in a tight loss to Huddersfield a few days earlier, a game in which he was unlucky not to. But against Widnes Curran played brilliantly again, one try from the half way line in front of 3,000 at Central Park (it was a Wednesday night after all, official records got this date incorrect!) Now we are building up to the 30th January. Wigan's seventh game of the month and Currans sixth. I counted his try on Boxing Day but before the month was out Curran would finish with a total of 27 League tries in 7 matches. TWENTY SEVEN - SEVEN MATCHES. That is one hell of a statistic. Yes, there are reasons why he scored so many, War was on and rugby players were being called up (eg Swinton were nearly depleted hence their 45-0 loss) but from all accounts Curran was untouchable at present.

Runcorn were the visitors to Central Park on January 30th. They lost 73-5 with Billy Curran scoring 4 more tries. His run ended as did January. He would go on to score another 11 League tries as the season fizzled out and War was not going away. Call-ups were bound to happen more and more as the call to arms grew.

Billy Curran played his last game for Wigan on 17th April 1915 in a Championship semi-final against Leeds (who came from nowhere in the League). He ended the season with 44 tries including equalling James Leythams record of scoring 6 tries in a game on January 1st against Hull Kingston Rovers.

On the day that Wigan faced Leeds in the semi-final, news appeared that another Wigan Legend Bert Jenkins (Part of the Greatest backline we had ever seen of Jenkins, Todd, Miller and Leytham) had enlisted to the R.F.A. along with Joe Miller. War was real and was here.

Billy Curran ended his tenure at Wigan having played 66 games, scoring 60 tries. He came here full of expectation and only in the last quarter of his stay id Wigan unleash his talents. His try scoring exploits were brief but remarkable. If there was no War then it may be a different story. Curran would or may be talked about in the same sentences as Billy Boston, Johnny Ring, Martin Offiah or James Leytham in terms of try scoring feats.

In total, Billy, in 66 appearances, scored a total of seven hat-tricks. Two of those he scored 4, once he scored five and once he scored a total of six tries. Not many Wigan players have the honour of scoring six times in a match, let alone four or five.

As with all rugby players of the time contracts were up during the summer. The world however was in War and Billy went back to his native New Zealand. It took him 9 weeks to return home due to the ongoing War. His brother immediately enlisted whilst Billy looked after his two young sisters who were his dependents. Billy hoped to volunteer on a hospital ship and longed for a 'tussle' once more with his Wigan friends on a rugby field. He did not know whether or not any ship he would end up on would dock at an English port once more. The War really did stop many a great name from becoming modern day legends.

Thanks Billy

Billy Curran, Wigan 1913-15; 66 appearances, 60 tries.

Heritage Number #231