A chat with... "Billy" Baldwin

Recently we gave in the series of "Old Footballers" an interview with Mr. J.E. Horrocks; and this week we reproduce a photo and chat with another old Rugby exponent, who was also a prominent and very successful figure on the running track, viz., Mr. W. Baldwin. He was one of the well known Wigan players of the eighties, and appeared in the positions of full-back and three-quarter but mainly in the latter. His first experience of the handling code was with the Greenough-street Chapel team, and they played on the ground in Whelley. He soon earned a place in the Pagefield "15," a very strong Rugger club in those days, and his abilities quickly came under the notice of the premier organisation. He had played against Wigan in the Charity Cup competition, Pagefield having been admitted, after a lot of trouble, in order to make up eight clubs and he and the captain of Pagefield were invited to join Wigan.

"In those days, 1882-83," remarked Mr. Baldwin, "the Wigan players dressed in white jerseys with a red Maltese Cross in front. I played against such clubs as Wavertree, Walton, Liverpool, etc., in the early days, and amongst those who were in the Wigan team were Mr. W.S. France, Mr. A. Hewlett, Mr. L. Whittle (ex-Mayor of Chorley), and Sir Henry Hibbert also assisted us in odd matches. By the way, it was in season 1887-88 that Wigan adopted the Cherry and White dress. Their opponents in the first match were Warrington, who also wore new colours for the first time."

Then the stern struggles in the old West Lancashire Cup competition were recalled by Mr. Baldwin. He referred to the match with Tyldesley in the final, which was decided on the Warrington ground. "On that day," he said, "Wigan were beaten by Buff Berry. We changed full-backs four times in the game. First, I was in that position, then Charley Samuels went there, and after Jim Hatton, and Joe Halton had also a try, I was put back again."

An incident which occurred on the occasion of a match at Bury was next alluded to. Mr. Baldwin should have joined the train by which the team travelled at Hindley, but it did not stop there. He, however, proceeded by the next train, and as he was very late he jumped in a cab and asked the cabby to drive with all haste to the football ground. On the way the vehicle overturned down an embankment, and the player, bruised and shaken, had to finish the distance on foot. The game was more than half over when he made his appearance, but he commenced playing, and the referee, on seeing another man turn up stopped the game, though on the circumstances being explained he allowed him to continue. Wigan won the match.

"A most amusing incident took place on one occasion." Mr. Baldwin informed our representative. "We were playing Widnes, on the Frog-lane ground, when one of our players, who was late, stepped on the field in his dirty face, having come straight fro the foundry. The spectators could not distinguish the player for a time, and thought Wigan had got one of the Maories, who were touring the country at that period. But at half-time they found it was Jimmy Telford, who had not had time to wash, so eager was he to be on the field."

Here are some extracts taken at random from the report of a match in which Mr. Baldwin figured. "Baldwin made some clinking runs," "Baldwin received the ball and ran like greased lightening," "Baldwin was the speediest three-quarter, and made some spanking runs." Another interesting extract is from the notes of a match against Tyldesley, contributed by a well-known Wiganer to the "Examiner" in the days we are referring to:- "Baldwin made a fly-kick when the visitors were in the Wigan quarters. The furore had scarcely died away when, Bagorra, Bejabera, Bedad, Hoora! Such a shout went up. What was the cause? Baldwin had dropped a magnificent goal, and those who a few moments before had been loud in their condemnation, fairly laid it on; and it was 'Well-played, Billy!' 'Bravo,' and such like." That goal won the match.

Mr. Baldwin scored many fine tries for the Wiganers, and although it is perhaps difficult to single out any special one, the effort against Tottington (for whom such men as Doc. Worthington and Tom Coop were then playing) will rank as one of the best. We believe he also chronicled two other tries in that match, all as the result of good runs. Another fine try was that which he placed to his credit on the Wakefield Trinity ground. At one period Wigan had the assistance of a (church man) from Hindley St. Peter's; Parson Tucker, the players used to call him, and Mr. Baldwin referred to the good influence he had on the other exponents. On one occasion a player used rather objectionable language during the journey to Wakefield, and the clergyman administered a reproof. The player in question (now dead) at one apologised, and the incident appeared to have a splendid effect on the team. Mr. Baldwin, who represented South East Lancashire against East Lancashire, at Blackley, was one of the Wigan players who were presented with gold braided caps, subscribed for by admirers in 1888.

A most interesting item was mentioned by Mr. Baldwin in further conversation. In the match at Swinton, in September, 1885, Mr. Slevin scored a memorable try. It was only the third try gained by an opponent against the "Lions" on the Swinton ground since 1883. Lings, of Sale, obtained one in 1883, and Teddy Flowers, of Broughton (who afterwards played for Wigan), scored the other in 1884. Mr. Baldwin played amongst the forwards that day, so as to give Mr. Hindley Smith a trial at three-quarter back.

Reverting to his association with the Pagefield Club, Mr. Baldwin recalled the interesting contests they had with Lowton. They met on three or four occasions for a hot-pot, the losers paying and the games, as well as the repeats, were greatly enjoyed. In one engagement Mr. Arnott gave a cup to be competed for between the clubs (which Pagefield won), and his two sons took part in the game, along with Dr. Dobb. In the early days of the Wigan Wasps Club, there was a gymnasium for the players in Dicconson-street, and later they had a "gym" near the present Market Hall, where Sergt. Webster used to instruct them. The players trained very hard, even in those days, and it was nothing unusual for the subject of this article to walk to Chorley and back twice a week in the evenings. The players were not very particular as to which position they occupied; it was sometimes a case of "Where are you playing today?" In Mr. Baldwin's opinion, Mills and Bumby were two of the best pairs of half-backs at that time. After he left Wigan about 1890, Mr. Baldwin assisted Horwich, though occasionally he played for his old club. Then he was induced to go to Swinton, and his last two seasons on the football field were spent in the company of the then famous Blues. Such men as Jim Valentine, Dr. Marsh, and Arthur Paul were leading lights in the Rugby game during his connection with Swinton. Whilst on tour with the "Lions," he played half-back with Walter Bumby at Hartlepool, and the home team had scored four tries. The subject of our sketch then dropped a goal, which won the match.

Mr. Baldwin took part in many notable events on the running track. He competed, along with Charley Samuels, against L.E. Myers, the American crack, in the quarter mile flat race, at the Wigan Cricket Club sports, when Mr. Samuels defeated Myers, Baldwin being third. For eleven years in succession he ran in the athletic meetings at Southport, and always won either a first or a second prize. As a youth he won a grand race at the Lathom Park sports, held for Masonic charities, and was awarded a box of studs, given by the then Countess of Lathom, valued at £30. The first champion runner he met was W. Snook, of Shrewsbury, whom he opposed at Chorley, in a quarter mile race. He won the event by about a yard, but the judges decided in favour of Snook, their decision received with cries of disapproval by the spectators. He also competed with such notable athletes as W.G. George, P. Shea, T. Crellin, J. Pitchford, C.H. Laffosse, T.G. Stewart, and E.W. Parry. The total value of his prizes is estimated at £300.

"My most successful race?" "Yes, that was at Fleetwood Rangers' sports in the year 1888, in the half-mile flat race, which I won, starting from virtual scratch, 12 yards mark, through a field of about 60 runners. The prize was a handsome marble clock. The same day I also won the quarter mile flat race."

Mr. Baldwin, for three successive years, 1887-88-89, won the Fylde quarter mile championship at sports held on the Preston Athletic Grounds.

With utmost thanks of course to Mike Latham for the source material from the Wigan Examiner