A chat with... Billy Halliwell

There is no doubt that the reminiscences of footballers who wore the Wigan colours in the eighties and nineties have proved immensely interesting to all who follow the fortunes of the "Cherry and Whites," and especially to those who are old enough to remember the contests refereed to by Mr. "Jim" Slevin and Mr. "Ned" Bullough in our first two interviews.

Both those exponents participated in that memorable match against the Maories in December, 1888, and this week we have the pleasure in reproducing a photograph - together with an interview - of another player who was on the Wigan side in that game.

"Billy" Halliwell was known to thousands of admirers as "Smiler," and, as will be noticed from the portrait (which is reproduced from a group taken recently) he is still smiling. No matter how much gruelling he received, his face always wore the same expression, and he was one of the best tempered players who ever donned a jersey. Indeed, it is said he vexed opponents by his perennial smile. Now ensconced at the White Horse Hotel, Standishgate, as Mine Host of the hostelry kept at one time by another Wigan half-back, "Billy" Anderson, Mr. Halliwell granted a half-hour chat to a representative of the "Examiner" the other day.

"I played for the Woodman Rovers, a strong local "fifteen," known as the "Pluckies," for several seasons before I joined Wigan," he remarked. "And in one season we won both the West Lancashire Junior Cup and the Wigan Charity Cup. One Saturday I played for Mr. Slevin's team against Tyldesley for the benefit of the Tyldesley Band, and later on he asked me to assist Wigan against Mr. Sutton's team. I played wing forward, but during the match one of the half-backs was injured, and I took up his position. I suppose I must have played well, for Johnny Payne, who was on the other side, remarked to our captain, 'You have got a lad in that team; I'd like to take him back.' At any rate Mr. Slevin induced me to join Wigan. I assisted the "Pluckies" once afterwards when they were handicapped. They had played two draws with Wigan Rovers in a Wigan Charity Cup competition, and they had to meet for the third time, the match being decided on the Wigan ground. I scored the first try, and Woodman Rovers won by seventeen points to nil. I believe that was in 1887, and I was afterwards a regular member of the Wigan team until I retired about sixteen years ago. I played for a time under the Northern Union rules, but not for long. My first partner for Wigan was Jack Hunter, while I had Jack Mitchinson with me for a long time. Jim Walkden was also a partner of mine, and Jack Winstanley ("Soap") played at half-back for a match or two, but later he found his true position at full-back. There was no recognised scrum half in those days. One man used to work the pack on one side of the field and his partner on the other side."

"How many championships did Wigan win while you were playing?"

"I have about six medals in connection with the Wigan Charity Cup competition, and we won the West Lancashire championship in 18889 and 1890. In one of those finals we beat Aspull, on the St. Helens ground.

"I suppose the match with the Maories was a hard one?"

"Yes, it was, but I have played in many other games which were quite keenly fought. The Maories were certainly a very strong team, and a powerful lot of chaps, who needed a great deal of stopping when they got into their stride. The 'gate' was nearly £200 - a tremendous one in those days - and the Maories were very pleased with their share. The crowd could not get through the gates fast enough, and hundreds of people climbed over the boards. Those connected with the club had to get the money as best they could.

"Is there any particular match you can recall?"

"Well, we were the first team to beat Swinton on their own ground when they had an unbeaten record there for three seasons. We had many a keen fight with the 'Lions' in the days when Jim Valentine was in his prime. The matches with Aspull were always vigorously played, though the Aspullites only beat us once during the time I played for Wigan. We also had many hard games with Oldham, Leigh, Halifax, and other clubs. I once scored three tries at Halifax when they were the Yorkshire Cup-holders."

"I suppose you never played for any other club after joining Wigan?"

"No; but it was not for want of offers. I could have gone to almost any club in Lancashire, and I had several offers from Yorkshire clubs, while Pontypridd asked me to join them when we were on tour in South Wales. I went on tour with Wigan down South Wales and the South of England three times."

"Who were the best half-backs you ever played against?"

"Well, 'Buff' Berry, of Tyldesley, was a very tricky player and a good hustler, and Archie Rigg, of Halifax, was another splendid half-back. But I always went on the field feeling confident that I could hold my own against any half-backs, and I faced the best in the country."

"Billy" Halliwell met with one serious injury during his career. He was playing against St. Helens when their new ground was opened, and he sustained a broken shoulder, which kept him off the field nearly the whole of the season. He also recalled an incident on the frog-lane ground, when he received a kick to the head. He was placing the ball for a kick at goal from a mark when one of the Warrington players charged. As the ball had not touched the ground Halliwell drew it under him, and his opponent's foot caught "Billy's" head. There was a demonstration against the player in question after the match. Halliwell had the honour of captaining Wigan for three seasons. He also represented his county against Cumberland and went on tour with a Lancashire team in South Wales and the South of England.

Asked how the present day football compares with tat of twenty years ago, Mr. Halliwell (who is a member of the Wigan club, and has run well up for the Committee during the past two years) replied that the reduction in the number of players from fifteen to thirteen had certainly made the game more open; the scoring was freer, and it was more interesting to the spectators.

May fortune's smile be as generous to him as was his smile when on the football field in days gone by.

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