A chat with... Harry Ambrose

Harry Ambrose, well-known to his friends as the "Alderman," was one of the pioneers of football in Aspull. Right away back in the mid-seventies, 1876 to be correct, football was first played on the Moor. The beginning dates from the time some of the members of the St. Elizabeth's Cricket Club pined for something exciting in the winter months. These "flannelled fools" had been saving up their spare coppers at the rate of 2d. a week with which to lay the cricket pitch for the following summer, and a few pounds had been gathered together in this way, remarked Mr. Ambrose, when the football "rush" made its appearance, to be followed by a violent fever, which the laid-pitch section of the cricketers could not conquer. The laid pitch was too far in the in the dim future to restrain the football "patients," hence the funds were commandeered for the winter past-time. A field had been kindly lent to the Cricket Club by Mr. Roger Leigh, through his agent, Mr. C.E. Beaver, of Haselton's Farm, near the Woodshaw Pit. The members took up the job with enthusiasm, obtained timber for goal posts, posts to mark off the playing enclosure, wire to keep back the spectators, and everything was soon ready for the fray.

Football clubs thirty-seven or thirty-eight years ago (this was written in 1914), were like pheasants feeding on mangolds, very scarce; but St. Elizabeth's received a challenge from Westhoughton, and accepted. By the way, winters in those days were winters; they were not like half-inch summers. Westhoughton agreed to visit Pennington Green, and had no special trains, saloons de luxe, nor even a shillibeer-like wagonette to convey them to the land of their adversaries. They footed it across country through snow grafting on for a foot in depth. Arriving at the ground the Westhoughton captain eyed the Aspullites oval ball. "That's a queer sort of a baw yo'n gutton," he remarked; "what sort of a game don yo' play wi' that?"

"Rugby!" replied Mr. Ambrose. "~Oh, we play Association." This led to the sides deciding to play Association during the first half, and Rugby the second. "Well, we knew we hadn't a chance against them at Association, which few, if any, of us had seen played, and thinking we should get a bit of our own back at Rugby, we agreed. They completely ran away with us in the first half, as we kept handling through not knowing the rules. At the interval our captain, James G. Ewan, came to me, and said we would knock rage out of them, but they knocked more than rage out of us. They got as many goals and tries and dead balls as would have filled a page."

St. Elizabeth's Football Club was established on a proper basis in 1877, and their officers were the Rev. R. Walmlesley, Vicar of St. Elizabeth's, president: R.B. Seddon, a brother of Ernest ad Bob Seddon, and son of Mr. John Seddon, pawnbroker, Wigan; Mr. James G. Ewan who was a student, mining and estate engineer, under Messrs. Roger Leigh and Co., acted as captain; Ernest Seddon was the vice-captain; Alfred Holker and Thos. Hesketh were hon. secretary and treasurer; and the Committee were R. Higham, T. Cooper, A. Holker, J. Seddon and H. Ambrose.

Mr. Ambrose had saved a copy of the rules first issued in 1877, and from this we find that the annual subscription was 1s. for playing members, and 2s 6d. for honorary members, payable in advance.

"But," remarked Mr. Ambrose, "we had to fork out in addition to that. As Daniel Rickards remarked 'There were no expenses and no wages in those days.' Every member of the Committee had to pay his own expenses wherever they went. They were also glad when the match was over, whether they had to walk miles back home or not.

We were glad to get a glass of ale and threepenny-worth of bread and cheese, or potato-pie, at our own expense. We played Scot Lane (Blackrod), Blackrod, and Aspull New School, Haigh School Club, Charnock Richard (when we could get a wagonette cheaply), and other local clubs within nine or ten miles' radius. We could not afford a big price out of Saturday spending money for a wagonette, and there used to be a good deal of hanging about walking or riding. "However, we had a great many interesting games, and as many of the Top Place Clerks used to play with us, The colliers generally gave us a pretty rough time. My place was among the forwards, and when I ceased playing I took to refereeing - which some of the Clerks did not like on one occasion. We played near Barton's Pit for a time, and we still stuck together when the team played near the Pumping Pit."

Reading through the rules, we notice that the season in those days commenced on October 1st, and ended on March 31st; that every candidate for admission had to be proposed and seconded, and "to be balloted for at the next Committee meeting after his proposal. One-third of those present to vote his admission." There was more formality then than now. It also appears "that the uniform of the club be red and black striped jerseys, knickerbockers, stockings, and caps." But it is in looking through the rules of the game that we find one or two curiosities for those who follow Northern Union, or even the Rugby game. In the first instance it would appear that the Northern Union has so far as place kicking is concerned, but reverted to the original style, for the rule states: "a place kick, or kick, is made by kicking the ball after it has been placed in the nick made in the ground for the purpose of kicking at rest." Another rule defining a goal, after alluding to the ball being put over the bar, states: "but if the ball goes directly over either side of the goal posts it is called a poster, and is not a goal." There is something ambiguous about this. Another rule states: "If no goal be kicked or try obtained the match shall be drawn." A touch-down is mentioned, but in these rules has no value from a scoring point of view.

A further enlightening expression is: "the ball is dead when it rests absolutely motionless on the ground" - which is scarcely the idea for a dead ball to-day (1914). Then when a player was tackled with the ball, "he must at once cry down and immediately put it down." This generated into a yell, "held," and in the Wigan and Aspull matches there was usually no mistake about it. The maul in goal, another thing of the past, is described at length; and the law proceeds: "hen a player has once released his hold of the ball after it is inside the goal line, he may not again join in the maul, and is he attempts to do so he may be dragged out by the opposite sides." But it is in regard to the touch business that things have changed very greatly. Let the rules speak for themselves. Rule 31. - Touch: If the ball goes into touch, the first player on his side who touches it down must bring it to the spot where it crossed the touch line, he must return with the ball to the spot where the line was crossed; and thence return it into the field of play in one of the modes provided by the following rule: - In cases where boundaries beyond the touch lines are used, the ball, on going over, or touching either boundary, shall belong to the side opposite to that of the player who kicked the ball over or against such boundary."

32. - "He must then himself, or by one of his own side, either (i) bound the ball in the field of play, and after run on with it, kick it, or throw it back to his own side; or, (ii) throw it out at right angles to the touch line, any distance not less than five nor more than fifteen yards, and there put it down, first declaring how far he intends to walk out." There are other varieties from the present Rugby or Northern Union game, but the foregoing excerpts will suffice.

Mr. Ambrose continued in the employ of Messrs. Thompson and Co., iron merchants, almost 26 years; ten years he was with another firm, and now he represents one of the biggest manufacturers of bedsteads in the country, Messrs. Horatio Myer and Co., of London, and also Messrs. Swain, founders, of Newton Heath. Mr. Ambrose is a prominent member of the United Kingdom Commercial Travellers' Association, and has been president of the North-Western Federation, and was the first Secretary of the Wigan Branch. He still takes an intense interest in local sport, but he is no less keen in other circles in which his name for years has been intimately associated.

...Put into Context

The author of this website hails from just across the border of Aspull, to the north of this map, which was published in 1894. Highlighted is St Elizabeth's Church in the top right corner. Further east, you would go downhill towards Dicconson Mill Bridge and "Lower Gullet" where Aspull used to play before their move to Cale-lane in New Springs (highlighted bottom left). Woodshaw Pits, the scene of Aspulls exhibition game with Wigan at the beginning of their journey lies central on this map. If you know this area well, today if it just fields and old slag heaps. Living around this area and first following the history of the Wigan club I have always been fascinated by "Aspull St. Elizabeth's" in our early days under the Wigan Wasps banner. The map shows you quite clearly the number of pits and collieries are in this small village. Daniel Rickards, still worked at Moor Pit well into his 60s! Moor Pit is just south of the Finger Post (missed off the top of this map).

The headquarters of the Aspull club for a long while was the Hare and Hounds pub, between St. Elizabeths and the Dicconson Lane Bridge.

St. Elizabeth's Church, Aspull

Dicconson Lane Station adjoined Aspull's ground when "it was in Westhoughton". The Aspull club had many successful returns to here and was the base for their travel across the country. Now long gone, all that remains is a nice path (full of nettles but still...)

With utmost thanks to Mike Latham for the source material.