Jack Underwood

Jack Underwood was one of the early Wigan stalwarts since the Club's formation i 1879. In fact, Jack was one of the four main founding members of today's Wigan Warriors alongside Jim Slevin, William Baldwin and Joe Wardle - amongst others. 

He played in Wigan's first ever fixture, as a three-quarter back against St. Lawrences, of Chorley back in 1879, and had the distinction to be the first Wigan player to score twice in a match the following week against Aspull.

Here we have a chat that Jack had with the Manchester Evening Mail in March 1899 where he discusses the thensituation regarding payments to referees, of which he was even during his playing days for Wigan between 1879-85, his thoughts of the 'play the ball' rule in the Northern Union and other miscellaneous bits:

For something approaching twenty years has our subject been connected with the Rugby game in Lancashire, and long before the Northern Union started he was a conspicuous figure in connection with the sport. He was one of the four founders of the present Wigan club, acting as secretary in 1879-80, and since that time he has never ceased to have a connection with the organisation. This season he should have been chairman of the Lancashire Senior Competition Committee, but had to decline the honour offered him on account of pressing business engagements. Not only in football legislation has he made himself prominent , but in the athletic world he has also been conspicuous, and is at present a member of the Manchester District Committee of the N.C.A.A. Years ago he played a couple of seasons with the Eccles club, and a couple of seasons with the Blackley club, when both these organisations were fairly strong, and his playing days were rather abruptly finished by a serious accident. Taking part in a match for Wigan against Liverpool at Aigburth he sustained a shock to the spine, ending in slight paralysis, and he was then ordered by his doctor to retire from active service.

"So far as the payment of referees is concerned," Mr. Underwood remarked, "I certainly think that the fee is inadequate. To some people the expression of opinion on my part will sound rather strange, because it is pretty generally known that when the question of an advance was before the Lancashire Senior Competition Committee I opposed it. This, of course, was as representative of the Wigan club, and I felt that, handicapped as we are for want of finances, I should not have been justified in voting for the proposed advance. To my mind too much has been made of this question from a referee's point, and not enough importance been attached to the touch judge element of the case. It very often happens that a referee's expenses are not as heavy as that of the linesman, for the latter may come from a long distance, and although the fee itself is not so much, the railway fares, which are at the same rate in all cases, make the total more. Thus, so far as clubs go, it is not altogether a matter of what a referee takes, but the question really affects the three officials. There is no doubt that the referee deserves a deal more than he gets; but many clubs are pressed for want of funds, and at present the adance seems unlikely to be granted."

"Now about this vexed playing the ball rule?"

"I firmly believe that it is a rule which will never be properly carried out. There is little occasion for surprise at referees not having acted up to it, because it seems impossible to do so. Take, for instance, Clause B, which says that a man shall be penalised for not immediately putting the ball down in front of him upon being held. How is it possible for a player to do this when he is surrounded by opponents who are pushing him on each side? no matter how honestly he tried, he could not do so, and it is absurd to expect it. Again, Clause C provides that a man shall be penalised, who, being on the ground, does not immediately get up. This is another impossible task (for) a player; and, in fact, the whole rule might as well be abolished for all the use it is. It has been proved beyond doubt that referees cannot make it work, and it seems only a matter of time before it is wiped off the book."

"What about the general conditions under which the game is played?"

"No matter how perfect the conditions of the game may become, there will always be found people who want reforms. When the kick-in was adopted instead of the line-out I was strongly opposed to it. I held the opinion that it would be exceedingly dangerous to threequarters and full backs, and I was one of those who advocated a throw-in, either forward of backward. Experience has gone to prove that the kick-in has worked splendidly, and done the game a deal of good. The old cry was that the big rushing forwards would bear down upon the backs with terrific force, but so far as I know, accidents have been remarkably free. Regarding the tiresome 'feet-up' penalty, I hold with all other referees that it is the most troublesome point we come across. It elads to any amount of unpleasentness, and, although I am not prepared to suggest any remedy, I am convinced some drastic reform is badly wanted."

"The crowds I have invariably met at Northern Unio matches have behaved admirably. The last match I officiated in under Rugby Union rules was the important one between Swinton and Swansea, and even such a representative gathering as was then present only about compares with the conduct at Northern Union matches. Personally I cannot draw upon my memory for a single incident where spectators have subjected me to any indignities, and I am glad to see from the chats you have had with my colleagues that this experience has been the rule. Hooting, of course, one always comes across more or less, but actual molesting is seldom heard of. When it is considered that the Northern Union Cup Ties are so keenly fought, and that competition matches are nearly always exciting, I think everything passes off very well indeed. Unkind critics have had a lot to say about the Northern Union, but they cannot possibly charge it with having created rowdyism. On the other hand, most of the disgraceful conduct is witnessed under the other Union, and in Yorkshire this season the authorities have had to deal with some scandalous cases."