A chat with... J.E. Horrocks

No doubt the subject of our sketch this week will be better known to readers of the "Examiner" for his prowess on the running track than in respect of his achievements in the football arena, for he was admittedly the most successful of local athletes, and carried off hundreds of prizes. At the same time he was prominently identified with the Wigan Rugby Club in its early days. A reference to the records which have been reproduced in the "Examiner" recently shows that in the season season of the club's history Mr. Horrocks was elected a vice-captain and he participated in many stirring encounters. He has a vivid recollection of the "maul in goal" which took place at Higher Broughton when one of the home players, instead of kicking at goal from a try, picked up the leather and tried to ground again. He also figured in another "maul" at Leigh. Playing against Platt Bridge he and one of the Bridgeites were striving might and main for possession over the line, and the Wiganer was encouraged in his efforts by the shouts of "Go on Horrocks!" After a desperate struggle the subject of our sketch gained the leather, and he subsequently learned that his opponent was of the same name as himself, and that the spectators had been shouting to the Platt Bridge man.

It is a very much different game that is played now. "For instance, if a player brought the ball out after scoring a try and omitted to make a mark on the line opposite the place where he grounded, the opposing team could rush at him and prevent him from taking the shot at goal. On the other hand, when kicking at goal from a try, the player could follow up, and if the defending side were not on the alert it sometime happened that another try was scored. Then there was the rule which allowed a man to bounce the ball in play, after he had picked out of touch, and run off with it. Of course, it was the duty of the opposing side to be up quickly enough to prevent this by forming a line out. There was also a big difference in forward play in those days," added the subject of our sketch, "for I have seen forwards push the other set half the length of the field before letting the ball come out."

Prior to joining Wigan, we might say, Mr. Horrocks was a member of three Leigh clubs. He first turned out for St. Peter's as a three-quarter, then he assisted the Albion, and afterwards for two or three seasons was a member of the premier Leigh club. He played against the old Wigan side when their field was on the Frog-lane ground, before the advent of the present club. On various occasions he helped other organisations, and on one occasion appeared for Bolton against Liverpool Old Boys. It was in 1880 that he became a member of the Wigan Wasps, and was elected vice-captain. He figured in various positions, but chiefly in the three-quarter line. In those days the players had not only to "stand" all their own expenses, but to buy jerseys, boots etc., and pay an annual subscription to the club, while there were other incidental expenses. On one occasion whilst fastening his boots in the dressing room at the Dicconson Arms, Mr. Horrocks had the ball kicked to him, and he just lifted his foot to send it back. That kick, however, cost him several shillings, for the ball smashed a fancy glass globe, and the cost of replacement had to be borne by the player who had committed the damage. After playing for Wigan a few seasons he joined the Aspull club, with whom he finished his football career. He sometimes assisted his old club at Leigh, and once or twice figured in the Highfield ranks. Other good clubs in existence at the time were Pagefield, Poolstock St. James's, Haigh, Blackrod, Platt Bridge, and Hindley. The latter organisation had an exceptionally strong side at one period. Mr. Horrocks was a member of the Wigan Harriers Club which was formed prior to the Wigan Wasps Football Club, and he was also connected with another Harriers' organisation, which came into being later. He figured with them in the seven miles' cross-country championship at Manchester, but the Wigan team did not get placed.

We could write columns about Mr. Horrocks' records on the running track, for, as we have already stated, he was without doubt the best known local athlete, and competed regularly at sports in various parts of the country from 1872 until about fifteen years ago. To show his versatility as an athlete we have only to say that he was successful in flat races at 100 yards, 120 yards, 220 yards, 440 yards, half-mile, and mile; three-quarter mile steeplechase, hurdle, obstacle, three-legged, sack, egg and spoon, and other similar events in addition to walking competitions, running backwards pole jumping, high jumps, and bicycle races. His first success was in the lads' race at Leigh Cricket Club sports in 1872. Amongst the places where he succeeded in carrying off prizes were Bootle, Rotherham, Barnsley, Levenshulme, Stockport, Glossop, Eccles, Wilmslow, Manchester, Newchurch, Heywood, Bury, Compstall, Isle of Man, Farnworth, Bolton, Southport and Uttoxeter. In 1876, at the Leigh sports, a special prize was offered to the competitor who gained the most points, and the subject of our sketch, with George Bradley, of Wigan, tied for this honour, the prize being divided. In the following year, by securing the 150 yards' hurdle, the quarter mile flat, and the 300 yards' hurdle, Mr. Horrocks won the championship prizes, his total wins that day being of the value of £16 16s. 0d. At the St. Helens Cricket Club sports in 1878, from the 16 yards' mark (Geo. Bradley being on scratch) in the quarter mile hurdle, he came in first, and covered the distance in one minute one second, which was regarded as the best time for the event at that period. A peculiar event was included in the sports at Staybridge, at the opening of the Recreation grounds: this was a sack race over hurdles. The subject of our sketch won the first prize.

Another interesting contest in which we find he figured was a bicycle race on the old velocipede (the two-wheeled bone shaker), at Atherton sports in 1874. "This," according to the "Examiner", "was an excitable and laughable race. There were five entries, but only three ran: - J.E. Horrocks, his elder brother, Tom, and A.T. Edmonson. Edmonson got away with a lead owing to having a step to mount his bicycle, whilst his opponents lost at the start in failing at first to jump upon the saddle. Edmonson won the first prize, but the race for the second prize was a desperate one between the two brothers, passing and re-passing each other repeatedly, but wen fifty yards from the tape the younger brother, amid tremendous cheering, took the lead and won by five yards."

The write well remembers seeing Mr. J.E. Horrocks and one of his brothers figure in the obstacle races at the Wigan Infirmary gala sports. Before reaching the "slippy" board, the Horrocks's used to go leisurely along, and even sit down beside the board until some of the other competitors had rubbed off a quantity of the soap in their unsuccessful efforts to get over. Then the subject of our sketch and his brother would bound up the board and invariably clear the obstacle at the first attempt.

The following were among the principal prizes won by Mr. Horrocks during the first ten years on the track:- First prizes: Leigh, sack race; Chowbent, running backwards; Westhoughton, quarter and half mile flat; Glossop, 220 yards; Tyldesley, quarter mile; Atherton Volunteers, 70 yards; Leigh, quarter mile and 120 yards sack; Atherton, quarter mile and 220 yards; Leigh 300 yards' hurdle; Pemberton, quarter mile and two miles' walking; St. Helens Catholic Association, 220 yards' hurdle; St. Helens C.C. 440 yards' hurdle; St. Helens C.C. 440 yards' hurdle; Rochdale, quarter mile hurdle; Rainhill, quarter mile hurdle and half mile flat; Wigan C.C., quarter mile Volunteer race; Wilmslow, half mile, and 660 yards' hurdle; Stalybridge, quarter mile hurdle and 120 yards' sack over hurdles; Leigh, quarter mile flat; Hindley, 220 yards' hurdle; Wigan Bicycle Club, obstacle race; Uttoxeter. 250 yards; Wigan Gala, quarter mile and obstacle; Eccles, 300 yards' hurdle; and Pemberton, 120 yards' hurdle.

The Horrocks family could certainly claim a unique distinction as athletes. In the first place, Mr. George Horrocks, the father, was a crack shot ad won the Guest silver and bronze medal at Leigh, the Kirkpatrick gold medal, the Shaw Challenge Cup (outright), and the Harrison McGregor Crest. Then, in addition to the subject of this sketch, there were six other brothers who were successful either on the running track or at swimming. Alf Horrocks won the Harrison Cup (outright) at the Leigh Baths. We might add that Mr. J.E. Horrocks is the foreman in the jobbing department of the printing works of this paper.

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