A chat with... William Marsden

Mr. William Marsden, whose association with football in Wigan, dates back to 1879... Mr. Marsden was a harrier of the Wigan Hare and Hounds, from which the Wigan Wasps Football Club sprang. Seven young men were responsible for the formation of the latter organisation. They met to discuss the matter at the tobacconist's shop of Mr. W.L. Baldwin, in Mesnes-street, and they included Messrs Jack Underwood, Joe Wardle, W.L. Baldwin, Jos Almond, Alf Hodgkinson, another enthusiast and Mr. Marsden. Matches were played with clubs in the immediate locality, an easy waggonette drive being usually the objective. At the end of two years it was suggested that the name of the club should be changed to that of Wigan and Mr. Marsden was elected secretary.

"I well remember writing to Mr. W. Wallwork, then secretary of the Wigan Cricket Club," remarked Mr. Marsden, "asking him if it was their intention to run a football club as they had done some time before. His reply was that as far as he knew his committee had no such intention and as the Wasps were the only football club in the town they would be perfectly justified in changing the name. With the alteration we decided to play as few local clubs as possible so as to do this with loose jealousy. During the first two or three years the chief contest I think was with Southport Olympic. I recall that the Olympic beat us at home and away, and yet we thought we were a better team. So we fixed up a third match on their ground. We were just about to leave the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway station for the (journey) when Harry Pickering, who was then captain of the Highfield Club came rushing on the platform. His team had 'scratched' their engagement and he offered to help us against the Olympians. I readily stood down for him, but we were beaten for a third time. Mr. Pickering subsequently became one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines and so well be remembered was killed in a Yorkshire mine explosion a short time ago."

Mr. Marsden, who operated in the pack, gave up playing in 1883. All his home games were played on the Upper Dicconson Street ground and (never) has active participation with the Wiganers had himself pitted against the famous Aspull outfit... on about a dozen occasions. One of the most unpleasant of his football memories is connected with the battles against the "Blues". "I remember registering a try and by accident I hurt one of the Aspull forwards, who said he would have it on for me at the first opportunity. At that period I was a Volunteer and we used to drill in the top storey of an old factory in Church-street. On the Monday night following the Saturday of that particular match I was proceeding home from the drill when I was met by the Aspull player who was accompanied by two or three companions and I got the best thrashing I ever had in my life and was black and blue for a (time) afterwards."

For thirteen years Mr. Marsden was a member of the Wigan Committee, and he relates many interesting stories as to the management of the club. Here is a story as to the "takings" at one of the memorable matches with Aspull. "The gate money used to be counted every Saturday night at the Legs of Man Hotel. In an engagement against the traditional enemy the coppers poured in to such an extent that we had to secure a large soap box, which was filled to overflowing. When we could not get any more coins to stack in it I pushed the box into one corner of the tent. The shower of coppers continued and after the game I secured a bag and removed the receipts to the Legs of Man Hotel, but completely forgot the soap box and its contents. The tent was locked up and at the committee meeting on the Monday night I learned from the chairman that there was a big deficiency: the takings did not tally with the checks. Then the thought of the soap box full of copper came to my mind. I whispered to one of the committeemen and asked him to leave the room as I wished to speak to him. I told him about the box at the Dicconson-street ground, and we were on our way there when we were overtaken by a messenger who told us that we could return to the hotel as the box was found on the Saturday and the committee simply desired to have a little joke at my expense."

There was a social side to the (team) in the early days of the Wigan club, and it was a practice for some of the organisations to entertain each other after the struggles in the arena. "Chorley St. Lawrence was a very fine contingent in those days and we regarded it as a great honour to receive a fixture with them. We entertained them when they visited us, and we thought hospitality would be extended to us in the return game. The day of the match arrived, and as we were going upstairs to the dressing room of the club we saw the tables in the large room beautifully set out for dinner. Evidently we were in or a rich treat. After the contest I was the first to reach the hotel, and as I was scampering upstairs my eyes were naturally directed to the large room, where we all had fancied a store of goodly things was awaiting us, and it was quite a shock to observe the seats at the tables already occupied and full justice being done to the fare. I waited on a top landing to watch the other members of the team as they seconded the stairs - their faces were perfect studies as a glimpse was obtained of the diners who, it turned out, were members of the Chorley Fire Brigade along with a number of friends. The drooping hopes, however, revived when it was discovered we were to be entertained in another room. The vicar of the parish presided and we spent a very pleasant evening."

"I notice references have been made in the interviews with old footballers to a glorious try registered against Salford by Ned Bullough. A member of the committee had given me £5 to take to Salford and put on Wigan. On the Saturday morning I determined not to have anything to do with the transaction and I went to that committee man's place of business to return the money. He was away at the moment and I handed the £5 to his wife. Bullough's memorable try won the match for Wigan and I had a lively time of it on the Monday following the match when we met to transact the weekly business."

Questioned as to payment for football services under Rugby Union auspices, Mr. Marsden remarked: "At that time of course we were amateurs, but as in the case of many other clubs the players were paid either directly or indirectly. In our case we had a special committee called the Finance Committee, and a far as I was concerned I purposely refrained from asking any questions as to how much the players received. So when I was approached on the subject I could say I did not know."

Mr. Marsden participated i several of the Wigan touring parties and he related one particular experience of a visit to Cardiff. "We had with us Dick Seddon, 'Parrot' Anderton, Tom Morris... Joe Wardle, Jack Hunter, Joe Clegg, Billy Atkinson, E. Bullough, J. Hatton, Unsworth, Jack Anderton... Charlie Samuels, immy Telford and Tom Leyland as umpire. The clubs we met on that occasion were Cardiff, Neath and Penycrag. The late Jack Armstrong, who filled the role of treasurer, Joe Clegg and myself had to settle up with the manager for our expenses at a big hotel, which was made our headquarters. At the hotel was a big fellow, who acted as janitor and answered all sorts of inquiries. When we were just about the pay the account the janitor was standing in the hall and suddenly a volume of water descended upon his silk hat from the top landing of the well-shaped staircase. The culprit was a member of our team, and as often was the case we had to make amends for the damage arising from pranks of that description."

"At the present time we hear much of representatives of Northern Union teams scouting in South Wales and elsewhere for players - the ready made article. The process was carried out by many so called Rugby Union Amateurs whose only ambition to play was their love for the game... I will remember along with another committee-man visiting the neighbouring village of Walkden, where at that time they were one of the best of Lancashire teams. One errand was to secure the services of Goodman and Pope, the former a great fullback, the latter being a speedy and resourceful three-quarter, and we had the address of both these players, but by some means or other the villagers got wind that the Wigan scouts were in the neighbourhood, and when we arrived at the house of (one) we had quite a lively reception from a hostile crowd. Needless to say we did not remain there too long and gladly accepted the offer of two policemen who preferred to see us safely back to the station. At the same time one of the men... saying we both deserved nothing and i may tell you this was my first ad last attempt at scouting. On that occasion we were empowered to offer both men £1 for each match they played. Then again, why did three of Wigan's most noted players leave us and transfer their services to Salford for fully three seasons and after the long run they returned to their old club did they play purely for the love of the game? Certainly not!"

"The gate money was never so plentiful in those days as it is now, and it was quite a common practice when the team was playing away from home for the treasurer to pay a Saturday morning visit to a certain well-known tradesman in the town (who was also a committeeman) for the necessary money to procure railway tickets.

"My impressions are that Northern Union football is far ore interesting to watch and more scientific than the old-fashioned Rugby Union game with it's monotonous line ups and scrummaging. What would the present Wigan spectators think of a scrum lasting 10 or 15 minutes, and scarcely a yard of ground gained by either backline, very much fear they would not draw their average eight or nine thousand spectators to witness the games.

"By the way, I have wanted to mention the name of that player Jack Lowe. It was he who was the pivot of most of the wheeling of the scrimmages during my 13 years' connection with the club. In the interviews with Mr. James Slevin published not long ago, it was stated that our late friend and Borough Coroner and captain, Charles Cronshaw, borrowed collecting boxes from his father's church St. Thomas's, whereby we made collections from the spectators round the field of play. That statement is not quite correct. It was myself who made the boxes with the usual short handles similar to those used in places of worship but we found that the supporters who stood behind never offered to put anything in the box, and for the next month I worked on the handle of each box a short stick about 4 feet long so that we could reach over to those at the back and if upon any occasion we received anything over £2 we considered ourselves very well off indeed. Those were in the early days of course, for as the years rolled on I have known gates pretty frequently of £70 and £80, and something like £140 was taken when the Maori team visited Prescott-street ground. In the later years we had made such progress that we were able to get fixtures with the leading clubs in Lancashire and Yorkshire and could more than hold our own with the best of them.

"The best fullback I ever remember was Billy Fawcett, of Manningham (Bradford), and for three-quarters I should think Lorrimer, Lockwood and Sutcliffe (afterwards with Bolton Wanderers) were as fine three-quarters as anyone would wish to watch. All these players opposed our then Wigan teams times innumerable.

"The different football feats mentioned in previous articles are all well remembered by me, specifically that remarkable try gained by Captain Slevin at Valley Parade, when the referee, Mr. Lord, of Broughton, refused to give a decision owing to the menacing attitude of the Manningham spectators. In this particular match the late and respected Joseph W. Clegg played full-back owing to our regular full-back, whoever he was, having missed the train. Mention should also be made of the try gained by vice-captain Jack Hunter against Kendal Hornets, at Wigan, when he dribbled the ball three parts the length of the field and beating opponent after opponent."

Asked a question as to the present Wigan team he remarked: "Of the backs I have no fault to find. They are all sterling players if only they could get the ball oftener, which could easily be accomplished if we had a few more honest scrimmagers: with fast loose forwards (wingers they used to call them) and an open field nothing is more pleasing to the ordinary spectator, but when the forwards are beaten as has been the case on several occasions this season the present team has too many finger-tip scrimmagers of the Sammy Woods type in the old days ad the sooner we have more of the Silcock, Whittaker, Billy Atkinson and Jack Lowe type the better as witness the debacle at Warrington, Widnes etc..."

Mr. Marsden concluded, "If I were asked the question which to my mind were the happiest days of my youth I should most certainly choose the time when we were a Hare and Hounds Club, which was abandoned just previous to the Wigan Wasps Football Club being formed. At the end of my association with the Wigan Club I had other interests, and up to the present my attention has been diverted in another channel - male voice choir singing. Whilst on the point I am sorry to any that owing to lack of enthusiasm the Wigan Harmony Male Voice Choir has ceased to exist, much to the sorrow of a dozen or so members, who have for the past two years made many sacrifice, financial and otherwise, to keep the choir alive."

...Put into Context

John Sutcliffe was considered by Marsden to be one of the best three-quarter backs he played against - then of Heckmondwicke before changing codes to play for Bolton Wanderers.

George Lorimer was another fine three-quarter back who played for Manningham. He died aged 24 after contracting Typhoid-fever after a game against Brighouse Rangers in 1897

Dicky Lockwood was another fine player, regarded by Marden (or indeed anyone) to be the finest player he saw. He played for Dewsbury, Heckondwicke and Wakefield Trinity during a long successful career.

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