15 of the best pre-Great War players to have played for the Wigan Rugby Football Club.

We look back and rank fifteen players who donned the famous cherry and white jersey. With over 340 players to have played for Wigan before 1895, not a lot is known about them, apart from what you read on this website. As a whole and in popular culture, rugby in Wigan tends to start from Jim Sullivan onwards so here let us look at the great players that graced Central Park, Springfield Park, Prescott Street and Folly Field. 1879-1914...

Number 15 ~ Jim Halliwell

Position: Fullback

Debut game: 4th March, 1889 vs Southport Olympic

Final Game: 24th December, 1892 vs. Mossley

Appearances: 132 (plus several matches no team's recorded in records)

Honours: x1 West Lancashire Cup, x2 Wigan Charity Cup, x2 Lancashire trialist

James "Jimmy" Halliwell was part of a Wigan back line that was perhaps one of the strongest ever to grace the famous cherry and white jersey. Between 1889 and 1891 seldom did Wigan have a team sheet without Jim Halliwell, Jim Slevin, Dick Seddon and Jack Anderton in the back department. And seldom did Wigan lose a match!

Halliwell began his rugby journey at a well-known junior club in Wigan: Wigan Adelphi. He quickly assisted other local junior clubs such as St. Thomas', Silverwell Hornets and Standish South End before, in his words, Wigan "kidnapped" him in 1889.

Jimmy made his debut against Southport Olympic in a West Lancashire and Border Towns Union Cup match in March 1889 in place of Pilkington (who for some reason was playing away from his usual fullback position in the forward line). Halliwell did not feature again for Wigan until the start of the 1889-90 season. He was in at the deep end as Wigan faced the famous Manningham club with the faous George Lorimer being the opposing fullback. "Lorrimer was the greatest full-back I ever saw," said Mr. Halliwell, "I thought I had a pretty good kick, but Lorrimer had a marvellous kick, and he was a fine big chap."

Halliwell won three honours with Wigan: Two Wigan Charity Cups and one West Lancashire Cup in 1890. Despite being a fine fullback for Wigan, who were by 1890 the premier club in Lancashire, Jimmy found it hard to break into the Lancashire team. "Tom Coop, of Leigh, was also a great full-back! I once had a trial for the county, but there was no chance with Coop on the other side, and I did not get any County honours," said Jimmy in an interview later in his life.

Speaking about a funny incident during a match: "I remember on one occasion, when playing against Widnes, a pair of new boots which I was wearing began to cut my feet, and I took the boots off. I played in my stockings for about twenty minutes, until Dicky Seddon noticed me. He shouted, 'There's a fellow here playing beawt boots.' They then brought me another pair from the pavilion."

His career came to an abrupt end in 1892, a month after his second Lancashire trial match, against Oldham. Halliwell was playing in the centre-three quarter position as Wigan played William Singleton at fullback for a few matches. Jimmy received a broken collar bone whilst on an attack and did not recover. He did try his luck a couple of weeks later against Mossley on Christmas Eve but time was up for Jimmy.

In 1909 Halliwell turned out ina benefit match for Billy Atkinson at Central Park. Old Players vs Current Players which included names such as Lance Todd and Bert Jenkins. "What position did you play in?" "Anywhere for safety," he replied to a newspaper interviewer, with a smile.

Number 14 ~ Lewis Bradley

Position: Wing

Debut game: 2nd December, 1911 vs. Wakefield Trinity

Final Game: 2nd February, 1918 vs. Broughton Rangers

Appearances: 123

Tries: 136

Honours: x1 Lancashire Cup, x4 Lancashire Leagues, War Hero

What can we say about Lewis Bradley? Joining Wigan on Friday, 1st December, 1911, Bradley made his first team debut the following day against Wakefield Trinity at Central Park and scored on debut in place of the absent Joe Miller. It was said that critics of the time were united in saying that rarely had a wing three quarter shown such promise on his debut , and the spectators simply rose at "Louie".

Bradley hailed from Gloucestershire and found his way into the Rugby Union code, playing for Cinderford and Lydney before hopping over the Welsh border and joining Pontypool. Despite being English, the fact that he was playing for a welsh club at this period in history meant that he was ripe for Northern Union clubs picking talented players and trying to bring them north. Bradley was no exception to the rule. If Bradley stayed in Union circles he would have most probably earned the highest honours that Union could afford.

James Leytham, the Wigan captain and fellow wingman was started to get on a bit with age. Wigan at this time were looking for an eventual replacement for Leytham. The South Wales Northern Union scouts were working overtime...

21 year old Bradley joining Wigan happened quite quickly. The Wigan Observer of Saturday 2nd December (Bradleys debut) speculated who this 'welshman' would be and that Joe Miller would be relegated to the reserves. Miller wasn't doing a bad job - Wigan were top of the League!

It was reported that Bradley signed for £200 and that he was so afraid that if he rejected the terms given by Wigan he may never have had such a chance again - so he accepted and came North as quickly as he could run! (or as quick as Northern Union scouts could hail a cab in South Wales whilst being chased off). As you have seen above, Bradley enjoyed scoring more tries than he played for Wigan. He had a lethal strike rate perhaps unrivalled by any Wigan player. Lewis Bradley was the natural successor to James Leytham and eventually Joe Miller on the wing. Imagine though, with Wigan having so much success with Leytham-Todd-Jenkins-Miller season after season, Bradley turn up and is a breath of fresh air to the Wigan supporters! During 1912-13 and the 1913-14 season, Bradley scored a total of 77 tries! He was a naturally gifted wingman and a great loss to English Rugby Union.

Sadly, the Great War broke out. He regularly continued to play rugby during the War when he was at home, to keep his fitness up and "show his face". On June 18th, 1918, Bradley sustained wounds at the Somme and died from his injuries two days later. He is buried in the Vignacourt British Cemetery in France, and he his honoured at the Wigan Cenotaph. What could have been. Thank you Lewis Bradley for serving, and for the memories that live on in little features like this.

Number 13 ~ Richard "Dicky" Ramsdale

Position: Forward

Debut game: 2nd September, 1905 vs Broughton Rangers

Final Game: 26th February, 1921 vs St. Helens Recreation

Appearances: 313

Honours: x1 Championship, x4 Lancashire Cups, x7 Lancashire Leagues, Rorke's Drift Test Match (1914)

It's not often that someone from "Platt Wazz" (Platt Bridge, a district in Wigan, UK) is hailed as a hero. Richard Ramsdale, or "Dicky" to many, comfortably ticks the box as a "hero".

Born in 1885, Ramsdale's first taste of the rugby code came with his local Platt Bridge club before Wigan signed him for the 1903-04 season. Standing 6 feet 1 inch tall, Ramsdale spent his first season with Wigan's premier club in the reserves learning his trade. Weighing 14 stone, Ramsdale was a proper "Collier" rugby player with his day job working down the pit. 

Dicky was the first proper forward for Wigan since the days of Billy Atkinson and Ned Bullough in the pre-Northern Union days. Spending 18 years at Central Park either side of the Great War was an achievement in itself. He wasn't a classy player: kids today wouldn't have had his name on their shirts, but what he did have was grit, determination, an outstanding pass and the reliability of a rugby player that you couldn't buy. Think of Liam Farrell today and you'd be close.

Ramsdale scored the only try in the 1908-09 Championship Final against Oldham where Wigan won four trophies that season which included a Lancashire Cup (against Oldham) as well as a Lancashire League and South West Lancashire Cup. Ramsdale would go on to add three more Lancashire Cups, numerous Championship Finals and six more Lancashire Leagues to his medal haul.

What makes Ramsdale stand out from others of the time was his involvement in the famous Rorke's Drift Test Match of 1914. With the Great Britain Tour of Australia coming to a climax in the third Test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground, GB were depleted and were without fellow Wiganers Gwyn Thomas and Bert Jenkins through injury. Having been told to "do their duty for England", Ramsdale and fellow Wiganer Percy Coldrick followed the immortal Harold Wagstaff of Huddersfield into battle. Injuries hit Great Britain from the start and ended the game with 10 men against a marauding Australian side that included Wally Messenger, Sid Deane and Arthur Halloway.

Ramsdale played the game of his life and kept the Australians out against all the odds. Against ALL the odds: words cannot emphasise this enough. He would have died for his team that day if it came to it!

He is now buried in Wigan Cemetery at Lower Ince after playing more than 300 games for Wigan. He was honoured with a benefit match in June 1921 alongside Bert Jenkins and Johnny Thomas, and today is often visited by myself at Lower Ince - to doff my cap, as it were, to simply say "thank you".

Number 12 ~ John "Jack" Mitchinson

Position: Half-Back

Debut game: 28th November, 1885 vs Walton

Final Game: 4th April, 1896 vs Bradford

Appearances: 210 (plus 20+ matches he would have likely to have played but without official team news)

Honours: x2 West Lancashire Cups, x4 Wigan Charity Cups, x1 West Lancashire Cap, x2 Lancashire trialist

Mitchie! Half of a double act that included Billy Halliwell in the halves during Wigan Rugby's first great rugby team of the late 1880s. Rarely did a Wigan team sheet not feature Jack Mitchinson or Billy Halliwell between 1888 and 1895. They were a very clever and noted couple, and were often the subject of good-humoured remarks on account of their premature baldness, which made them look much older than they were. On one occasion when they were on tour and opposed Barnstaple, the other thirteen players had gone on the field before them, and when the half-backs appeared the spectators imagined that the visitors were short-handed and had pressed two committee men into their service. "There's two owd men comin' here, they've had to make their team up," was one remark which the players in question heard as they stepped on the field. The spectators, however, were soon disillusioned on this score, for the Wigan half-backs gave a sparkling exhibition, one or both of them registering a try. 

In all, Jack Mitchinson spent 16 years with the Wigan club, joining as a junior from Trencherfield Wanderers (who played atswan Meadow) aged 16, in the days of Folly Field and became captain of the second team before making his breakthrough fully in the 1886-7 season. Mitchie developed a strong and lasting half back pairing with Billy Halliwell and never looked back. Small but quick, the former winger in his youth had an eye for a pass and quick style of play. "After one match at Cardiff I have a recollection of being carried off the field shoulder high, and I was once carried back from the station at Wigan, after a cup-tie against St. Helens Recs".

A popular man on the field, he was also popular off it. Like many sportsmen of the day, Mitchie became a pub landlord, first being proprietor of the Machine House Inn on Wallgate amongst others in his time and became a Labour councillor for Victoria Ward in the 1910s - (of course, a bonus for this author).

Why is Jack placed higher than Dick Ramsdale and Lew Bradley? Not because he was a Labour councillor, but his longevity and skill helped the Great Wigan side of the 1880s and early 1890s become the Premier club in Lancashire. Just imagine Mitchie running around a scrum and feeding Jim Slevin, Jack Anderton or Dickie Seddon in front of 10,000 people week in week out.

Mitchie never made the heights of a Lancashire cap, trialling twice, such was the strength in depth of the Lancashire team.

Number 11 ~ Billy Halliwell

Position: Half-Back

Debut game: 5th November, 1887 vs. Walton

Final Game: 9th September, 1899 vs. Stockport

Appearances: 250+

Honours: x2 West Lancashire Cups, x3 Wigan Charity Cups, x1 Lancashire Cap

You can't have Jack Mitchinson without Billy Halliwell next to him! "Smiler", as he was nicknamed, got the nickname because whatever stress he was under he always had the same expression on his face on the rugby field.

Billy came from a powerful local junior side called the Woodman Rovers, nicknamed the "Pluckies" who played up near Wigan Infirmary. They won the junior version of the West Lancashire Cup and Wigan Charity Cup before joining Wigan in 1887.

Before striking up a partnership with Mitchinson, Halliwell had the pleasure of partnering Jack Hunter before his injury and played in the famous match against the New Zealand Maori in 1888.

When asked in an interview for the Wigan Examiner later in is life, he rearked on some of the best players he played against: "'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." 

After retiring from rugby, like so many other players, Halliwell became a pub landlord and for many years ran the White Horse pub on Standishgate.

Number 10 ~ Jack Anderton

Position: Three-quarter back

Debut game: 15th November, 1884 vs. Bradford-in-Clayton

Final Game: 2nd January, 1892 vs. Mossley

Appearances: 154

Honours: x1 West Lancashire Cup x2 Wigan Charity Cups, x4 Lancashire Caps x1 British Isles Tourist 1888

Anderton was born on September 21, 1865. His first dealings with rugby came when he joined the Wigan second team aged 18 years old. The second team at this particular time were a formidable outfit - going undefeated for two seasons. Jack was at the heart of that success and even managed to defeat the Wigan first team during that run, such was their power. 

"Jack" made his debut for Wigan aged 19 on 15th November, 1884 in a game against Bradford-in-Clayton, playing in the forward pack. He referred to as "Jack" Anderton Junior, as Wigan at the time had the services of fullback John Anderton (senior) so as to save confusion. It was only until the following Season that Jack started to cement a place in the first team. 

After a loss to Aspull in the Wigan Charity Cup Final in 1887, Jack left Wigan and joined the powerful Salford club. He was falsely accused of throwing the match so that Aspull could win, and win some bets. There was a small storm in the town regarding this, and it helped Jack move to Salford. Jack was insulted by many for the loss against Aspull due to his poor performance. The truth was some ignorant people betted on the match and when Wigan lost, Jack got the flack.

During his time at Salford he excelled and gained the high honour of being part of the first Anglo-Australian Tour down under. His partnership with a strengthened backline of Jimmy Halliwell, James Slevin and Dick Seddon was the envy of all Lancashire clubs and could stand up against any club in the country. 

On his return back to Wigan after the Anglo-Australian Tour of 1888, Jack arrived back into Wigan around half past nine in the evening in pouring rain yet the crowds still massed at the main London and North Western train station to greet him. His appearance had leaked during the day. As the train steamed into the station a vigorous cheer was rained, and on Anderton being seen standing at one of the carriage windows there was an immediate rush in that direction and the hand shaking was most enthusiastic. It was with some difficulty that he could get clear of the platform, an attempt was made for him to be put onto the shoulders of several of the more enthusiastic of supporters of his was made. Luckily he resisted and took a cab home down Standishgate. On his way up Wallgate, Anderton was repeatedly applauded.. 

Number 9 ~ Richard "Dick" Seddon

Position: Three-quarter back

Debut game: 14th April, 1887 vs. Dewsbury

Final Game: 26th March, 1894 vs. Swansea

Appearances: 200+

Honours: x2 West Lancashire Cup (with Wigan) x3 Wigan Charity Cups, (with Wigan) x2 Lancashire Caps (with Wigan) x1 West Lancashire Cap

Dicky Seddon was about the trickiest three-quarter Wigan had; he was as 'fause' as any two player I knew. 'Dicky Love,' as they used to call him, never said anything while he was playing." 

~Jim Halliwell

The magnificent Richard "Dicky" Seddon. Here he is donning his Lancashire attire and cap. Dicky became a legend at local rivals Aspull, captaining them to Wigan Charity Cup wins and a West Lancashire Cup win over Wigan before joining the premier town team in September 1888. Indeed, Seddon was the most decorated of rugby footballers who played in Wigan colours in the pre-Northern Union thanks to his successes with Aspull. Seddon had gained Lancashire honours whilst with the Dark Blues and captained Aspull to the West Lancashire victory over Wigan in 1887 at Fairfield, Liverpool.

Once Jim Slevin retired in 1891, Seddon was unanimously appointed to captain the Wigan club into the new era.

"Dicky" was a tough competitor and a skilled three-quarter. His partnership in the backline with Slevin, Anderton and Jimmy Halliwell at fullback was the best Wigan had until the famous backline of Leytham, Miller, Todd and Jenkins two decades later.

Strangely, Seddon only represented Lancashire twice whilst in Wigan colours: against the NZ Maori in 1888; and Durham in 1889 - as well as a West Lancashire cap in 1891.

Number 8 ~ Johnny Thomas

Position: Half-Back

Debut game: 24th December, 1904 vs. Broughton Rangers

Final Game: 3rd April, 1920 vs. Halifax

Appearances: 388

Honours: x1 Championship, x6 Lancashire Leagues, x4 Lancashire Cup, x10 Great Britain Caps

Number 8: Johnny Thomas. Joining from the Maesteg Rugby Union Club in December 1904, Johnny Thomas became one of the premier half-backs Wigan ever had. Two Wigan agents offered him £200 to come North with a standard 25s. weekly fee and £2 winning fee, or £1 10s. for every drawn or lost match. If he has stayed in Wales, Thomas would have surely received Welsh International honours, but the pull of the Northern Union was too great.

Wigan at this time were quite a poor side, struggling to find their place in the Northern Union. A season earlier, Wigan had acquired the services of James Leytham from Lancaster. Thomas was another piece in the puzzle that eventually saw Wigan win four domestic trophies in the 1908-09 season.

During the 1908 Lancashire Cup Final against Oldham, Thomas scored the winning try under the posts. He shouted to the referee "A Try, Mr Renton!", whilst the referee replied there and then "Yes, and a good one lad!".

Thomas secured a great half-back pairing with Fred Gleave during Wigans glory years of the Edwardian period which was enough to see him represent Great Britain on 10 occasions.

With 388 appearances for Wigan, Thomas only has a handful of players above him, and it is a travesty that he is not inducted into the Clubs Hall of Fame.

Number 7 ~ Joe Miller

Position: Wing.

Debut game: 2nd November, 1907 vs. Widnes

Final Game: 6th September, 1919 vs. Swinton

Appearances: 206

Honours: x1 Championship; x6 Lancashire Leagues; x2 Lancashire Cups

The beautiful Joe Miller. Joe signed as a lad from Pemberton in 1906 but it took a while for him to break into Wigan's first team as Wigan had wingers like Harry Lowe and Sam Johnson on the other side to James Leytham. Once in the side, the Wigan selectors did not look back. Miller was part of the famous backline which included James Leytham, Bert Jenkins and Lance Todd as Wigan swept all before them between 1908-12 (apart from the Challenge Cup).

Miller was a lethal try scorer. He was the Jason Robinson to Jimmy Leythams Offiah. During the 1908-9 season, Miller scored 41 league tries which included scoring x4 on three occasions and five hat tricks, 6 Challenge Cup tries and two Lancashire Cup tries as Wigan won four domestic trophies. He was the Leagues joint top try scorer and set a new Wigan record.

Miller gained international honours with England and Great Britain as well as plenty of Lancashire caps. When the War came Miller joined up with the Welsh Regiment and served in France. He only made a handful of games after the War, his last coming against Swinton in 1919.

Miller will always be known as one of Wigan greatest ever wingmen, and could easily be talked up alongside the likes of Johnny Ring, Martin Offiah, Billy Boston and James Leytham. He died in 1959 and his family still live in and around Wigan including, I believe, his daughter who still talks of him fondly.