A History of the Wigan Union Football Charity Cup Competition: Inception

Ever since embarking on this project many years ago and seeing an old photo of James Slevin stood proudly, arms folded, next to two trophies, I have been fascinated to know what they were, how Wigan won them and the stories that those trophies would reveal. Of course, nothing out there in the world is known about them in publications or the internet. A couple of sentences here and there but that is about it. On the photograph below of earlyWIGANrugby's beloved James Slevin, there are two trophies on display: the larger one being the West Lancashire and Border Towns Union Trophy; the smaller one being the Wigan Union Charity Cup, and the subject of these next few pages. The "West Lancs" trophy (for short) will feature elsewhere on these pages (or an external website given time).

This is not a story of of Wigan winning a Cup solely, but that of the History of the Wigan Union Charity Cup itself, as far as I can take it anyway.

The popularity of the rugby code was growing exponentially throughout the 1870s and 1880s. Clubs in the Wigan area were springing up everywhere. Apart from the town team in Wigan, which formed in 1872, disbanded in 1877 and a completely new club formed in 1879*, clubs in Blackrod, Aspull, Pemberton, Highfield, Leigh, Platt Bridge, Haigh, Swinley and in more nooks and crannies of the Borough were forming. The rugby clubs were going about their business arranging fixtures with each other for quite a few years, and as attendances grew, ad more information started to be published in the newspapers, crowds flocked at the weekend to watch their local team do battle.

On April 17th, 1882, the following letter was sent to the Editor of the Wigan Observer:

Cup competitions had been around for many years. The Yorkshire Cup was perhaps the biggest and most successful club rugby competition that had been established five years earlier in 1877. It was a simple knock-out competition and in it's first season, 16 teams took part, with Halifax being the inaugural winners. As that competition grew, so did the crowds and the upsets. In 1882, a team called Thornes (of Wakefield) beat the powerful Wakefield Trinity in the Final, in a match regarded by rugby historian Professor Tony Collins as Possibly the greatest upset in English rugby".

A BLACKRODIAN may have got the bug. At that time, Blackrod were an up-and-coming village team who had a clear vision of playing the bigger and well-known clubs in the area. To this point, Blackrod had not played Wigan but had numerous battles with the other local emerging power Aspull, and Haigh... as well as clubs along the trainline towards Manchester and Preston. Perhaps to increase the popularity of the rugby code in Blackrod, one could speculate that A BLACKRODIAN was a committee member of the club and saw a Cup competition as a means to grow.

The recently built Wigan Infirmary (1873) was cited as the recipient of any "gate" money. A worthy cause.

A month went by without any news in the local papers. Of course, upon reading the correspondence, club secretaries and committees would have discussed the idea yet not much seemed to be going on. On June 12th, 1882, W.H. Pickering of Harvey House, Gathurst, wrote in to the Wigan Observer. He stated that the 'excellent suggestion' (of the competition) was surprising that it should to 'fall to the ground'. He suggested that the silence and his understanding was that local clubs were "playing the waiting game". He took it upon himself to start the ball rolling. He said that instead of indulging in a mass of newspaper correspondence, he would propose that a general meeting of the football players in the Wigan Union be held at the Royal Hotel, Wigan, on Wednesday June 21st. He suggested that a representative working committee can be chosen to carry out all the details in connection with the proposed "Charity Cup".

On the 18th of July, a meeting was held at the Legs of Man Hotel, headquarters of the Wigan Football Club, to nominate a committee. The following who were elected were players or involved in some way at their respective clubs in the Wigan Union. Messrs. Slevin, Holt, Winstanley, J.C. Pickering, Benson, Bryan, Fairhurst, Moorfield, Seddon, Turner, Cooper, Brindell, Prest, and Baldwin; Mr. W.H. Pickering, who took it upon himself to get this thing going, was elected as the honourable secretary and Mr. J.W. Clegg, of the Wigan Club, the honourable treasurer. All were now members of the new committee ex officio. At this point, there were nine clubs that had entered into the competition and it was positively thought that a substantial amount of money would be handed to the Wigan Infirmary at the end of the 1882-3 season.

When the fixture list had been signed off and ready for public viewing, the Charity Cup Competition did not feature in early September. A lot of work still had to be arranged to fit in relevant available weekends and fixture changes. As clubs normally arranged their fixtures sometimes the previous season, the most likely time to fit in the Cup competition would be the end of the season come March or April.

On Friday, February 3rd, 1883, at long last fixtures were arranged during a meeting of the committee. Seven out of the competing eight clubs were represented, and the first round of the competition was as follows:

17th February

Wigan vs. Aspull, on the ground of the Highfield club, Pemberton

Highfield vs. Haigh, at Blackrod

24th February

Blackrod vs. Pemberton Wanderers, at Aspull

3rd March

New Springs vs. Pagefield, at Haigh

It was arranged that games would be played on neutral ground as to give no apparent advantage to any competing club. The idea was also to encourage the growth of the game in the Wigan Union so that neutrals could witness opposing villages up close. The longest journeys would see Aspull travel across to Pemberton and the Wanderers go in the other direction. The semi-final and final ties were arranged to be played on the ground of the Wigan Football Club at Dicconson Street (Folly Field). Firstly, this was a central location of course and within a close proximity to the Infirmary (if the more persuasive of the committee could sell that idea). Folly Field was the more established football ground anyway in the area and could accommodate easily the largest "gate", which of course was the sole purpose of the competition financially.

The vision of A BLACKRODIAN was now a reality. As you could see from the dates, there was a long period of time between first round ties. If New Springs or Pagefield were successful they would have a busy couple of weeks, whereas Wigan and Aspull would have a bit of time to assess the situation and maybe rest players for the Cup matches. It was good too that the Highfield and Pemberton Wanderers clubs, for now, were drawn apart for the first round tie. There was bad blood between the two clubs at the end of 1882 where letters of anger were exchanged between the two clubs in the local papers regarding "vulgar and abusive" spectators and fighting between players. Alternatively, a Cup tie was just what was needed!

As the weekend of the 17th February came, excitement and intrigue spread around the borough. The big match was to be had in Highfield, as Wigan faced off against Aspull for a place in the semi finals. The field was in anything but good condition, for in addition to its natural unevenness it was extremely wet and slippery, which rendered running almost entirely out of the question. Despite the heavy rains, a large crowd of people assembled on the ground, and great interest was evinced in the game doubtless from the known popularity of the clubs and the consequently hot and evenly contested game anticipated. 6-700 persons paid for admission to the contest.

At the end of the battle, Wigan emerged victorious amid sounds of cheering and hooting. The Wiganers claimed the victory by one goal, one try, two touchdowns, one touch in goal, and one dead ball, to Aspull two tries, several touchdowns, and three dead balls. Remember, this is 1883 and the scoring system was still in it's infancy. Due to the poor condition of the pitch, the majority of the play was confined to the forwards. Charles Cronshaw, the Wigan captain, was the pick of the forwards whilst Tommy Morris was the pick of the backs. Aspull put up a good fight, with the Seddon brothers, Galvin and Joe Pilkington making a good account of themselves. Dick Seddon and Pilkington would in a few years join Wigan... but we will get to that.

During the game, some of those 600 or so spectators got soo excited to the extent that they forgot themselves and rushed on to the ground and join the players in any trifling dispute that arose.

The money taken at Highfield amounted to a little over £8 which in today's money was around £980.

A week later on the Aspull ground, Blackrod and Pemberton Wanderers met to settle their differences. With beautiful weather, around 500 spectators paid up to witness the contest. Given the strength of the Blackrod team, many thought that they would be too powerful for Pemberton. A draw resulted. Pemberton won the toss and began the game with the wind in their favour. It was to no avail. Neither side managed to gain any credible advantage with both clubs picking up minor points; Blackrod 7 minor points to Pemberton 3. As were the rules, this was not enough for a clear victory. One of the stand out players for Blackrod was "Daff" Banks, who, like Pilkington and Dick Seddon, would throw his lot in with Wigan, in time. As for the drawn match, a replay was called for on the same ground and scheduled for March 10th.

The Pagefield and Highfield clubs had successfully negotiated their way into the second round by now but in the replayed game between Blackrod and Pemberton, again on the Aspull ground, the game ended in yet another draw.

Wigan and Highfield would contest the first semi final whereas the winner of Blackrod/Pemberton would face off against Pagefield in the final. Both semi finals and the final would be played on the Upper Dicconson Street ground. The field was transformed into a proper enclosure to ensure making a legitimate charge on spectators. Currently, the Wigan club had issues raising funds for charging people to watch their matches, but by placing brattice cloth around the enclosure of Upper Dicconson Street, Dicconson Street and the field lying north and east, the problem was solved. A Mr. Brice Grant Dean, of Standishgate, who for a small fee, put up the cloth. William Marsden of the Wigan club did all he could to ensure that financially, the game would be a success. In the end, £15 16s. was raised as gate money - it would have been more if extra canvas had been erected at the Dicconson Street end as many spectators watched the match from the vantage point on a small hill.

Wigan were odds on favourite to defeat Highfield. It proved to be the case in the end as tries from Tommy Morris and Jim Slevin, with the capital point of a goal being kicked by Charles Cronshaw, meant that Wigan progressed to the final. Pemberton Wanderers and Blackrod were still trying to settle their first round differences. On Saturday March 31st, they met for a third time, and on this occasion, it was on the Upper Dicconson Street ground. Pemberton must have been happy not to travel the long distance to Aspull, whereas Blackrod simply had to a short walk or wagonette to their neighbouring village. £11 13s. 9.5d. resulted in the "gate" which was a fantastic effort for the third replay, obviously buoyed by the short distance the Pemberton supporters had to travel to witness the game. In the end, Blackrod hailed victorious after a stubbornly contested game, by two tries and minor points to minor points. Tom Moorfield was the skipper of Pemberton, and he devoted all his skill and energy to keeping a watchful eye on Banks. For some time his efforts succeeded very well, but Banks altered his tactics. In about five minutes Banks had crossed the Pemberton lines twice, and the match was won. The greatest enthusiasm prevailed, and the supporters of Blackrod carried their hero shoulder high all the way from the ground at Dicconson-street to the Legs of Man Hotel. This meant that Pagefield, who had been waiting quite some time, were awaiting them in the semi final the following week, with the winners facing Wigan for the trophy.

An accident did occur during the match to a young lad named John Mahon, aged 15 years. Mahon and a number of other lads were watching the match from a wall near Patrick's Row, adjacent to the field (and dodging the entrance fee). The wall collapsed hurling the boys on to the field below. Mahon received a severe scalp wound, and was at once taken to the Infirmary where he was said to be doing fairly well. Irony I guess, watching a game for the benefit of the Infirmary and ending up in it.

Blackrod went in to the semi final tie against Pagefield as clear favourites, given their strength and quality of opponents they face week on week. Few people seemed to doubt the result would be in favour of the village perched on a hill to the north of the borough. The "lads" of Pagefield were quite a new club in Wigan circles, so nothing much was expected of them. Blackrod were without the services of three or four of their best backs, which would have changed the outcome of the match. Despite outplaying Pagefield, and being clearly the better team, the "lads" of Pagefield surprisingly won. 1,000 spectators turned up in fine Spring weather to see hostilities commence. Despite the Blackrod dominance, Pagefield won the encounter by one try and two minor points to five minor points. William Baldwin was the pick of the Pagefield team, the same Baldwin who would later, and quickly, join the Wigan club.

James Hampson, the captain on Blackrod, wrote in a letter to the Wigan Observer querying the match report that was posted. He did not have the same opinion as the reporter that the arrangements of the field were perfect. He disagreed "or the spectators could not have invaded the field of play if that was the case."

On April 4th, the Final tie eventually was in people's thoughts. Wigan had waited more or less a month between their semi final win over Highfield and the final, owing to Blackrod and Pemberton failing to find who was better. Apart from the replays, the closest match was had between Wigan and Aspull in the first round, many moon ago. The Wigan Observer, commenting on the final tie, said that there was only one thing that was much to be regretted in connection with the competition: the amount of bitter and envious feeling displayed by certain bodies and clubs, which was 'unpardonably absurd'. They went on, the stated that some clubs seemed unable to accept an honourable defeat, much less to bow to the fair and unbiassed decisions of competent referees. They highlighted that on a few occasions, the rules of Rugby were ignored, such as hacking and foul play.

Mr. Hampson, the captain of Blackrod was at it again concerning the semi final tie between Blackrod and Pagefield. His letter appeared in the 21st April edition of the Wigan Observer. Being pedantic, if anything, he dissects a report from the Pagefield captain, William Baldwin, whereby names of both teams were supplied in to the paper. It was not perhaps Baldwin's fault that he failed to get all the names correct of the Blackrod men, indeed, many mistakes happen not knowing who each person is without asking for their names. But this was a week after the final tie and backs up the comments in the Observer regarding losing with grace.

As for the Final, £23 was raised at the "gate", with roughly 1,500 spectators enjoying the afternoon's battle. With Pagefield not being all too far from Dicconson Street, both clubs were pleased at the large attendance. The game itself need not be mentioned, as Wigan easily won by one goal, one 'poster', four tries and several minor points, to nil. Jim Slevin even ran in behind spectators to score one of his tries, such was the want of a rope around the playing field to stop any sort of encroachment.

There was no trophy ceremony or medals given for the fact that there wasn't any as yet. The venture was, financially, a great success with the total sum being taken was upwards of £70, which would be around £8,600 in today's world. Small expenses would have to be met from this total, such as the canvassing around the Upper Dicconson Street enclosure, the cost of a trophy and medals yet to be deducted too. However, a handsome sum would be handed over to the Infirmary once all that was arranged.

Matters were not over for the inaugural season of the Wigan Charity Cup: monies had to be paid, medals to be sourced and a trophy to be awarded with. On Wednesday, May 23rd, a meeting was had among the committee. They decided that a special dinner be had to celebrate the winners, Wigan, and to be presented with a Cup. It came out that after paying expenses, which would undoubtedly be high given it being the first year operating and a trophy to be sourced, the committee agreed to pay over to the credit of the Infirmary the sum of £25. This may have raised a few eyebrows.

And it did. A week later, a letter was published dated May 30th from 'A FOOTBALL MEMBER'. He, or she, stated that they were surprised to hear the eventual sum being handed over to the Infirmary of being only £25:

I believe the secretary of the Wigan Football Club stated through the press that all money received, that is, with the exception of purchasing the cup and medals, paying for the loan of the canvas, and printing and posting expenses, would go towards supporting one of the grandest institutions in Wigan. I have very grave doubts whether upwards of £65 is not too much for the expenses mentioned above. I have been informed also that at the presentation an excellent repast will be provided for the team that has proved successful against all comers and the committee also.

Whether the winners and committee intend paying for this out of their own pockets or not, is a question I myself have heard asked many times. If it is being paid for out of the money collected from the spectators, desirous of encouraging a good and noble cause, I think it is very wrong indeed, besides being an injury to the cause for the seasons to come.

I hope someone on the committee will be able to explain and make everything clear to the public. I am not taking the subject up with any ill-feeling towards the committee, but as an instrument to encourage the public to take greater interest in the grand cause, and I earnestly ask some one on the committee to show that the money has not been in any way squandered wilfully, but used judiciously.

William Marsden, the honourable secretary of the Wigan club, swiftly set records straight in the next issue. He stated that he was wrong quoting total receipts of being £90. He even invited the gentleman to attend the dinner if he paid half a crown at the Legs of Man Hotel, where he can read and hear the balance sheet himself. He stated that yes, the committee and winning team would be dined free of charge, but that also a goodly number of other interested people would be in attendance, paying half-a-crown each to enjoy the evenings festivities. As for the medals, each member of the Wigan team paid 5s. each towards the cost of it... "to enable the committee to hand over to the Infirmary a decent sum, and I think everyone, with the exception of your correspondent, will consider that £25 is really a handsome sum, considering that the receipts amount only to upwards of £50." stated Marsden. Marsden mentioned a similar Cup competition that was played for in Bolton during the previous season, with a sum of £13 being handed to the Bolton Infirmary whilst one of the games had "gate" receipts of £70, clearly indicating that financially, they had done a proper and sound job. Marsden ended his letter with a firing shot:

It is quite evident "A Football Member" belongs to some club that we have thrown out, and he thinks he will have his revenge by giving his views in the paper.

On June 6, 1883, the trophy and medals were at last ready for presentation. The venue was at the house of Mr. W. Millington, viz., the Legs of Man Hotel, Market Place, Wigan, which also doubled up as the Wigan Football Clubs headquarters. The receipts of the entrance gates were as large as could have been expected, and though the expenses for the first year were very heavy, there was an acceptable balance of £22 10s. to hand over to the Wigan Infirmary.

The trophy itself was chosen from several designs, with the committee choosing the design of Mr. Thomas Milner of Market Place, Wigan, being awarded the prize of manufacturing it. Mr. Milner was a watchmaker and jeweller. It cost a total of £22 10s. to produce and was of solid silver, in the shape of a vase with handles on each side, which stands on an ebony base and standing 16 inches in height. On one side of the vase there is a faithful representation of football players at work in the loose scrimmage, and the cup is surmounted by a man in football attire with a ball under his arm. The inside was lined with gold. The base of the trophy were two silver plates, one of which bears the names of the clubs who established the competition, and the other with the words "Wigan Football Charity Challenge Cup". The cup was displayed in Mr. Milners shop window for a few days prior to this event, obviously very proud of his achievement.

Charles Cronshaw, the captain of the Wigan club would have the honour of keeping the trophy for the year, the arrangement come to being that the captain of the successful team shall retain possession of the cup until it is won by some other club.

The medals cost 15s. each and were made of silver and were made by Messrs. Vaughton and Sons, of Birmingham.

The joint committee only voted the winning team 10s. per medal out of the funds in hand but believing that a good article could not be had for that sum the 15 recipients subscribed 5s. each in order that they might receive a memento of the competition that would be worth preserving. The medals are in the shape of a shield and are inscribed with the name of the receiver, the position he took in the field, and the words on the face "Won by Wigan" and "1883, U.F.C.C.C."

During the evening, around 50 people were in attendance, which included representatives of the several clubs involved in the competition, umpires, referees and special guests. It was unknown if "A Football Member" was in attendance, however. Once the meal was had, Charles Cronshaw was elected unanimously to the chair in the absence of Mr. Alderman R.F. Hopwood who had promised to preside, but was unavoidably absent. After the customary toasts, Mr. G.H. Sowter proposed "Success to the Wigan Union Football Charity Cup Competition." He said he was sure that in a company composed of enthusiastic football players and sportsmen it was perfectly useless to enter into any question as to the merits or advantages of the game. He said that the result of the first competition was very gratifying to all involved and went a long way in establishing the football game in the Wigan district. Mr. Sowter, an old Wigan player at the original club of 1872, turned to those representatives who had not been so lucky that year: "Don't be daunted by defeat, but go on in the best way you possibly can, and perhaps you will be the winners another season."

Joseph Clegg now took the floor, and in responding, said that the competition resulted from a suggestion made by a prominent member of the Blackrod team in order to further the objects of football and the interest taken in it in Wigan and the district. He said that Aspull, although very near to Wigan, was out of the Wigan Union, but it was decided by special resolution that they should be entitled to compete for the cup. He also stated that out of the monies that were in hand after expenses had been paid, the committee agreed to give compensation to unfortunate players who had met with accidents on the football field during the season, and it was also decided that the winning team should have their dinner paid for out of the funds.

The balance sheet showed the receipts of the gates during the matches, as follows:

Wigan v Aspull at Highfield, £8 0s. 10d.; Highfield v Haigh at Blackrod, £4 6s. 9d.; Blackrod v Pemberton Wanderers at Aspull (a draw), £6 13s. 8d.; Pagefield v New Springs at Highfield, £2 6s. 6d.; Blackrod v Pemberton Wanderers at Aspull (a draw), £6 7s. 6d.; Wigan v Highfield at Wigan, £15 15s. 9d.; Blackrod v Pemberton Wanderers at Wigan, £11 13s. 9d.; Pagefield v Blackrod at Wigan, £11 0s. 2d.; Wigan v Pagefield at Wigan, £21 0s. 6d. The total receipts with subscriptions amounted to £92 5s. 5d.

The items of expenditure included persons assisting at matches, postages, umpires and referee's expenses, policemen and general expenses, £2 15s.; Mr. Pryce Owen, for bratticing Wigan ground at four matches, £14 15s.; printing, rent of field, and repair of fallen wall, £11 17s.; allowed for medals, £7 10s.; for cup, £22 10s.; railing field, £1 17s. 8d.; making altogether £62 4s. 2d., and leaving £30 1s. 3d. With deductions for injured player compensation and the cost of the dinner, a total of £22 10s. was given to the Infirmary.

Mr. Richard Seddon, captain of the Aspull club, then made the presentation of the cup to the Wigan captain, Mr. Cronshaw, amid loud cheers. Mr. Seddon then handled the medals to the recipients, who were C.A. Cronshaw, J.W. Clegg, J. Slevin, W.F. Chew, T. Morris, R. St. V. Heyes, W. Alker, J. Berry, C. Holt, M. Percy, W. Grime, E.W. Nuttall, T. Brayshay, and J. Astley.

The Chairman afterwards proposed "Success to the defeated clubs," He wished all of them great success, and his best hop was that they might win every match they played except when they played Wigan, which was met with laughter and applause.

The initial idea of the Cup Competition turned out to be from a Mr. John R. Orrell of Blackrod, or A. BLACKRODIAN. On June 13th he wrote again to the Wigan Observer:

Richard Seddon, the Aspull captain, may have liked the evening a bit too much. Aspull were about to show their power...

*We were formed in 1879. I'm not arguing.