A History of the Wigan Union Football Charity Cup Competition: Part 2, 1884

So, after a year setting up the Wigan Charity Challenge, things were up and running. It is remarkable how easy everything seemed to work back then. Write a letter, ask for opinions, set up a meeting, get it sorted. The formation of the Cup competition in that short space of time was a real achievement for the Wigan Union. The Wigan club took first blood in winning the inaugural final against Pagefield, and with the trophy being polished on the mantlepiece of Charles Cronshaw, the Wigan captain, every Sunday afternoon, the health of the competition was starting to blossom. At this period, there was a real explosion of interest in the rugby (and association) game sweeping across the country, not least around Lancashire. In the Wigan District itself, there were only a few areas and villages that had no recognised rugby club: Ashton, Standish and Up Holland, despite the two former having decent enough Cricket clubs operating.

As with the compiling of fixture lists as they were, the second year of the Cup competition would be set in Spring, where free weekends were more available to clubs.

As the new year came, so too did the sorts of disharmony between clubs. A benefit match in aid of the Accrington Colliery Disaster was arranged between Wigan and the Wigan District. However, not many clubs managed to 'help'. The Pemberton Wanderers instead had men helping out Highfield and their president had resigned, which meant that the selected members for the District 15 refused to play in the match. Aspull and Blackrod had thought that they should play a game amongst themselves for the disaster, and that Aspull were backing themselves for their Cup chances. A lot of chatter amongst the terraces, or fields more accurately, was that there was still too much bitter rivalry among football clubs in the neighbourhood. There was. On game day of the Accrington Relief match, only six district team members put in an appearance, with three of those being from the Wigan Parish Church, two from the Wigan Coal and Iron Company Officials club, and one from Highfield. Below is a picture of the Steelworks at Kirkless, where many of the Wigan Coal and Iron Officials worked.

But, as the days started to get longer, the excitement of the second year of the Cup competition came to fruition. On February 8th, 1884, a meeting was held at the Legs of Man Hotel, Wigan, to make a draw for the first round of the Charity Cup competition. By now, the Wigan Observer had a dedicated columnist in all matters of football, which helps people like me find information for quickly. "Cross-Bar" (predecessor to our very own Offside) gave his opinion that it would be too early to "tip" a winner for the Cup. Two more clubs had now joined the Union, being the Wigan Parish Church, and the Wigan Coal and Iron Company Officials (Wigan Officials for short) who had quite a strong and successful team under them. The first round draw saw the bigger clubs avoid each other, a break from the previous season where Wigan/Aspull and Blackrod/Pemberton Wanderers faced off against each other in the first round. The draw was as follows:

Cross-Bar queried why the referees were all chosen from clubs playing in the District, instead of having completely neutral officials from elsewhere, despite suggesting that all the referees appointed were most trustworthy: "It is for the public to be induced to believe that referees are impartial, and however fair a local one may be, his decisions invariably give rise to comment, simply because he is suspected of having a leaning to one of the two clubs playing." He may have had a point, but it was a bit late in the day now to summon officials from neighbouring boroughs such as St Helens and Leigh to officiate.

A few new rules were added this year:

Rule 3: That after the necessary expenses have been deducted, the proceeds be handed to such charitable institution or institutions within the union, as the committee may decide.

Rule 8: ...That a player to be eligible in the contest, shall have played in at least six matches with his club, in the season of the contest previous to the first round, and shall be able to prove so if called upon.

Rule 9: To avoid the occurrence of drawn games, the game shall be decided by points which shall count as follows: Goal kicked from a try, eight points; goal kicked from field, six points; try, four points; and all touchdowns, dead balls, &c, one point each.

Rule 10: specifies "If at the conclusion of the allotted period of play the score made by each of two competing clubs be equal, or no score at all have been made, the referee shall order the game to be continued for a further period not exceeding ten minutes from each goal. Choice of goals and kick off to be tossed for as usual."

Another important addition, or condition laid down was that in case of dispute, the captain and umpires only shall speak, except such players as may be called upon to give evidence, and in case of the umpires disagreeing, the matter to be referred to a referee, whose decision shall be final. Particular stress may be laid on the following rule - "In case of repeated and wilful breach of rules of the game, or any foul play, the referee shall caution the offending player, and should the offence be repeated he may order him to retire from the game, and no substitute shall be allowed to take his place."

The idea of these rule changes were to move away from some of the scenes witnessed the previous season, with crowd surges on to the field, multiple drawn games and disputes that put a bad tint on the competition in 1883.

A week before the commencement of the first round in early March, 1884, Wigan Parish Church and Pemberton Wanderers agreed to play a match on a field behind "The Hall". For some time the play was of a rough description, and there were continual wrangles which resulted in nothing but ill-feeling. The charging was of a violent character and around 5 o'clock, Greenhalgh, one of the Pemberton players, secured the ball, when he was charged by the legs by Collin Hodgkinson, boatbuilder, Wallgate, and who is an apprentice to surveying at the Norley Colliery. Greenhalgh fell but Hodgkinson refused to let go of his grip, and the two turned a complete somersault, Greenhalgh falling heavily on the top of Hodgkinson. When they were separated Hodgkinson lay helpless on the floor, badly injured. He was carried by six men through the Rector's grounds to the All Saints' schools adjoining where he lay complaining of numbness. It turned out that he had fractured his spine causing complete paralysis of the body. He was only a youth of 19 years of age. He was warned more than once that if he did not be careful he would injure himself or someone else. Not the start the Charity Cup needed at all. Pemberton involved again.

Finally, the first round had gotten underway. Highfield played the match in Highfield and not Pemberton's ground owing the the enclosed nature of that particular field. Spectators across the weekend's matches turned out in full force given the nice weather on offer. Highfield had their strong, representative team out, but the Churchites continued their recent good local form and came out victorious. During an entertaining and good mannered match, the Church team won by one try, six touchdowns, and two dead balls (twelve points), to one try, two touchdowns, one dead ball, and one touch-in-goal (eight points). The gate money was only £2, or thereabouts, but there was a very large attendance, which meant a vast majority of people who witnessed the game did not pay their way.

The match between Wigan and Pemberton Wanderers, due to take place over at Blackrod, did not take place. The Wanderers informed the Cup and Wigan committee that they had decided not to contest the fixture by note on the morning of the match. The Haigh club expressed their readiness to meet Wigan in order that the opportunity should not be missed of raising as much money as possible. The Wigan team were disappointed at the Wanderers' decision. In the end, Wigan did not travel to Blackrod to face off against Haigh, although quite a good attendance would have resulted. Why did Pemberton not face Wigan? The general thought was that they would have received a good thrashing!

However, it was reported that hundreds of spectators were left disappointed in Blackrod when a telegram reached the village that informed everyone that Wigan could not raise a team to face Haigh.

Over at Upper Dicconson Street, Blackrod came up against the Wigan Officials club in their first round tie in the presence of around 800 spectators. Blackrod won easily by 36 points to nil in a dull, one sided match.

The ties for the second round were drawn at the Crown Inn, New Springs. Despite there being two more matches to be played, the second round ties were drawn for some reason. According to the draw, Blackrod would meet Wigan on the 29th., the Parish Church have a bye, and Pagefield or Haigh will play Aspull or New Springs. The venues for the second round could not be decided until all the first round ties had been made. Lucky Wigan Parish Church!

A local derby was had between Aspull and New Springs, played at Haigh. It was a one-sided affair, with Aspull winning by a staggering 80 points to nil. So not much is to be said of that fixture. The other tie fell to Haigh and Pagefield to settle their differences on the Aspull ground. The match was terminated early when Pagefield left the field in a very unsatisfactory manner on the grounds of alleged unfair decisions by the referee, Mr. J.R. Orrell. At the time, Haigh were leading by 17 points to 5. Haigh had the better of the play, and included in their team the Bullough brothers, one of which, Ned, would later join Wigan and become an England International in 1892, but that is eight years away... The Pagefield representatives called into question the decisions of Mr. Orrell when they entered their protest after the match, and asked if the match could be played again. But as the rules state, the decisions of the referee are final and the protest could not be entertained. Pagefield failed to offer any evidence for one particular occurrence of malpractice by Mr. Orrell. Another allegation against Haigh was that one of their three-quarters "tried to choke" a Pagefield man, and struck another. The committee, after hearing all parties, decided in favour of Haigh.

At the same meeting, the committee questioned the Wigan club as to why they did not go to Blackrod to play Haigh, in the absence of Pemberton Wanderers. Some members present intimated, in a fatherly-censure sort of style, that they did not want to throw Wigan out of the competition, but they thought it right to treat the committee in the way they had done by not playing Haigh at Blackrod. The Wigan club stated that they were certainly not going to play Haigh with a scratch team. The subject dropped without a vote being taken.

As for the second round, Wigan would face Blackrod, at Aspull; and Aspull would face Haigh, at Wigan's Upper Dicconson Street ground. Independent referees were appointed via the Athletic News newspaper for these second round ties, those being Mr. Stancliffe, of Manchester, and Mr. Sheriff, of Cheetham.

If ever there was a local derby, Aspull vs Haigh was it. With the game being in central Wigan, both clubs had the unusual trek through Whelley to settle their differences instead of negotiating Haigh Road. Aspull were quite easily the better side of the afternoon, winning by one dropped goal, five tries, and four minor points (or 30 points), to nil. Compared to the other tie of the afternoon between Wigan and Blackrod, only a moderate attendance was seen at Upper Dicconson Street. Similar to what the people in the Wigan District were saying about the Wigan club, many saw Aspull as the runaway winners all week. With a 30-point win, many Aspullites were starting to think that the "pot" was theirs come the Final.

Coming the other way were Wigan, who had their second round tie against Blackrod on the Aspull ground. An estimated 2,500 people were present, easily the largest "gate" of the competition so far and the spectators were well rewarded for their attendance with a fine and even game. It would have been many years since Aspull saw any such numbers of visitors in the village to the North of Wigan and on several occasions the officials had to brandish their sticks pretty vigorously to keep the spectators in their places.

The Blackrod forwards edged in their department whereas the Wigan backs got the better of their antagonists. Wigan won by 3 points to 2, narrowly edging their way through to the semi final. Speculation during the week in the taverns and mine shafts was which team was going to win. Wagers were set en masse as to the victors, with Wigan having the majority of people betting on them, bets were even placed stating that Blackrod wouldn't even score a point. I guess whilst they were watching the match, the great majority of people who had backed Wigan were nervous until the call of time.

For the Blackrodian supporters, perched on their hill, they would have been relatively satisfied with the afternoons proceedings, despite the narrow loss. Blackrod had been evolving rather quickly during the season and they knew that their players had fought a gallant game, and pushed Wigan all the way instead of being disgraced, as many would have thought. "Daff" Banks, the Blackrod half back, made such an impression that he ultimately joined Wigan the following season to partner Tommy Morris.

At a meeting on the Monday after the second round ties, the semi final draw was had. Only three clubs remained: Wigan, Parish Church and Aspull, given the 10-team competition set up. Aspull, of course, did not complain, but many, if not all persons involved in the Charity Competition (apart from Wigan Parish Church of course) were glad that Aspull and Wigan had avoided each other. Wigan, the holders, would of course had been expected to negotiate their way to the Final.

As were the rules of the competition, the sole semi final tie was to be played on Wigan's own ground at Upper Dicconson Street. Wigan won by 55 points to 3. An avalanche of tries fell down against the Parish Church, which need not be mentioned. Tommy Morris, the Wigan half back had to retire with an injured face when he somehow decided to put it near his team mates ankles, who then accidently kicked him in the mush. The play started off fairly even, the ball being kicked to and fro in the early stages... that was the closest the Churchites got to any result. The "gate" monies amounted to a splendid £16 2s. 3d. If you added the gates of both Wigan matches, a sum of around £40 was raised.

On Monday 10th April, the Monday after the semi final, a meeting of the executive committee took place to make arrangements for the Final between Aspull and Wigan. With both clubs being of a particular standard, questions were raised as to the neutrality of the Upper Dicconson Street being the scene for the Final. Obviously, this would favour the Wigan club. As such, the ground of the Blackrod club was fixed upon as the venue. Their ground, believe it or not, was adjacent to the Red Lion pub in the village centre (or those who know Blackrod). Nobody would question the fairness of choosing a neutral venue, but at the same time, the largest "gate" would unquestionably be had at the Upper Dicconson Street ground in Wigan. Aspull had a right, it was argued, to insist that the match be fought at a neutral venue. Blackrod, although some distance away from Wigan (1884 remember, you can't get the 575 bus there) would command the largest gate other than at Wigan.

The Final was to be had at the start of May, owing to the fact that both Wigan and Aspull had lucrative fixtures on their card. Wigan, for example, had Kendal Hornets and Warrington in the following weeks. Both clubs were in no hurry to settle their differences. Over in Yorkshire, the Yorkshire Rugby challenge cup was won by Bradford, who had defeated Hull in front of between 10 and 12,000 spectators. I guess that many clubs in West Lancashire were keeping a close eye on events across the Pennines and seeing what can be done. But whilst Wigan travelled to Kendal Hornets on Good Friday, the Wigan and Aspull second teams met at Upper Dicconson Street in front of 5,000 spectators. 5,000 for a second team match. The play was rough, and several Aspull men/boys had their jerseys ripped off, with four of them ending up playing without any jerseys on! It was also reported that on more than one occasion a free fight occurred in the crowd.

However, a protest was made by the Wigan club against the decision to have the final tie played at Blackrod. Wigan claimed that the Blackrod ground was not suitable and a meeting of the committee met on the Thursday evening at the Legs of Man Hotel, to hear Wigan's objection. Mr. G. Dawber presided, and every club entitled to enter the competition was represented, even Pemberton. It was proposed and carried that the resolution passed at the last meeting be rescinded and that the cup be played for at Wigan. It was then suggested by the Wigan representatives, in order to prevent any more bitterness, that the match should take place at Haigh, which is an equal distance from Wigan and Aspull.

The Aspull representatives willingly acquiesced in the suggestion, and the date of the contest was fixed for the first Saturday in May. The ground is situated near Haigh Hall, and both clubs would be on a level footing. One of the Aspull members stated, after the meeting, that if the Haigh ground had been named at the last meeting they would have agreed to play there, and that had Wigan been forced to go to Blackrod they would have been placed at a disadvantage.

The news did not go down well in Blackrod:

As it was, the Final tie eventually would be played on Wigan's ground at Upper Dicconson Street. It was well known that Aspull offered strong opposition to the late change of arrangements. In the interest of the infirmary, for whose benefit the matches are played, the Aspull committee had wisely decided to bury their objections. The Haigh ground, perhaps owing to the Cricket club playing a game, was not available, and an endeavour to obtain permission to play on an adjoining field proved fruitless. It was only then that the match was arranged to be played in Wigan. Aspull did not need much more motivation.

An enormous crowd of people assembled on Folly Field, Upper Dicconson Street in Wigan on the afternoon of May 3rd, 1884. They were there to witness the Cup final contest between Aspull and Wigan. The gate receipts alone amounted to £59 17s. 6d.

Aspull had most of the luck with regards the weather. In the first half they had a strong wind to assist them, while for some time the Wigan team faced rain and sleet. Aspull dominated the match from start to finish, raising many eyebrows by defeating the cup holders by 39 points to 6. When the whistle went for "time", great cheers rang around the field via the hoards of Aspull spectators.

Immediately after the match, an immense crowd of people assembled around a lurry improvised as a platform on the higher side of the field to the witness the presentation of the cup by Mr. G.H. Lea, Liberal Candidate for Wigan. Supporting Mr. Lea were Messrs. Jas. Johnson, J.P., R. Lea, J.P., Joseph Wilson, J.P., W.B. Johnson, C. Wall, C.M. Percy, James Wilson, R. Stuart, T. Worthington, O. Rushton, S. Taylor, J. Peterkin, J. Hutchinson, G. Naylor (hon. sec. Wigan club), and J. Clegg and W. Marsden (members). When the Aspull captain Dicky Seddon and several of the successful team made their appearance on the platform they were received with rounds of hearty cheers.

After William Marsden briefly introduced as best he could everyone on the platform, Mr. Lea presented the cup to Seddon. He said that he was glad to hear that not only that day but throughout the season, the Aspull men had been playing with marked success. With over 30 matches played, only two had been lost. At this point, a voice from the crowd shouted "ONY ONE!" to rings of laughter. With a nod to the Wigan team, Mr. Lea said that they were worthy of their steel and that Wigan had made a mistake that day, which gave another round of laughter. Wigan, he said, had been beaten but they had little to regret as they were sure to be in the running for the cup in the coming season.

Mr. Seddon, the Aspull captain proposed the usual thanks to Mr. Lea for making the presentation and acknowledged the fact that he had come all the way from London to attend the match.

In the end, after all the anxiety and worry, the Aspull club after all had no issues in the final venue. Of course they would say that, having won quite convincingly. On Thursday, May 8th, a meeting of the committee was held again at the Legs of Man Hotel, Wigan. From the statement submitted, it appeared that the total receipts at all the matches played amounted to upwards of £93. Of this sum it was decided to hand over 60 guineas to the Infirmary. The medals for the winning team and the runners up will cost £18 15s., and the balance goes towards payment of expenses. Mr. Prestt, the hon. secretary of the cup committee, was voted a special medal, and he was complimented on the manner in which he had fulfilled the duties of his office. Mr. Thomas Milner's tender for supplying the medals was accepted. You will recall that Mr. Milner had designed and created the silver trophy the previous season. Shortly afterward, Mr. Heaton, the honourable secretary of the Wigan Infirmary, met with Mr. W.H. Seddon, honourable treasurer of the Wigan Football Charity Cup Competition, and received a cheque for sixty guineas (over £60)

The manner of Wigan's defeat was somewhat surprising to some. Talk was circulating that Wigan had on purpose thrown the match and were meant to lose. Several prominent bookmakers said that they saw strange bets being placed. Above all, a section of the Wigan spectators were dubious as to the manner of the defeat their pets had suffered. Several members of the Wigan team had come under great scrutiny which forced the hand of the Wigan Captain, James Slevin, to write in the Wigan Observer:

Aspull returned via train to Dicconson Lane Station on the evening of the final and were welcomed by hundreds of well wishers who followed the team along Dicconson Lane and Bolton Road to their headquarters to celebrate their famous win. It was a remarkable upward curve for Aspull who not long ago were learning the rugby game after giving up their cricketing exploits. The seeds had well and truly been sewn as regards an emerging rivalry with Wigan. I wonder what was in store for the following season. Would Wigan wrest the cup back? Would Aspull hold on to it? Could Blackrod carry on their surprising form and make a run to the final, or could another emerging club rise to dominance?