A History of the Wigan Union Football Charity Cup Competition: Part 3, 1885

Wigan 1, Aspull 1.

So lay the score after the opening two seasons of the Charity Cup Competition. What would the third instalment bring?

When September came and the cricket season drew to a close, thoughts again turned to the rugby code as the autumn set in. At a meeting of the Wigan club at the start of September, a lively discussion took place with reference to the Wigan club taking any further part in the Charity Cup ties. A proposition was made that the Wigan club take no further part in the cup ties, and that the receipts at the gate of Hospital Saturday be handed over to the Infirmary instead. Countering this, an amendment was proposed to continue playing in the competition as usual. On coming to the vote, it was carried with a large majority that Wigan should continue to be involved in the competition. What were some of the committeemen thinking?

Thoughts turned to the involvement, or practice of, players of the different clubs attending and taking part in the meetings of the Charity Cup committee. This had given rise to much comment and grumbling in various quarters, and before the competition begins in March, it was said that the election of an executive committee of representatives from all clubs be elected, and to rigidly exclude all players from being involved.

In Wigan, the influx of the Association soccer code was beginning to make it's influence felt. The only way to stave off this encroachment in the RUGBY town of Wigan is to offer the public a great product: quality rugby matches. The Wigan club made a few acquisitions during the off season: "Daff" Banks of Blackrod and Charlie Samuels would strengthen the backline. For Aspull, the other big hitter in the District, they remained relatively the same. Wigan and Aspull yet again had failed to agree on playing each other during the regular season, which meant that the Wigan public would have to wait for the Cup competition to see both clubs go head to head again.

Blackrod had been weakened by the departures of Banks and Samuels, but were still expected to put up a good fight for the Cup. As for the 'lesser' teams, no disrespect, the Parish Church had decided to call it a day and join the Association code, whereas New Springs had simply ceased to function.

On November 3rd, 1884, a meeting of the Wigan Union Charity Challenge Cup Committee was to be held at the Legs of Man Hotel, Wigan for the purpose of electing the hon. sec., and treasurer, and revising the rules. There was an offer for any club in the District who had not previously took part in the competition to send two representatives and sign-up. This meeting was adjourned however. At the same time, another wider competition was being talked about: that of a West Lancashire and Border Towns Rugby Union. Similar to the Wigan Cup, proceeds would go to local charities and the main idea was to strengthen West Lancashire's identity in rugby circles. Wigan and Aspull both sent representatives to the meeting at the Goat Hotel in Liverpool, along with clubs such as Runcorn, St. Helens, Fairfield, Warrington and St. Helens Recreation.

Instead, the 13th of November saw the meeting take place at the Legs of Man Hotel. The following clubs were represented:- Wigan, Aspull, Blackrod, Haigh, Pagefield, Highfield, Wigan Rovers, North End, Ince, and Crawford Village. Mr. .H. Seddon ad Mr. J. Prestt had resigned their positions from the previous year. Mr. Blezard of Pagefield was unanimously elected as the new honourable secretary and Mr. Richard Seddon of Aspull became the new treasurer. More time was allowed for any clubs not involved at the meeting to put their names forward for inclusion into the competition.

Several clubs did happen to put their names forward and by the time the first round draw took place in early December, the following clubs were in the hat: Aspull Stars, Aspull, Ince, Wigan, North End, Highfield, Haigh, Blackrod, Wigan Rovers, Pagefield, Crawford, Red Rock Rovers, St. James's, and the happy Pemberton club. Fourteen teams were thus installed for the third year of the Cup competition. It seemed that the threat of Association football in the District was short lived. Talk was even mooted regarding starting up a junior version of the Charity Cup competition for those junior clubs who didn't exactly want to be battered by the senior clubs, but to give them something to play for. After all, the number of rugby clubs in Wigan was by now astonishing. Even Up Holland had started to manage forming a club, which left only Standish, Orrell and Ashton without one.

The Wigan Coal and Iron Officials had decided not to participate this year, and of course New Springs and the Parish Church were no longer practising the handling game. The first round ties looked like this:

On the whole, the big clubs avoided each other, with the exception of Aspull and Blackrod who were two of the "big three" clubs in the District. At the meeting, the committee considered several rule changes. Certain delegates or representatives who were present "seemed to smell a rat" according to Cross-Bar in the Wigan Observer. The professional question cropped up. A motion was carried to the effect that any man playing for a club, who was paid for his services, should be disqualified from taking part in the competition. (That would see Wigan thrown out straight away, not Aspull, they could not afford expenses like this).Then the question was raised as to what paying players meant, and it was resolved that a player who received his railway fare and reasonable expenses should be entitled to take part in the contest. Ever wonder why Banks and Samuels joined Wigan? Or indeed, most of the Aspull team in time..?

The respective grounds on which the clubs played had not yet been decided upon. Being December there was plenty of time before March to make the necessary arrangements. Also at the meeting, it was arranged that the cup committee shall have the power of nominating the referees in the early rounds, ad that in the semi-final and final ties the referee shall be appointed by the Athletic News, or some other equally competent authority. Another alteration made, which was quite important, was that a majority of not less than three points is to constitute a win. Remember the previous season when Wigan beat Blackrod 3-2. Lastly, the committee agreed that the final shall be played on the ground of the Wigan club at Upper Dicconson Street, and considering that the competition is for a charitable object, the decision they have come to is a wise one, as it would almost be guaranteed to attract the largest gate.

The Aspull and Blackrod tie had still not been agreed upon, due to the issues of both clubs' fixture cards, but the committee stated that the tie should be played on or before February 14th, 1885.

On the afternoon of January 24, 1885, the Wigan team set off on a trip to Warrington to do battle with them. The Wigan club thought it would be best to fulfil their fixture against Warrington and instead to send their Second Team to face North End in the Cup competition over in Pemberton. This was a high risk move and although the second team were quite good, in fact almost unbeaten, the "gate" would surly have been much bigger if the likes of Slevin, Brayshay, Banks and Holt turned up.

In the end, they needn't have worried. Wigan's second string comfortably won by 28 points to nil. In the other first round tie, played at Wigan's ground, Pemberton and Pagefield had a much closer contest, with the former winning by 14 points to 6. The crowd was a big one and of course, this being a Pemberton match, rough play was had by both sets of players, encouraged by a large portion of the spectators.

A week later at th'Ince, Haigh and Highfield met to play their first round tie. Haigh came out winners by 12 points to one, despite having their captain Croston inured (he played on with a broken arm), Haigh did enough to seal the victory. As per the rules of the tournament, it appeared that few of the Highfield men were qualified for the match, and they played simply to try in some way to add to the funds of Infirmary. They would have been disqualified regardless but credit to Highfield for turning up.

Over on the Highfield ground in Pemberton, two new clubs were at it trying for their place in round 2. Crawford village ad St. James's of Poolstock met, the latter being victorious by 21 points to nil.

Red Rock Rovers and almost anyone in the borough were pretty sure of reaching round 2, until Wigan Rovers threw a spanner into the works. They met for their tie on the Aspull Stars' ground, with the Wigan team proving victorious unexpectedly by two goals, one try, and three minor points to one try and two minor points. The Wigan Rovers club played in quartered jerseys (similar to Blackburn Rovers) and their ground was a field just off Greenough Street, years later, it would become Central Park. But that is jumping the gun.

Aspull Stars beat th'Ince by three tries and seven minor points to Ince's one try and three minor points to progress. And finally, Aspull vs. Blackrod. The big match of the first round finally came around on February 21st, despite being stated in the rules that all matches were to be done and dusted by Valentine's Day a week earlier. On that day, those two clubs met in a regular fixture, Aspull proving too strong for Blackrod. Aspull, being cup holders and given their season's form, were clear favourites to progress.

Back in 1885, the colliers and ironworkers of Aspull and Blackrod had no greater pleasure in watching a good game under the rugby code. How times change, sadly. Both clubs could claim to be the oldest in the District, along with Wigan, when all three were founded in 1879. The rivalry between the two villages was warm, but not bitter. Both villages look over each other geographically, only separated by a couple of farmers fields and the odd coal pit that littered the landscape. The match was eventually decided to be played at the Aspull ground and with the fixture being put off well past the due date of February 14, the interest amongst the public was immense. Despite the wretched weather experienced on the day, 800 persons turned up to watch the afternoon's events. Sadly, the balloon was not tied and all the air seeped out. It was a dull match given the conditions of the pitch, and it was a forwards game. In the end, Aspull claimed victory by 18 points to seven.

With seven teams progressing; Wigan, Wigan Rovers, St James's, Aspull, Haigh and Aspull Stars and Pemberton; one club was expected to have a bye in the second round draw.

Wigan Rovers were the lucky club. During a meeting of the committee, the third round draw was also had:

Wigan or St. James's v. Aspull or Aspull Stars

Haigh or Pemberton v. Wigan Rovers

During the same meeting, held on Thursday March 5th, it was decided that Wigan and St. James's should meet the following Wednesday on the Dicconson Street ground. In the event of Wigan winning they will play Aspull (or Aspull Stars) on the Saturday following on the Haigh ground if it was available, and if it wasn't, the match would be played at Wigan. It seemed like the committee were very presumptuous on an Aspull victory, I wonder how the Stars representatives felt? The biggest gate would undoubtedly be got on the Wigan ground, but Aspull had a legitimate right to insist on a neutral venue being chosen, if they progressed that is. It was well known hat the Haigh ground as not the largest for supporters, and as the competition was for charity, the feeling was that the best possible crowd should be had at the bigger matches. That meant Upper Dicconson Street.

In short, Aspull beat the Stars, and Wigan scraped a win against St James's by 94 points to nil. Ninety-four points. The talk of the town was the third round tie between Wigan and Aspull. Up until the Thursday, people were left entirely in the dark as to where the match would take place, and the indecision of the committee may have had an impact of the attendance. As it turned out, the Haigh ground was not available, which meant by the rules passed, the game would be had at the Upper Dicconson Street ground in Wigan. The Aspull club, however, instructed the secretary of the cup committee to call a special meeting. It was then put to a vote whether or not the game should take place on March 14th or not. It came down to the casting vote of the Chairman, who voted that the game should not take place. Wigan, however, raised an objection stating that not all members of the committee were present at the meeting, and on that the meeting was adjourned.

Another meeting took place on the Wednesday following, a long discussion was had as to whether the cup tie should be decided on the 14th, at Wigan, or on the 28th, at Blackrod. Apparently, it was on a toss of a coin that the game would be played at Wigan on the 14th such was the split in the room. The question of the field then brought about a heated discussion, and it was eleven o'clock before the divided conclave agreed to ask the committee of the Association Club for the loan of their field for the day mentioned. The request was generously complied with. The sub-committee appointed to inspect the Association ground (are you following this?), met on the Thursday evening, at the Legs of Man Hotel, where the Aspull representatives intimated that they were not satisfied with it, but would play on the Dicconson Street field if Wigan would shorten the length and breadth of the enclosure. Mr. Rawcliffe drove to Aspull to consult his committee, and on his return the meeting was resumed, with the result that an agreement was come to that the match should be played on the Dicconson Street ground on the 14th but the area of the field of play to be made less by 8 and a half yards in width, and 5 yards in length.

The other tie to be played on the 14th was Pemberton against Haigh. There were no issues for this fixture, with both teams simply going to Aspull without any problems. Not even Pemberton could find fault at this simple task. On balance, both clubs were quite equal in terms of strength and success during the season as a whole, so it, like the Wigan and Aspull tie, would have been greatly looked forward to. That's if anyone turned up at Aspull to witness it, given the premier tie on offer down the road. Their reward would be a semi final tie against Wigan Rovers, with the winners of that facing either Aspull or Wigan in the Final.

The match was widely regarded to see that whoever won, would keep the trophy for another year by may people. With Wigan making several concessions to Aspull's request, neither side could claim to be at a disadvantage for the match which was expected to be a close fight. The result was that the largest crowd ever seen at a football ground as seen in Wigan, 8,000 spectators gathered with gate money amounting to £91 alone, via around 5,500 people paying to watch, the rest were gathered on the nearby hill to watch free of charge, and many found one way or another to get into the enclosure. Both teams were at full strength. The Dark Blues of Aspull were to face the Wigan Whites.

Neither side could claim any sort of clear advantage throughout the play itself but eventually, Wigan were hailed as winners by 21 points to 15. The victory was a very popular one, and when time was called the winners were escorted to their headquarters at the Legs of Man Hotel by a large and enthusiastic crowd.

In the other cup tie of the afternoon, Haigh and Pemberton met on the Aspull ground. Due to there being 8,000 located in the town centre, only 160 people turned up for this bout with most of them coming from Pemberton. In a keenly fought contest, Haigh triumphed by 9 points to Pemberton's three. Pemberton on their day should have taken care of the Haigh "lads" but another year and another exit from the Cup. For Haigh, they made their way to the Final by easily disposing of the Wigan Rovers side who by now must had thought they had been forgotten, given the length of time between their matches.

As it were, the Final of the Wigan Union Charity Challenge Cup Competition saw Haigh face Wigan at the Upper Dicconson Street ground.

On April 25th, 1885, the Final tie was scheduled to take place. Wigan were clear favourites to win the cup for a second time. The Haigh club had much spirit and fight in them and vowed to do their utmost to stop the obvious from happening. A lot of interest had been had in the event, especially when the Mayor and Mayoress had consented to present the cup to the winners at the close of the match. The crowd as guaranteed to be an enormous one... until the weather turned sour. Sadly, despite the horrific conditions, 3,000 spectators turned up to witness the final tie. Credit was due to the Mayor and Mayoress who stayed at the match the whole time, braving the storm from their perch in the stand. But when we say 'Stand', it was a wooden structure with a small wooden roof which protected them from none of the elements thrown at them. The canvas o the Upper Dicconson Street side of the field gave way to the wind, and many hundreds of spectators watched the game from the street.

Given the weather, the game was had in the forwards. The backs of Slevin, Samuels and Smith of Wigan; Bullough, Kitchen and Bootle of Haigh could not and did not much show their skills. It was not long before the first great downpour from the storm came. Wigan played with the wind to their backs, but when the ball was kicked, it flew off where it wasn't meant to go. The deluge only lasted a few moments when the red dye from the Haigh shirts began to soak into the white jerseys of Wigan. A ludicrous scene followed, much to the amusement of the spectators. Ned Bullough, of Haigh (who would later join Aspull and then Wigan... and then England) scored the only try for Haigh. The game finished in credit to Wigan by two tries, and ten minors (eighteen points) to six.

Wigan had won their second Cup, and Charlie Holt, the Wigan captain for the 1884-5 season, proceeded to the stand for the purpose of receiving the cup at the hands of the Mayoress. Mr. Park, the Mayor of Wigan, addressed the assembled crowd and regretted the state of the weather that day. He praised the people of Wigan in that when they saw football clubs assisting each other to help institutions such as the Infirmary, great advantages were had from the mass of working class people in the Borough. Given the grand attendances seen during the competition, he had hoped that the committee would hand over even more money to the Wigan Infirmary this time around. He finished by commending both sets of players for their performance that afternoon and told the Haigh men to keep their heads up and keep working at it. He knew that the Wigan team would much rather receive the cup from a lady, and he therefore had the pleasure in asking the Mayoress to present he Cup.

Charlie Holt, on receiving the Cup, said he had great pleasure in receiving it, and hoped that he would do so again in the future. Charles Cronshaw, of the Wigan club, moved a hearty vote of thanks to the Mayor and Mayoress for attending to present the cup.

In what was quite a short ceremony, given the circumstances, the crowd quickly dispersed. Charlie Holt was then carried shoulder high up Standishgate to the Legs of Man Hotel holding the Cup. The Old Borough Band headed the procession, was followed by hundreds of supporters. Upon arrival at the "Legs", Holt appeared on the balcony and addressed the crowd. He thanked them for attending ad hoped that they would attend in even larger number the following season.

Below, the Wigan team with the 1885 Charity Cup.