A History of the Wigan Union Football Charity Cup Competition: Part 4, 1886

With the Cup competition now firmly established in the Wigan District, attention was quickly given to the next chapter of the competition. With the continued popularity of the football game especially rugby locally, things were looking bright. For the fourth season of the competition, the gentlemen decided that there should be a bit more order when it came to running the competition. In the early part of August, 1885, a meeting was held of the Wigan Union Rugby Football Challenge Cup Competition Committee at the Legs of Man Hotel in the centre of Wigan. Mr. Mills presided, and the following clubs were represented: Wigan, Aspull, Haigh, Pagefield, Wigan Rovers, St. James's, Crawford, and Ince. In addition, Wigan Wanderers, New Springs, Standish, Standish South End, and Wigan Nonedescripts were admitted as members of the competition. The total number of clubs now forming the union is 19, an increase of five on the previous year. Things were looking healthy.

One of the issues, especially when it came to the smaller clubs and people's general opinions, was that there should be a separate competition for the junior clubs to run alongside the senior competition. Nobody wanted to see a blowout score. Clubs like Wigan and Aspull would rather play against other senior teams in the North and earn money rather than pile on the points against a local junior side. Big scores were not seen as very helpful when it came to promoting and growing the game in the District, and with nineteen clubs now being part of the union, including representatives from Standish (which only left Ashton and Orrell without a rugby team, although Up Holland claimed to have one), things could be moving forward. This particular meeting was adjourned for the following week, when rules will be revised, officers appointed, etc.

Sadly, during the next meeting, again at the Legs of Man Hotel, the number of representatives o the committee was reduced to eleven, consisting of members of the most 'important' clubs. We shall see what happens in this respect later. One issue perhaps was that some of the clubs were brand new. The Wigan Nonedescripts had not even had their first meeting yet, or even had a ground to play on. The Standish club were to play their first match against Mr. Slevin's team, the Wigan vice-captain at the start of September.

At the end of August, the proceeds of the previous edition of the competition was ready to be handed over to the Infirmary. A balance of £52 10s was paid over to the credit of the Infirmary Maintenance Account at Parr's Bank, Wigan. In the three years since it first started, a total of £148 had been given to the Infirmary (just over £19,000 in today's money)

In addition to the Wigan competition, the West Lancashire and Border Towns Union Cup competition was about to lift off also. But that is for elsewhere. Another year, and the same old wrangling. At the end of September, a letter appeared in the Wigan Observer from 'DROP KICK'. Wigan had just signed on two players from Chorley (Whittle and Massie): "Will these two cracks be allowed to take part in the cup competition?" bleated 'DROP KICK', "For my own part I should certainly say not. I think that it would be a wise policy if the Cup Committee would take the matter in hand and add another rule to those they have at present, debarring any player taking part in the cup competition for any club unless he has resided in the Wigan Union for a certain period previous to the commencement of the competition." They continued their argument, "What does it benefit any club who wins the trophy, when they have to secure the services of other players who do not reside within the union? Now, I think it is no credit to any club, should they win the trophy, to act in manner above stated. I hope the committee will take this matter in hand so as to prevent such trash as I saw at the last competition, and give each club, no matter how poor, a fair chance." Of course, the writer of the letter is clearly not a member of the Wigan Football Club.

It did not get anywhere. What did go somewhere was the start up of a junior competition. The senior cup had been agreed to have Wigan, Aspull, Blackrod, Haigh, Pemberton, Highfield, Pagefield, and New Springs compete for it. These were the first clubs who played for the competition three years ago. The committee acted wisely in that these clubs would ensure large "gates" and would give the junior clubs time to develop and come into their own before competing at the higher level. As it were, twelve junior clubs finally entered into the first round of the junior competition. Aspull Stars, Crawford, Wigan Rovers, Red Rock, Ince and St. James's dropped down to this level. In addition, the new clubs of Standish, Standish South End (who had a very young Harry Ball, future Wigan player at the turn of the century, playing in their second team), Hindley, Upholland, Scot Lane (Blackrod) and Little Scotland (Blackrod) also took part.

The first of these junior matches saw Wigan Rovers play at Red Rock on their Standish ground in the Junior Challenge Cup competition. The game resulted in an easy victory for the Wigan team by two goals, five tries, and ten minor points to Red Rock's nil. Despite atrocious weather, where no rugby matches were played on the weekend of 9th January, 30 keen and undaunted youngsters defied the weather and did battle in their first round tie of the Junior Cup Competition. The game between St. James's and Ince went ahead with Ince coming out winners by two goals, two tries, and one minor, to three minor points.

Meanwhile, the senior competition had their draw in the New Year. The first named clubs have a choice of ground:

Aspull v Blackrod

Haigh v Pagefield

Wigan v New Springs

It did not take long for words to be exchanged in the local paper. There came a fall out between the Aspull and Blackrod clubs already, as you will see from these letters sent in to the Wigan Observer in January and February, 1886. A clash of fixtures arose, with Aspull settling on either the 6th February or the following week. Blackrod, however, had important money-generating fixtures of their own on their dates and offered a date of February 20th. Aspull had agreed to cancel their fixture against Wavertree if Blackrod would do likewise against Pemberton. This simple idea did not materialise. Instead, the Cup Committee ordered the game to be played on the 20th. Aspull in this case complain that they were not informed of this particular meeting and threatened to withdraw. In consequence the much liked and respected Mr. T. Gerrard resigned his office as the committee secretary.

Before the senior clubs suited and booted themselves up for battle, the Junior competition was in full swing. The second round saw Ince, having beaten St James's in the first round, 'slaughter' Crawford Village by three goals, three tries and six minor points, to nil. Scot Lane, having beaten Little Scotland (western Blackrod) in round 1, scraped past Standish South End. The 'Lanites' won by three tries and seven minors, to two tries and three minors. Confident talk was coming out of Scot Lane that it was going to be their Cup this year. The third tie of the second round saw Wigan Rovers (who beat Red Rock), and Standish (who overcame Hindley in round 1) face off. Despite a poor playing surface and interference form spectators, the Rovers beat the young Standish boys by 30 points to 12.

Haigh and Pagefield faced off on a very cold day in early February in their first round tie. Haigh had the choice of grounds and decided to play at home - who wouldn't? The Pagefield youths tried hard to score, the ball nearing the home sides line on several occasions, yet they lost by thirty points to two. A young Ned Bullough and Ed Croston were the pick of the Haigh men, yet couldn't show their full strengths despite the score, owing to the pluck of the Pagefield lads.

Wigan had their hands full for their first round tie. Liverpool Old Boys had played, or tried to, play Wigan the previous week but the game was abandoned owing to frost. There was uproar amongst the 6,000 spectators present, so it was arranged that the Old Boys would return the following week to try again. Wigan decided to instead cancel or withdraw from the Charity Cup, they would play two matches, one after another. It was arranged for Wigan to play New Springs at 2 o'clock and the Old Boys at 4 o'clock. Jim Slevin, Jack Hunter and Charlie Holt were rested for the New Springs tie, with the aim of being fresh for the second match. However, the Old Boys won. Luckily though, Wigan easily overcame New Springs with Jack Anderton and Ellis Wardle scoring twice in a 39 points to nil win and a ticket into the second round. Such was the mayhem regarding the Old Boys fixture, Charles Cronshaw, the Wigan chairman and 'Father of Rugby in Wigan' decided to resign his position over a disagreement between himself and the Wigan committee.

As for Aspull and Blackrod the time for quarrelling had to stop. The Blackrod team had drawn Wigan in another fledgling Cup competition: The West Lancashire and Border Towns Union Challenge Cup Competition. The Blackrod team had been offered a prize of half a cow and half a barrel of 'Old Peg' if they beat the Wiganers! No such promises or prizes were given to beat Aspull however.

Charles Cronshaw, now former chairman of the Wigan club took the duties of referee for this eagerly awaited tie on Aspull's ground at the fields near the Finger Post. Aspull started by defending the Scot Lane end, whilst Blackrod defended the goal near Aspull's HQ (if anyone wanted a point of reference) in front of 3,000 spectators. Several tight scrimmages were the order of the day and rough play was had early on. In fact, the Aspull half-back Cartwright had his collarbone broken midway through the first half yet played on the whole match without using his arms. Dawber, the Aspull fullback retired via an injury to his knee and Pilkington, his replacement, had a quarter-inch gash down his leg. Despite the roughness of the Blackrodians, Aspull won clearly by 26 points to nil. Cronshaw, the referee, apparently consumed several 'smokes' during the match!

By now, the Wigan Union Junior Rugby Cup was in it's final stages. The teams that progressed were Ince and Scot Lane, with the final to be played at the Aspull ground. The honour of winning the first trophy for the junior competition went to Scot Lane. A victory of 26 points to one was seen on a wretched day, the ground being very bad indeed.

Wars of words continued in the press. Correspondence came in from "No Humbug", "Fair Play" and "No Justice", obvious members of primarily the Aspull and Blackrod clubs. Double standards were seen to be taking place when the Wigan and Haigh semi-final fixture was moved quite easily, to suit Wigan's other fixtures, yet all hell broke loose between Aspull and Blackrod over their tie in the earlier round.

As for the Wigan and Haigh match, the semi-final tie took place in April, against the committee rules whereby the semi-final must be played in March. The simple reason was that Wigan did not want to lose already arranged fixtures against big Lancashire clubs which would draw large gates. Money talks. This was the reason also that Wigan left the West Lancashire competition as they did not want to lose out on a big gate that was already arranged. They instead forfeited the game. Haigh were by now fed up...

"Humbug" of the Athletic News paper wrote the following regarding the incidents before this Charity Cup semi final:

The great crowd of spectators that assembled on the Wigan ground to witness this contest for the charity cup grew impatient as the time advanced and the teams did not put in an appearance, but I venture to assert that their indignation would have increased tenfold if they could have heard the dialogue that was taking place at the Legs (of Man hotel, dressing rooms), between an honest youth from Haigh and two or three scheming Wiganers. By arrangement Haigh were to have been compensated by Wigan for the loss of four dates occasioned by the cup committee having extended the time, in favour of Wigan, to April, but on Saturday Wigan manifested a disinclination to abide by the verbal agreement, and Haigh rightly refused to don the war paint until they were fully satisfied. The Wiganers whose names, for their own sakes, I at present forbear to mention, tried every argument possible to induce Haigh to strip, but without avail, and then they suggested that the match should be played as an ordinary fixture, and not as a cup competition, Haigh to receive five pounds and Wigan to pocket the balance. The honest and charitable youth from Haigh indignantly condemned the proposal, and refused to be a party to such a monstrous and degrading compact, and asked if that were their devotedness to charitable institutions? The dialogue was continued, but finally honesty triumphed, and Haigh having received the amount of compensation required hastily donned the jersey ad entered the arena."

Wigan won by 43 points to 6, in a game which doesn't need any mention. The Wigan club at this time in their history were only bothered about gate money, as you can see. This led to Charles Cronshaw resigning his role (he later re-joined), and 'smaller' clubs in the Wigan District getting quite cross with the premier team. "Justice" wrote in to the Wigan Observer on April 20th, a few days before the Final tie with Aspull...

Instead of ironing out all the differences in the earlier years of the Charity Cup, the growth of the Wigan club was threatening to break everything up, at least, in the eyes of Wigan's rivals.

Aspull had just faced Warrington in the first West Lancashire and Border Towns Union Cup (or West Lancs) Final, at Liverpool. Warrington won, but the Dark Blues were in terrific form. The tension had been building in the town all week leading up to Saturday. Both sets of supporters were confident their 'pets' would come away victorious and large sums of money were placed at betting venues around town. Everybody knew that the interest this game was generating would mean a bumper crowd... but nobody knew that a Monster crowd would witness the match.

Up until kick-off, the lower estimated crowd was 15,000 persons, with some newspapers reporting a high of around 18,000! The ropes around the field were lined with a mass of eager faces, the grandstand was packed, and every eminence was crowded. Amongst those who watched the game from the grand stand, the VIPs as it were, was the Mayor, Mr. Alderman Park and wife, Mr. Alderman James Smith, and Mr. W.H. Hewlett. The major portion of the throng had their hopes fixed on the Wigan team, and many of them showed their colours by displaying in their caps or hats small cards printed in red, bearing the words "Play Up Wigan", "Play Up, Slevin". There was strong support from the collier village of Aspull too, wearing in their caps blue writing of "Play Up Aspull".

Aspull dominated the game and won by 31 points to 6,completely outplaying the Wiganers. Some may feel that this was justice served.

Several times during the game, the spectators were stood underneath the cross-bars. The last occasion, when the Mayor presented the Junior Cup, the referee was misunderstood as it was thought the game had finished. The ropes were immediately broken through on every side, and the ground completely inundated with people. The canvass all around the field seemed to melt away like snow before the sun until all the posts holding it together were completely bare! The players rushed off the field as a great crush ensued, and the reporters were compelled to make a hasty rush to the grandstand in order to witness the presentation of the junior trophy to the Scot Lane Club.

The Mayor eventually appeared. He made his speech about the pleasure of being there, how this great English game should be perpetuated, etc. After about 5 minutes of niceties and the presentation of the junior trophy to Scot Lane, Mr. Peter Turner, their captain then made a speech. The referee looked at his pocket watch...

The confusion, which had somewhat subsided during the speaking, again became intense, and the crowd in front of the grand stand swayed to and fro, rendering the position of a number of women and children, who were being pressed against the boards a very dangerous one. The half-dozen or so policemen were next to useless controlling 15,000+ people. It was noted that an old lady and a couple of children who were crying out through ill-usage had to be dragged up out of the densely packed crowd and handed on to the grand stand for safety. This scene lasted quite a while. The reporter mentioned that as order was trying to be restored and the match to resume, they saw some children calmly playing see-saw underneath the grand stand with a plank of wood.

Eventually, the players returned onto the field around 17:45. Two hours after the start. One man who had been doing his best to keep his crowd control in order lost his rag. A fist fight started as tempers flared but was quickly stopped by the policemen before it got any more serious. At six o'clock, and without further score, the referee had enough. The spectators were the touchline. The referee blew his whistle and ran one way, the throng of supporters stampeded in the other direction towards the grand stand for the trophy presentation. The dense mass of supporters here were all Aspullites.

The severity of the contest could now be seen in its fullest. All the players were scratched about the face and shoulders; one had, under the right eyebrow, a cut about an inch long. The eyebrow of another bore a nasty looking open gash. Johnny Roberts, the captain, was so sick that he had to be supported by his comrades. The Mayor presented the trophy to Aspull and said that he hoped they (Aspull) would hold it as long as the Wigan players would allow them to do so, amongst a ring of laughter.

The players of Aspull got changed at the Crofters Arms and headed for the White Swan on Queen Street. The ale flowed. After a while, waggonettes appeared to take the Aspull and Scot Lane teams back home, along with the All Saints' Brass Band. It must have been a scene! After passing through Whelley and up hill, it was evident something unusual had taken place, as various flags, banners etc, were hung across the streets. The cheering was deafening all the way to Aspull.

Wigan licked their wounds. The defeat came as a shock to the Wigan supporters, and Aspull ones too! Jim Slevin never got into the game, only receiving two passes all afternoon and he was well watched by Roberts and Samuels. It was said in the papers, perhaps jokingly, that Aspull would refuse to meet Wigan again in the future so that they could keep hold of the Cup. There was a bad feeling between the supporters of the clubs. Rumours circulated that Slevin had drawn a lot of money, which meant he had backed Aspull to win. This was false. Slevin made a direct denial in the papers. The betting scene were totally in on these rumours and misstatements. Perhaps the same people who, in a few years time, would push Jack Anderton out of the club.

The Aspull Club had to wait until mid-June for their gold medals during a dinner which included the awarding of their silver medals from the West Lancashire competition as runners-up.

After a, lets face it, silly season with regards to the Charity Cup, one thing that kept interested was the growth and rivalry of the Aspull and Wigan Clubs. What would 1887 bring?