Part 5: 1887

A History of the Wigan Union Football Charity Cup Competition: Part 5, 1887

With the popularity of rugby football taking off in West Lancashire, the Wigan Charity Cup suddenly found it's home slapped on the end of the season in mid-April. The newly organised West Lancashire Cup held a position throughout March and the Wigan club, for example, had arranged a lucrative end-of-season trip to South Wales to face Cardiff and Llanelly. So, for the senior competition at least, the Cup matches were arranged to encroach into the traditional start of the cricket season.

The Wigan Union Rugby Football Charity Challenge Cup Competition held it's usual early season meeting in mid-October. Wigan, Haigh, Aspull, Blackrod, Highfield, Wigan Rovers, Pemberton, Scot Lane, Ince Conservative Athletic, Standish, and St. James's were all elected to form the committee with Mr. G. Dawber again being re-elected secretary.

An adjourned meeting was held on the 28th for the purpose of confirming the proposed Alteration of Rules and other important matters. Representatives of sixteen clubs turned up with Mr. Benson of the Haigh club presiding over matters. In the Junior Competition, rule 12, was made to read: "All players must qualify by the 1st of January. No player who played in the senior competition last year will be allowed to play in the junior competition this year." The first ties of the Junior Comp will be played by the third Saturday of January, with the competition running each week until completion. As yet, the ties for the senior competition were yet to be fixed. It was resolved that no runners-up medals were to be awarded, and that the entrance fee of 5s. for each club abolished.

A date was set for final entries to be given in to Mr. Dawber of January 5th, 1887. On that date, a meeting was held in the usual watering hole of the Legs of Man Hotel where the first round of the Junior Cup ties were drawn, which resulted as follows:

Standish v. St. James's

Woodman Rovers v. Ince

Scot Lane v. Wigan Wanderers

Whelley v. Newtown

Red Rock Rovers v. Standish South End

Wigan Rovers v. Goose Green

Platt Bridge & Wigan North End - bye

Ties were to start on the weekend of January 15th, on the ground of the first named club. Quite a little exciting local derby between Red Rock and Standish South End was gladly welcomed by all in the room. As yet, the Senior Cup ties were a way off, but the first round ties would be drawn once the first ties of the West Lancashire and Border Towns Competition had been published a few weeks later in February.

Ince Conservatives, playing in their first competition found themselves with a daunting trip up to Bottling Wood to face the Woodman Rovers. The "Pluckies" were one of the strongest junior sides in Lancashire and in time would supply Wigan with many quality players. One of those stars was one Billy Halliwell who during this game as arguably the man of the match, helping the Pluckies to a 6 points to nil win despite a strong wind blowing. As you may be aware, Halliwell became a Legend at Wigan in the coming years, but that is to be read elsewhere.

Over at Scot Lane, both the "Lanerites" and Wanderers were in quite a pickle when the recent bad weather meant that their usual field was not playable. Luckily, early that morning, efforts were made with the local farmer (of whose land was used for Scot Lane's matches) to use a drier field. Scenes were seen whereby the goal posts were carried through fields and the grass white-washed and touchlines ready for combat. It really did not benefit Scot Lane being at "home" as the surroundings were as foreign to them as they were to the Wigan Wanderers. After a well fought encounter, Scot Lane came out inners by 1 try and 5 minors, to 4 minors. The Wanderers had not played a better game but fell short of the skilled Scot Lane forwards, the school of which Wigan's Billy Atkinson was educated in. The Wanderers complained of being unjustly treated. On of their men got a free kick, and the Wanderers say that the ball was rightly placed, but the referee, Mr. Benson of Haigh F.C., thought otherwise, and allowed a dead ball.

Whelley had no problems against Newtown despite their field being in a very hard condition. After a "pleasant" game, Whelley got their name into the Round 2 hat by 1 goal, 6 tries and 7 minor points, to 1 minor point. In the remaining ties, Red Rock crumbled against Standish South End, and the Wigan Rovers cooked the Pemberton Goose (Goose Green) by 3 tries, 5 minor points to 4 minor points. The game between Standish and St James's was put off due to the state of the pitch. St James failed to turn up due to this but Standish claimed the win.

Over in Aspull, things were changing. In mid-January, the gears were starting to turn with regard to their move from their village centre ground (behind modern-day Spar) to a new ground in New Springs off Cale-lane. Opposition to the proposed move was mounting and in a nutshell, we start to see the downfall of the Great Aspull club as a result over the coming years.

On to February and the second round of the Junior Competition. It was time for Platt Bridge and Wigan North End to enter the fray:

Platt Bridge v. Standish

Standish South End v. Woodman Rovers

Wigan Rovers v. Whelley

Scot Lane v. North End

The two former ties were to be played a week later owing to a fixture clash with the junior version of the West Lancashire Cup Competition. After being cooked by the Wigan Rovers in the previous round, the Geese of the Green withdrew from the committee which meant that Standish South End took their place.

With being drawn together in round 2, both Standish South End and the "Pluckies" also had a date in the West Lancashire Cup competition. On this occasion, the Standish boys triumphed.

The Wigan Rovers and Whelley tie finished 15-7 in favour of the Rovers. A goal by Berry and several minor points was enough to overcome a strong Whelley outfit who included J. Topping in their squad. Topping, at the end of the year, would find himself in the Wigan first team as the premier club struggled to find an appropriate fullback.

Continuing their run, the Wigan Rovers faced off against Standish in the semi-final and in the end comfortably overcame the conquerors of Platt Bridge by a couple of tries and four minor points to three minor points. The scores at full time were not enough as, according to the rules, the requisite number of points had not been scored. Mr. Roberts, the referee, ordered both clubs to play for another ten minutes each way. Berry and Donohue, for the Rovers, found that extra bit of energy to score the unconverted tries which was enough to pull ahead of Standish and earn their place in the final.

In the other semi-final, Scot Lane, the holders, were in no mood to let go of their tin pot in 1887 as they faced the "Pluckies", Woodman Rovers. On home soil, the Laneites, ran out winners by two goals, and six minor points to a try and two minor points, 20-6. The Woodman Rovers were apparently in quite a jovial mood as they journeyed north to the far end of Aspull. "See the conquering hero comes" was sung on their journey as their confidence sky-rocketed. Sadly, they were in no mood to sing the song back to Wigan, instead having their tail between their legs.

As for Scot Lane, their record in the Junior Cup competition (both Wigan and West Lancashire) was an impressive one. This now only left the Final tie to be fought out between Wigan Rovers and Scot Lane.

The senior section of the West Lancashire and Border Towns Union had begun on the call of March. Wigan had by now started to take that particular competition seriously and with the Might of Aspull, it was deemed that the Wigan Charity Cup would take a back seat until hostilities had been drawn out.

On March 12th, 1887, the Final tie of the Wigan Junior Charity Cup was held on the Wigan ground at Prescott Street between Wigan Rovers and Scot Lane. In a tight struggle, the Rovers edged Scot Lane by a couple of points. It was a good moment for the Rovers as they were also in the semi final of the West Lancashire junior competition, with only Widnes St. Mary's standing in their way of a shot at the final against Pemberton (conquerors themselves of Scot Lane). May a double be on the cards?

They were in quite a jovial mood. A letter was sent in to the Wigan Observer and reads as the following:

"The Chronicles of the House of Nightingale." - It came to pass on a certain day that the several tribes of Scot-lane met together in solemn conclave.

The several tribes were the Pummers, the Roberts, the Arrowsmiths, the Greens, the Fishers, the Banks's, and several other minor tribes. The Pummers proposed their own King Henry should rule the roost.

King Henry thereupon took possession of his throne, and in his own particular mighty tones launched forth: "Friends and sinners, - This being the year of the Queen's Jubilee, we will celebrate it with mighty victories in the football field. We will slaughter all our foes, and completely sweep off the face of the earth all our football players, who think they can beat us at football. We will, firstly, squash all opposition in the wars of the Wigan Junior Cup which we now hold, so that when next we have our portraits taken, we shall not need to pin paper on our players' jerseys in place of medals. "Loud cheers, and cries of 'We shall walk in.') After we have accounted for the Wigan Cup, the West Lancashire Junior trophy is sure to fall into our hands. When we have gathered all our silver trophies together, we will have a great Jubilee gathering and invite our dearly beloved friends and neighbours from Blackrod to look upon and yearn for those trophies we shall so easily win."

"There's nowt in um but us," says Squire confidently to Pummer.

"When we have secured both cups," resumed the Princely Henry, "I will fill both tankards seven time seven with sparkling champagne!"

The chairman takes his seat amidst tumultuous applause. Loud cries for Pummer were now heard.

Pummer here rises and addresses the audience as follows: "Chaps, I corned make a speech, but I con tawk a bit. I think were certin to win these cups, and I'll bet a peaund to fifteen bob we licken Wiggin Rovers. We hen fastest teaum o backs i'Hingland for Aspo, un they con aw dodge like leetnin. Eawr forards is as strung us donkeys, and quite us herd. So speakin' for mysel I durst see whoa con beat um. If they gettin to final the mun play um tothrey days and go on thrain."

After a few suggestions from several representatives of the various tribes, the village Squire proposed they should adjourn until the two cups in question should adorn the sideboards of the head of the house of Nightingale.

Sequel: Happening to be near Scot Lane on Saturday evening and seeing everything deserted, I inquired how it was the place was so quiet. A female, a resident of the place, kindly placed the following facts before me:-

"Eh, mestur," she said with tears in her eyes, "our football lads has lost their cup to-day!"

"What cup do you mean my good woman?" I inquired.

"Why football cup us ingiven in Wiggin. Eh, mestur, if yo only knowed what a job it is. They thowt o' winning a cup, a silver un, too, at Liverpool; un us poor wimmin har'fod been able to get any eggs this last three wick. They were aw wanted for football players the hen keepers said, so yo' see they mun a bin i' good fettle."

I conclude from the woman's narrative that no cups have yet reached Scot Lane. Has any reader seen them knocking about?

Of course, the tale teller correspondent was in quite a chirpy mood when he penned this story on behalf of the Wigan Rovers. It seemed that the boys of Scot Lane had been quite presumptuous in their winning of the Cups. Alas, Pemberton and Wigan Rovers put an end to their dreams.

The West Lancashire Cup was by now in full flow as the end of March approached. Wigan had defeated the inaugural winners Warrington in the semi final, played at St. Helens Recreation ground in front of 12,000 spectators. This set up a Cup Final tie against Aspull at Fairfield. But all was not well in the District with the seemingly second-rate prominence of the Senior Wigan competition and the influence of the Wigan club on the Wigan Cup Committee.

Just the sort of opening the Competition needed. Drama. Of course, the Wigan Senior competition need not have wished for a better appetiser than the one given in the West Lancashire Final at the end of March. Aspull defeated Jim Slevin's Wigan quite comfortably in the Final at Liverpool and hostilities ensued. But, the West Lancs Cup is for another story. As the embers were dying and the singing from Aspull could no longer be heard down in Wigan, the Senior Cup Competition was about to get under way at the Legs of Man Hotel.

The draw:

Pemberton v. Wigan

Aspull v. Highfield

Haigh v. Blackrod

Only six teams had bothered to take part, with the matches to be played on the ground of the first named club before the 23rd April. During the meeting at the "Legs", an alteration was made to Rule 12. The rule read "All players must qualify by the first of February, when the competition shall commence." This was altered so that if any player has put in six matches before the commencement of the first round he is duly qualified. I guess that "Drop Kick" will now have his or her mind at ease with regard to their letter sent in to the local Press a few weeks earlier (above).

On Saturday, April 16th, Aspull faced off against Highfield on home soil. The Dark Blues were in fine form of course, having spent the Easter period battling against Ossett and Leeds St. Johns (now Leeds Rhinos). In the end, as expected by many, the game was a one-sided affair. Aspull were victorious by 5 goals, 3 tries, and 6 minor points to nil. Despite a lot of talk about Johnny Roberts not being eligible to play for Aspull, he was out of the team. Several second team players filled in. One such A-teamer was John Seddon who became an instant crowd favourite with his 'wonderous cool judgement' and his drops at goal. Ned Bullough scored a hat-trick of tries with captain Dick Seddon orchestrating play from his centre-three quarter position.

After wracking up their 18th win of the season, Aspull were in fine fettle. Up to now, with only the Charity Cup competition to play for, the villagers had played 31, won 18, lost five and drawn 8 of their matches. 11 goals, 43 tries and 141 minor points had been notched up, with Ned Bullough scoring 21 of the tries himself. In comparison, Wigan had played 37 games, winning 15, losing 16 and drawing 6. Of Wigan's 38 tires, Jim Slevin headed the field with 13.

Wigan doubled up their game day playing Wigan Rovers and Blackrod, one match after the other, whilst Aspull eased to victory against Highfield. Jim Slevin scored a record five tries which helped batter Blackrod to the tune of 70 points to 1, and make some of their supporters question the future of their club. Blackrod of course were due to play Haigh in the Cup the following weekend. The Blackrodians were not in a good spot. One supporter wrote in to the Wigan Observer questioning what had happened to his team on the eve of the encounter against Haigh. "Your supporters are living in hopes that you will account for Haigh on Saturday, and you will have a sorry welcome on your return should you not fulfil anticipations," they wrote.

By now, the final tie had been pencilled in to be played on the Aspull enclosure.

When game day game for Blackrod, they turned up with a poor team. No fewer than five of their stalwarts were absent. Injured feet hampered the fortunes of Daff Banks and their star forward J. Hampson. Haigh were too strong in the forward line and out-muscled Blackrod by 20 points to 1.

Down in Pemberton, Wigan ran out winners by 1 goal and 9 minor points to 10 minor points in a surprisingly close encounter. Charlie Samuels, the Wigan back and future father-in-law to Lance Todd, was the pick of the Wigan team. An unusual off-day came to the Wigan forwards against inferior opposition. Jack Lowe and Billy Atkinson were the picks of the bunch but they did enough overall to qualify for the second round draw alongside Aspull and Haigh.

Fortunately for Wigan, they received a bye into the Final. With only three teams still standing, Aspull and Haigh were drawn against each other. Uncertainty arose around the venue for the Final. Aspull had long expected to host the Final on their enclosure, to be played on May 7th. The Wigan club were by now rumoured to be in a position to decline to play at Aspull and that Prescott Street should be the venue for the Final.

As expected, Aspull managed to slip past Haigh and march into the Final against the Old Enemy Wigan. As it turned out, the Aspull ground was accepted by the Wigan club to host the Final in the end. Since the Charity Cup's inception, both Wigan and Aspull had won the trophy twice, with Wigan contesting every Final.

The Aspull committee made preparations for a big crowd with a grandstand being erected for the occasion. The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company ran special trains to Dicconson-lane Station, which was close to the ground. (photo)

Fully 8,000 people were on the Aspull enclosure at 3.45pm but they had to wait another half hour. Jack Hunter, the Wigan half-back, failed to turn up due to an illness the night before. Jack Anderton was quickly sent for to fill in the position. Aspull appeared first, led by their captain Dicky Seddon with Jim Slevin leading his men over the ropes moments later.

At kick-off, the teams were:

Wigan: Coop, fullback; Slevin, Samuels, and Anderton, three-quarter backs; Mitchinson and Aspinall, half-backs; Brayshay, Lowe, Wardle, Atkinson, Booth, Dempsey, Ellison, Grundy, and Parker, forwards.

Aspull: Pilkington, full-back; Roberts, Seddon, and Bullough, three-quarter backs; Hulme and Cartwright, half-backs; Lawson, Brooks, Haydock, Monks, Lindsay, J. Lindsay, Baxendale, Bramwell, and Croston, forwards.

For once, Dick Seddon, the Aspull captain, won the toss against Slevin and chose to play with the sun at their backs. At 16:10, Tom Coop, the Wigan fullback and future Leigh, Lancashire and England International, kicked the ball off. Sadly, it had to be retaken as the ball didn't bounce in play. This was again retook, but at the third kick a dead ball was scored for Wigan.

Tom Coop in later years for Lancashire

Wigan's forwards, led by Tom Brayshay, had the best of the early exchanges outplaying Aspull in the scrimmages and dribbling. Wigan again added to their score with a dead ball after a line out on the Aspull goal line. Twice Jim Slevin got collared by an upbeat Aspull as the Dark Blues pressed into the Wigan half.

Aspull thought they had scored when Monks got over to score a try but the referee decided there was an infringement on the play and it was disallowed. Slevin relieved the pressure on the Wigan line by punting down field but failed to kick the ball in play before going in to touch just outside the Wigan quarters. A few plays later, Baxendale, the Aspull forward, managed to gain the try that was coming but the angle and position for the goal was a hard one for Pilkington, who failed at his attempt.

Aspull thought they had gained more points when Tom Coop's kick was charged down by Haydock, who scored a try. The referee listened to Wigan's dispute and decided in favour of Slevin's men. From the resulting scrimmage, Seddon attempted a drop at goal, a minor point resulting.

Charlie Samuels had a few moments to change things in favour of Wigan. After the drop out from Seddon's attempt at goal, he made way up field but was bundled into touch by good defensive work from the Aspull backs. A little later, he missed picking up the ball when he had a clear field in front of him. In a tit-for-tat ending to the first half, Aspull had the better opportunities and ended by pressed the Wigan line. When the whistle blew, the score read Aspull 8, Wigan 3.

A change of position was seen when Bullough and Roberts changed places in the Aspull lineup. Play was now 'exciting' as Wigan looked to get on the scoresheet. Jack Anderton had a clear chance to get away but was hauled down by the newly positioned Bullough. Jim Slevin made one of his trademark dodgy runs before passing to Samuels who then had no option but to kick into touch. Moments later, Slevin again handed off several Aspull defenders but couldn't make any advance before a scrimmage resulted.

Wigan were down to 14 men as Ellison hurt the side of his body but pluckily came back to the field - although he was useless for the rest of the match. Charlie Samuels finally thought he had seen his luck change when he got clear away, dashing downfield but at the last moment, Dick Seddon tapped his ankles to the cheering of the Aspull supporters. Samuels, undeterred, tried again rounded the Aspull men 'in grand style' before sadly passing the ball forward after receiving a big hit.

Slevin and Booth, the Wigan forward, both had opportunities to score. With ten minutes of time remaining, Tom Coop, receiving the ball at the halfway flag, made a magnificent drop, the ball going over the bar, amidst cheers from the Wiganers. Desperate, both teams tried to score, or hand on. But nothing more by way of scoring resulted and the game ended with Aspull victorious by 11 points to 9. Seddon had lowered Slevins flag again.

The Cup was presented to Dick Seddon by Mr. W.H. Hewlett who was involved with the the Wigan Coal and Iron Works at Kirkless.

Below is a photograph of the Dark Blues at the start of the 1887/8 season at their ne ground on Cale Lane, New Springs. The Kirkless Iron works in the background. Captain Dick Seddon stands behind the Wigan Union Charity Cup and Johnny Roberts to his right.

Part 5: 1887