A LIfe In Pictures

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One of the great pleasures in life as you grow older is looking at photographs from the past. Images of people and places that existed for a little while in your lifetime are whisked away in the blink of a magician’s eye and if you’re lucky you have treasured old photographs to remind you of those fading memories. Wigan Athletic fans don’t have the luxury of flickering black and white images to look back upon that some of the more established football clubs have, our early history being in non-league football. That said my quest to find the footage of Newcastle United v Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup in 1954 goes on, it was filmed but the film remains lost in the mists of time.

We may not have the moving pictures to record our days of the past but we do have an impressive portfolio of photographic images to look back upon thanks to photographers like Frank Orrell. Frank has spent a lifetime working for the local press and although his job covered everything from baby contests to cats stuck up a lamppost he did spend a lot of his time covering Wigan Athletic games too. Frank is now enjoying a well-earned retirement but his work lives on and can still be seen in the current Wigan Athletic programme. Most black and white photographs in there are accompanied by the legend “Photo courtesy of Frank Orrell”

Frank is currently working on a book of his images and we caught up with him to ask him about his career in photography.

How did you first get started in photography?
My Dad was always keen on photography, I was indifferent. On leaving school in 1965 I started work in a shop on Market St Wigan. I was there two years and my Dad kept saying to me “Why don’t you apply for a job at the newspapers?” So I wrote to the local press a few times and eventually I got a job as a photographer’s printer.

As I say I had no interest in photography but after four years working in the dark room I really got into it.

The Post and Chronicle was then based at the bottom of Leyland Mill Lane. The photographers let me go out with them and even supplied me with a camera. I liked going to the rugby and football games and you had to run up and down the touchlines with the camera to get the action shots. They sometimes used my photos in the paper and this really enthused me.In 1971 I was given a photographers job so I was out and about from then on.

You covered a lot of Wigan Athletic matches, were you a fan?
Not a fan as such, I’d played a lot of football and followed Latics but I loved my sport. You didn’t get to cover one particular sport, you got sent out on a variety of jobs although some photographers were better suited to covering sports than others. Sometimes I would be sent out on assignments for the Football Pink which came out on the Saturday night. With the deadline being what it was back then I would only be at a game for 10mins before rushing back with the pictures. They could have scored five goals and I wouldn’t have shot any of them! Cameras in those days were wind on affairs, no motor drives, so you were constantly winding the film on trying to catch the action.

They didn’t have Photoshop or anything like that so if we missed the ball that was whizzing about when a goal was scored we would cut one out of another picture and stick it on with glue! Focusing was another problem back then. We only had these short lenses so you’d focus on the penalty spot and hope a goal would be scored from there. If it was from outside the area you could forget it. I started covering the latics from about 1970/71 season and my first big occasion with them was the 1973 FA Challenge Trophy game. I was at the Man City FA Cup tie in 1971 but only saw 10mins of it. Brian McAuley was the photographer that day and I had to take his film back to the paper.

latics v doncaster campbell 3

Can you tell us more about the book you are writing?
Well it’s going to be covering my 42yrs as a photographer. Every time I went out on a job I put it down in a little diary, saying where I had been and what the job was, not as a personal interest but because you had to note where you had been to claim your expenses. Luckily I kept every diary so I’ve a record of every job I have done and this helps enormously with locating the negatives. Unfortunately a lot of the old negatives have gone missing. When we moved offices to Martland Mill the old negatives were put into archives in Leigh for storage. We only got the negatives back around five years ago and sadly quite a few had gone missing along with the files detailing the photographs.

Quite a few of the missing shots were the sports ones too. Sadly past editors of the paper also threw a lot of negatives away. One editor even threw the old glass plates away that they used in the formative years of photography. Luckily I managed to get hold of a boxful of these plates before they were destroyed and one of the photographs was of Springfield Park showing a cyclist and someone with running shoes stood on the track round the pitch. I was told it was the oldest ever picture taken at Springfield Park and if I hadn’t rescued the box it would have been gone forever.

Did you admire any particular photographer?
When I first started at the paper Harold Farrimond was the chief photographer and he was a hell of a character. Harold liked his rugby and he said to me one day “Come with me Frank to the rugby and I’ll show you what we do” So he gave me this camera and I just watched what he did. The game we were covering was Wigan v St Helens and the referee was Eric Clay a real disciplinarian so much so that they called him Sergeant Major Clay.

St Helens scored this controversial try and Harold went mad at the referee! “That was never a try!” and so on, the referee had to stop the game and sent Harold off! Harold was a lovely bloke and I really admired him, he could get where water couldn’t. Princess Alexandria came to Wigan once to open something and you couldn’t get near her for security but Harold sneaked under a marquee just as the Princess was having a cup of tea and shouted “Over here love!”

What was the local press like in the early days?
Well I worked at the Post & Chronicle until 1983/84 then we merged with the Wigan Observer. We were always jealous of the Observer because the technology was always better there and their photographs always looked better than ours, much clearer because of the system they used. When you see photographers now at a game they are restricted to a certain area but back in the early days you could go where you liked.

I was fairly fast in those days and I would run up and down the touchlines to get action shots. In one game at Central Park I was running alongside the winger and he threw me the ball, he thought I was another player! There was quite a bit of rivalry back then when the Post and the Observer were separate entities. The Post came out every night so the Observer being just once a week tried to get all the exclusives. If you were out on a shoot you’d look at the Observer man and think “I’ve got to get a better picture than him”

Did you ever get abuse at football games?
Most grounds were ok, especially the ones were you could sit on a little stool at the back of the goals or just to the side. The worst ones were grounds like Anfield and Old Trafford because they had a camber on the pitch and you had to lie flat down on your stomach so that the supporters behind could see. Some of the stuff I got thrown at me at Anfield was unbelievable. Because the crowd was so crammed in on the kop they couldn’t get to the toilet so they used to take a little bag and when they had finished they would fling the bag at you. It wasn’t just wee in those bags too.

One of the worst incidents was at Springfield Park; I think Latics were playing Wolves that day. Wigan got a penalty at the Shevington End and I moved back against the terrace wall to get a picture from behind the goal. Next thing I know the Wolves fans had hold of my scarf and were strangling me with it! Normally you’d get shouts like “I’ve paid to come on here move out the way you big nosed so and so!”

latics v walsall pilling

Who’s the most famous person you’ve taken a picture of?
I would say the Queen. I took some of her when she came to the Pier and also when she visited Heinz years later. Princess Diana would be a close second I photographed her when she opened the Galleries and the new Courthouse. I also did the Pope in Liverpool Cathedral; he thought I was going to assassinate him! I was up in the rafters with the choir but I really wanted a close up, security was everywhere but I managed to slowly work my way towards the aisle. I was behind a bit of a crowd and I thought I really have to time this right. Just has he turned round I jumped out into the aisle and took his picture, his face was if you’ll pardon a pun, a picture. He probably thought I was an assassin! Also took pictures of Pele when he came to Wigan to visit Dave Whelan and I managed to get his autograph. Roy Orbison was another.

Did you get any pictures of the Wigan Casino at the Northern Soul Nights?
Well it’s actually a bit of a bone of contention with me. I used to cover the Casino before the all-nighters started, I covered what were called the “Beat Groups” When the soul nights started at the Casino in the early 70’s the editor told me to go down there and get some shots. I wasn’t really bothered but I had to go.

The place was dripping with sweat, everyone dancing around and just crazy. I managed to get some shots but I didn’t realise at the time how important the Casino would come to be to the Northern Soul fraternity. I was pestered to death for a while by magazines and newspapers enquiring about these pictures and I gave a lot of them out. I can’t find the negatives as I must have given these away too or they got lost and this is one of the main regrets I have. I did take one of the Wigan Casino when they were knocking it down and it’s been used a few times, it shows the piano still on the stage.

Any funny incidents involving Wigan Athletic players?
Well it wasn’t particularly funny to me but latics were playing Southampton away in the FA Cup. They played at The Dell back then and it was a really tight ground. I was behind the goal line and there wasn’t much room to spare. David Lowe came charging down the line towards me chasing this through ball. Now on this day I was using this long lens camera we had only just bought when Lowe came crashing straight into me. The long lens snapped flew straight into the air and fell on the ground in pieces. I was knocked over on the ground and Lowe was raging so much he picked up my chair and slung it down the line!

latics v rotherham lowe

Many thanks to Frank and his lovely wife for their hospitality and time; it was a pleasure meeting you both. Also thank you to my good friend Finton Stack for help with the interview and another trip in his Batmobile.

Frank is hoping to have his book published soon and it will certainly be worth waiting for.

Tony Topping


This article as well as lots of other wonderful writing by Tony can also be found on his “Adventures in Retroland” blog

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