Early Latics : Wigan Athletic – The dream begins – (1932/33)

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Just two months after Wigan Borough’s demise a band of men met in the Pagefield Hotel on Park Road and discussed the possibility of forming another town association football team. After lengthy discussions it was decided to call a public meeting in the town early in the New Year of 1932. For a number of unknown reasons the expected meeting only took place on 9th May 1932 at a packed Queens Hall and the Mayor of Wigan, Councillor W.A. Hipwood chaired the meeting. The outcome of the meeting was that a ‘steering committee’ of several prominent gentlemen of Wigan was formed, on the spot, in order to bring Association Football back to the town and it’s people.

Hindley JP Mr Joseph Howarth became Chairman of the committee and Mr Tom Heywood, who was the landlord of the Bulls Head in Market Place (Barclays Bank is situated there now) became vice chairman. The rest of the committee were Mr Arthur Roberts a former Football League referee who once recommended two players of outstanding ability to Wigan Borough, Mr Richard Farrimond a colliery winding engineer and music teacher, the Rev Father Greenhous, Mr Charles Ostick a former Bolton Wanderers full back and founder of the Wigan Printing Company, Mr John Worswick the owner of Wigan Entertainment’s Company who also once tried to help Wigan Borough with a £1,000 donation, Mr George Woods a newsagent based in Ashton, Mr Peter Dwyer a railway clerk, Mr W. Greenalgh and Mr Edwin Lowe, Mr Jack Farrimond, the son of Richard became the secretary. Jack also had Wigan Borough connections. During the club’s last season in existence he was an office clerk at Springfield Park. The present Wigan Athletic Football Club will be forever indebted to these gentlemen whose vision, enterprise and determination formed the club that we all love today.

Mr Joseph Howarth is worthy of a further mention at this point. He was destined to become Wigan Athletics’ first chairman a post he held for the club’s first four years in existence. Joseph was born in North Wales and his family moved into the Hindley area when he was a youngster. He had an interest in football and played for Hindley in the Lancashire Alliance. He taught Pitman shorthand at evening classes in Hindley and was also a teacher at Castle Hill Sunday School. He was a magistrate and joined the Board of Management of the Hindley Industrial Co operative in 1896 and was president of that body for a grand total of 51 years, a national record at the time. When he retired from the post of chairman of Wigan Athletic FC he was made the club’s first ever president and he held that position until he died in January 1951 aged 81.

However, this is 1932 and at this moment in time he and his committee have to find a ground for the proposed new Wigan Athletic football club to play on. A deputation from the committee met the solicitor from Blackpool, Mr J Roberts, who now owned Springfield Park and expressed the wish to purchase the ground. By the end of May 1932 Springfield Park, which comprised of 14 acres of land, a wooden stand that seated 2,000 people and a shelter on the Popular side, was bought for the sum of £2,850, with a clause preventing greyhound racing on the site and Wigan Athletic were up and running. The clause remained intact until the ground was demolished.

The newly formed Wigan Athletic association football club was now expected to compete in a League from the beginning of the 1932/33 season, which was just three months away. The first League that Latics applied to join was the Cheshire County League but their application was rejected. Aiming for the top Latics then applied for membership of the Football League but the club received no votes from the League clubs of the day. The stigma of the collapse of Wigan Borough had obviously left a very nasty taste in the mouth of the Football Association. The club, despite being a completely new entity with no connections whatsoever to Borough or any other Wigan team, took a long time to rid themselves of a very poor image. This probably cost Latics election to the Football League for many years.

On 29th June 1932 at a meeting held in Manchester, Wigan Athletic were elected into the Cheshire County League after all following the resignation from the League of Manchester Central. A further obstacle then needed to be overcome and that was for the new club to be admitted as members of the Lancashire Football Association. Again Latics had to convince the relevant authorities that there were no Wigan Borough connection. Latics only found out that they had been granted membership of the LFA on 2nd August 1932 after a meeting at the Queens Hotel, Lytham.

There was a major scare when the two club representatives at the meeting were ordered to produce a minute book after the recess. For whatever reasons such a book was not at hand for this historic meeting so Jack Farrimond and Joseph Howarth purchased a blue minute book from the streets of Blackpool and both men filled the relevant details into the book from the inside of a public telephone box. The task was completed just before the meeting was re convened after lunch.

A very interested man was waiting in the hotel foyer for the verdict, a man who had been in on the idea of this new club from the start, that man was Mr Charlie Spencer. He was now confirmed as the first ever manager of Wigan Athletic Football Club and he had just two weeks in which to form a team.

Charlie was born in the mining town of Ashington in 1899. His first club was local outfit Glebe Rovers and later he progressed to Washington Chemical Works. It was from there that he embarked on a glittering playing career as a centre half and, eventually, captain of Newcastle United. He won a FA Cup Winners medal as captain of Newcastle United in 1924 when the Magpies beat Aston Villa 2-0 at Wembley. He was capped twice for England and made his debut at Wembley on 12th April 1924 against Scotland; he was one of the first two England players to make their debuts at Wembley. The result was a 1-1 draw. His other cap was earned when he played against Wales at the Vetch Field on 28th February 1925 a game that resulted in a 2-1 win for England. He was in actual fact England’s 472nd capped player. The year 1927 saw Charlie winning a Football League Championship medal when Newcastle United won the First Division by five points over Huddersfield Town. He then had a spell at Manchester United before trying his hand at management when he became player/manager of Tunbridge Wells, who were quite successful.

He agreed to join the new Wigan Athletic football club as manager providing they could get into any kind of League. He promised in return a good competitive football team. He joined Latics earning the above average wage of £6 per week. In fact he was one of the first people in Wigan to own a new fangled invention called a motor car!

Charlie managed to employ a team of fifteen full time professionals, which consisted mainly of Geordies, earning between £3 to £4 per week. Charlie played himself at centre half. In defence there was Harry Wake who had previously played for Cardiff City in the 1925 FA Cup Final, unfortunately it was a slip by him that ensured England left winger Fred Tunstall scored the only goal of the game for Sheffield United. Harry was slaughtered in the Welsh press and it took him a long time to recover from headlines such as ‘Wake not Awake’ in the South Wales Echo.

Latics were also blessed with two prolific goalscorers during what was to be their first season. Firstly there was Barney ‘Bill’ McCabe, who was signed from York City and he eventually became Latics’ first ever ever-present player. Barney had also played for Darlington. Then there was William Chambers, who was signed from Peterborough United and he scored 39 League goals and 9 Cheshire League Cup goals by the end of a memorable season. William was a well-known face in the North West having previously turned out for Blackburn Rovers and Oldham Athletic. The goalkeeper was Henry Abb

ott who had been signed from Rochdale, he had also had spells at Lancaster Town, Portsmouth, Luton Town and Nelson. His deputy was Jack Davies who was signed from Horwich RMI. Davies has aldo played in the Football League for both Bury and Swansea Town. Former St Albans City right back George O’Dell was recruited from Northampton Town and Charlie Spencer went back to his old club, Tunbridge Wells, to sign Harry Callaghan. Harry, who was born in India, (Latics’ first ever foreign born player) had also played for Market Harborough Town, Celtic and Leicester City. Also signed from Tunbridge Wells was Bill Henderson and he included South Shields, Portsmouth, Burnley and Connahs Quay among his former clubs.

George Jones was another solid defender and he was signed from Oldham Athletic after a career that had seen him play for Bolton Wanderers, Hamilton Academicals, Swindon Town and Rochdale. George Allan was the second player recruited from Northampton Town and his previous clubs included Coventry City, Nuneaton Borough, Peterborough United and Fletton United. Allan Hughes was a very tricky right-winger and he was signed from Luton Town. He was no stranger to the area though having previously played for Blackpool and Fleetwood. His partner on the left wing was Vincent Murphy who was a very experienced player having turned out for Grimsby Town, Bournemouth, Walsall and Notts County. Latics acquired his services from Jarrow. Angus ‘Gus’ Smith was recruited from Aldershot and he had seen service with Dundee and Sheppey United. He would eventually go down in Latics folklore as the first player to ever score a goal for the club.

The first ever League game that Wigan Athletic played in was played at Springfield Park on 27th August 1932. The visitors were a very good Port Vale Reserves team tipped by many to win the League. The local interest in the game was terrific and more than 6,000 spectators saw Latics go down 0-2. Both Vales’ goals were scored in a three-minute spell early in the second half. First Vale’s Jimmy McGrath went down in history as the first player to score a goal against Latics at Springfield Park when he hit a powerful shot past Reds’ goalkeeper Abbott. Then Tommy Nolan slipped through a poor Wigan defence and scored an easy goal. In those days it cost 7d to gain admittance into the ground, of which 1d was claimed by Customs and Excise as Entertainment’s Tax. The first ever gate receipts were £175. Latics played in a kit, which consisted of red and white quartered shirts, black shorts and black socks. The first ever Latics team lined up as follows,

Henry Abbott, George O’Dell, Harry Callaghan, George Allan, Charlie Spencer, Harry Wake, William Chambers, Gus Smith, Barney McCabe, Bill Henderson, Vincent Murphy.

This was the Port Vale Reserves team,

B. Davies, Cope, Breeze, Millington, Bliss, Birks, Baker, RG. Davies, Nolan, Beech, McGrath.

On 31st August 1932 Latics played their second game of the season against Tranmere Rovers Reserves and won the game 5-1 courtesy of goals from Gus Smith, who goes down in history as the scorer of Latics’ first ever goal and two goals each from William Chambers and Barney ‘Bill’ McCabe. The most memorable match of the season occurred on 22nd October 1932 when the visitors to Springfield Park were Northwich Victoria. The Drill Field men were unbeaten in the League and even at this early stage of the season they were a good bet for the Championship. Incredibly the Reds won 9-0 in front of 11,826 fans, the largest crowd to watch a League game at Springfield Park. This record will now stand for all time because as Latics went into their final season at the ground in 1998 the crowd capacity was just 6,700.

The following League game was against Congleton Town on a freezing night. The score was 7-0 in Latics’ favour when the game had to be abandoned in the 68th minute with Congleton down to six men, all of whom had been taken off the field of play suffering from exposure. Bill Chambers was not a happy man when he realised that his hat-trick would never stand.

In December 1932 Wigan Athletic became a limited company and they announced a sponsorship deal with brewers Tetley Walker. The original steering committee became the first ever Board of the club with Joseph Howarth taking up his well-earned position as club Chairman. Things were really looking up but on New Years Day 1933 Latics were trounced 2-4 at Springfield Park by Aston National in front of a 10,500 crowd. Another defeat in the next game at Buxton meant that Latics could not afford to lose many more League games at home if they were to finish the season with the Championship title. The rest of the season saw Latics lose just 4 more League games, all away from home.

April 1933 proved to be very hard indeed for the Reds because they had to complete 11 fixtures during that month. Two of which were friendly games that the club could possibly have done without. During the season the Reds actually played three friendly games. On 21st January 1933 Latics defeated Rhyl Athletic 2-1 at Springfield Park. At the start of April 1933 manager Charlie Spencer took the side to play against Tunbridge Wells, his old team. The Reds won 4-2. The third friendly game was against the infamous Northern Nomads and Latics beat them 2-1 at Springfield Park.

The season did end on a rather disappointing note when on the 3rd May 1933 the Reds were hammered 4-1 at the Moss Rose by Champions Macclesfield Town. ‘Macc’ were the only team to do the ‘double’ over Latics that season. Latics finished the season in a very creditable fifth place in the League, five points behind Macclesfield Town who won the Championship. They also reached the Cheshire League Cup Semi Final but lost the game 1-3 (Hughes) at home to Manchester North End. The first team that Latics ever faced in a Cheshire Cup game was Chester Reserves and following a 2-2 away from home the Reds crushed their Welsh opponents 7-0 in the first round replay at Springfield Park.

Barney McCabe played in all 42 Cheshire League games and netted 40 times. Thirty-six of which were League goals, he also scored 4 Cheshire League Cup goals and 1 in a friendly against Rhyl at Springfield Park. However Bill Chambers beat even that tremendous record by scoring 39 League goals in 37 League appearances. He also scored 9 goals in the Cheshire League Cup, three times in an abandoned match and 3 times in friendly games. Allan Hughes scored 13 League goals and George Jones also scored 8 League goals. In total Latics scored 121 League goals but even this impressive total was beaten by Manchester North End who scored 124, Hurst who scored 129 Ashton National who grabbed 130 and 10th placed Stalybridge Celtic scored 132. However Latics’ goals against column revealed that they had only conceded 54 League goals, the fewest of any other team in the League.

Latics’ Cheshire League record at the end of season (1932/33) read as follows,

P 42, W 21, D 11, L 10, F 121, A 54, Pts 53, finished fifth.

Latics’ Cheshire League Cup record that season was,

First Round
Chester Reserves (A) 2-2
Barney McCabe 2
Chester Reserves (H) 7-0
Bill Chambers 4, George Jones 2, Allan Hughes
Second Round
Runcorn (H) 6-2
Bill Chambers 4, George Jones, Gus Swift
Third Round
Ashton National (H) 5-2
Barney McCabe 2, Allan Hughes, Bill Chambers, Vincent Murphy
Semi Final
Manchester N E (H) 1-3
Allan Hughes.

Latics did not enter the FA Cup.

Roll call 1932/33,

Abbott, Henry – League apps, 3

Allan, George – League apps, 41
Callaghan, Harry – League apps, 40
Chambers, Bill – League apps, 37
Davies, Jack – League apps, 10
Henderson, Bill – League apps, 08
Hughes, Alan – League apps, 38
Jamieson, Harry – League apps, 15
Jones, George – League apps, 31
McCabe, Barney – League apps, 42
Murphy, Vincent – League apps, 40
O’Dell, George – League apps, 37
Smith, Augustus (aka Angus or Gus) – League apps, 07
Spencer, Charlie – League apps, 39
Swift, AC -League apps, 04
Thomas, Horace -League apps, 01
Wake, Harry -League apps, 39
Williams, Alvan – League apps, 01

This was a very good season but by the start of the following 1933/34 season only two players were retained, Charlie Spencer, the gaffer who obviously retained himself, and George O’Dell. Even William Chambers and Barney McCabe who had scored more than 100 goals between them in all competitions that season didn’t survive Charlie Spencers’ axe. If you sat down and wrote the script for what happened in the next three seasons you could not have made it up.

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