Autumn 1960, Springfield Park (in the pouring rain). Wigan Athletic (mid-table) 0, Nelson (league leaders) 0, not a bad result I suppose but otherwise a fairly mundane occasion. Wrong – not mundane for me anyway. I’d been to a few Latics games during the previous couple of years with my Dad and Grandad but this was the first time I’d made it all the way from Ince to the cathedral of Springfield Park on my own free will (and bus fare!).
Now fast forward 45 (count ’em) years to May 2005. The JJB stadium (in glorious sunshine) and Wigan Athletic have achieved promotion to the top level of English football and I’ve got a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye as I think of how my Dad and Grandad would have enjoyed this.
“Little Wigan, we’re going up!” reverberates around the stadium. I love singing those words. Some people don’t like them and think we should stop singing them – I’ve no problem with that opinion, it’s a free country (well, free so long as GMP aren’t involved!). But I love them, I think they’re perfect for Latics in 2005.
“Little Wigan, we’re going up, Little Wigan, we’re going up!”- there they go again – I told you I loved ’em. I can’t wait for “Little Wigan, we’re staying up!” next season. I suppose it all depends on how you interpret the phrase “Little Wigan”, I don’t think of it in a negative or derogatory way when sung by Latics fans.
I look upon it as a robust, defiant yet slightly ironic response to how our current success is represented by most of the local and national media. It’s a bit similar to that “1-0 to the Arsenal” during George Graham’s era in response to “boring, boring Arsenal” – when Wenger got Arsenal playing like Brazil it died a natural death.
In a couple of years time when the penny drops that Wigan Athletic are a club to be feared and respected “Little Wigan” will likewise become redundant. Now that’s of my chest I’d like to share a few personal “off the cuff” memories of what it was like to be a Latics Mon in the early sixties and to make a few comparisons with the summer of 2005.
One of my earliest memories concerns a birthday treat – I was packed off on a Walls’s coach all the way up to the North-East (no motorways then) for Gateshead v Latics, FA Cup 1st Round. We lost 2-1 to two late goals after being in the lead for virtually the whole game – a fate which befalls all teams of course but seems to happen to Latics more than most.
The 2005 comparison has to be the anticipation of Newcastle United v Latics at St James Park in front of 55,000 Geordies – I know this has already happened once, but that was even before my time! I’ve got an ancient programme – Latics v Bacup Borough (dear me!).
A glance at the Lancashire Combination league table shows our opponents included a mixture of non-league clubs eg Skelmersdale United, Chorley (who are you!), Morecambe etc and reserve teams from contemporary Football League clubs eg Accrington Stanley reserves (!) and Bolton Wanderers “A” – yes we were in the same league as Notlob’s third team – surely something to ponder on as we return from Lostock with 3 points next season.
When people talk about then and now they always seem to end up discussing toilets, it seems to be a British thing (I blame them Carry on films, me). My fave Latics loo was situated at the top of the terrace (sorry, grass banking) on the St Andrews side. It consisted of a crumbling 5ft wall to hide you from public view and a wooden gutter (probably left over from the Ark) for you to aim into.
There was no shelter from the rain, but you had a great view of the Town End goalmouth (Penalty, ref!). Nowadays in the luxury of the JJB we can pee while listening to the dulcet tones of Jeff Stelling – and then wash and dry our hands before munching on our pies. Then there was the walk back into Wigan down Frog Lane after the match.
In the early sixties Rugby League was played during the winter with 3pm Saturday kick-offs (honestly – just like normal sports). This meant of course that Latics and Rugby home matches often clashed – and on those occasions the few brave Latics fans walking back into the town centre were swamped by thousands of Big Fat Stans coming back the other way from Central Park.
Oh what original wit – Wigan Pathetic, which Sunday school team have Latics played this week? etc. Summer 2005 however brings “Wigan’s Turning Blue” – I love singing those words as well. They were probably a bit premature when first introduced a couple of years ago but are now spot on when describing the changing fortunes of Wigan’s two professional clubs.
I’ve always liked a bit of social comment with my music – ever since hearing the “Freewheeling Bob Dylan” for the first time! (Would the GMP allow harmonicas into the JJB?).
One last thought for now- The Wigan Athletic Junior Supporters Club. This was the forerunner to Junior Latics and JJ’s Club, the main difference being that WAJSC only had about 30 members. I remember Alan Ball senior came to give us a talk one night. He was the manager of Halifax Town and the father of the future England World Cup winner and Man City managerial legend of the same name.
I also remember stuffing raffle tickets in envelopes at one meeting as part of the Latics Floodlight Fund campaign. In the summer of 2005 we’ve now got Uncle Dave’s millions – money doesn’t talk it swears (Dylan again, I’m afraid). I
f your still with me (it may be that you lost the will to live at least three paragraphs ago) you might wish to look out for the second (and concluding) Random Notes from a Lancashire Combination Veteran – including knocking on Harry’s door (tea and biscuits with the great man), life amongst the big clubs (election to the Cheshire County League) and a further ambition for the Duke to aim for after he’s smashed Lidds’s record (nowt to do with scoring goals).