WIGAN COUNTY FC
Several weeks prior to a ‘grand athletics and cycling festival’ that opened the new Springfield Park stadium, Wigan County FC announced that they would be playing two practice matches, one would take place on Wednesday 25th August 1897 and the other would take place on the following Sunday, 28th August 1897. The Wigan public were invited to see the players, free of charge and whilst the first match became something of a damp squib with regards to a torrential downpour, the second game, still played in weather that was far from ideal, a crowd of over 3,000 turned out for the Sunday game.
Just two weeks later the new stadium, lacking in quite a few details such as proper changing facilities, was introduced to competitive association football for the first time when on Wednesday 1st September 1897 County took on Burton Swifts in a friendly encounter and the game resulted in a 1-1 draw, watched by 1,500 spectators who, once again had to endure bad weather conditions throughout the game. County, who competed in the Lancashire League, played their first league game against Southport Central and 4,000 paying spectators were treated to a 5-1 victory.
SPRINGFIELD PARK PUT UP FOR AUCTION
As mentioned earlier Springfield Park’s changing facilities left much to be desired with the County players having to change in the horse stables situated on a field adjacent to the stadium.. However, in September 1899 the Landlord of the ‘White Horse’ public house decided to let the players use the facilities of a ‘spacious room’ within the establishment and he also provided transport to and from the ground for the players. Things, then were looking up.
Then came a bombshell, on September 13th 1899 Mr George Wilcock offered ‘the extensive property known as Springfield Park Trotting and Athletic Grounds, Wigan’ up for auction at the Ship Hotel. According to the local media it was claimed that Springfield Park consisted of ‘ 16 acres, one rood and 36 perches of freehold land. The grounds contain a half mile cinder trotting track, excellent cinder pedestrian track, grand cement cycling track and a splendid football ground, a well built grandstand, well arranged entrance turnstiles, refreshment bars etc’. The large attendance commenced bidding at £4,800. A question was asked about the prospects for the Association Football Club should the property be sold and the inquisitor was told, “that there was a contract with the Club that they should have the use of the ground until April 30th next year”.
Wigan County FC folded within a month of their original lease running out.
WIGAN WEDNESDAY ATHLETIC FC
Around this time there was in existence a thriving ‘Wigan Wednesday League’ and a local team, run by Mr Charles Samuels and called Wigan Wednesday Athletic used Springfield Park during season 1899/1900 along with County. Mr Samuels was the landlord of the Crofters Arms public house in the town and this was also the club’s headquarters. He was born in Halliwell in 1862 and became a well respected business man starting his career as a solictor’s clerk in Chorley before becoming the publican of the Birkett Bank in 1891 before taking up residence at the Crofters Arms a decade later. He passed away on 19th January 1907.
WIGAN UNITED FC
Wigan United Football Club was the next football team to use Springfield Park. Formed for the start of the 1900/01 season, the Club took up residence in November after playing their early fixtures at The West End Grounds. They played their football in the same league that County did and by a strange quirk of fate their first league opposition was the same as the ill fated County’s, however Wigan United were beaten by Southport Central by 4-1 in front of a good crowd of 4,000 who trudged up and down Poolstock Lane on their way home bitterly disappointed.
Wigan United’s fate was identical to County’s in that they also competed for just three seasons in the Lancashire League and they were also rocked by not having their lease renewed when it expired in January 1903. United did see their final season’s fixture’s completed, but every single one of them was played away from home.
However, one major difference between County’s spell at Springfield Park and United’s was that for one season, (1901/02) United had to share Springfield Park with the Wigan Rugby League Club.
WIGAN RLFC AT SPRINGFIELD PARK
The Wigan rugby club was dealt a very bitter blow in 1900 when the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company decided that the Prescott Street ground and the surrounding area was required for the construction of a large locomotive shed and sidings. The club would have to move lock, stock and barrel and so at the end of season 1900/01 all of Wigan’s assets were sold at auction and the total raised was £31/15/10d, of which £15/10/0d was raised for the grandstand and sixpence for the pay box.
This is when the club became sub tenants at Springfield Park. The club was immediately dealt a further blow when they were refused permission to run an ‘A’ team as Wigan United FC had priority. However, the rugby club then proceeded to win their first honour in the game for the town when they won the Lancashire Senior Competition after being unbeaten at Springfield Park for their one and only season at the venue.
Their first game at Springfield Park was against Morecambe on 14th September 1901, and the game witnessed by a crowd of 4,000 saw Wigan triumph 12-0. They only lost three of their away games all season, one of these on Christmas Day 1901 when they travelled to Stockport and were beaten 5-6. The first team to beat Wigan whilst they based at Springfield Park was Widnes, who won at home on 19th October 1901 by 6-8. Their only other loss occurred at Barrow on 30th November 1901 when they were beaten 3-12.
By January 1902 the club had already made plans to leave Springfield Park after they steadfastly refused to pay an increased rent when their lease was up. A public meeting was held on 23rd January 1902 at the Public Hall, King Street where it was agreed to take out a ‘long term’ lease and build a rugby ground on grazing land. The land itself was a six-acre plot and was called Joe Hill’s Field. Joe was a local butcher and he used the land to graze his cattle. Councillor JH Prescott, who had witnessed many a pub game of rugby played on the field during many, many years, had already christened the proposed new ground Central Park.
Wigan attracted their record attendance at Springfield Park on 19th March 1902 when Widnes were defeated 4-0. The attendance of 10,000 saw the club pick up gate receipts of £192. Their final game at Springfield Park was against a representative Rest of the Lancashire Senior Competition team and they even won that game!
After the match the team was presented with the Lancashire Senior Competition Cup and their medals. The team was virtually unbeatable and they were looking forward to playing at their new ground. Wigan kicked off their first game at Central Park on 6th September 1902 against Batley, a game which resulted in a 14-8 victory watched by a crowd of between 8/10,000. Jimmy Barr who scored two tries during the last competitive game at Springfield Park (against St Helens), also scored the first try ever scored at Central Park.
WIGAN TOWN FC
Wigan Town Football Club became the third association football club to use Springfield Park. Formed in December 1905, Town’s first home match was against Hull City when 4,000 spectators attended. In the same month, Music Hall comedian George Robey brought a team of professional players to Springfield Park for a charity match against Wigan Town in aid of the Chief Constable’s Clog and Stocking Fund.
The club were the first senior Wigan side to court trouble with the authorities when, during the 1906-07 season Town were suspended from the English Combinati
on sine die for “alleged wrong treatment of certain players”. The ban was soon lifted.
In April 1908, they were also the first club to appeal to the Wigan public for subscriptions, which incidentally did not materialize. Wigan Town resigned from the League at the end of the 1907-08 season and disbanded in the years before the Great War.
Springfield Park was mainly used for activities other than football in the period to 1919, although Wigan Amateurs Football Club did use the ground at various times up to the First World War.
(Special thanks to Dave Roughley. This project is a combination of his work and mine.)
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