The day a door opened……

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Friday the 2nd of June 1978 was supposed to be just another day… it wasn’t.

The day started off like any other, it was sunny if a little breezy and I was sat in the garden watching my Dad mow the weed infested patch of grass we had the nerve to call a lawn. Every now and then he would tut and stop to get his shovel, before removing the pile of dog poo dotted here and there. The animal in question, responsible for the dirty deed, sat by my side and nervously wagged his tail at every baleful glare from the gardener cum s*** shoveller. I had my transistor radio on tuned in to a local station, GMR I think it was, I was listening out for news, news that would change my life and hundreds of others. Not that I expected to hear any good news on this particular day, the day when existing Football League clubs applied for re election and aspiring non league clubs sought election.

We had after all been turned down 34 times previously but like the smitten suitor we just couldn’t resist one more attempt at gaining entry. My own ardour in this particular romance was fading fast, my heart had been broken in 1971 when we were at our attractive best but yet again we left with our cap in one hand and a clutchful of pens in the other.

Our chance had gone, I knew that because everyone outside of Wigan Athletic told me so, “They’ll never let em’ in, not after what Wigan Borough did” What Wigan Borough did was to fold before the Football League season had ended bringing disgrace on a town that didn’t care. Or so I was told…

To my everlasting shame I half believed them and I was resigned to supporting a non league side for the rest of my life, a thought that didn’t particularly fill me with dread, we had our moments in the sun. Today that sun felt good, my Dad finished his labour, packed up his manual mower and moved inside the house for a rewarding cup of Nescafe.

With the faeces finder gone the dog beside me got cocky, running round the garden like he owned it, which he did, well at least when Dad wasn’t there. He found his little red ball in the bushes at the back of the garden and brought it to me to throw it away only for him to retrieve it again. A silly little game that dogs never tire of though humans do. After a while I quietened him down and we both began to drowse off in the warm sun, sheltered from the wind.

The transistor radio droned on beside me, half heard by my barely conscious mind “…here’s …with today’s breaking news stories… Wigan Athletic have been elected into the Football League in place of north west neighbours Southport”

What! I shot to attention, the dog did likewise disturbed by my sudden movement. I turned the radio up, it was true! We were in the Football League!

“Yeeehaaaw” I yelled and kicked the little red ball up the garden in delight. The faithful dog bounded after it but when he turned to bring it back I was gone.I rushed through the house “Dad, Dad we’re in the Football League!” He couldn’t believe it “We’re in? Are you sure?” The smile broadened on his face, and mine, as the afternoon passed and the story gathered pace, yes at long last we were in.

That evening, looking resplendent in my blue Slazenger jumper with my W.A.F.C. enamel badge firmly affixed, I made my way up to the Miners Arms in Kitt Green to meet the rest of the gang, calling for my old mate Tony Lowe on the way. The rest of the evening is a bit of a drunken blur though two things do shine through the haze:

1. The DJ in Bluto’s played records all night long dedicating them to the Latics even though half the clientele seemed bemused by all the cheering from the pockets of support.

2. I nearly got in a fight with a fellow Wiganer who told me that “Latics are s***” The guy is probably a season ticket holder now.

The rest as they say is history.

Tony Topping


Photo courtesy of George Chilvers

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