The Road to Springfield Park: A Neglected Route in Orwell’s Northern Journey

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A good friend of mine, Chris Marsh, sent me a message a few weeks ago telling me that there was a lecture on at the National Football Museum with the aforementioned title.

Luckily enough the date of the lecture fell on the same day I had to be in Manchester for an appointment so I duly booked my free ticket over the internet.

After an invigorating lunch consisting of a Crunchie and a bottle of Sprite I made my way over to the impressive museum.

The lecture was held on the top floor of the museum and ignoring the lift I puffed and panted my way up the stairs to arrive red faced into a room set out for around 60 people and containing maybe half that amount.

George Chilvers well known to many latics fans and a mate of mine was already there and I navigated my way through the chairs to claim a seat next to him.

The lecture was given by Professor John Hughson Director of the International Football Institute at the University of Central Lancashire and is part of a series of lectures to celebrate 150 years of Association Football.

I think this was the third lecture of the series. Professor Hughson started the lecture by apologising to any Wigan Athletic fans that were in attendance thinking it was going to be a lecture concerning Wigan Athletic.

He explained that it was a play on the title of Orwell’s famous book “The Road to Wigan Pier”

A few faces smirked around the room as people thought” who would think that?”

I just stared at my shoes for a while…

The lecture was not specifically about Wigan Athletic then but it was very interesting nonetheless.

Orwell visited the town of Wigan between January and March in 1936 and wasn’t very complementary about the town although he did say it wasn’t as bad as Sheffield.

There’s no doubting that a large percentage of our town lived in poor housing conditions at this time and the coal mines and factories made men and women old before their time.

My Dad would have been around four years old when Orwell visited and he lived just up the road from the house on Sovereign Road that Orwell lodged in.

The house is no longer there but a small plaque marks the spot where it stood.

The inspiration behind the plaque was bookshop owner Stan Smith a popular figure in the town and a proud Wigan man.

Professor Hughson explained that although Orwell studied the habits and vagaries of the local population he never mentioned the sporting pastimes that they had.

The only vague reference to any sport was when Orwell mentioned the pit men rushing out of work at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon to watch some sporting event.

I’m sure that some of those men would have made their way down to Springfield Park in this particular year.

The 1935/36 season was a particular good one for Wigan Athletic especially on home soil.

Of the 21 home games Wigan Athletic won 20 and lost just one, scoring 91 goals and conceding 18.

They finished the season as Cheshire League Champions, won the Cheshire League Cup and the Lancashire Junior Cup.

What a pity then that Orwell did not take the time to watch this magnificent side.

His portrayal of the town may have been a little kinder and Wigan Athletic would be immortalised in one of the most important books of our time.

Professor Hughson explained that Orwell didn’t care much for football and didn’t mention it in any of his books, not many writers did, with J.B. Priestley being the exception.

The lecture drew to a close and finished with a question and answer session.

The first question asked by a member of the assembled audience was “Did Orwell mention Rugby League?”

I looked at the man asking the question, then at the National Football Museum wall, reminded myself that I was at a football lecture and sighed softly…

The lectures are held on the third Wednesday of every month from 1pm till 2pm. Admission is free and tickets are available from the National Football Museum Website and http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/org/3029597766

The next lecture is entitled “Football in the Second World War” and I’ll try and get to that one as well. If you’re popping along pick me up a Crunchie, oh and by the way Orwell didn’t mention Rugby League in any of his books…

 

      A big thankyou to

 

        Tony Topping

 

 

 

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