Phew! Now we’ve got that controversial 45th entry out of the way, let’s return to sturdier ground as there is no doubt that our next player has all the credentials to be included in the Wigan Athletic Top 50 List.
Noel Ward was there at the beginning of our Football League life, running out at Edgar Street on that sunny August day in 1978. He was already a Latics favourite having played the previous two seasons in the Northern Premier League.
Born in Ireland he excelled at Gaelic Football and soccer. Thankfully for us he chose the eleven a side version of the game signing for Derry City. Originally a centre forward, his strength and heading ability together with a flair for timing tackles to perfection made him ideal for the centre of defence.
He moved onto Aberdeen before the wily Scot Ian McNeill snapped him up for the Latics. McNeill could spot a good player from a mile away and his instincts were spot on this time. He went on to forge a cultured defensive pairing with Ian Gillibrand. Noel could play in any position and scored some great goals for the club. He was destined for greater things with Chelsea interested in signing him following a sterling performance against them until injury cruelly intervened.
Another reason Noel is so fondly loved by Wigan Athletic fans is that he still lives in the area and is often seen at the DW on matchdays. Over the years, he has become not just a man many of us used to idolise when playing for the Latics but also someone many of us are also fortunate to call a friend; a gentleman who is happy to talk football with all and sundry, no doubt telling us he could have marked number 45 in his slippers (!) not to mention supporting all of the fund raisers we have run under the Latics United banner.
Noel played 86+0 Northern Premier League games for the club, scoring 7 NPL goals, before making his debut as a Latics League player in that historic game at Edgar Street against Hereford on 19th August 1978. He proved to a rock in the Latics team and was even called up into Billy Bingham’s Northern Ireland squad.
Fate decreed this was not to happen and on 1st September 1979 his career was wrecked when he was badly injured in a home game against Portsmouth, which was only the fourth League game of the season. In total he made 47+1 League games for the Blues and scored 4 League goals.
He was rewarded for his services when Ian McNeill, by then the Chelsea assistant manager brought the Londoners to Springfield Park on 17th May 1982 to give him the send off he deserved in a game that resulted in a 0-0 draw.
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