Them and us – Charlie Spencer (Newcastle United and Wigan Athletic)

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As Wigan Athletic head up north to take on Newcastle United this weekend, it is perhaps fitting that today’s featured player is a man who has gone down in club folklore at both St James’ Park and Springfield Park.  Introducing Charlie Spencer…

… Charlie, full name Charles William Spencer, was born in the mining town of Washington on 4th December 1899. His first club was local outfit Glebe Rovers and later he progressed to Washington Chemical Works. It was from there that he embarked on a glittering playing career as a centre half and, eventually he became the captain of Newcastle United for whom he signed in 1921.

He won a FA Cup Winners medal as captain of Newcastle United in 1924 when the Magpies beat Aston Villa 2-0 at Wembley. He was capped twice for England and made his debut at Wembley on 12th April 1924 against Scotland; he was one of the first two England players to make their international debuts at Wembley. The result was a 1-1 draw. His other cap was earned when he played against Wales at the Vetch Field on 28th February 1925 a game that resulted in a 2-1 win for England. He was in actual fact England’s 472nd capped player.

The year 1927 saw Charlie winning a Football League Championship medal when Newcastle United won the League by five points over Huddersfield Town. In total he made 181 league appearances for the Magpies, netting once.

He then had a spell at Manchester United, signing for a fee of £3,250 in July 1928 and making 48 league appearances without scoring, the first of which came on 15th August 1928 against Liverpool in a game that resulted in a 2-2 draw.  He left Old Trafford in May 1930, trying his hand at management when he became player/manager of Tunbridge Wells.

He agreed to join the new Wigan Athletic football club as manager providing they could get into any kind of League. This was achieved when Latics were  accepted into the Cheshire County League just weeks prior to the start of the 1932/33 season. He promised in return a good competitive football team. He joined Latics earning the above average wage of £6 per week. In fact he was one of the first people in Wigan to own a new fangled invention called a motor car!

He assembled a squad with a fair smattering of Geordies and by the end of the league campaign the Reds (Latics’ kit in those days consisted of red and white quartered shirts with black shorts) finished in 5th position in the league with Charlie himself playing in 39 of the league games.  He made his league debut for Latics in the very first game that the club played in the Cheshire County League, against Port Vale Reserves on 27th August 1932 at Springfield Park.

For the following season (1933/34) Charlie retained just one of the first team squad (apart from himself!) and built, from scratch, another team. The Latics took all before them, never losing a game at Springfield Park and finishing Champions of the Cheshire County League 5 points ahead of rivals Macclesfield Town. Charlie made 1 league appearance and brought an end to his playing career early in the league campaign

The next League campaign (1934/35) saw Latics once again unbeaten at Springfield Park and they won the Championship on goal average from Altrincham and Stalybridge Celtic. In a remarkable two league games in February 1935 Latics scored 21 goals and conceded one. They beat Chester 10-1 and just day later crushed Witton Albion 11-0. The latter result is the record winning margin Latics have ever achieved in a league game.

In addition the Reds finished as runners up in the Lancashire Junior Cup and embarked on an amazing FA Cup run that began with a 6-1 hammering of Third Division North outfit Carlisle United. The score line is still a record FA Cup victory for a non league club over Football League opposition away from home.

By the start of the following 1935/36 season Latics had acquired the nickname of  ‘Arsenal of the Cheshire League’. Chester were the only club to win a League game at Springfield Park and the League Championship trophy found its way into the Springfield Park trophy cabinet for the third time in as many seasons!  In addition the Reds won the Cheshire County League Cup and the Lancashire Junior Cup.

In March 1937 he left Springfield Park to take the vacant manager’s job at First Division outfit, Grimsby Town, taking over from departing manager former Wigan Town player (and future Latics caretaker manager) Mo Atherton.

Meanwhile at Springfield Park, club captain Frank Hancock took over the managership on a caretaker basis until the end of the league campaign. During Charlie’s managership Grimsby reached the FA Cup semi final against Wolves at Old Trafford.  The crowd of 76,962 remains an Old Trafford stadium record.

On leaving Springfield Park Charlie promised to bring his new team to play a fundraising game at Springfield Park.  The advent of the Second World War ensured that Latics would wait a long time to play the game.  However, on 1st May 1950 the game was played in front of a crowd of 16,000 fans who witnessed Sir Tom Finney guest for Latics.  After his stint at Blundell Park, being replaced by George Tweedy in January 1951, Charlie became manager of York City in early 1952 after being on the Latics shortlist of potential managers following the departure from Springfield Park of Bob Pryde. However, it was Ted Goodier who was appointed manager.

As it turned out, somewhat tragically, the Bootham Crescent managership lasted barely six months before ill health put a stop to his managerial career. He passed away in Blackpool, aged just 54 years old, on 19th February 1953. Charlie Spencer truly deserves his place in the Wigan Athletic Hall of Fame.

The accompanying photograph is a colourised version produced by Wigan Athletic die hard George Chilvers.

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