Wigan Athletic’s record ‘friendly’ crowd at Springfield Park!

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This photograph is the perfect keepsake of a unique game played at Springfield Park. The crowd, as you can see was rammed, and so it should have been because the game in question provided Wigan Athletic’s largest ever crowd to witness a non competitive match whilst they were based at their old home.

Just for the record the attendance was 16,000 and the opposition on this day, the first of May 1950, was Grimsby Town.   The game was a friendly that was agreed between the two clubs an unbelievable thirteen years previously.   Latics’ first ever manager Charlie Spencer having won everything there was to win with a club like Wigan Athletic, was lured to then First Division outfit Grimsby Town in March 1937, saving the Mariners from relegation.

Part of the deal was that he would bring his new star studded side to Springfield Park to play a money spinning friendly against his former team. However, the following season he guided Grimsby Town to the FA Cup semi final at Old Trafford and fitting the fixture into the Mariners’ schedule was proving difficult. Then there was a further delay and both clubs could do absolutely nothing about it, because the delay in question was the Second World War!

 Charlie, an ex England international and FA Cup winner with Newcastle United, never forgot his promise to his former club and the game finally took place in between a Lancashire Junior Cup semi final and semi final replay against Nelson. Latics had a few big guns of their own for this game including the mercurial Billy Lomax, Ernie Rothwell and Bobby Finan, but even so they also enlisted the services of Blackburn Rovers stars Derek Leaver and Fred Ashworth, along with Preston North End’s Tom Finney!

Grimsby by now were in the Second Division and Latics were in the Lancashire Combination and despite the helping hand from their guest players Latics were beaten 3-5 with Leaver netting twice for Latics, who he was to later play for, and Arthur Vickers scoring Latics’ third goal from the penalty spot. So finally Charlie had fulfilled his long term pledge.

Charlie himself was fated for a dismissal from the Mariners shortly afterwards. After a short time as manager of Hastings United he was appointed manager of Third Division North side York City on 23rd November 1952. He sadly died on 9th February 1953 aged just 53 years old.

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