Wigan Borough FC: The Managers

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For the first time ever, on any Wigan Athletic fans site, is the story of the men who managed Wigan Borough. This has been compiled to complement the Wigan Borough Player’s A to Z which is featured exclusively on this site. The reader will now have an almost complete insight into just what Wigan Borough were all about in those far off days.

Working on this project has been a labour of love and it is my own personal tribute to the long forgotten players and officials of a club that deserves it’s place in the history of Sport in Wigan.

As before, there have been many painstaking hours spent in ensuring the facts contained within the project are correct. I would fervently hope that people, who can remember this generation of footballers, could help put the record straight should some errors have inadvertently crept in.

Completion of this work has finally provided the reader with the most comprehensive library of Wigan Borough related material to date.

BAMLETT, Herbert

Wigan Borough’s first Football League manager was a former Football League referee called Mr Herbert S Bamlett. He still is the youngest referee ever to take charge of a FA Cup Final and he achieved this unique feat when he was just 32 years old. No doubt the most memorable game he officiated in was the 1909 FA Cup quarter final tie between Manchester United and Burnley. He decided to call the game off because of a torrential blizzard and was too cold to blow the whistle, opting to let United’s Charlie Roberts do the deed. Unbeknownst to Herbert, he was later to manage United and his decision that day eventually led to United winning the trophy that season! Unfortunately that was the only good thing he did for United, more of which later. 

The last match in which he officiated was the 1914 FA Cup Final between Burnley and Liverpool which the Turf Moor team won 1-0 in what was the last FA Cup Final to be held at Crystal Palace. Prior to this game he had officiated in an England v Scotland clash on 4th April 1914 at Hampden Park which England won 3-1 in front of a crowd of 105.000.

He had never played the game professionally but after retiring from his refereeing duties he found that he missed the game enormously and decided to think about doing the next best thing to playing the game and that was, of course, managing a team.

He took his first tentative steps into club management when, on 1st June 1914, he became manager of Oldham Athletic and what’s more, they had their best ever season under his managership when they finished runners up in Division One at the end of season 1914/15. He stayed at Boundary Park until being called up for active service during WW I and resumed his Boundary Park services on his de-mob in 1919. There he stayed until 1st May 1921.

It was from Oldham that he joined Wigan Borough. Herbert’s first game in charge was a Third Division North game against Nelson away from home on 27th August 1921. The game, Borough’s first as a Football League club, saw Nelson score a goal within a few seconds of the game commencing and thus they became the first ever team to score a goal in the newly formed League at Borough’s expense. Still, goals from Hodges and Twiss made sure that Borough ran out winners by 2-1 in front of a 10,000 crowd. Herbert was still in charge when Boro recorded their biggest ever Football League win when they defeated Lincoln City 9-1 at Springfield Park on 3rd March 1923. The Lincoln goalkeeper, Jack Kendall, was stretchered off the field after Borough scored their first goal when he was knocked unconscious.

However, after two seasons at the Springfield Park helm he took charge of Middlesbrough on 1st August 1923. His time at Ayresome Park saw the team relegated from the First Division during his first season in charge, followed by promotion back to the top flight, followed once more by relegation. He was sacked on 1st January 1926 and the season for Boro then resulted in promotion back to top-flight football.

He then went on to become arguably Manchester United’s worst ever manager. He took up the role on 1st April 1927 and in his first three seasons at Old Trafford United finished in 18th, 12th and then 17th place. Season 1930/31 saw United fail to win any of their opening 12 games and things did not improve much for Herbert and on 1st April 1931 he was sacked. The team was relegated to Division Two at the end of the season and they had conceded a staggering 115 League goals in the process.

BELL, Charlie

Charles Oliver Bell was born in Dumfries on 18th May 1894. He started his footballing career as a junior with Dumfries Wanderers, and after a short spell at Douglas Wanderers, he decided to move down south, signing for Carlisle City. By the start of season 1913/14 he had travelled even further south having been offered a contract by Woolwich Arsenal. He never really made the grade as a Football League player but the only game he ever played for the London based outfit resulted in him netting twice! His period in London also saw the club move to Highbury and drop the name Woolwich from their title.

Disillusioned with the full time game, he stayed down south and played for a number of Non League teams including Chesterfield Town and Barrow. The outbreak of the First World War makes the rest of Charlie’s playing career hard to keep track of, although it is believed he also took in a short spell at Queens Park Rangers before the hostilities. He played for the Army and was proved to be a great leader of men as he progressed to the rank of Captain and Adjutant.

Hanging up his playing boots at a relatively early age he decided that the management game was for him and he chose to start his management career at Sporting Lisbon as a coach, moving on to manage the team and guiding them to the Lisbon Championship in 1922.

He moved back to England and it was after short spells as a coach at Reading and Notts County that he arrived at Boro to replace Herbert Bamlett in the Springfield Park hot seat in June 1923, becoming only the second ever manager of Wigan Borough to that date.

There had been over a hundred applications for the job and the chairman Mr John Heaton Jr, who himself had just been re appointed to the position, was confident that the board had made the correct choice in appointing him.

However, he was only to remain manager until February 1924 during which the club finished the campaign in a fairly respectable 10th position thanks to his successor, Garside Wallace who had previously been Bell’s assistant.

Early in the season, Bell had two players recommended to him by English referee Arthur Roberts. Goalkeeper Jack Brown and wing forwa

rd Wally Amos both of whom were currently playing for Worksop Town but Charlie did not even look at the players. Ironically, Brown later became an England International whilst playing for Sheffield Wednesday and Amos was snapped up by Bury.

On leaving Springfield Park he became the first team coach of Italian outfit Padova before returning for another brief stint at Sporting Lisbon before becoming the manager of Marseille. He spent one season at Marseille where he guided the outfit to runners up spot in the French Championship before returning back to Britain for good.

In 1934 he became the manager of Mansfield Town for two seasons before one last job in management at Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic which is just about as far from his native Dumfries as it was possible to get!

He passed away in 1939, aged just 45, three months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War.

The Rec.Sports Soccer Statistics Foundation claims that Charlie was in fact born in Cambridge, and that he died in his hometown of Dumfries.

WALLACE, Garfield

Garfield was a former board member of the club whose duties in the early days of the club’s formation also included working as the assistant club secretary to Herbert Bamlett. He was appointed as Charlie Bell’s assistant within days of Bell’s own appointment. Following Bell’s resignation he took over as caretaker manager.  He remained as manager until the appointment of William Rayner. 

RAYNER, J William

William, a former Tottenham Hotspur coach, has no record of ever having played for any club, Non League or otherwise, but he succeeded the departed Charlie Bell for the start of the 1925/26 league campaign, after a stint as manager of Charlton Athletic, whom he had managed from 1921 until the summer of 1925. His spell as manager at the Valley coincided with the club’s first season as a professional club in the Third Division South and his tenure of the Charlton hot seat ended in controversy when he was sacked due to alleged financial irregularities in the summer of 1925.

Early in January 1926 was the period in which the end of Rayner’s tenure of the Springfield Park managership began to unwind. Boro had been draw against Second Division outfit Stoke City and the match played at Springfield Park was the beginning of the end for William. In the second half of the game he had seen what appeared to be a legitimate goal chalked off by the referee, Kirby. The whole team was wound up and Tommy Fleming was then sent off for a foul on the Potters’ Bobby Archibald, so incenses was William at the perceived injustice, he refused to divulge Fleming’s Christian name to him.

This led to Fleming being suspended for 28 days, but the consequences were far more scathing for Rayner. He was suspended from his duties as Boro manager for the remainder of the season on 19th February 1926. His former captain at Charlton Athletic, and current Boro reserve team coach Angus McKinnon, took over as caretaker manager with immediate effect

William never managed the club again.


Angus was born in Paisley on 8th December and started his career at junior side Petershill before moving south of the border to join Carlisle United, who were not a league club at the time. He went on to have a very distinguished career with Woolwich Arsenal, with whom he remained following their move to Highbury in 1913 to become the club we all know today as Arsenal. Signing in May 1908 he made 211 league appearances and scored four league goals in a Gunners career, including a friendly appearance against Boro just prior to their first season in the Third Division North, that was to last for 15 years and through the First World War, during which he was a driver for the Royal Field Artillery.

His reward for such distinguished club service was a free transfer to Charlton Athletic in the summer of 1922 where he stayed for one season making fifteen league appearances without scoring.

The Addicks were managed by William Rayner at the time and he followed his manager to Springfield Park as Rayner drew on his vast experience, giving him the role of first team coach.

He commenced his Boro managerial duties at the start of season 1926/27 following the Rayner scandal, and he was to remain manager until the start of the club’s final, full league campaign in 1930/31. His first full campaign in charge was even more disastrous than Raynor’s previous one, as Boro finished fifth from bottom of the League. However, the Manchester Senior Cup provided some good results, with Boro defeating Oldham Athletic and Manchester City before going down 1-0 in the Semi Final to Manchester United. Scoring wonder kid, Billy Dickinson broke the individual goal scoring record for the second season running when he scored 34 goals and without this magnificent contribution the club would no doubt have been condemned to non league football at the end of what was a very frustrating campaign.

Season 1927/28 finally saw the prolific Dickinson transferred to Nottingham Forest and as a result Boro finished third from bottom of the League. He had scored 19 goals prior to his move. Manchester City defeated Boro in the Semi Final of the Manchester Senior Cup. There was also acute embarrassment when Rhyl knocked Borough out of the FA Cup by winning 4-3. The club was struggling. Crowds had been dwindling for the last few seasons and the financial state of the club was becoming critical. McKinnon was hanging onto his job by his fingernails, and just as time seemed to be running out, he used the last remnants of his vast footballing experience to arrest the alarming slide.

Season 1928/29 saw Angus become a local hero as the league campaign was the best in Boro’s history as they only narrowly missed out on promotion to Football League Division Two before eventually finishing in fourth place in the League. In addition to this marvelous League run the club reached the Semi Final of the Manchester Senior Cup and the third round of the Lancashire Cup.

These achievements were put in the shade by their FA Cup exploits though. Borough had beaten Ashington 2-0 and Grantham 2-1 at Springfield Park in the first and second round proper of the competition and their reward was a plum tie against the current Football League Division One leaders Sheffield Wednesday at home.

This match, played on 12th January 1929, attracted the all time record crowd at Springfield Park of 30,443. Unfortunately Borough ended up 1-3 losers.

The following season, which was Angus’ last in charge, saw Boro win the Manchester Senior Cup by beating Manchester City 3-2 in the Final after extra time. Things had definitely gone downhill after almost gain

ing promotion the previous season and Borough finally finished the season fifth from bottom of the League and crowds were down again. Realising that the previous season’s success were just a ‘flash in the pan’, and disillusioned with the town’s support of the club as a whole Angus walked away from Springfield Park.

After a five year break from the game he then joined New Brighton in 1935 and he stayed at the club for over twenty seven years working in a number of roles, mainly as first team coach. He passed away in 1968.

ALDRED, Leslie

The final manager of the club was another man of no professional playing experience by the name of Leslie Aldred. Without a shadow of a doubt he presided over the most turbulent period of the club’s history. His main claim to fame is the signing of footballing superstar Frank Barson, whether or not Aldred is the manager with whom Barson negotiated a contract by pointing a gun at him is not known!

On Boxing Day 1930 Barson, the most fearsome centre-half of the era (and the man who was sent off more times than any other player) played his last game for the club against Accrington Stanley at Springfield Park (yes, he was sent off) and from that moment on Boro were fighting for their lives. Aldred had to sell his best players to survive and this led to full back John Moran joining Tottenham Hotspur and inside left Arthur Welsby being transferred to Sunderland. The club even resorted to selling season tickets for the next season whilst the current one was still in its infancy.

It must be remembered that this period in history coincided with the Great Depression and the club was always fighting a losing battle as people stopped spending money on many forms of leisure as the depression bit deep. Boro finished the season in tenth place. Just 600 fans turned up to see Boro’s last game of the season, against Gateshead, at Springfield Park.

1931/32 proved to be the final season in which the club operated. The first match of the season saw Boro pitted against Chester at Sealand Road. This was Chester’s first ever Football League game and Boro were humiliated by losing 0-4. Their share of the 13,000 gate, which amounted to about £100, was swallowed up by debts. Their next two games were a 3-1 (Oakes 2, Stevenson) win over Hull City at Springfield Park and a 1-1 (Oakes) draw at Hartlepool United. Any signs of an upturn in form were quickly dashed when Boro were beaten 3-0 by Lincoln City at Springfield Park 3-4 (Valentine 2, Moon) and by Crewe Alexandra away from home, they were now third from bottom of the League. Home defeats by Lincoln City (0-3) and Darlington (0-5) dropped them to next to the bottom, and the team morale was shattered. The first game in October saw Borough suffer a 0-3 defeat at Walsall and Borough had hit rock bottom. Despite everything going wrong for them the team then managed to beat promotion chasing Gateshead 2-1 (Kilhoury, Oakes) at Springfield Park but this proved to be their last ever Football League victory.

Their last ever game at Springfield Park took place on 17th October 1931 where Borough managed to beat Carlisle United 3-2 courtesy of two goals from Kilhoury and Hallam scoring the other. Their last Football League game was against Wrexham at the Racecourse Ground on Saturday 24th October 1931 and the Welshmen crushed Borough 0-5.

Boro did play one more game as the reserves beat their Southport counterparts 2-1 at Haig Avenue. Many of the Boro team did go on to have decent careers in the game. Leslie Aldred walked out of Springfield Park and the game of football for ever.

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