WIGAN BOROUGH – AN ENIGMA.
Having seen three Wigan association football clubs go to the wall the public of Wigan, aided by some wealthy businessmen of the Borough, tried to keep the game alive in the town and in November 1919 a fourth local team was formed and was to be known as Wigan United. This team was an entirely new outfit and had no connections at all with the old 1900/03 Wigan United team.
The new club were to compete in the Lancashire Combination following a decision made at the AGM held in June 1920. The meeting was chaired by a Mr R Watson who was presiding over proceedings as the President, Mr John Lewis, was with the FA team in South Africa at the time.
In total six clubs were elected into the league, the others being Dick Kerrs who successfully applied for re election and Atherton, Leyland, Morecambe and Bacup. Unsuccessful applicants were Leyland Motors (Leyland), Leyland Motors (Chorley) and Bryn.
At the same meeting it was agreed that attendance fees for Lancashire Combination games would be set at 8d, whilst referee’s fees would be increased to 15/, from 12/ 6d.
Springfield Park was unused at the time and so the team played there on alternate weeks. By the start of the 1920/21 season they called Springfield Park home but it was certainly not the most luxurious of homes. The war had ensured that the ground had been completely neglected and whilst the facilities on offer were ‘spacious’ and within easy reach of everybody, they had not been used at all during the war years. Nevertheless the club did erect new dressing rooms and these were paid for by the supporters who paid 6d per game. There were concessions for children and the elderly of 3d per game, whilst a season ticket cost the rather princely sum of 7/6d.
Even before the first game of the season, against South Liverpool at Springfield Park,, the directors of the club were in serious trouble, mainly due to the fact that the players were in fact being paid. At an emergency meeting of the Lancashire FA at the Clarence Hotel it was ordered that the club be wound up.
Wigan United would then have to be reformed and agree to work to the rules, regulations and bye laws of the Lancashire FA. This was to be completed on or before 31st October 1920.
The present board would also have to undertake, by writing, no later than Wednesday the 29th September 1920, to relinquish the running of the club and hand over to a new regime. Finally, no past or present member of Wigan United were to be involved in the new club.
Less than a week later association football supporters of the town were invited to a meeting at the Old Council Chamber, Wigan Borough Courts the purpose of which was to reform the club according to the demands of the Lancashire FA. The chairman of the meeting Alderman WH Angus, (United’s President), Mr Tonge of the United committee and United’s secretary Mr W Ashworth, all claimed that any players paid previously by the club were merely reimbursed for loss of earnings by playing for the club. They bemoaned the fact that this was common practice and could not believe that the LFA had come down so hard on them.
However, speaking of their other financial irregularities they were not so forthcoming and merely put on record that they themselves had taken over from somebody whose ‘secretarial management was unsatisfactory’!
The meeting wound up having decided that the committee would write to the LFA suggesting that the ban on not allowing past or present members of the club to be a part of the new club be scrapped. They also suggested that the punishment for paying players for loss of earnings be punishable by a reasonable fine, or maybe overlooked altogether. They also informed the LFAS that the new club would be funded by the issuing of 2000 shares costing one pound each
The upshot was that the club became known as ‘Wigan Association’ FC. They took over United’s Lancashire Combination obligations and also played at Springfield Park.
Within a couple of weeks though a meeting of the LFA took place in Preston. The meeting was set up to change the new team’s name again. It was reported that the FA vetoed the name ‘ Wigan Association’ because it would be a breach of the agreement made with the Northern Union code. A Mr Sutcliffe, speaking on behalf of Wigan Association stormed. “If that is not red tape what is? How you can confuse Wigan Association with rugby is a mystery to me”.
His comments were of no avail as the chairman of the meeting Mr John Lewis, who must have regretted his decision to allow the original Wigan United to compete in the Lancashire Combination just a few short months previously concluded the meeting.
The club was from that moment named ‘Wigan Borough’. Explaining the decision of the meeting he insisted that there was no trouble between the FA and the NU, but FA and NU rules insisted that two clubs from one authority could not merely affix the term ‘Association’ or ‘Rugby’ after the town’s name.
Wigan Borough’s first Lancashire Combination game at Springfield Park occurred on 21st November 1920 when Bacup Borough were the visitors and a crowd of 4,000 witnessed a 2-2 draw. In fact, it was almost two months before Borough won their first game at Springfield Park when visitors Horwich RMI were beaten 2-0 on 2nd January 1921. The Board at Borough then had the foresight to make public its intention to become a member of the Football League for the start of the following season.
In March 1921 that is exactly what happened and Borough became founder members of the new Third Division North. The town was delighted, the euphoria lasted for weeks and a few friendly fixtures were played during the pre season of 1921/22 and the highlight occurred on 4th May 1921 when Borough actually beat Arsenal 2-1 in a friendly game at Springfield Park.
Borough’s first game in the Third Division North, under the managership of former referee and future Manchester United boss Herbert Bamlett, was against Nelson away from home on 27th August 1921. Nelson scored a goal within a few seconds of the game commencing and 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. The 10,000 spectators went home very happy indeed. The first ever Wigan Borough team. which was in fact the first ever team to play in the Football League lined up as follows,
William Bromilow, Joe Bibby, Bill Jenkinson, Fred Woodward, John Hobson, Owen Williams, Joe Campbell, Frank Hodges, Jimmy Twiss, George Brodie and John Knight.
Borough only had to wait one week, when on 3rd September they beat Nelson 4-1 at home to record their first ever League ‘double’. In those days the fixtures were drawn so that a team played the home and away games against the same opposition before another fixture against a different team. Stockport County proved to be Borough’s bogey team by beating them in their League games, (the very next fixtures after the Nelson games, thus County became the first team to do the ‘double’ over Borough), the Lancashire Cup and the Manchester Senior Cup. Playing for Borough later in the season was former England International player, Bert Freeman who finished the season as the top League goal scorer with 13 goals. Borough finished the season fourth from bottom of the League.
The full list of players who represented Borough in that historic first Football League season was,
Haughton Ackroyd, Bill Ashurst, Geoff Bamfor
th, Harry Baron, Joe Bibby, George Brodie, William Bromilow, John Broster, Ed Brown, Joe Campbell, Dick Carlisle, Bill Chesser, Leigh Collins, Tommy Eatock, Bert Freeman, Chris Harrington, Billy Herbert, John Hobson, Frank Hodges, Bill Hornby, John Houghton, Bill Jenkinson, John Kershaw, Ernie Kidd, John Knight, Tom MacDonald, Arthur Mercer, William Rigby, Tom Scully, Pat Sedgewick, Jimmy Thomas, Jimmy Twiss, Owen Williams, Fred Woodward.
The following season (1922/23) saw the club record their biggest ever Football League nictory 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. The home game against Nelson on 17th February 1923 attracted 15,000 fans and Borough won the game 3-1 with goals by Harry Dennison, an inside forward signed from Southport, Harry Fare and Billy Glover.
The FA Cup provided Borough with the biggest crowd of their short history to date. On 3rd February 1923 Queens Park Rangers were the visitors in the second round proper but Borough lost 4-2 in front of the 25,000 crowd. In the earlier rounds of the competition Borough had beaten Eccles United 4-1 at Springfield Park. In the next round they faced Southport at Haig Avenue and when that game ended in a draw they won the replay 3-1 at home. Walsall were then trounced 3-1 at Fellows Park and Bath City were crushed 4-1 at Springfield Park in the first round proper
The top League goal scorer was Dennison who notched up 15 goals during the campaign. Archie Williams finished with 13 and Glover with 10. Borough finished the season in fifth place and Nelson were the League Champions.
The Borough Reserves finished runners up in the Liverpool County Combination and also won the George Mahon Cup by beating New Brighton Reserves at Springfield Park. The venue of the Final had been decided by the toss of a coin.
New arrivals to feature for Borough that season were,
Tommy Capper, trialist Pete Cowper (who would later play for Wigan Athletic), Sam Currie, Harry Dennison, Harry Fare, Andy Findlay, Paul Fort, Billy Glover, Albert Harrison (another player who was destined to play for Wigan Athletic), Ed Hayes, Richard Higson, Alex Hunter, George Jones, Charlie Leigh, Jimmy Graham, Tom MacIntyre, Jack Pendleton, Henry Spencer, Arthur Stevenson, Bob Stewart, Fred Ward, Frank Whitfield and Archie Williams
In season 1923/24, under the managership of former Woolwich Arsenal player Charlie Bell, Borough defeated Nelson, the previous season’s Champions, in the fifth qualifying round in the FA Cup and were drawn against Northampton Town in the last qualifying round at Springfield Park. The eagerly anticipated clash turned out to be a disaster as Borough were crushed 0-6 in front of 18.000 fans. During the campaign, the club had also reached the Semi Final of the Manchester Senior Cup but lost 0-1 against Manchester City. Earlier in the season, Borough had two players recommended to them by English referee Arthur Roberts. Goalkeeper Jack Brown and wing forward Wally Amos who were both currently playing for Worksop Town but Borough did not even look at the players. Brown later became an England International whilst playing for Sheffield Wednesday and Amos was snapped up by Bury. Borough finished in tenth place in the League, the Champions were Wolverhampton Wanderers, with whom Borough had fought out two draws during the campaign. . The top League goal scorer for Borough was Len Armitage who netted 22 times. Glover scored 11.
Playing for Borough around this time for the second string was Oliver Sommers. He later became a sports shop owner and had two premises in Mesnes Street one of which was a gun shop, the other a cycle shop in the 1970’s. He was a much-respected trader in the town of Wigan.
New arrivals to feature for Borough that season were,
Len Armitage, John Boylen, Charlie Cook, Tommy Davis, Jack Jennings, Billy Kettle, Jimmy McRae, Jimmy McGrahan, Angus McKinnon, Bill Morton, Arthur Ormston, George Rae, Andy Smith and Arthur Welsby.
By the end of the following season (1924/25) Borough, had reached the Semi-Final stage of the Manchester Senior Cup again but ended up losing the tie to Bury by 2-1 at Springfield Park. Borough reached the fifth qualifying round of the FA Cup but were beaten by Bradford 1-0 at Springfield Park.
On 1st January 1925 Wigan Borough beat a Glasgow Select team 6-4 at Springfield Park in a friendly. Borough finished the season in eleventh place in the League. Playing for Borough during that campaign was former Manchester United, Manchester City and Stockport County player Wilf Woodcock. The top League goal scorer was Glover with 19 goals and he was followed by Mercer with 11 and Kettle with 8.
New arrivals to the club that season included,
Jimmy Bradley, Jimmy Brown, Tom Fenner, Alex Ferguson, Hugh Forshaw, John Goodwin, Wally Hale, Albert Leeming, Jack Marshall, Harry Morris, Pete Pursell, Herbie Simpson, Henry Spencer, Tom Ward and Wilf Woodcock
In season 1925/26 Borough who were then managed by former Charlton Athletic manager Walter Raynor, had a disastrous campaign in which they finished sixth from bottom of the League. It wasn’t all doom and gloom because the club had unearthed a young local talent called Dickinson who became the club’s record goal scorer when he scored 32 goals during the campaign.
Borough also reached the third round proper of the FA Cup, losing 2-5 to Stoke City at Springfield Park on 9th January 1926 in front of a 15,000 crowd. In the first round proper they had beaten Nelson 3-0 at Springfield Park. Crewe Alexandra were also sent packing from Springfield Park with a 2-1 defeat in round two. Top League goal scorer was Billy Dickinson. Fenner had scored 15 League goals and Sam Sayer had scored 12.
Incidentally, late in 1925 a severe storm in the Wigan area devastated Springfield Park. In January 1926 the local newspaper, the ‘Wigan Examiner’ set up a subscription fund to help with the cost of repairing the ground and one of the main contributors to the fund was the Wigan Rugby Club who donated 10 pounds and 10 shillings to the cause.
New arrivals during the season were,
Jimmy Barrington, Ron Blake, Tom Brandon, John Callagher, Sam Collier, Jimmy Dickinson, Billy Dickinson, John Dunn, Tom Fleming, Bert Humpish (another player to later appear in a Wigan Athletic kit), George Johnson, Charlie Jones, Jimmy Keen, Tommy Mandy, Jack Moran, Pat Nelis, Jimmy Riddell, Ernie Salt, Sam Sayer, Bob Scorer, Arthur Welsby, William Winter and George Yates.
Walter Raynor was banned from club management by the FA at the end of the campaign following irregularities being uncovered by his former club Charlton Athletic, for whom he was manager and secretary. He was replaced by first team coach Angus McKinnon who remained in the post until the end of Borough’s penultimate, full league campaign.
Season 1926/27 was even more disastrous when Borough finished fifth from bottom of the League. The Manchester Senior Cup provided some good results, with Borough defeating Oldham Athletic and Manchester City before going down 1-0 in the Semi Final to Manchester United. Scoring wonder boy Dickinson broke the individual goal scoring record for the second season running when he scored 34 goals. Don’t forget this total was scored whilst playing for a struggling team.
The FA Cup saw Borough beat Barrow in a first round proper replay but in the next round Crewe Alexandra progressed at Borough’s expense. Angus McKinnon found himself working under cash restraints as financial worries began biting at Springfield Park but he still managed to bring in a few new faces of his own, namely,
Albert Barnett, George Cooke, Jim Finney, Dick Gaskell, John Goodwin, Tom Helsby, Joe Hodgkinson, Alf Jewett, David Robb, Johnny McGuire, Frank Sheldon and Tommy Wilson.
Season 1927/28 finally saw the prolific Dickinson transferred to Nottingham Forest a
nd as a result Borough finished third from bottom of the League. He had scored 19 goals prior to his move. Manchester City defeated Borough in the Semi Final of the Manchester Senior Cup. There was also acute embarrassment when Rhyl Athletic 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. The Board decided to stick with McKinnon, suspecting that his vast footballing experience (over fifteen years at Arsenal) would pull the club through these rock times. With regards to transfer funds, he was having to sell before he could buy and most of his signings during the campaign had been free transfers namely,
Billy Barrowman, John Bryce, Billy Fisher, Ted Glover, Denis Lawson, Billy Oxley, Bert Potter, George Shaw, Charlie Tillbrook and Jimmy Walker
Against all the odds, McKinnon ensured that season 1928.29 was the best in Borough’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 marvellous 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 team that lined up in that historic game was,
Charlie Preedy, Jack Moran, Billy Dennis, Bert ‘Teddy’ Humpish, Tom Wilson, Bert Potter, Bobby Hughes, Billy Welsh, Wilf Lievesley, Ernie Cockle and Tommy Lindsay.
The top League goal scorer for Borough at the end of the campaign was Wilf Lievesley with 19 goals and Cecil Smith also netted 17 times. The players that McKinnon had signed to turn around the club’s fortunes were,
Ernie Cockle (who was installed as the first team trainer), Billy Dennis, Henry Green, Tommy Harris, Jimmy Holmes, Bob Hughes, Wilf Lievesley, Tommy Lindsay, Albert Potter, Charlie Preedy, Cecil Smith and John Wakefield.
The following season (1929/30 saw Borough win the Manchester Senior Cup by beating Manchester City 3-2 in the Final after extra time. But things had definitely gone downhill after almost gaining promotion the previous season and Borough finally finished the season fifth from bottom of the League and crowds were down again. McKinnon’s player recruitment plans were virtually non existent as cash restraints were crippling the club. He still managed to bring in a few players, but it was to the detriment of the team because some really good pro’s had to leave the club before he could fund the arrivals of,
John Berry, Henry Codd, Bob Collins, Bill Green, Stan Horrocks, Mick Kilhoury, Jackie Mittell, Tommy Pearson, Arthur Phoenix, Herbert Reddyhough, Arthur Rimmer, Tommy Scurr and John Simmons
Realising that the efforts of the previous campaign would never happen again, due to the Board selling off all of the club’s best players, McKinnon left his post at the end of the campaign and a man with virtually no football experience, Leslie Aldred took over Springfield Park hot seat.
Season 1930/31, under Aldred, saw forty years old Frank Barson the ex England Aston Villa and Manchester United centre half playing for Borough. In 1920 Frank had won a FA Cup Winners medal whilst playing for Villa in their 1-0 win over Huddersfield Town at Stamford Bridge. By the second half of the season gates were pitiful and the club was in serious danger of folding. The club was finding it difficult to even pay the players’ wages.
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 Borough were fighting for their lives. Borough’s constant policy of selling their best players to survive led to full back Jack Moran joining Tottenham Hotspur and inside left Arthur Welsby being transferred to Sunderland. Borough also resorted to selling season tickets for the next season whilst this one was still in progress. 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. Borough finished the season in tenth place. Just 600 fans turned up to see Borough’s last game of the season against Gateshead at Springfield Park.
Aldred’s new signing’s for the hugely disappointing league campaign were,
Frank Barson, Jimmy Bimson, Billy Crewe, Owen Dorrans, Billy Down, Harry Entwistle, Bill Fairhurst, Jack Flanagan, Jack Hallem, Arthur Hartley, John Jepson, Thomas Jobe, Joe Johnson, Tom Kelly, Mick Murray, Bill Rigby, Les Russell, Jimmy Scullion and Ed Seabrook.
With the exception of Frank Barson, there was very little League experience within the team and things on the footballing side were almost as bleak as the financial plight, then again, maybe not!
The tenth Annual General Meeting of the club held on 10th August 1931, for which hardly anybody turned up, was taken up by finding ways to save money and it was at this meeting that it was first agreed to sell advertising spaces on the stands and hoardings on the ground. The club had serious problems, for a start they were in arrears of rates and taxes. There were unpaid transfer fees, stretching back several seasons, which needed paying and as a result of this the Football Association had barred the club from spending in the transfer market. In addition to these problems there were still a lot of unpaid players around the place who were never going to play for the club again.
Meanwhile, the League Management Committee was concerned about goings on at the club and the Board had no option but to stage a public meeting at which the club’s problems were laid bare. There was a huge wage bill, expenditure was exceeding income, and in short the club had liabilities of more than £30,000 a massive sum in those days. Borough’s Honorary Secretary Frank Platt a solicitor whose business was based in King Street prepared a reconstruction scheme for the club. All the present Directors were to resign and ten shillings shares were offered to the public of Wigan who were then asked to show their commitment to the cause. The League Management Committee approved this scheme; unfortunately the people of Wigan were not supporting the idea. A Mr John Worswick offered a £1,000 donation to the cause and Preston North End football club even dismissed an outstanding transfer fee owed to them. It was decided that Borough would send out invitations to local amateurs to join the club. The only other players with any kind of professional standing arriving at the club were Sammy Sharp from Crewe Alexandra, Tommy Moon from Barrow and Bill Wade from West Ham United and even then, all these players were rejects from their previous clubs.
1931/32 proved to be the final season in which Borough operated. The first match of the season saw Borough pitted against Chester City at Sealand Road. This was Chester’s first ever Football League game and Borough 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 Borough 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 Mick Kilhoury and Jack 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. The last Borough team lined up as follows,
Jackie Mittell, Arthur Hartley, Bill Wade, Jack Hallam, Jack Martin, Henry Hurst, James Cherry, Mick Kilhoury, Albert Valentine, Alf Oakes and Tommy Moon.
Just for the record, Jackie Mittell went on to ply his trade at Birmingham City, Luton Town, Derry City, Hartlepool United, Barrow and Tunbridge Wells Rangers. Arthur Hartley was one of the local amateurs picked up by Borough and he never played the game professionally for the rest of his career.
Bill Wade never played for a professional team again, whilst Jack Hallam had trials with Stockport County and Fulham, both club’s didn’t fancy him and he ended his career playing non league football. Henry Hurst was another amateur who tried to help out the club in its hour of need; he also never played the game professionally again. Wigan born James Cherry went on to play for Northampton Town and Walsall whilst Mick Kilhoury signed for Sheffield United immediately after this game.
Higher Ince born Albert Valentine signed for Crewe Alexandra for whom he scored twice in five appearances before finding himself once again in non league football with Macclesfield Town. Little did he know that the best part of his Football League career was yet to come. In 1934 he signed for Halifax Town and in almost three years at the Shay he made 114 appearances and scored an incredible 89 goals in the process! 1937 saw him playing for Stockport County, but he never made a first team appearance at Edgeley Park and so he joined Accrington Stanley, making 7 appearances and scoring once before finishing his Football League career with Oldham Athletic. After scoring 3 goals in 4 appearances for the Boundary Park outfit he finished his career where it had started, Ince St Mary’s.
Alf Oakes finished his playing days at Frickley Colliery and Stalybridge Celtic, finally, along with Alf, Tommy Moon also left Springfield Park for non league football with Frickley Colliery before winding up his career with Dick Kerrs.
Manager, Leslie Aldred walked out of the game for ever.
Wigan Borough did play one more game. The Reserve team won Southport Reserves 2-1 at Haig Avenue. The club then went into voluntary liquidation on 26th October 1931 after ten years and three months in the Football League Division Three North. Their League record for the season was expunged from the record books.
Professional Association Football was finished in Wigan until the advent of Wigan Athletic in 1932. The rest, as they say, is history.
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