From the archives by ‘Orrible Ives
Ere listen!! I’ve been meaning to put this bit together for quite a while now but never got round to it. So when I heard Terry Thomas’ tale about his walk over The Gant at the Mudhuts Nostalgia night I thought I’d have a go. And before any of you even think that the title is something to do with shooting my muck up Martin Offiah let me tell you right now that it’s NOT!!
It was round about 1973-74 that I first attended Springfield Park. Rather than take the long walk over The Gant like most good Norley Hallers & Worsley Hallers did I got a lift off my Grandad. Not in a Morris Marina or Vauxhall Viva like most people did. Oh no. Ives went in one of the light blue three wheeled Invacars. You know the ones I mean. They looked like a whistle and were made from fibreglass.
My Grandad had one due to him losing a leg in the war. He was one of the few people in Wigan who had one. They were far better than the bloke who used to go to Wigan Rugby in that other contraption where he used to pedal a cart with his arms (hope someone remember him). The Invacars were known to a lot of people as “Spaz chariots” in those politically incorrect days. I didn’t know that at the time. It was years later I found out. Bastards, that was my Grandad!
Inside the Invacar there was no steering wheel. It was a motorbike handlebar steering mechanism.The driver’s seat slid sideways rather than backwards and forwards. There was also a little shelf behind the driver’s seat which I think was for putting shopping on. That was where my five year old bony arse went for the journey. There was also a metal plate stuck to the dashboard that said “Passenger carrying is forbidden”.
It was simple to drive as well. Just take the handbrake off and give it a rev. Away you go. You didn’t go so fast though. Around fifteen miles an hour if I remember correctly. This is the reason he’d pick me up at around half six so we could make a half seven kick off in midweek. He’d pick me up at around quarter to two on weekends.
We’d set off and make our way down Montrose Avenue. As we got to the Monty pub we’d usually take a left to miss the lights out that are now at the Red Robin (Ives = Always thinking of the young readers). The left we took was always a bit scary. A long twisty road where you had to dodge lads in parkas riding rig-up bikes.
We’d then turn left onto Scot Lane and go past the two houses on their own on the right that were the halfway marker in Pem Middle’s cross country course. We’d go up by The Bridgewater pub and this is where my Grandad would say “Get down!! There’s some policemen living up here”. I’d duck down and spend the next couple of minutes in tears thinking I was going to be arrested.
We’d drive up by GUS then take a right onto Woodhouse. If we could get on Woodhouse by 7pm on weekdays there was a good chance we’d see kick off. My Grandad never took the normal route though which I thought was get to The Odd Bottle and swing left onto Springfield Road. He would take a left at the shop just before then weave his way through the terraced streets to miss out The Odd Bottle lights. He didn’t care a jot that this is where a lot of fighting took place.
During the ride there to the Sheffield Wednesday FA Cup game I remember a couple of policemen had to tell him to reverse and find another way or they’d use the chariot as weapons to hit each other. We’d get into First Avenue and this is the bit I enjoyed. Hearing the tannoy with the team being read out. Seeing people buying programmes. People waiting around on corners for their mates and not forgetting the bloke who was telling us that we’d all sinned and would be judged by God. We would the make our way over the car park and arrive at the gates at what became the away end. This was the best bit.
Because my Grandad was in his car he got in for free every game but…… because I wasn’t meant to be in the car I’d have to hide. I’d lay down on the floor and out would come a big f*cking blanket. He’d cover me with the blanket and wait until his mate who opened the gate came and let us in. Looking back I think I started the trend that later became famous by The Yorkshire Ripper and other great criminals on their way to court. Oh yes!! Ives was the first.
We’d get into the ground and take our spot. Sometimes we’d be in front of the paddock at the side of the tunnel and sometimes we’d be behind the away goals on the Shevy end. I prefered the paddock because when he slid his door open and I sat on the step I could actually touch the grass with my feet. I’d see the players close up and get a good sniff of wintergreen throughout the games.
Being behind the Shevy end was a bit of a nightmare really. There were no ball boys in those days so if the ball went behind I’d run and get it. Had a few bollockings off golakeepers in the last few minutes. Shouts of “Hurry up you little prick” or “get a f*cking move on” were heard. If it was raining though we’d close he door and put the windows up and let them get it themselves.
The matches though were brilliant. My Grandad would tell me on the way who we were playing. Teams like Great Harwood, Netherfield, Mossley, Goole, all playing at Springfield. One Goole game sticks out because the night we played them I didn’t know there was a game on and had settled down to watch King Kong on TV. That was until my Grandad turned up and said we had a game that night. I’ve still never seen King Kong but it was worth it because we won easily.
When the game started I’d be mesmerised. Sat on the touchline with Micky Worswick only a metre away. Jumping out the car when John Rogers put one in the net. Listening to my Grandad shout “Good lad owd Gilly” whenever Gillibrand made a tackle. But his favourite was “Hit him Kenny!!” whenever Kenny Morris lined up a tackle. Yes my Grandad was old skool when it came to football. His thoughts were old fashioned but he knew his stuff.
My favourite quote though was one he said many times. “I know you like Johnny Rogers because he scores. And I know you like Micky because he’s quick and dribbles. But don’t forget…Johnny King is the greatest”.
My Grandad loved Johnny King. He said that not only was he the hardest player in football he was also brilliant. He said he had everything. “Johnny King is the greatest” is something I still believe to this day.
The Sheffield Wednesday and York FA Cup ties stick clearly in my mind. During the Wednesday game Maurice Whittle made a slide tackle and actually studded the wing on the chariot. It was cracked and you could see the mud and studmark clearly. I told him never to wash his car again or get it fixed. There was a rumour that Maurice was gonna sue my Grandad for asbestosis but that never happened.
We also got rocked that day off the Wednesday fans. The bastards rocked his car for about ten minutes. It was like being on a boat. My Grandad also used to tell me that Wigan Athletic were a massive club and one that I should always be proud of. During those non league days he’d tell me how we deserved to be a league club. I believed him.
I was sat in Ken’s Barber shop chair in Pem the moment I found out we’d got into the league. I had to check with Ken and he said “Yes you are in the league”. I couldn’t wait to get out the chair. If he’d let me walk out that shop with half a haircut that day I would. I ran to my house and told my mam I was going to see my Grandad. I legged it down to Worsley Hall where he lived.
When I got inside he had a massive smile and I said “You always said we’d do it”. His face was a picture. I went to the first few home games with him but he went into hospital for a couple of months so I’d have t
o go with my uncle. I’d still visit him in hospital every Saturday and tell him the score and how we’d played.
It was when he was in hospital he said “One day we will be in Division One. I may not be around to see it but mark my words they will get there. Again I believed him. The day after we beat Reading to get to the Premier League I went to Ince Cemetry. I lay some blue & white flowers on his grave & a simple note that read “You said we’d do it”.
Those early days for me are still the greatest. The memories of Johnny King being the greatest, the rocking of the chariot by away fans, the coppers’ house on the way, the cheer from the St Andrews End as the ball hit the car, the irate goalkeepers, the gateman who knew all along that I was in the car with my Grandad, The Yorkshire Ripper blanket and last but not least remembering my Grandad ask me if i wanted to go watch Latics at Buxton away one Saturday. Then telling me’d have to pick me up at 5am so we could get there on time.
It cost me nothing to do all that but I’d have give every penny I have to be able to do it all again.
Never forget – “Johnny King is the greatest!”
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