Archive | January, 2016

You are my Sunshine

7 Jan

You are my Sunshine

England was a troubled and turbulent place in 1942; the 2nd World War overshadowed everything, well nearly everything. Life went on as best it could around the terraced streets of Wigan. I dare say the children of the day would have been quite pleased that soap rationing meant that Mam could only use one bar of soap a week and bath water was set at a maximum of 5 inches. That joy would have been offset by the sweet rationing of 2oz of toffee a week.

Enid Blyton penned her first book in the Famous Five series this particular year “Five on a Treasure Island” but I preferred the more robust “The Secret Seven” books myself. It was also the year that saw the first release of the perennial Christmas favourite “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby. Another of Bing’s songs wcover of the first Famous Five book, Five on a Treasure Islandas also popular in 1942 and this one would resonate throughout the life of the baby born amongst the smoking chimneys and terraces of Springfield… “You are my Sunshine”

Allan Smith was born in a football loving family, his Granddad could trace his supporting lineage back to Wigan Borough and Allan’s Dad, Alf, was a diehard Wigan Athletic supporter too. Allan was born in Baytree Road a goal kick away from Springfield Park and Wigan Athletic is in his blood. I managed to grab a few words with Allan over the summer and here’s what he had to say…

Did your family support the latics?

“I was born on Baytree Road and my Dad and Granddad were massive latics fans. My Granddad supported Wigan Borough and later the latics. He had an enamel badge that the Supporters Club produced when Wigan Athletic were formed in 1932. I had it in a drawer for years but later gave it to a young lad who collected badges and was a diehard latics fan. I’ve given loads of memorabilia away to people that I thought would appreciate them”

“My Dad played football as did my Granddad who played football for “Oldfield Breweries” I played for my junior school St Andrews and all through my school years. At 15/16yrs of age I played for Wigan Rovers Reserves at Newtown under the tutelage of Duncan Colquhoun. Rovers played at a decent level back then and of course I’ve seen them play against Wigan Athletic. I later played for Goose Green in the Sunday League”

Can you recall the first game that you went to?

“I can indeed I was 6yrs old and by now we had moved to Railway Street near the Brick. I was taken to a friendly game against Grimsby Town and 16,000 packed into the ground to watch the likes of Tom Finney and Nat Lofthouse guesting for the latics. I can remember this huge crowd of people and for some reason the goalkeeper Frank Woolley stuck in my mind”

sprin50s

“Another thing I’ll always remember from being a child living in Railway Street was the tremendous queue of buses that used to line up on the roads to ferry the supporter’s home from games. Not many people had cars back then so all the buses used to line up waiting for the game to finish. They would stretch from Springfield Park down to the cleansing department of Frog Lane sometimes. We would always play on the buses, ringing the bell and pestering the conductors for ticket rolls to play with”

What was it like being a kid in the early 1950’s?

“We had a great time, of course in those days you didn’t have much, no telly’s, no gaming consoles etc., so we created our own entertainment and I was lucky I loved my sport. When I was 10yr old I used to go to games with my mates and we would sometimes sneak into Springfield Park through a hole in the fence at the Shevington end. Now and again if we got fed up with the match we’d play cowboys and Indians in those trees at that end. I also went watching the rugby in the hen pen and saw Billy Boston make his debut for the “A” team but latics were always my team”

“My Dad had a 1935 BSA motorbike and we’d go to Oulton Park, Belle Vue Aces, and the speedway at Poolstock etc. I’ll always remember one particular trip he took me to Ewood Park on the back of his bike, I was 10yr old. It felt like I was going to the other side of the world. I can remember seeing all these tall trees going into Blackburn full of crows nests and I was froze to death on the back of this bike thinking “How much further Dad?” I think of that every time we go to Ewood Park. We played Lancaster City in the Lancashire Junior Cup Final and drew 1-1 but I had the monk on because they wouldn’t give us the cup. We beat them in the replay 2-1. I got my own BSA bike when I passed my test at 16. I was blessed and throughout my teenage years I would watch greats from the world of motor racing like Roy Salvadori, Mike Hailwood etc. I’ve been to Old Trafford to watch Neil Harvey one of the great Australian cricketers and I just love my sport”

RoySalvadori_BW

What memories of Springfield Park do you have?

“I do miss the fact that you could walk about at Springfield Park and kick the terraces when you were cold! Of course all my memories are wrapped up in the old ground especially the times I spent there with my Dad. Now Springfield was open to the elements and you had to wrap up warm most games. My wife Joan used to say to me “You’re not turning out in this are you?” and I’d say “Why not? I’ve been to work in it” I remember us playing in the Northern League Floodlit Cup once, there was 543 spectators on and my Dad turned to me and said “Al have I left a warm fire for this?” It tickles me when I hear supporters saying “That was a bad gate” and there’s been about 16,000 on at the DW I always say “You don’t know what a bad gate is my friend”

“The weather could be really awful at Springfield though. I remember my Mam buying me a new duffel coat on the same day we played Mansfield Town in the FA Cup in 1957. It absolutely hammered it down that day and I got that wet that all the dye ran out of my coat and even the wooden toggles were blue. My Mam went mad!

“I recall us playing Aston Villa in the 4th round of the League Cup in 1981. Some of the turnstiles wouldn’t work, think they had rusted up and needed some WD40 on them. Anyway the queue to get on Springfield stretched to the end of First Avenue because we only had a couple of turnstiles working. My Dad turned to me and said “Owd mon Al they couldn’t run a piss up in a brewery this lot” So thankfully things have moved on a bit since then”

“Although having said that I did notice at the recent friendly game against Dundee that we had two stands closed but no ballboys to retrieve the ball when it went in the stands and my Dad’s comment about breweries came to mind”

“But going back to Springfield Park I did love the place. I used to go in the Supporters Club after games with my Dad and my daughter Julie had her wedding reception there when Carol Liptrot ran it. Our Cheryl (@ChezCon69 Twitter fans) had her 18th birthday there too. I always stood at the back of the goals with my Dad, whichever goal we were attacking. I still sit behind the goals at the DW”

Who’s your all-time favourite Wigan Athletic player?

“It’s got to be Harry Lyon. I watched him make his debut for the latics and this bustling centre forward just caught your eye straight away. He played up front, centre half and even in goal and could he head a ball! I worked at Hawker Siddeley in Lostock and a lot of Horwich RMI lads worked there in the 60’s. We made a draw 2-2 with Horwich in the Lancashire Cup in 1965 and all the lads at work were telling me they would batter us at Grundy Hill in the replay. I just told them they had their chance in the first game and we would come out on top now.

Harry Lyon

We won 5-0 and Harry Lyon was unstoppable that night scoring two and causing mayhem. Of course the game he will always be remembered for is the Doncaster Rovers FA Cup match that same 65/66 season. I and my Dad had the afternoon off work to watch this replay and when Harry was stretchered off early on, you just thought well that’s the last we’ll see of him. A few swigs of whiskey later and Harry returned to the pitch and scored a hat trick. He was just remarkable”

Can you remember the day we got elected to the Football League in 1978?

“I’ll never forget that day because we thought we would never get in. When we played Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup 1st round replay in 1966 we scored an equalizer in the 90th minute to make it 1-1 but the referee disallowed Alf Craig’s goal saying that he had already blown for full time just before the ball hit the net. Legend has it that the Referee would have missed his train home if the game had gone to extra time. My Dad turned to me and said “I’ll tell you now lad they’ll never give Wigan Athletic anything. He’s done that on purpose” We always thought this was because of Wigan Borough dropping out the league.

So on that June day in 1978 I didn’t expect anything. I was still working at Lostock and my gaffer there Freddy Pennington knew I was latics mad, I had a big poster up of latics and I always had a bit of banter with the Bolton fans there. Freddy had his own little office and he liked a bet so he’d listen to the radio for the race results. This particular day I was working on this job when he came down the room and shouted across to me “Smithy, Smithy guess what?” I shouted back “A winner, have you got a winner?” he said “I think you better sit down, I’ve summat tell yer” “What?” I said, he said “Latics have got in’t League!” I won’t tell you what I said but I said something along the lines of “Are you joking?” he said “No lad its right” I couldn’t wait to see my Dad he was over the moon”

“I always say that Maurice Whittle’s goal against Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup helped get us into the Football League. Because of that victory we played Birmingham City in the next round and Sir Alf Ramsey the Birmingham manager was so impressed with us that he lobbied Football League clubs on our behalf. Freddie Whittle, Maurice’s brother is a latics fanatic and he was in Blackpool the other year wearing a latics polo shirt. A bloke in a latics shirt came up to him and said “Are you a latics mon then?” Freddie said “Aye I’ve been going years” this bloke said “Aye I have” Freddie said “Oh aye, Maurice Whittle is my brother” bloke said “Maurice Whittle? Never heard of him” Freddie said “Tha’s norra latics mon then”

Any funny incidents you can recall during your latics days?

Well there’s been quite a few. Couple off the top of my head. I remember us playing at Morecambe away once in the mid 60’s. Anyway me and my mates were on about going on the coach and booking from Barnes Travel. One of our group, we always called him Diddymon because he wasn’t so tall, said “No need for the coach, we’ll go in my car if you’ll chuck in for the petrol” So we all agreed to do that. Now Diddymon hadn’t had this car long, it was an Austin A40 Farina and we set off with 5 of us in it and it was pouring down. We got as far as Leyland when I noticed the red oil light coming on and off. A little bit later the red light stopped on so I said to Diddymon “Your red oil light is on” Diddymon said “Aye it doesn’t matter it always does that” Next minute there was a terrific bang! We pulled over to the hard shoulder and there was smoke everywhere, bonnet was white hot. Next thing all the latics coaches went past with all the latics fans waving at us stood forlornly in the rain. Eventually the engine cooled down and we had to drive home in 3rd gear”

Another time I went to Wrexham with my Dad in the FA Cup in 71/72 season. There was no segregation at the Racecourse Ground and we were stood near these Wrexham fans with about 20 minutes to go and the score was 0-0. Anyway my Dad was chatting to these lads “Are you coming to the replay?” These Wrexham lads said “Aye we’ll come replay if we don’t lick yer” My Dad said “Nah you’ll not beat these lads, there a good side” Now my Dad thought Springfield Park was the Stadium of Light, he would tell fans at places like Stalybridge and Matlock “We can fit your ground at back of our goals at Springfield Park”Wrexham

So obviously Dad was getting into his stride now “If you come to the replay you can call at our house for a cup of tea or better still we’ll meet you in’t Brickmakers for a pint before the game” Next minute bang 1-0 to Wrexham, bang 2-0 finished up 4-0 this lad said to my Dad “Anyway thanks for the offer but we’ll not be coming”

My Mum and Newcastle United

“I lost my Mum two years ago she was 93yr old bless her. I’ll never forget the day we played Newcastle United in that first season in the Premier League. If you can remember Shearer thought he had scored for Newcastle saying the ball had gone over the line. Anyway the goal didn’t stand and we went on to win the game. In those days I used to pop into my Mum’s on my way home after the game to see how she was and watch the football results come in. She still lived in Railway Street and on this particular day she was stood in the porch waiting for me. As I approached her she shouted to me “How they gone on Al?” I said “We’ve won 1-0” She said “We’ve won? I’ve waited 50 odd years for that” Mum was still upset over the disallowed goal in the Newcastle cup game played in 1954 when latics thought they had scored after Ronnie Simpson the Newcastle keeper caught the ball well over the line. It took a while but in her eyes justice was done”

I’d like to thank Allan for his time and his hospitality in agreeing to do this interview. I enjoyed every minute of our two hours chatting about Wigan Athletic and I could have easily done another four pages for this article. Pick up any football club history book and you’ll see stories about Chairmen, Directors, Managers, Coaches and Players. Too often overlooked is the stories of the supporters, they are the bedrock of the game and without people like Allan football would be nothing.

Just as I was about to leave Allan’s home he said “Come here I’ve got something to show you” We walked through his house to the entrance to his kitchen and there on the wall was a plaque that he sees every time he goes for a brew… “You are my Sunshine, my only sunshine…”

Tony Topping

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