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The History Man

11 Dec

The History Man

I went for my flu jab the other day at Boston House Surgery hey it’s free for codgers so I’m in. If they were giving away the Bubonic plague for free I’d be there, owt for nowt. Normally when I’m in this part of town I’m on my way to a match at the stadium and usually on the last minute but today I have all the time in the world. So what did I do with all this time? I went for a walk into the past yet again…

Up Springfield Road and down First Avenue for the first time in years. I walked slowly trying to conjure up misty memories from that terraced street which thankfully was empty and silent as the grave. All of us who ventured down that street to watch the latics at Springfield Park should pay a visit now and again especially if it’s been years since we last did it.

At the end of the Avenue the view of course has changed dramatically. New-ish houses populate what was once our pot holed pitted car park. A little gap allows you to cut through to the houses and then the ghosts appear. I’ll admit I was surprised by my reaction, a melancholy mood engulfed me and it was like visiting a graveyard where loved ones are interned.

I wandered about for a bit in the drizzle and made my way out via St Andrews Drive. Nothing indicates this was our former home apart from one lonely street sign Lyon Road. A nice tribute to a latics legend but could and should have been so much more. I’m about to move off when I notice something on the street name from across the road. On closer inspection it’s a sticker stuck over the “O” in LYON something to do with Wigan Warriors. How petty can they get? I spend the next couple of minutes making sure I get every bit of the crap from the sign.

It’s our history, our turf, our players and our people. Never forget that.

I’ve actually dipped my toe into the latics history waters and it’s an all consuming interesting frustrating hobby. We are lucky at Wigan to have some fantastic historians amongst our fans, Bernard Ramsdale, Andrew Werrill, Rod Prescott, Steve Halliwell, George Chilvers David Roughley (http://springfieldparkmemorial.weebly.com) and my good friend Paul Gallagher but one man who I always associate with Wigan Athletic and statistics is of course Jeff Rourke. From an early age I watched Jeff and his mates write notes down at Springfield Park. Glancing at watches, no doubt synchronised, and nodding sagely they would record every minutiae of the game.

If you want to know anything about Wigan Athletic Jeff is the man to see. Here is a little insight into our very own Jeff…

1ST GAME

I remember waiting at my local shops in Beech Hill with my Dad to catch a coach to go to Blackburn to see Latics play Chorley in the 1959 Lancashire Junior Cup Final. I don’t remember the game which is just as well as our local rivals hammered us 4-1. Still I was hooked.

INFAMOUS BRAWL

I remember a game in 1962 against Winsford United when the referee abandoned the match because the players were brawling. An angry crowd gathered outside the ground waiting for the referee to appear but he managed to dodge them by jumping over a wall at the other end of the ground. Latics were losing the game 2-1 at the time. 

SCRAPBOOKS

I was 14 when England won the World Cup and I kept a scrapbook of the occasion (and also for the next 7).  I began keeping scrapbooks of Wigan Athletic from season 1966/67 and have continued to do so every season since. 

MADNESS

In 1969, I remember going to Chorley on a Friday in order to catch a holiday coach going to Clacton-on-Sea. Latics were playing a pre-season friendly at Cambridge United and the coach went through Cambridge at 5am on the Saturday morning. It was worth it as Latics won 2-0 but I had to wait until midnight to catch the return coach back to Chorley.

WEMBLEY

Finally getting there in the 1973 FA Trophy Final against Scarborough but it ended in disappointment as the Seadogs won in extra time with a controversial offside goal. Staying behind after the game thinking I’d probably not come back here again – how wrong was I. 

FA CUP GIANT-KILLERS

Beating Jack Charlton’s Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup in 1977 – the 9th Football League scalp non-league Latics had taken. 

ELECTION AT LAST

Replacing Southport to finally gain election to the Football League in June 1978 after 34 failed attempts. What a night we had in the Supporters’ Club.

CAR CRASH

Travelling with mates back from a postponed game at Hartlepool in 1979, we got hit from behind while going through Leeds and our vehicle spun round in slow motion and ended up facing the wrong way – that was scary.

WRITING IN PROGRAMME

In 1982, asking Director Jack Farrimond, who was the first ever Latics Secretary in 1932, if I could write in the match-day programme.

GOT TRAVEL CLUB STARTED

After discovering Swansea had a Travel Club and we were paying over twice as much as them to travel,  I wrote to Latics Director Jim Bennett  in 1984 asking could we start one up and after two meetings in the Supporters’ Club – I was elected Secretary.

FIRST WEMBLEY TRIUMPH

Seeing captain Colin Methven lifting the Freight Rover Trophy after the 3-1 win over Brentford in 1985. I had a splitting headache all the game just wanting the victory so much. I didn’t even notice Mike Newell’s hand ball before scoring.

SON’S DESERTION

My son Steven, born in 1984 has not followed in my footsteps and after taking him on a trip around Old Trafford, he stayed a Manchester United fan but Latics are his second favourite club

RELEGATION/PROMOTION

Relegation to Division 3 was a major disappointment at the end of season 92/93

but then winning the Championship in the last game of season 96/97 more than made up for it especially as Fulham were beaten for the title by their own goals scored suggestion.

THE THREE AMIGOS

Watching Jesus Seba, Isidro Diaz and Roberto Martinez doing their matador goal celebrations and the fans’ flag that stated “Jesus is a Wiganer”.

CLOSURE OF SPRINGFIELD PARK

After 40 years, the thought of not standing on the popular side, hearing the dodgy tannoy system and missing all the great nights in the Supporters’ Club, my second home, was hard to imagine at first but we have all the memories.

MORE PROMOTION

Winning the Division 2 title with a massive 100 points in season 02/03 before missing out on the play-offs on the last day due to a West Ham last minute  equaliser in our first season in the Championship.  The  Premiership dream was realised the following season by finishing runners-up to Sunderland.

CARLING CUP FINAL

Reaching the final held at the Millenium Stadium before being beaten 4-0 by Manchester United. Knocking out Newcastle United and Arsenal along the way. 

SURVIVING IN THE PREMIERSHIP

Lasting eight seasons and playing a remarkable 304 Premiership games – winning 85, drawing 76 and losing 143 but all the big boys have been beaten at one point.

WINNING THE FA CUP

The bucket dream of every football supporter came true for  Latics fans just after 7pm on May 11th 2013 when Ben Watson’s superb last minute header won the coveted trophy, to become the 43rd different name engraved on the cup.

PLAYING IN EUROPE

Zulte-Waregem of Belgium, NK Maribor of Slovenia and Rubin Kazan of Russia provided the opposition with over 2,500 fans making the first trip to Bruges a fantastic spectacle.

I unfortunately travelled to Bruges through the club which was a big mistake, probably the last coach to get there but the first one back in Wigan – one of the biggest disappointments  I’ve had – even took Shearings to court over it.

 

Thanks to Jeff for the interview and it’s safe to say that our history is in good hands with our dedicated group of historians. See you in the history shop kids!

 

Tony Topping

P.S. If you know of any Wigan Athletic historians who deserve a mention here please let me know and I’ll update the post. Thanks

Another respected WAFC historian is Paul Rowley

 

Springfield Road

16 Jan

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The match ended, Wigan beat Bristol City by one goal to nil. Not a classic but another 3 priceless points. The crowd seep out of  the stadium into the September night, plenty of chatter after a win, not so much following a defeat. Mobile phones check the league table as we wait to cross the metal bridge over the canal. Shuffling forward slowly and fairly orderly although some sneak under the bridge and filter in at the side. I don’t mind the queue jumpers, I’ve done it myself but the smug ones irritate me a little especially after a defeat.

I try to get near the handrail on the bridge, not always possible, but to be in the middle of the steps is a bit of a balancing act and the metal steps are hard to see in the dark. As we cross that black stretch of water I listen for rivets creaking under our mass and ask myself “Did they test this bridge load capabilities?” Finally we reach the other side descending more dark metal steps, through the bottle neck fencing and a palpable sigh of relief as we spread out into the open road picking up speed at last.

Under the railway tunnel avoiding the concrete post lying in wait to catch unsuspecting groins and knees and out into the metropolis of Springfield and its environs. Once upon a time my journey home from football took me the opposite way over the canal and crossing a different bridge that looked more modern than the monstrosity we use now. That was when we played at Springfield Park…

As the crowd thins out and I cross the road in relative isolation my mind invariably turns back to the past. So when I look up and see the old Springfield Road street sign on the building on the corner I’m a bit taken aback. How many times have I walked past this spot and never noticed it? It’s tucked away  a little bit and looking neglected, orange rusty glow under the streetlamps glare and occasionally lit by the passing cars. The corner of the old shop is quite a sharp one and brings to mind the image of a shipwreck resting on the sea floor, the last remains of HMS Springfield.

The old street sign has seen some sights including me at 15yrs of age going past there with my dad. I get out my mobile phone to take a picture of the metal sign fifty years on from my first walk past it. So much has changed and I’m starting to get a bit rusty myself but we all do eventually.

I have my back to the road taking the photograph and behind me a stream of Wigan Borough supporter’s walk past me in grey clothing ashen faced. A coach carrying Newcastle United players coughs and splutters by, all the team already in their black and white striped kit looking glumly out at the latics crowd giving them stick.

Snow falls from the sky and the Halifax Town supporters alight their coach after being slayed or should that be sleighed in a snowstorm at Springfield. Have we ever been as cold as that day? I doubt it.

Lancashire Cups and League Championships hang from street lamps, glittering like the illuminations at Blackpool. Old leather footballs bounce down the road eagerly chased by Harry Lyon and Bert Llewellyn while Johnny King and Bobby Todd run across the rooftops. Kenny Banks is on standby with his bucket and sponge in case of emergencies.

A player goes past, boots tied together slung over his shoulder, carrying a bag with “Cole” on the name tag, the young man is going away never to return and is killed at Dunkirk along with many others who watched him play football just down this street.

Wagons carrying steel and scaffolding make their way to Springfield Park to erect floodlighting for the first time. A young girl from the club office is sent up to change the light bulbs when they go out. Climbing up the steel ladder with not a care in the world.

These very lights illuminate my first game and grass has never seen as green as it did that night. When we walk back down this street after the game, my dad and I, the living rooms glow invitingly and some occupants appear to look out the window at the shadows outside, puzzled, irritated and curious about our passing. I feel like I’m part of a special movement, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends, we are one…

The passing crowd roars through like a tidal wave of humanity, fashions mingle uncomfortably and look there’s you being swept along with people you know, yet don’t know… And sometimes the wave dissolves into a trickle, a quietly sighing intermittent flow that reflects the football clubs fortunes.

Past First Avenue and onto the corner of Second Avenue is the place where my heart was shattered into a million pieces unknowingly by a girl who found love with someone else. I look at that corner every home game but I met another girl who patiently picked up every piece of that shattered heart and put it all lovingly together. I was lucky…

So much can change in one lifetime; buildings crumble and leave nothing but memories behind, some good some bad but all part of life. When I was a boy I dreamt about travelling around the world but my journey was marked by pins on my Great Britain map of exotic places like Gainsborough and Goole, Netherfield and Northwich. No sun cream needed, no passport stamped, no language problems. Well if you discount Bangor that is.

I look at my mobile phone to check if the photo I’ve taken is okay and a lorry goes past carrying the mournful twisted limbs of floodlights bound for the scrapyard. Satisfied with my picture I turn around and walk up a dark and silent Springfield Road…

Tony Topping

Goalkeepers are Different

2 Dec

Goalkeepers are Different

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“Some people say goalkeepers are crazy, but to me they’re not crazy, they’re different”

The quote above is the opening line to the excellent “Goalkeepers are Different” by Brian Glanville one of the first fictional football books that I had read and also one of the best books of its genre. It was published in 1971 a vintage year for Wigan Athletic fans of a certain age (old buggers) That 1970/71 season was one of the greatest in our history, it was non league that’s true, but the football that side played was some of the best I have ever seen, if not the best.

One man who had the perfect vantage point of that classic side was the goalkeeper Dennis Reeves. Dennis was one of our best ever keepers, never flashy, always calm; he made the art of goalkeeping look easy. Dennis still attends many of our home games and I managed to have a chat with him at the end of last season. Here’s what he had to say…

Early Childhood

I was born in Lockerbie Dumfriesshire we lived in a country cottage with my granddad. He was in charge of the fishing licences for the anglers on the river Annan which was only about 300 yards away from the house. My dad was from Cheshire and he had met my mum, a Scottish girl, while he was stationed there in an army camp. We moved to Cheshire when I was two or three years old and lived on a farm there. It was there that my love of sport grew. I had an older brother and a younger sister and it was an idyllic place to grow up in. We used to throw a tennis ball against the barn wall and try to catch it, throwing it that bit higher every time. When the weather got cold we’d play cricket inside the barn. My older brother would soon get fed up if I kept bowling him out so I used to bowl easy deliveries just to keep him interested. Being isolated meant I had no other kids to call upon once my brother got fed up.

When I was around 12 years old we moved to Wrexham where my parents had bought a pub. It was better for us because we had more going on in the town. I started watching Wrexham football club being a big believer in supporting your local team. At first I would wait until they opened the big gates with 20 minutes to go then I would nip in but when I started getting pocket money I could then pay on. I remember Alex Stepney playing there for Millwall and it was around this time that I started going to Wrexham Youth Club and taking part in all the sports they played there. My first competitive football game came about when I was picked to play in goal for North Wales Youth v South Wales Youth when I was about 15. We won the game 2-0 and a few weeks later I was playing football with my mates near our pub when my dad came over and said that three scouts from Manchester United wanted to see me. Johnny Carey and Les Olive were two of the scouts, can’t remember the other one’s name but they wanted me to go on trial at United. This was in May, anyway June and July arrived and I still hadn’t heard anything from them so I started training as an amateur at Chester FC. I often think should my dad have phoned Manchester United? But we didn’t know the correct protocol to follow and we never heard from them again.

 Football League

I had a good grounding at Chester and it was a gradual progression to the first team. I was initially sent out on loan to play in the Welsh League and then I was picked for the Chester Youth team for a game against Bradford City in the FA Youth Cup. From there I never looked back and went from the A team to the Reserves. My first reserve game was away to Frickley Colliery and i played well in a 2-0 victory. It was a tough league but it stood me in good stead and after 2 or 3 games I got picked for the 1st team. I made my first team debut at Chester when I was 17 years old against Rochdale at home in October 1963. It was a midweek game under the floodlights and we won 2-0 in front of seven or eight thousand fans. We won the next game on the Saturday at home to Doncaster Rovers and it eased me into league football.

Manchester United v Chester City FA Cup 1964/65, Chester City v Wigan Athletic FA Cup 1965/66

Chester had a good run in the cup this particular season, In the 1st round we played Crewe at home and won 5-0. Then we travelled to Barnsley and beat them 5-2. In the 3rd round we played Manchester United at Old Trafford in front of 45,660 fans. We stayed in the Norbreck Hotel in Blackpool and trained on the beach. Standing in the tunnel at Old Trafford was Denis Law who was suspended for the game. He was one of my idols and when he saw us lining up he said “Who the f*****g hell are these?” Well he knew at half time because we were winning 1-0 but that was just his way, it didn’t put me off him. I’d settled into the game very well, Bobby Charlton had a terrific shot in the first couple of minutes of the game and I pushed it round for a corner and my confidence grew from then on. In the second half we had our backs to the wall a bit and George Best scored an equalizer from what we thought was an offside position. We hung on but after a scramble in the goalmouth Albert Kinsey scored the winner. Then in the following season we of course played in the cup against Wigan and that was a hell of a game which the latics supporters are always quick to remind me about. It was a very physical game which Chester won 2-1 but I got a bit of a buffering probably from Harry Lyon shoulder charging etc. I always remember one incident in that game someone shot from point blank range and I instinctively stuck a hand out and pushed it over the bar. I played well that day and I had to do too.

Wrexham to Wigan

I was at Wrexham for a couple of seasons and following a late release in the summer I was looking for a club. Port Vale were interested but I signed for Wigan who needed a keeper following Dave Gaskell’s move to Wrexham ironically. I couldn’t have moved to a better club, it never felt like I was playing for a team outside the Football League. I sometimes go to games in the National League now and I think these teams are playing at the same level we were in the Northern Premier but we were miles better! Wigan had a good mix of youth and experience, Jim Fleming was a great player and of course Derek Temple was here and I’d watched him score the winning goal in the FA Cup final a couple of seasons earlier. Smashing lad Derek always had a smile on his face. Quite a few players from the Football League signed for non league clubs back then. Boston had Howard Wilkinson and Jim Smith, Great Harwood had Ronnie Clayton etc good players who wanted to carry on playing football because the money wasn’t really that good and some had to carry on playing for a wage.

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A goalkeeper’s lot

Training for goalkeepers is very different today, all the clubs have specialised trainers to work with the keepers. I wish they had had them in my day but the only one I knew of was Harry Gregg at Shrewsbury Town. I suppose I could have asked to go there for guidance but I was only a young keeper and I didn’t like to ask. Gordon Milne was a smashing manager at Wigan and he used to say to me “Dennis you know your position. Try and dominate the six yard box and take control of the eighteen yard box” He summed it up in a nutshell. I used to go to Everton when we didn’t have a game and I would watch closely the keepers in games. I remember studying Gordon Banks in one match and the positions he took up. He always seemed to get in the way of shots and that was down to his positioning. Ray Clemence was another and I picked up a lot from watching them. I’d like to think I was a good positional goalkeeper, it came naturally to me. Back then we didn’t have the gloves they have today and I seldom wore gloves. I had cotton gloves for night games because the grass would have dew on it. They had bits of dimpled rubber on like those that you see on table tennis bats but generally goalkeepers didn’t wear gloves. I tried some of the gloves they have now after I retired and I think I could have caught the ball one handed with them!

Manchester City v Wigan Athletic FA Cup 1971.

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This was the game were I famously split my boot taking a goal kick which led indirectly to City’s winning goal. I don’t regard it has a mistake because the ball landed almost near the halfway line. The pitch was very hard and icy because it was in the shade of the big stand they had there and that didn’t help. When I kicked the ball the sole of the boot just came away, flapping about. The trainer came on and wrapped tape around it to try and secure it. We didn’t have spare boots or anything like that. I threw them in the skip after the game. At the end of that 1970/71 season hopes were high that we would finally get into the Football League but they refused us entry citing the free pens we had circulated was not received well. I mean come on? We deserved to be in the league, should have been in the league but for an antiquated system. I was really disappointed because I wanted to return to playing in league football. I played the best football of my career at Wigan Athletic but I never got picked up by a league club.

Final Thoughts

I was working as well as playing football and eventually it got a bit too much. The decorating business was getting busier and I had to make a decision about playing on. I decided to step down from goalkeeping duties and went to see our manager Brian Tiler around Christmas time to tell him I was retiring at the end of the season. He was very good about it and he could have got another keeper in but he played me until the end of the season. I could have gone to other non league clubs in the area but I respected Wigan that much that I didn’t want to play against them. My feeling was that I was going out on a high leaving a good club rather than signing for a lesser team. It was hard to keep away from it at first and I had a call from the chairman at Winsford who asked me did I fancy playing again. I went back to Wrexham and did some training there to sharpen myself up but I felt a pain in my back and it affected my work for weeks so I phoned Winsford up and told them I wasn’t going back to football and that was it.

I was lucky to play for three good clubs even though things didn’t go to plan at Wrexham I still enjoyed it. I get to watch the teams when I can and it’s just a pity the old players at Wigan from my time here seem to have just drifted away. Sad because it would be good to see them again. We’ve had some great players here, Billy Sutherland, Kenny Morris, big Dougie Coutts, Fred Molyneux, Ian Gillibrand only small but could sniff out danger. Ian was probably the smallest defender I’d ever seen but he timed his jumps so well he had the spring in his legs that a lot of bigger opponents didn’t have, they were flat footed compared to Ian. Gilly was a quiet man off the field but on it he was so determined, thy shall not pass attitude. He had Wigan Athletic on his sleeve, loved the club and it was so sad when he passed away so young.

I like to think we played our part in where the club are today, part of the foundations so to speak. The non league days were a very important part of Wigan’s history and rightly so. A lot of the clubs we played against have now gone, some good teams who would give us hard games, real shame. Some are still going today of course and Stafford Rangers was always a tough place to go. One ground that always created a good atmosphere was Netherfield. Not a very good ground but noisy when you got a few on. The good thing about playing in non league was the places you got to visit that you probably wouldn’t have gone to normally, Matlock, Mossley, Worksop and of course I got to play at Wembley Stadium which I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t dropped down to non league. I always get a warm welcome from the fans at Wigan who saw me play and it was a privilege to play for this wonderful club.

Dennis Reeves

I’d like to thank Dennis for taking the time to be interviewed and it was a pleasure to meet such an unassuming latics legend. Real gentleman who still attends games at Wigan so if you get the chance to have a chat with him please do. Best of luck Dennis and thank you.

Tony Topping

From Dundee to Crocodile Dundee

24 Aug

The John Wilkie Story

John Wilkie joined Wigan Athletic in time for the 1976/77 season. It was a difficult season, the club was forced to cut costs and the team was a mixture of experience and young local lads. Wigan were bottom of the league at one stage but recovered well in the second half of the season finishing 14th and won the Lancashire Cup Final v Chorley with a Joe Hinnigan header. It was a far cry from our usual position of league challengers but it was understandable in the circumstances. John Wilkie ended up top scorer with 17 goals. The 1977/78 season was in complete contrast to the previous campaign and the old swagger was back in Wigan Athletic. To everyone’s surprise it was also the clubs last season in non-league football and John Wilkie had the honour of scoring the last ever non-league goal at Springfield Park in a vital 2-1 victory against Bangor City. He also played in the clubs first ever Football League game at Hereford United a day never to be forgotten. I managed to get an interview with John and here’s his story in his own words.

How did you first get into football?

I really just got into it on my own. My Uncle Frank, who was eight years older than me, would kick a ball about with me at my grannies house. It was only a tennis ball but I took it from there and always played from then on just messing around. They had no coaching schools back then or anything like that; you got by on your own ability and people noticed you from a young age. I went to a catholic school St Pius in Douglas and the teachers were all priests. One of the teachers was keen on football and he organized trials for the team.  I got picked for the side, I was aged ten at the time, and in our first season we won the cup against all the other schools in Dundee. I scored a couple of goals in the final and in the crowd was two representatives from the Dundee Schoolboy Association and I got picked for the Dundee Schoolboys.   I also played for Douglas Amateurs until I was 13 or 14 and in Scotland they have “Junior” teams that play just before the level of the senior teams, like Dundee, Dundee United etc. The problem was with the Junior League was you had senior players coming to the end of their careers and it was… well robust for a 14/15yr old so I returned to the amateur level.

I got picked for Scotland Amateurs and that’s when I realised I could be a footballer for a living. Stanley Matthews was manager of Port Vale at the time and he invited me down for a two week trial. I was 16 and working so I asked the firm could I have the time off to play in the trials. They said no so I packed the job in and went anyway. Stanley Matthews picked me up from the railway station in his limousine; it was in the Dundee local paper when I got back home. I did well at the trials and Stanley Matthews offered me a contract. I was made up but a bit unsure about living away from home, I’d never been away before. So I asked Mr Matthews if it was okay if I asked my Mum first, he said “Yes you go on and ask your Mum and let us know” When I got back home I had no job, no money and some teams up there offered me trials and I would get £7 expenses so that’s what I did not thinking I was doing any wrong. Anyway Port Vale didn’t approve of this and I got a letter from Stanley Matthews saying they had cancelled my contract. That was one big mistake of mine and I’ve always regretted that. I should have signed the contract, my Mum even said “Go for it” but I didn’t think I was doing any wrong by playing these trials but that was it.

Where did you go from there?

I got invited for a trial by Dundee United and I played in a game against Dundee. After the game Dundee asked me to go for a week’s training up at Dens Park and I said yes but the very next day Arbroath asked me to sign for them so I joined Arbroath and I was there for around five years. We won promotion to the top league while I was there and I played against Celtic when they were reigning European Champions at the time. Alex Ferguson was another I played against when he was at Rangers, yes I played against some great players and I had some good times at Arbroath. I was due a loyalty bonus after 5 years along with my friend and teammate Jimmy Jack who had signed at the same time has me. So Jimmy goes in and he gets his bonus then I follow and ask for mine. I’m told that I couldn’t have one yet and I’d have to wait so I asked them could I have a free transfer so that I would get a signing on fee and they agreed. I signed for a club called Keith in the Highland League but just before that I had played a few games for Raith Rovers but the club were in administration and could only sign players from week to week.

I’d always played as a left winger but Keith wanted me to play as a centre forward. I enjoyed playing up front and scored 15 goals in ten games and people began to take notice. Morton came in for me and I signed for them. I ended up only playing one game because they put me on the wing and I thought they had signed me as a striker. I went to see the manager after the game and said “You’re not going to play me on the left wing are you?” he said “Yes that’s where I want you to play” so I said “Well I want to leave, I don’t want to be a winger” Ross County had been interested in signing me but I ended up at Morton so the manager phoned Ross County to ask them did they still want to buy me?  They did and the manager was Ian McNeil who went on to manage Wigan.

You had a spell at Halifax Town too, how did that come about?

I was part time so I had to work as well and I got sent on a course in Warrington. In my hotel they had this pretty receptionist and I asked her out and I fell in love with her.  When I got back to Ross County I explained to Ian McNeil that I wanted to be nearer this girl. Ian understood and he phoned his old friend George Mulhall who was manager at Halifax Town. I scored a couple of goals against Preston North End on trial and Halifax signed me, big mistake. I didn’t get on with the manager and he didn’t get on with me so when it came down to re-signing at the end of my contract I asked to leave. He phoned Ian McNeil and Ian wanted me back at Ross County so I went back. I had got married to the girl from Warrington and we both moved up to Scotland.

I’d only been back about five months when Elgin City signed me for a record fee back then in the Highland League. I was at Elgin for about 18 months when Ian McNeil then at Wigan Athletic signed me for the latics. It was ideal because my wife had her family in Warrington. 

Life at Wigan under Ian McNeil

Ian McNeil was a great manager and I loved him to bits. I still keep in touch with him; in fact I’ll phone him after this interview. I loved it in the Northern Premier League, we didn’t do too well in my first season but the second season was very good and we finished second in the league behind Boston United. The players were fantastic and it was the best club I’d ever been with. Everyone and I mean everyone, got on together and we were all good friends, brilliant, brilliant times. Boston United’s ground was deemed unsuitable for League Football so as the NPL league runner up we were put forward for election to the Football League. When we got voted in and I was asked if I wanted to be a full time professional I jumped at the chance. The wages weren’t great but I wasn’t bothered, full time footy, you can’t beat it. I could understand Mickey Worswick not going full time, he had a decent job and he was coming to the end of a great career.

I enjoyed that first season in the league but come the second year I just felt I wasn’t the same player, I was 33yrs old then and I was disappointed when Ian McNeil decided to release me but I perfectly understood why. Wigan had younger, fresher players coming through and that’s football it happens to every football player. I went to Chorley, Les Rigby was the manager, but my heart wasn’t in it and I left after a few games. I did carry on playing football for my mate’s team in Warrington, a pub team. I scored 50 goals in my first season.

Life after football

I had studied accounting throughout my career and in fact spent two years at Wigan College while I was full time at Wigan. I got a job in accountants in Wigan and I used to get an American magazine that claimed “What happens in America today happens in Britain tomorrow” One article that caught my eye was about video rentals and how it was going to be the next big thing. So I started up my own video delivery business, posting them out £2 for two nights. The business got so big that I was coming home from work and still be sorting videos out until 11pm at night. So I opened a shop in Penketh in Warrington and it mushroomed from there it was brilliant. Then I bought a nightclub in Warrington and had both businesses going at the same time. I also bought 3 houses in Spain to rent out and everything was going hunky dory then tragedy struck…

My wife died suddenly, she became ill on a Saturday and she died the same day, totally unexpected. I had two young boys, aged 3 and 5 so I had a decision to make about the business because I couldn’t carry on with it and look after my boys at the same time so I sold everything to look after the boys. All the old Wigan players came to my wife’s funeral even though seven years had passed since I had played there.

I couldn’t get a job to fit time in with the boys but I had a caravan in Rhyl that we used at weekends and one weekend when we were there I asked the site owner if there was any jobs going that I could do that would still enable me to look after the boys. So they gave me a job has a lifeguard round the swimming pool and the boys went to a school in Rhyl and I was always there for them. Eventually I moved on to become a compere, then a kid’s entertainer, bingo caller and a singer. I used to dress up as Crocodile Dundee because people said I looked like him, all the kids thought I was him! I stayed there until I retired last year and I really enjoyed it.

John Wilkie 

I’d like to thank John for his honest and interesting interview. John took the time to phone me and we spent a good 40 minutes talking about his career. Sadly the day after this interview took place John phoned me again to tell me that Ian McNeil would have to go into care because his Alzheimer’s had got really bad. On behalf of all our supporters I would like to wish Ian all the very best. He played a prominent part in the Wigan Athletic story.

Tony Topping

Since this article was first published in the Mudhutter I’m sorry to say that the great Ian McNeil has since died. His contribution will never be forgotten or underestimated. God bless Ian

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”

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“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”

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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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Brian Tiler and the season 1974/75

20 Sep

A Season to Remember 74/75

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In the first of a new series we look back at a season in our history kicking off with 1974/75.
It began with defeat and ended with a record points tally, FA Cup glory was followed by tears in the FA Challenge Trophy. Brian Tiler was the man at the helm.
Brian was appointed Wigan Athletic manager in the summer of 1974. The former Rotherham, Aston Villa and Carlisle midfield/defender was signed as a player-manager but he only managed a handful of appearances for the latics and he admitted his surprise at the standard of the non-league game at this time.
That summer was played out to a soundtrack of bombs from the Ira and album charts that saw Wings, Cat Stevens, Mike Oldfield, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd rub shoulders uncomfortably with Easy, Easy by the Scotland World Cup squad.
The NPL season began inauspiciously with a 2-0 defeat at Northwich Victoria and in fact latics lost 3 of their first four games with the other defeats in cup competitions. The pressure was on and the season was only a few weeks old, moaning Wiganers? Who’d have thought!
In the first home programme of the season Brian Tiler described latics as being “the Leeds United of non-league soccer” in that everyone wanted to beat us. Young readers please take note, Leeds were a very good team back then! Derek Fuller the club secretary used his programme notes to ask for 6 people to volunteer as stewards to stop kids running onto the pitch every time a goal was scored. He was still asking for them four months later!
Tiler endured a torrid time in that first home game against Matlock Town and substituted himself admitting that “It was the most difficult decision I’ve had to make during my professional career”
After that initial bedding in period the teamwork Tiler instilled in the side paid off and they quickly made the top spot their own. The side weren’t as attractive as Gordon Milne’s team of three years earlier but then again no one has produced a team like that since.

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Crowds didn’t exactly flock down to Springfield Park initially and Allan Rimmer the Wigan Observer reporter commented that “It was one thing winning and another thing winning in style”. He did though go on to say in the programme “If ever a club did deserve support its Athletic, who have made one of their best ever starts to the season and yet have still to capture the imagination of the town’s sporting public”
Tiler and Rimmer were again at loggerheads later that season when Rimmer wrote an article slagging off the manager for refusing to give a supporter a lift back home on the team coach. Brian Tiler explained that he would never do this after a fight broke out between a supporter and a player when he was at Aston Villa.1 Meanwhile poor old Derek Fuller was complaining that “a large number of supporters are gaining admission to the ground by routes other than the turnstiles”
Financially times were tough for the latics and in November in a bid to save money the club programme was reduced from a decent glossy effort to a poor homemade photocopied version. Sometimes the ink was that faded you couldn’t make out the writing plus the dates of games were omitted. Mind you they did have the foresight to charge the same price as the glossy version 6p! In April it changed for the better though it still was an in house production. There was a paper shortage worldwide in 74, something to do with the oil crisis I think. Anyway I do recall one lad being called a daft bugger for throwing a toilet roll on the pitch at one game and an old chap rolling it up to take it home!
If the bog roll situation really got you down and you were a little flushed (Apologies for the toilet humour) then you could take a winter break to the sun courtesy of Wigan Athletic. The club were organising an eight day break in Majorca for £57. Were you one of the 70 people who took advantage of this offer?
Latics also enjoyed a good run in the FA Cup, traditionally a highlight for the club, well until the last few years that is. In the 4th qualifying round they easily disposed of Kidderminster Harriers 4-0 at home and then drew Shrewsbury Town away in the 1st round proper. Shrewsbury were top of the 4th Division at the time and just before kick off played “Catch us if you can” by The Dave Clark Five. Well Latics did catch em’ and earned a replay with a Johnny King goal.

TV JAGS ETYPEThe replay was played in pouring rain if my mind corrects me and goals from Albert Jackson and Tommy Gore saw us triumph 2-1. The winning goal saw me tumble down the Springfield terrace as I jumped high in the air and missed my footing much to the delight of my mates. We went out to Mansfield Town in the 2nd round after a replay and I remember it being a bit lively behind the ground afterwards! Mind you it was worth it just to see Johnny King’s magnificent goal.
Hopes were high for the FA Challenge Trophy and we got off to a storming start easing our way through the rounds like a hot knife through soft butter. 1st rnd Altrincham 3-1 at home, 2nd rnd Northwich Victoria 2-4 away, 3rd rnd Lancaster City 2-0 away. In the 4th round we had home advantage versus Bedford Town, who?

Yes that’s what we said and we were already putting money at one side for our Wembley trip. We lost 0-1 and the only time I’ve ever felt as bad about a football game was when we lost to Gillingham in the play off final. In fact I stayed in that Saturday night I was that pig sick and my mate Tony Lowe stopped in with me. I think he was put on suicide watch by my Dad!

74.5 Wigan( Bedford hit the bar with this free kick )

We had one thing left to win now and that was the Northern Premier League Championship. Tiler’s team were determined to win this and they chalked up victories like never before. Crowds were averaging 2000 as the Wigan public finally responded to a winning team. The Evening Post & Chronicle were “Backing Latics all the way”
Once they got to the top of the table they never relinquished their hold and ended the season as champions with a NPL record number of points winning 33 games out of 46 and losing only 7. At the end of the season Brian sang the praises of each of the players who had worked so hard for him. Singling out Mickey Worswick he said “If he was any younger I’d adopt him!”
Brian Tiler achieved something that only Gordon Milne did and he deserves his place in the Latics spotlight.

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Brian left the club the following season to coach in America. In 1990 Brian was in Italy with his good friend Harry Redknapp covering the World Cup Finals. On their way back from a game the minibus they were travelling in was hit by a speeding car and Brian and three young Italians were killed in the crash. Redknapp who was sat next to Brian also suffered serious injuries. Brian Tiler was 47yrs old when he died.
This article is dedicated to him .
Brian Tiler 1943-1990
Tony Topping

The Geoff Davies Interview

21 Aug

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No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of a great man.

Carlyle, Thomas   “Heroes and Hero Worship”, 1841

“In the summertime when the weather is fine” sang my little Japanese transistor radio in the summer of 1970. Mungo Jerry’s song would never reach the heights of a Beach Boys classic but somehow it was more in keeping with the kind of summer holidays that I spent in Blackpool, the Isle of Man and every Butlins holiday camp in England & Wales.

I had just reached the age of 16 that summer and I was working for “Ashton’s” tobacconists in their new warehouse, which is where “Carpet World” is now. Little did I know it then but that summer and the football season that followed would stay forever in my memory as one of the greatest times of my life.

Probably, nay definitely the greatest team the world has ever seen had just won the World Cup in a style I had never seen before. That team was of course Brazil. It was the first World Cup I had seen in colour and it was an exotic cocktail, those golden shirts of Brazil flowing irresistibly on a green grass background.

Their brand of samba soccer whetted my appetite for football and that love affair continues to this day. When the World Cup was over my eyes wandered over to my hometown club of Wigan Athletic and I awaited the 1970/71 season with relish. Wigan had finished the previous season in the Northern Premier League as runners up to Macclesfield Town losing out on the title on the narrowest of margins, goal difference.

While I lazed about that summer, the Latics were about to sign two players who would ensure that goal difference would play no part in deciding the 1970/71 championship.

One of those players was Derek Temple signed from Preston North End. Temple the ex Everton star had scored the winning goal in the F.A. Cup final for Everton just four years earlier and had been part of the preliminary England squad for the World Cup in 1966. He now linked up with another unlucky player who had also been in that squad, the Wigan Athletic manager Gordon Milne.

The other player signed that summer was Geoff Davies.

Geoff was signed from Northwich Victoria for £800 and Graham Oates would arrive later to provide a season never to be forgotten by all who witnessed it. Wigan Athletic cruised to the Northern Premier League championship that season finishing six points clear of bitter rivals Stafford Rangers, losing only two games and scoring 92 goals in the process. They also won the Lancashire Floodlight Cup beating Skelmersdale United over two legs.

They also reached the N.P.L. Cup semi final, and finished runners up in the Ashworth Trophy Final and the Lancashire Challenge Trophy Final. In total that season they played around 70 competitive games and the players were part time, working during the day and training in the evenings. To serve up some of the finest football I have ever witnessed after all that still amazes me to this day.

But it was the F.A. Cup run that season that propelled a great season into one that still gets talked about 45yrs later.

Little did we know when we set out for Skemersdale United in the 4th qualifying round what delights lay ahead. We managed to draw the game 1-1 winning the replay 5-0. In the 1st round proper we were drawn away to South Shields, again we forced a draw 1-1 before winning the replay 2-0 on a terrible rain swept evening. In the 2nd round we at last managed to get a home draw and against Football League opposition in Peterborough United. In a magnificent game we secured a 2-1 victory. Geoff Davies scored the first goal for us but the tie looked like it was going to a replay at 1-1 with a minute to play.

But in the dying seconds the referee correctly gave us a penalty and Jim Fleming coolly slotted it home at the Springfield End to send the 17,180 crowd wild!

The following Monday I caught the bus home to Worsley Hall in my dinner hour and waited expectantly for the draw on the radio. Manchester City will be at home to …Wigan Athletic! On the bus ride back to work I told every bugger who got on “We’ve got Man City int cup!”

On the 2nd of January 1971 Wigan Athletic ran out of the tunnel at a misty Maine Rd and put in a courageous performance only to lose 1-0. Colin Bell England International, scored that goal in the 72nd minute and many expected latics to finally wilt and City to take control. What happened was exactly the opposite. Wigan threw everything but the kitchen sink at the sky blues and Geoff Davies was twice denied a goal by some fantastic goalkeeping from big Joe Corrigan. All this in front of the BBC Match of the Day cameras and over 46,000 packed into the ground.

At the end of this exceptional season hopes were high that Wigan would finally be voted in to the Football League unfortunately at this time the league was very much a closed shop and the old pals act denied latics access and they only gained 14 votes.

Back to the present day now, Geoff Davies the centre forward who scored 42 goals that season kindly agreed to be interviewed by yours truly and gave me this insight into that season and his career in general.

Geoff, What were your early days like as a fledgling footballer and who did you support as a child?

I played football at school, which was 20 miles away from home, and was selected to play for Wirral Schoolboys. Shrewsbury Town showed an interest in me but my Dad wanted me to have a trade so when I left school I started a five-year apprenticeship with Shell as a vehicle fitter.

I then signed part time for my home town club Ellesmere Port Town in the Cheshire League who were managed by the ex Everton player Jimmy Harris. I started out as a winger but because of the amount of goals I was scoring Jimmy switched me to centre forward. I was watched by Shrewsbury Town, Port Vale, Chester, Wrexham & Tranmere but nothing materialised. The following season the club nearly folded and they started to sell their better players. Northwich Victoria then approached me so I accepted a move to the Drill Field side. As a child aged 6-10yrs old I travelled regularly by coach to watch the great Wolves side managed by Stan Cullis with players like Billy Wright etc, great players & great games. When I stopped travelling I became a Liverpool supporter and I still am to this day.

Wigan Athletic were one of the biggest non-league clubs in the country in 1970, did you feel that when you joined them? You scored 5 hat tricks in your first 3 months so the move obviously worked for you. 

After a couple of weeks I knew we were going to be successful. I watched and learned from players like Gordon Milne & Jim Fleming, they had a great work ethic. Gordon was a great leader and motivator and he led by example. My all round game improved and with it belief and self esteem, I was surrounded by good players and good people. For me as a striker who was constantly making runs into goal scoring positions it was a delight to be supported by the wing play of Derek Temple and Graham Oates, their service was superb. They had the Beckham like ability to pick me out. I also had through balls provided from midfield by Gordon Milne & Jim Fleming, was it any wonder I scored 42 goals that season. We had the hard working Bobby Todd closing down the midfield and a terrifically strong defence led by Ian Gillibrand.

Of all the stars of that 70/71 team who was your closest pal and who did you most admire as a player?  

I admired everyone on the team, the backroom boys and especially the fantastic Wigan supporters and people. My closest friends were Dennis Reeves, Kenny Morris, Lee Koo and Bobby Todd. I travelled up the M6 three or four times a week with Dennis Reeves in all kinds of foul winter weather, fog, rain, gales & snow. Everyone on the team was close their was no cliques.

Trips away were great especially Majorca, well apart from having to listen to Derek Temple’s Bee Gees records all the time!

What’s your greatest memory from your time at Wigan?  

The F.A. Cup runs were great and we deserved all the victories. The Wigan supporters came out in their thousands and carried us along. We played in some terrible conditions, snow and heavy mud but we always kept our shape combined with our attacking style and a tremendous work rate.

I will always remember the Manchester City cup game and the build up to it. Today it would be like playing Manchester United because of the great players City had in their team at that time. A full house at Maine Rd and on Match of the day, I would love a copy of that game.

We played well and deserved a replay, the game hinged on two moments, Dennis Reeves boot split and he miss hit his goal kick which resulted in the only goal, and Joe Corrigan’s wonder save on to the post from my header in the last minute. I have photographs of that moment and I often think of what might have been if that had gone in.

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You scored 22 goals the following season and then left to join Chester City did you enjoy your experience there? 

When I joined Derek Draper was first choice centre forward and I was told he was retiring but this never happened and with Derek being a big favourite with the management and fans I struggled to gain a regular first team place. I lost my confidence but I scored regularly for the reserves once scoring six against Port Vale. Gordon Lee the Vale manager was interested in signing me but so too were other clubs and I signed for Wrexham manager John Neal.

Your league career really took off at Wrexham. 

It was one of the best moves I ever made, John Neal was a wonderful manager. We reached the quarterfinals of the F.A.Cup in 73/74 before losing to a deflected goal at Burnley. We had played well in earlier rounds but didn’t perform on the day. It was the first time that I witnessed players crying in the changing room. We won the Welsh Cup the following season and I enjoyed playing in the European Cup Winners Cup.

After your success with Wrexham you went to play in America, what was that like? 

I had already spent a summer there when I was at Wrexham playing for Boston Minutemen.

In my first game I lined up with former Portuguese players Eusebio, Calardo and Fernando Nelson. Uruguayan international Soroa and West Germans Neumann & Suhnholtz were also in the side and I finished up top scorer. In my second spell I returned to Boston and my first game was against New York Cosmos who had Pele in their side. I then got transferred to Chicago Sting managed by former Man Utd player Bill Foulkes. While I was there Bill told me that when I was at Wigan, Manchester United had put in a bid for me but it was turned down, I never knew about the offer.

In 1976 I returned to England to sign for Port Vale a move that didn’t work out and included being loaned out to Hartlepool. I returned to America playing for San Jose Earthquakes along with Trevor Hockey & Alan Birchenall. Other league players included George Best, Beckenbaur, Cruyff, Chingalia, Rodney Marsh and many others.

You then returned to England for one last league season with Wimbledon. 

Dave Bassett recommended me to them and Alan Batsford the manager and chairman Ron Noades came to my house in Chester to sign me. Ron was in his Rolls Royce! I played in their first ever league game a 3-3 draw with Halifax. At this time I played as a defensive midfielder and was enjoying my time until Dario Gradi took over as manager. He made it clear he didn’t want any older players in his side. I just never got on with Gradi.I went back to the states to play for Los Angeles Skyhawks and San Francisco Fog. I then began to coach at soccer camps and even trained to be a hairdresser and met Vidal Sassoon! After brief spells with Northwich & Caernarfon Town, I returned to America for good. My last team was Los Angeles where I was lucky enough to become Head Coach. I now live in San Francisco where I am a fully licensed coach training some of the best youth players in California at team and summer camps.

Geoff Davies. 

This interview took place over a matter of months with many emails flying back and forth across the Atlantic. In all that time Geoff has been courteous and friendly in the extreme. No task has been too much and he is a warm and generous man who richly deserves his place in the Wigan Athletic Hall of Fame.

The story of Wigan Athletic will continue through dark times and days of glory as it always has and as it always will.

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Meanwhile here’s what was going on in the rest of the footballing world in 70/71:

Jimmy Greaves & Jimmy Armfield retired. Ted McDougall scored 49 goals for Bournemouth six of them in an F.A.Cup tie v Oxford City. Arsenal won the double. 66 people died in the Ibrox tragedy. Cardiff City beat Real Madrid 1-0 in the first leg of the Cup Winners Cup quarter final only to lose 2-0 in the second leg. Leeds Utd won the Fairs Cup. Chelsea won the Cup Winners Cup. Spurs won the League cup. Blackpool & Burnley were relegated from the top division. Blackburn & Bolton were relegated to the 3rd Div.

Nearer to home I could buy a sports jacket from Lowes for 90 shillings, which wouldn’t have left much from a trainee weavers wage of £8-6-0d at Makerfield Mill. Still I could have been a bus conductor on a weekly wage of £23-18-6d who probably thought of upgrading his TV set from a 23” 2 channel one (£6-10s) to a 3 channel one for a whopping £32! Better off going to the pictures where you could watch John Wayne in “Chisum” at the ABC or “Love Bug” at the Court. As far as Latics were concerned you could travel with Eavesway to Netherfield away for 14 shilling and for your tea how about a barbecued chicken from the “Golden Joy” on Marsden St for only 8 shilling.

Some of the Albums you could have bought in 70/71:

Neil Young – After the Goldrush, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Derek & the Dominoes – Layla, Van Morrison – Moondance, Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge over Troubled Water, Crosby Stills & Nash – Déjà vu, Santana – Abraxas,Black Sabbath – Paranoid, Randy Newman – 12 Songs, The Who – Live at Leeds, Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory, James Taylor – Sweet Baby James, George Harrison – All Things Must Pass, James Brown – Sex Machine, Deep Purple – In Rock, Led Zeppelin – 111, Rolling Stones – Get your Ya-Ya’s out, Various Artists – Woodstock, Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die, Rod Stewart – Gasoline Alley, The Beatles – Let it Be, Beach Boys – Sunflower, The Doors – Morrison Hotel, Free – Fire & Water, Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman, David Bowie – The Man who sold the World, Joni Mitchell – Ladies of the Canyon, Joe Cocker – Mad Dogs & Englishmen, Stephen Stills – Stephen Stills, The Kinks – Lola, Pink Floyd – Atom Heart Mother, Elton John – Tumbleweed Connection, Carpenters – Close to You, Temptations – Psychedelic Shack, Marvin Gaye – What’s going On, Led Zeppelin – IV, The Who – Who’s Next, Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers, David Bowie – Hunky Dory, Carole King – Tapestry, John Lennon – Imagine, Allman Brothers – At Fillmore East, Yes – Fragile, Jethro Tull – Aqualung, Beach Boys – Surfs Up, The Faces – A Nod is as good as a Wink, Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson, Alice Cooper – Love it to Death, T Rex – Electric Warrior, Janis Joplin – Pearl, The Doors – L.A. Woman, Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Pictures at an Exhibition, Cat Stevens – Teaser & the Firecat, Paul & Linda McCartney – Ram, Isaac Hayes – Shaft, Don McLean – American Pie.

Tony Topping