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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 ( 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…


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.


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. 


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. 


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.


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. 


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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 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.


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


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.


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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


A Northern Love Story

8 Mar


Music, where would we be without it? It weaves its way throughout our lives and transports us back to moments that you can almost touch. I was into rock music when I was one of the young dudes and in the mid 70’s I could be found going to concerts in Manchester & Liverpool and the odd Reading Festival. If I wasn’t trying to catch Barbara’s eye outside of “Puffers” then I would be in the Wigan Casino playing air guitar to the likes of Deep Purple and colliding quite deliberately with “Joni” the beautiful tiny dancer on the sprung wooden dance floor. Denim jacket in summer, Duffel in winter, I would knock back those Newky Browns and try and forget I had a shitty job in a factory, and I did forget for a little while…

Outside the Casino young lads and girls queued patiently, they had the same dreams, the same crap jobs and like me they lived for the weekend.

The soundtrack to their lives couldn’t have been more different though and it was one that was alien to me. When our evening was over we left to a barrage of insults from the “soulies” The feeling was mutual, we were the same ages but belonged to different tribes and as we made our way home I would often turn and wonder what they did at those “Allnighters”

Years later I discovered that I had missed something special, something that happened every week in my home town. While I slept and dreamt of Joni the world was spinning to the sound of Northern Soul…

Thankfully Northern Soul is still with us today and is in fact enjoying a renaissance. Soul nights are popping up everywhere and people are flocking to them. One of the best local events is held at the St James Club in Orrell. Martin Blundell & Andy Garside both DJ and arrange events at the Orrell Soul Club and I asked them about the continuing fascination with the scene and about their football allegiances.

How old were you when you first got into Northern Soul and what influenced you?

Martin: I was 12 and in my 2nd year at Upholland Sec. A couple of lads who I’d got friendly with at school suggested going down to the YMCA which was behind the Rezzies (Orrell Water Park now). We’d only gone down there for a game of snooker and darts to pass the time but they had a DJ on in the next room playing different sorts of music. I remember hearing Edwin Starr’s Back Street wafting in through the gap in the door and thinking how good it sounded, so I went and had a look. There were about 20 people in there dancing, clapping in tune to the music and of course doing spins, kick ups, etc. Their energy just blew me away, together with the fact that they looked so cool in their full-length leathers and shiny cherry red Casino Diamonds. It didn’t really hit me right then, but I was about to be hooked.

Andy: I was 14 years old when I first visited the Wigan Casino but I had been listening to my sister’s records for a few years before that so I did get my early influence from her.


What clubs did you visit and which one was your favourite? Was the drugs scene in the 70’s overstated or was it quite common?

Martin: I’d go pretty regularly to the YMCA and got to know the DJ. We’d call him Stretch Cartwright (after the rubber toy of the time) ‘coz he was just so supple. I often wondered how he avoided knocking his own head off when he did a kick up. Not long after he started a Wednesday night session at St James Club where we now hold Orrell Soul Club and I was a regular there until I was 15. Then I started going to the Wigan Casino. Sadly this was at the expense of the St James’ night because Wigan had an early session on the Wednesday which quite a few us started to go to. Friday was another early session too and that became a regular night for us. I was 16 and just started working when I first went to an allnighter and up to that point I’d never come across any of the drug scene at all, although I’d heard about it from one or two who had been there before me. The only real contact I had with drugs was through a few friends who dabbled, as I never got involved in it myself. One mate in particular though did get pretty embroiled in it and as result went his separate ways. I’d heard a few years ago that he ended up in rehab a few times, but that’s as much as I found out.

Andy: The clubs I went to were quite local to us such as the White Swan in Huddersfield, the Underground Club in Leeds and Samantha’s in Sheffield. There was the Casino of course and numerous others that we visited. The Casino was the obvious Favourite. As for the drugs, well it was just part of the scene in those days; it did get a bit out of hand towards the end of the Casino though.

How much of a role does fashion play in the scene? Was getting up to dance a daunting prospect in the beginning? Did you practise at home first?

Martin: Back in the days of our youth, the fashion was a pretty important part of the scene. I can remember getting the train to Manchester to buy a full length leather coat simply because I just had to have one to feel a part of it. Same goes for the shoes, I had two pairs of Diamonds which I’d always have polished up for whenever I went out. Some of the girls in particular always looked the business and I imagine they spent hours getting themselves looking like that. There’s still a lot of it around on today’s scene too, there’s a couple of specialist manufacturers who produce the bags, pegs and skirts of the day. You’ll see quite a few people in the fashion whenever you’re at a soul event.

I started learning the dancing pretty early on when I went to the youth club and St James and through watching the lads there and picking up a lot of their moves. I soon found out though that it was about having your own style, a way in which you could feel the music and move to it. And then of course, knowing when the right time was to clap, kick or spin, etc. Having got friendly with most people there, it was quite acceptable for me to be making a complete idiot of myself while I learned. A few of us were always round each others houses dancing around the living room and commenting on each others moves. By the time I got to the Casino I’d had a few positive comments about my dancing so it wasn’t quite as daunting as it could have been. The thing that got my nerves going the most was the fear of bumping into other people on the dance floor as I’d never experienced such a packed hall before. (I still regularly have a little soul night in my living room at home nowadays, after a few beers you understand)

Andy: I personally don’t think Fashion is as important as it used to be. As for the dancing well it took me five visits to the Casino before I plucked up enough courage to get out on the dance floor. I think most people practised their moves at home to some degree.


Is the scene still popular? Does it attract any youngsters? What kind of atmosphere can a newcomer to the scene expect? How long has the Orrell club been going?

Martin: I’d say the scene is more popular now than it was at anytime back then mainly due to the fact that it’s not as much of an underground scene anymore so it’s more accessible to the general public as well as people reliving what they class as the best years of their lives. Some weekends you can choose between 50 and 60 events that are on throughout the country and there are always at least 2 or 3 within 25 miles of Wigan. It causes problems for events, as the punters are spread out so the event can be a little down in numbers. However, atmosphere at any event is always friendly and enjoyable. As a result there are quite a few younger people on the scene, mainly relatives of older soulies but the numbers are increasing slowly.

As Orrell Soul Club run by Andy, in its current form, it’s just over 18 months old. However, the club itself was run prior to this as “For Dancers Only” club and was pretty lively for 5 years. It comes as quite a surprise to a lot of the punters now that, historically, it opened its doors to Northern Soul for the first time in 1975. This was held on a Wednesday evening but started to suffer as a result of the Casino’s early session that night. As a result, in 1977, the event ended. Due to a bit of pressure from a number of people I took over the DJ spot and switched the night to a Sunday once a month. The last night I recall during that era was in 1980; I’d moved out of the area and couldn’t keep it going and as far as I know that was that until 7 years ago.

Andy: I think the scene is more popular today than it’s ever been and we are getting youngsters through the doors. Newcomers can expect to get a warm friendly welcome and have peace of mind that they will never get any trouble at soul venues.

Orrell has been running about 7 years now, I have been the promoter for the last 2 of those years and we are still growing.


What are your views on “Modern Soul”? Do you like other kinds of music? Are your children into the scene?

Martin: Modern Soul has a massive following, so its appeal is obvious. Personally, I wouldn’t chase after it but I’ve been to many places where it is played and the dance floor reaction tells its own story. I’m oldies mon so I’ll keep my mouth shut on this subject! I like doo-wop music, which is probably not a shock as it’s inherently linked to early soul but I don’t really get much chance to listen to other genres. The kids have their music, which occasionally appeals in passing but nothing really that grabs me like Soul does. I have three daughters who have been brought up in a house where Northern Soul has always been played during their lives. When they were younger they’d sing along and dance to it in their own way. Now they’re older, they have their own tastes in music but they still occasionally attend the odd event and will get up on the dance floor to certain tunes they like and remember.

Andy: I’m of the old school and don’t think there’s a place for Modern Soul on the Northern Scene. I like all types of music but love my Northern and rare soul. My children? They think Northern is for old people!

Are you still discovering tracks that excite you today? Can you remember the first record you bought? What’s the most you have paid for a record? How many records have you?

Martin: It’s probably more a case of re-discovering tunes really. Something that I’ve not heard for 30+ years. Particularly with regard to the mid or slower tempo tunes. When I was younger, it was 100mph stuff that got me up on the dance floor with a complete ignorance towards any of the slower stuff. Now that I’ve mellowed (a bit) I’m finding myself appreciating those tunes that I would have quickly sat down to in the past. The first record I bought was Edwin Starr’s Back Street on the US Ric-Tic label, way back in those Orrell YMCA days. I’ve still got it and it still remains my favourite record as does Edwin Starr my favourite singer. I paid £240 for a copy of The Isonics, Sugar on the Kammy label about 6 months ago. Going back ten or so years I had well over 1500 records but personal circumstances meant selling quite a few and my list currently ends at 572.

Andy: I’m still finding tracks I’ve never heard or can’t remember hearing. I think the first record I ever bought was the Tempos – Countdown Here I Come on the Canterbury label. I try to limit myself to around the 100 to 200 pounds mark but have gone as high as £400 in the past. I work towards limiting my collection to around 600 records if it goes over that figure I start to move them on.


Do DJ’s always use vinyl? Have you a favourite track? Any particular DJ that you admired?

Martin: The answer to that is ‘NO’. I visited a venue a number of years ago where our world renowned Mister Wigan Casino (Russ) was Special Guest and he turned up with a large case of CD’s to play out. Orrell has an OVO (Original Vinyl Only) theme which can make it a little more difficult to find the right DJ’s but as a result we’ve had some brilliant guests over the last 18 months. All time favourite track as mentioned before is Back Street by Edwin Starr. One that currently gets me flying to the dance floor is Baby Can’t You See by Little Tommy. (Anyone got one on the US Sound Of Soul label that they’d like to sell me for, errm, let’s say a tenner?)I’d never really given much thought to particular DJ’s back then and therefore don’t really have any particular favourites. However, I can’t let this opportunity go without a mention for Nige Brown, one of the top guys on the current scene today. He has a great taste in music, a collection of records to die for and an attitude that is so infectious you can’t fail to enjoy his work.

Andy:. Favourite track has to be Eugene Jefferson – Pretty Girl Dressed In Brown on the Open label. Butch has to be the DJ I admire most he is one of the few still moving the scene forward.

Have you been to the “Soul in the Sun” events and what are they like? How often do you DJ/attend events?

Martin: I’ve been to the three November SITS events that have been held in Lanzarote. It’s based around the idea that a Soulie on a general holiday abroad has nowhere to go in the evening to satisfy their Soul fix. During the day, it’s do as you please, laze around in the sun, whatever and then every night you’ve got your soul satisfaction instead of your evening with Elvis karaoke. I’ve enjoyed every one I’ve been too and it is exactly what it says on the tin… “A Holiday With Soul”.

I’m out every weekend visiting an event, usually Saturday but sometimes on a Friday too. Mainly local events within a 25/30 mile radius but also other ‘big’ events, Stoke Allnighter, Skegness Weekender, etc. I’ve always loved Orrell so the 2nd Saturday of every month I’m always there, even more so now I’ve got a bit of a regular DJ spot (Thanks Andy!). As a result of DJ’ing at Orrell plus the fact that I’m relatively new back behind the decks, I’ve had a few bookings at other events as a guest and have been asked to go back again.

Andy: I went to soul in the sun in the early days and it’s very good as a social event but not my cup of tea. I am either DJ’ing or visiting other venues every week; it’s what I work all week for.

Favourite venues apart from Orrell?

Martin: No doubt that my second fave is Burscough Legion which runs on the 4th Saturday of every month. It’s a really friendly atmosphere and there’s always a good line-up of DJ’s that play something a little different, tunes you don’t hear often, a bit of R&B, etc. I’ve also enjoyed the Stoke Allnighter at Kings Hall as it’s probably the closest replica of the Casino that’s been found. A few others worthy of mention would be Southport St Theresa’s, Bury Masonic and The Monaco Ballroom for its atmosphere.

Andy: Has to be Keele best all-nighter in the country in my opinion.

How long have you supported your team? How did you first get into watching them?

Martin: I was about 6 when I started watching Latics. My Dad worked in the Car Parts shop on the corner of Gidlow Lane opposite the Pagefield Hotel and on Saturdays my Mam would help him out. I’d go with them until my Grandfather turned up to take me shopping. He’d be shopping for my auntie as well and we’d take it back to her house, which was at the top of Woodhouse Lane. She’d cook us a bit of dinner and along with my Uncle Alf we’d go the match.

Andy: I was 11 years old when I first went to Leeds Road to watch town. My older Brother Tony used to take me with his friends, that was the beginning of my life long love affair with Huddersfield Town


Favourite player?

Martin: I’d have to give a mention to Colin Methven for his reliability and solidity in the centre of defence. Although I didn’t get to many games during that era, he always stood out as a huge influence on the team and when you think of Mister Wigan Athletics, he would have to be up there. However, we always prefer excitement don’t we, so I’ll go for Nathan Ellington, while also giving credit for that to Jason Roberts. As an individual, ‘Duke’ had the ability to get me on the edge of my seat like no other has, before or since. No matter where he was on the pitch when he received the ball, the anticipation rose. He scored some fantastic goals during his time at the club, culminating, probably fittingly, with his header that confirmed promotion to the Premier League. Of course, what came to pass after that has been documented many times but let’s just remember the good times.

Andy: That would be Frank Worthington.

Best memory?

Martin: It’s difficult to pick one from the distant past as I was only young and although I enjoyed being there, I’d to some degree been given little option, either  Latics or getting whacked round the ear for causing mischief at the back of a car accessory shop. And a lot of the highs in between were experienced second hand to some degree. So, I’d have to say the two promotion seasons in 2002/3 and 2004/5, probably the latter being the greater high but only because it’s the last one.

Andy: Going to the old Wembley stadium with Town for the first time. 

Worst memory?

Martin: Finding out that Dave Whelan broke his leg in a Cup Final! No, seriously, I’d have to say the last game I went to with my Grandfather. He’d been ill for quite a while but the realisation after seeing him struggling and admitting he couldn’t cope, was a sad one. He still supported the club afterwards by sending some money with my uncle to buy lottery tickets on match days.

Andy: Missing out on promotion to the Premier league thanks to our then chairman Barry Rubery selling Marcus Stewart to one of our biggest rivals.


Did you take your children to games and do they still go now?

Martin: It was the Division Two promotion season and out of the blue my youngest daughter, Maddie, asked to get involved with the Junior Latics Girls. As a result of her interest, I started to take her regularly to a few games. The following season Fran, the 2nd daughter, started to come as well. During that year, Maddie won an award as “Most Improved Player” and at the presentation I found out that one of the other girls parents attended Soul events. They invited me with them and I’ve been out almost every weekend since. They only came to about half of last years games as the teenage female hormones took over a bit but they still have interest.

Andy: No never, they both support Man Utd!


What Northern Soul song do you think the team should run out to?

Martin: I like the thought of Bunny Sigler’s Follow Your Heart. Although the song itself refers to relationship difficulties, it pleads for heartfelt decision making in doing the right thing. Which of course we’d all like to think our players do for the club. Don’t they?

Andy: Otis Clay – The Only Way Is Up


Do you prefer your old ground to your new one?

Martin: The DW is reasonably impressive but unfortunately no matter what little intricate designs you put into the stadia, they all feel the same. I’d have preferred it if Springfield Park had been developed thoughtfully as there was so much history there.

Andy: Always, never liked the new ground.


Thank you to Martin and Andy for taking time out to do the interview. This interview was originally published in the Mudhutter in 2010 but the northern soul nights continue to be held at Orrell for more info check out Soul@StJames Orrell on Facebook.



Tony Topping

Springfield Road

16 Jan


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


“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.



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.

dennis-reeves-billy-sutherland-ian-gillibrand-and-doug-coutts-in-action-at-maine-road (1)

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

My Honeymoon with Italian Ice Cream Men 1982

6 Jun

I got married on the 5th of June 1982 but we had a belated honeymoon in July after I agreed to loosen the purse strings and whisk my newish 20yr old bride off to Blackpool for a week. We stayed in a little boarding house in Charnley Road called “Bramlea House” and shared a dining table with two women in their 30’s and a lovely old couple Ethel and Neville from Rochdale. I got allocated the chair in the middle next to one of the women, the “brassy” mad blonde one of our grub group.bramlea dining room

(The actual dining room at the Bramlea)

Of course the mad blondie picked on me mercilessly “Have you come for a dirty weekend Tony?” she asked me on our first breakfast meeting “No, no” I said “We’ve come for a week” “You’ve come for a dirty week!” she replied just loud enough for the people on a passing tram to look at me with disgust. “No, no” I spluttered with a face redder than the unrealistic plastic tomato ketchup dispenser laid before me “We’ve come for a holiday” Except “holiday” came out in a reluctant elongated “Hollllllidayyyyy” Blondie laughed and nudged me with her sharp elbow “I’m only having you on kid” Aye maybe but it put me off my sausage that morning.

Ah but Blackpool is not known as the Plastic Jewel of the North for nothing and our spirits soon lifted as we walked along the heaving promenade. With the smell of chip fat and burgers adding to


(Blackpool 1982)

hedonistic atmosphere we went for a paddle in the grey/brownish sea whilst children happily shifted the sands with their buckets & spades playing “Find the buried Nappies” Raising my voice so that my wife could hear me over the bingo callers, I held her in my arms and said “Isn’t this bliss darling?” She said nothing in return but looked like she was about to cry. Yes Blackpool has that effect on you…

Now I find it best if you start a relationship by being honest and laying your cards on the table so to speak. With this in mind I got on my wife’s best side by treating her to a pot of tea in Woolies café. Whilst she was putting wrapped cubes of sugar in her bag (for emergencies, novelty value, impress her workmates, passing horses) I told her that I loved her and I also loved football but I had known football for longer therefore I should put that first, seemed reasonable to me. Seconds later I was picking sugar lumps out of my hair, shirt and eyeballs and we came to a new mutual arrangement…

(She didn't buy this by the way)

(She didn’t buy this by the way)

The World Cup Final took place on the Sunday and I was on a promise with Mrs T. Yes I could watch the final if I promised to buy her something nice from Clockhouse in the nearest C & A store. Now then back in the early eighties you didn’t have televisions in hotel bedrooms, crikey you were lucky if you a sink to pee in, you had what was called a “Television Lounge” Which was basically like you Nan’s front room minus your Nan.

A lot of pubs didn’t have televisions either and besides I wanted to watch the final in relative comfort and an armchair pulled up to the TV was the best option. But this was not as simple as it sounded, you see other people were in the hotel and they might want to watch something else that evening, the selfish old buggers.

A plan formulated in my mind and we set it in motion. On the first strike of the dinner gong we would rush downstairs and be first in the dining room. Ignoring the soup of the day starter (Oxtail) we would move directly on to our main meal TV Lounge Blackpool(Chicken with it being a Sunday) and then pass up on the sweet option (Ice cream with tinned mandarins)

It worked like a charm and we rushed back upstairs with the brassy blondes parting retort “Ooo can you not wait you randy little sod?” echoing round Blackpool and District. Mrs T was on first shift in the lounge and she made sure the television was on the BBC channel as I preferred that channels coverage. In the meantime I would get washed and changed for an immediate exit to the pub once the final had finished. I get ready as quick as I can and hurry back down to the TV lounge to see Mrs T sat alone “Has anyone been in?” I ask slightly out of breath “No not a one” she replies before adding “Right I’ll get changed and meet you here later”

Now a lot of the older generation like a bit of a walk after tea before returning to the hotel and I was prepared for this sexagenarian surge pulling my armchair a little closer to the TV in the unlikely event of someone sitting in front of me. There was one flaw in my plan and I would need all my courage to stick to my guns. BBC 2 had “The Alamo” on at the same time as the final so it was my guns against John Wayne and his elderly fan club. alamoposter

They came in the room in bibs and bobs, sat down for a while and said “Are you watching this?” “Oh yes” I replied to which they glared at me and shuffled out the room banging the door behind them. You see the Alamo actually started before the World Cup coverage so I had to pretend I wanted to watch the programme that was on BBC 1 prior to the final. Thanks to the internet I found out what that programme was and I cringed with embarrassment while Mrs T laughed her head off. I wouldn’t let them switch the TV over for “The Alamo” because I wanted to watch “Songs of Praise” with Thora Hird…

I was left in blissful isolation albeit labelled a religious fanatic by half the hotel and a sex maniac by one. Mrs T joined me for the second half which she spent painting her nails as Italians painted their country Azzurro after a 3-1 win over Germany, a game immortalised by Marco Tardelli’s ecstatic celebration after he scored the second goal.


Game over we bounded out the hotel and headed for the nearest pub but before we got there we witnessed the amazing sight of a line of Italian Ice Cream vans driving round, all playing jingles and sounding their horns. Carried away with the euphoria I started waving and yelling at them “Italia, Italia…” Mrs T pulled my arms down and told me to stop it, when I asked her why she said “They’ll be thinking you want to buy an ice cream!” Women eh?


Looking at the hotel now on “Tripadvisor” it’s rated 831st out of 900 B & B’s it wasn’t quite that bad in 1982 I assure you. Mind you that Television Lounge where I watched the World Cup being won is probably split into two bedrooms now. Ah well it lives on in my mind.

Tony Topping


Total Football

24 Mar

Johan Cruyff, Holland

Being of a certain age, oh alright then an old git, I can remember England winning the 1966 World Cup but only faintly. I do recall the brilliant Brazilians of 1970 and what a team they were, but the first World Cup I really watched avidly was the 1974 tournament and in particular the magnificent Holland team with their “total football”

I was a young factory machinist back in 74 (And I have worked my way up to an old factory machinist now!) and being football daft I organised a World cup sweep with the premise that I would have the last team left in the hat. That last team happened to be Holland.

Holland at that time were not thought to be anything special and didn’t even qualify for the 1970 tournament. In fact they only just made it through the qualifiers topping their group on goal difference from Belgium. I wasn’t confident of winning the sweep and was slightly disappointed with my draw, how soon that would change!

The squad names that I studied intently went on to become football legends… Arie Hann, Van Hanegem, Wim Jansen, the brothers Rene & Willy van der Kerkhoff , Rudy Krol, Rob Rensenbrink, Johnny Rep, Johan Neeskens, Wim Suurbier, De Jong, and the complete footballer Johan Cruyff.

This plethora of football talent was led by one the greatest managers of all the time Rinus Michels.

At 6pm on Saturday the 15th of June 1974 I was sat in front of the television keenly watching my adopted team take on Uruguay in their first game. The team were resplendent in their orange kit and their bright football matched their colours. It took Holland only 16mins to open their account Rep heading home but it was their style of football that set them apart from the rest. The team were supremely fit and attacked ceaselessly often throwing defence to the wind. The Uruguayans resorted to fouling and it was no surprise to see them reduced to 10 men. Rep wrapped the game up 6mins from time but it could and should have been much more. I was delighted! This was “MY team” I checked my wall chart for the next game, Sweden, hah we would murder em’

Wednesday 19th June 19:30pm v Sweden

hol 74

Well it wasn’t quite “murder” the game finished 0-0 and it wasn’t the best of matches either but it did produce one moment of magic that will never ever be forgotten, the Cruyff turn was born. Receiving the ball with his back to goal and with Swedish defender Gunner Olsson in close attendance, Cruyff looked to cross the ball but then swivelled and took the ball in the opposite direction leaving Olsson as bemused as a child on the receiving end of a magicians trick. Pure genius.

Sunday 23rd of June 16:00pm

Holland 4 v Bulgaria 1

Holland were back, two penalties from Neeskens (8, 45mins) a Rep goal (71mins) and a De Jong goal (88mins) sent them through to the next phase, an o.g. from Krol being the Bulgarians only reply.

For the World Cup of 74 it was decided to do away with the Quarter Finals & Semi Finals and instead have two groups of four with the top two teams qualifying for the Final. Holland were paired with Argentina, East Germany & Brazil.

Wednesday 26th of June 19:30pm

Holland 4 v Argentina 1

This was one of the best if not the best games of 1974. Argentina were themselves a cracking football side and were by no means a pushover. Unfortunately for them they came across a Dutch side that hit top form. If I had any lingering doubts that my team were special this game removed them all, this side was outstanding.

Cruyff was the conductor orchestrating everything; the man was immense inspiring his team-mates to new levels. The master opened the scoring in the 12th minute with a brilliant goal superbly controlling Van Hanegem’s chip before rounding the keeper and slotting home from a narrow angle. Krol (25th min) Rep (73rd min) and Cruyff again (88th min) wrapped up this enthralling game.

Sunday 30th of June 16:00pm

Holland 2 v East Germany 0

Well after the heights of the Argentina game this was a more workman like display. To be truthful the Dutch wonders played within themselves and did what was necessary rather than take undue risks, and who could blame them? The weather didn’t help and the game was played in a constant downpour. An early goal from Neeskens settled Holland and a more restraint display than normal saw them take control. Rensenbrink scored their second in the 59th minute and that was that. Now only one team stood between Holland and the final…Brazil.

Wednesday 3rd of July 19:30pm

Holland 2 v Brazil 0holland

This was the ugly side of Brazil, gone was the beautiful football of 1970, in it’s place was a bruising physical team who ironically adopted a European style of play when the side they were about to meet were playing a sublime South American style of football with it’s  reliance on skill. It was a rough tough game and the Dutch team had to fight fire with fire, and then out of the blue came a marvellous goal. In the 50th minute a free kick from Van Hanegem was played to Neeskens, he knocked it wide to Cruyff and carried on with his run into the penalty area, Cruyff chipped a brilliant ball back to Neeskens who carefully volleyed it over the goalkeeper. The second goal was also superbly worked, Krol crossing hard for Cruyff to volley in low. Brazil’s misery was complete late in the game when Pereira was sent off. Brazil had lost their golden sheen and their crown, a team in orange were now the torchbearers for the beautiful game and football supporters all over the world willed them to win their last game, the final against the host country…West Germany.

Sunday 7th of July 16:00pm

Holland 1 v West Germany 2

This was the first game of the World Cup that I watched away from home, in Skegness to be precise, Billy Butlins. Whilst the rest of my family went  to watch the delights of the donkey derby or the knobbly knees competition, I set off for the TV lounge. As usual I was on the last minute foolishly thinking nobody else would bother to watch it. Imagine my dismay when I got to the lounge and it was packed! Now I’m not normally a pushy type of person but this was “MY” team, who were all these JCL? With my bright orange t-shirt on I pushed my way to the front and sat crossed legged on the floor with all the little kids, my face pillar post-box red. Jack Taylor was the referee and the kick off was delayed because the corner flags couldn’t be found. When it did start Mr Taylor awarded Holland a penalty in the first minute!  Cruyff was fouled by Hoeness and Neeskens coolly beat Maier from the spot, Germany had yet to touch the ball! This early goal with the prize so near led to Holland sacrificing their flamboyancy for a more cautious approach. This encouraged the strong German side to take a hold on the game. It’s easy to say that Holland with their superior skill could have seized the prize if they had played their normal game but the Germans are nothing if not resilient and they drew level with a contentious penalty Breitner the scorer (25th min) Gerd Muller then swivelled and scored the winner (43rd min) and despite some late Dutch pressure the game was over. West Germany won the World Cup but Holland won the hearts of football fans with their total football and their names will always be revered whenever men gather to talk about the beautiful game.


Tony Topping.

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”


“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”


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