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

 

What I did on my holidays

6 Oct

What I did on my Holidays 

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Hope you all had a great summer and the weather has been quite decent this year for a change. Mind you as I look out from the turret of Topping Towers it’s raining quite heavily as I type this. Now back when I was a youngster 300 years ago it was sunny every day of the school holidays and we would travel to foreign lands like Morecambe, Rhyl and New Brighton. What those dumps I hear you say? Now then don’t be so cheeky they were quite exotic and magical places in the 50’s and 60’s. Come on let’s travel back and take a look.

As a family our main holiday would tend to be Blackpool or Butlin’s but day trips out were an important part of the summer holidays especially Southport and it’s a thriving place today but I want to focus on the local seaside resorts that faded and died. New Brighton attracted thousands of people to its seashore in the 1960’s when I was a nipper. Hard to imagine if you visit the place today but once upon a time it rivalled Blackpool and had a bigger tower than the Fylde coast one.

The tower was a whopping 567 feet high! Built in 1900 it was dismantled in 1919 because the owners couldn’t afford to maintain it so they sold it for scrap. Six men were killed in the building of the tower and one fireman fell 90 feet to his death from a six inch wide beam trying to tackle a blaze. On one occasion a woman and her child had to spend the night up at the top of the structure after the lift closed. They didn’t even bother making a complaint when they were discovered the next morning. They were made of sterner stuff in those days.

The big draw for me about going to New Brighton was the journey to get there. Train from Wigan to Liverpool and then the walk through the city to the docks. Hustle and bustle, buildings so big they took your breath away, grime, smoke and tons of atmosphere. Then you got to the docks! Ships jostling for position, big and small all huffing and puffing, some bound for lands I had only read about like the Isle of Man! Our ship was only a smallish one, the New Brighton ferry, but for a little while I was Fletcher Christian on board The Bounty.

New Brighton had a decent funfair, not on a par with Blackpool but enough to keep kids entertained. The giant tower had long since disappeared before I was born but the massive tower building still stood and housed the Beatles more times than anywhere else bar The Cavern. It also had a massive outdoor swimming pool that hosted beauty contests. The Tower Building was destroyed by fire a recurring theme sadly throughout seaside demise.

The pier where you alighted from the ferry at New Brighton is long gone and you can no longer get there by boat. You can however get a ferry across the Mersey and walk the couple of miles to New Brighton along a flat promenade. It’s a pleasant trip on a nice day and you can hunt for the ghosts of former glories as you make your way there.

Not much of Morecambe’s glories remain I’m sad to say but it was similar to New Brighton in the 50’s and 60’s. Funfair, giant open air swimming pool, theatres and all the trimmings of a jolly day out. Morecambe even had its own version of SeaWorld with a dolphin show in the 1960’s and I vaguely remember going unless my minds playing tricks. It definitely had an old sailing ship moored there and I went on it. The ship was used in the films Treasure Island and Moby Dick and it was a classic old vessel but sadly it was destroyed by fire in the early seventies.

Moby Dick

Moby Dick

Morecambe used to be known as “Little Bradford” because of the Yorkshire folk who travelled there by train. The funfair at Morecambe which opened in 1906 underwent many changes not least in 1987 when it was remarketed as “Frontierland” a Western style theme park with the same rides tarted up. It wasn’t a success and in 2000 it was closed down with all the rides finding new homes apart from the Polo Tower which was left standing. I’m surprised that tower didn’t find a buyer after all it must have made a mint! Geddit? Mint? Polo? Oh please yourselves.

More indignity was heaped on Morecambe when in 1994 Crinkly Bottom or Blobbyland opened its doors. The ahem brainchild of Noel Edmonds it closed 13 weeks after opening due to a disinterested public and lost 2 million pounds from the local council funds. Colin Crompton of Wheeltappers and Shunters fame once said of Morecambe “There are some nice drives out of Morecambe. ANY road out of Morecambe is a nice drive”

Before I move onto the seaside resort of Rhyl I thought I would give you a flavour of what it was like to be a kid in the 1960’s on a day trip. If it was a sunny most of the day would be spent on the beach. Kids in cossies Mum’s and Dad’s in casual attire with the occasional showing of white flesh when they roused themselves to go paddling in the sea or swimming in the open air pools. Granddad would be in his former best suit now relegated to knocking about wear with sandals and socks plus flat cap. Grandma would be resplendent in summer frock with overcoat and hat.

Every adult had a deckchair while kids sat on the sand or scurried about getting water for the sandcastle moat a pointless task since it disappeared immediately. Butties from home would be opened on the beach and be guaranteed to be sandblasted in seconds giving a gritty texture to your corned beef butty. Buckets and spades were made of tin that rusted as soon as you got them home. Cowboy hats for boys and frilly fringed hats for girls were the de rigour at the seaside. Tin pots of tea filled with scalding water were entrusted with children to carry over a landscape filled with semi naked bodies. We loved it!

Rhyl was one of the few day trips that evolved into a week’s holiday and I stayed here twice both times at the Sunnyvale Camp. The camp opened in the 1920’s and is still going today but the open air swimming pool that I splashed about in is long gone. Hard to believe that Rhyl was a booming tourist destination back in the day but it’s another of those places that has fell on hard times. Not hard to see why when tourism is your biggest asset. Thankfully the town is getting back on its feet now and I may have to revisit the place for a fresh view.

Rhyl 1960's

In 1962 Rhyl made history by having the world’s first hovercraft passenger service from the resort to Wallasey. It started ferrying (or should that be hovering?) passengers in July that year but it wasn’t a success due to mechanical problems and stopped its service in September 1962. The resort had a decent funfair named Ocean Beach a cracking name reminiscent of American theme parks and another funfair at the Marine Lake. Good theatres, a pier, open air swimming pool, nice beach and lovely countryside nearby all added to the appeal of the place but it just didn’t resonate with me that much really.

Other notable day trips in the summer holidays included trips to Belle Vue funfair and zoo, the Lake District, Chester and the zoo, Southport, Blackpool and still one of my most favourite places in the world Lytham St Annes. I hope you’ve enjoyed this nostalgic trip, don’t forget your sticks of rock and bars of nougat and I’ll see you on the steam train home!

Tony Topping

25 Years of Junior Latics (2008)

4 Aug

25 years of Junior Latics

We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.  ~Stacia Tauscher

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2008 was the 25th anniversary of Wigan Junior Latics, 25yrs of looking after the lifeblood of this club, playing a vital role in the history of Wigan Athletic yet taken for granted by the powers that be. That I hasten to add is my own personal view, feel free to disagree but I have seen them treated harshly in our rapid rise through the leagues. Homeless and unattached they wander from venue to venue whilst the corporate big wigs jostle for position at the Premiership trough.

Yes we know they contribute some of the money but as the saying goes all that glistens is not gold. The ones who are really precious are outside shivering by a bus or standing in a broken down nightclub or if their really lucky in a nearby gym. The adults who give up their time freely to look after and organise these children do so stoically, the show must go on and it does thanks to them and no none else. My own two children now young adults were both fortunate enough to be picked out as mascots. My daughter led the team out against Millwall at Wembley in 1999 and my son v Gillingham at Springfield Park on a cold barren Tuesday night. Two very different occasions but both of them were precious to me and the kids. A quarter of a century ago things seemed very different to me, was I looking back through rose tinted glasses? To find out I managed to get in touch with someone who was there in those early days, Laurence Fairhurst all round nice guy and lifelong latics fan agreed to talk to me about our junior member’s organisation.

When did you become involved in the Junior Latics? How did JL start up?

I first became involved in 1985 two years after the organisation was set up. My son Barry was playing for the Junior Latics U10’s and I was asked if I would like to help out. Jack Sudworth started the whole thing off after seeing how well Man City’s Junior Blues was doing.

Did you get any help financially back in those early years?

Yes we got help from Port Petroleum and Heinz amongst others. Heinz were especially good with us.

Were the senior players at Wigan Athletic initially keen to attend events?

The players were very good especially when we were based at Springfield Park. We had the likes of Neil Rimmer, Alan Tankard, Roberto Martinez and Stuart Barlow turning up on a regular basis but they all were very keen. Bryan Hamilton was especially good when he was manager and he would have the players on a rota to attend our meetings. Dave Philpotts was another one who made sure the players knew their responsibilities with regards to the kids. It’s a little bit harder nowadays to get close to the players but Jimmy Bullard was always brilliant when he was here.

When did you first start watching the latics? Who was your favourite player?

In 1959/60 a Lancashire Cup game. My Dad liked to watch the rugby but like many others in those days he also watched the latics especially in the cup. After a while I started to make my own way there. My favourite player would have to be Harry Lyon. He wasn’t the most skilful player I have seen but he knew where the net was! 60 goals in a season, it’s not bad is it? He would run through a brick wall if you asked him. He was a great character who liked a pint and always had time for a chat.

Did any of the latics players kids ever become members of Junior Latics?

Stuart Barlow’s little lad Josh became an honorary member but no other players children ever joined. Arjan DeZeeuw’s was at one meeting and he was so impressed that he asked us if his own children could attend the event. After we said yes he nipped home straight away to bring them down.

Who were the worst away Juniors to visit Wigan?

Oh Preston North End definitely! Around 72 of them turned up at Springfield Park on a double decker bus for one match. They only had two adults to look after the lot of them! We usually played football etc on the all weather pitch but it was unavailable on this particular day so we herded them all into the supporters club. They were wild, running about everywhere while their “minders” were drinking at the bar. Eventually Carol Liptrot could take no more and we had to put them in the family enclosure. They started to wreck that and we had to get the stewards to march them to the away end. Undeterred they went on to smash an emergency exit door down!

Which ground was the best to visit with the Junior Latics?

I would have to say Rotherham United. We had a great relationship with them and always got a warm welcome whenever we visited Millmoor. They always organised events for the adults as well as the children and they put on fantastic buffet’s etc.

Without doubt the best away trip we had.

What happened to the little caravan that used to be near the supporters club at Springfield Park?

Stuart Roy Clarke

Image by Stuart Roy Clarke from thehomesoffootball.co.uk

Ah the little caravan was eventually sold for £5! The trouble was it was always getting vandalised even though we never kept anything valuable in it. You would get a phone call from Norma (Sherratt) saying “They’ve been in it again” Shame really as it was an iconic symbol in its own little way. We used to take it to carnivals all over the northwest and it was great for raising the profile of our club.

Many of those Junior Latics members have gone on to have families of their own now. It must be heart warming to see their kids coming through.

Funnily enough I was at a game a little while back and I was waiting in the tunnel with the mascots when one of the Dads said “I remember the day when I was the mascot” It’s great to see that continuality, we must have been doing something right!

Finally do you miss Springfield Park?

I do miss the old ground. We had some great times in the old supporters club and it was a very sad day when we had to leave. We managed to get a last look at the club before it was torn down, sad but we have some great memories to look back on.

Thanks to Laurence and his lovely wife Therese for their hospitality. They invited me and the wife up to their home and were terrific company. They are immensely proud of Wigan Athletic and remain humble about the role they played in cultivating our junior members. The same work goes on today though the name of our junior club has changed. I can’t help feeling that the more we have progressed the more we have forgot about our roots. That somehow as supporters we are less valued than we once were, there’s a distance now that seems to be growing. Children are the lifeblood of any club and Wigan Athletic need to recognise this. They need a permanent home in the stadium on a match day. The family stand is a lonely place nowadays, marketing brains better than mine need to look at this and set about filling it. The saying “Look how far we have come” seems to be a mantra emanating from the stadium. Maybe they should be saying “Look how far we have yet to go”

Tony Topping

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Northern Love Story

8 Mar

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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.

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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.

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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

Wakes Week

12 Feb

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Early July 1963 and a sparrow alights upon the roof of a small terraced house that is home to my family but a slum to the bigwigs of Wigan Council. In 18 months time the sparrow, should it survive the smog from the billowing chimneys of both home and industry, will have no rooftops to visit in this part of town, every house will have been cut down by the council reaper.

Being a small boy such things caused no frowns upon me. I did get a little agitated when the paperboy was late delivering my comics to my granddads house and I admit maths gave me a headache at times, such as every time we had a maths lesson but today I had only one thing on my mind…we were going on holiday to Blackpool!

We walked it to the train station from our house in Wallgate with my dad carrying two cases. Tickets bought we joined the throng of people on the platform waiting for the Blackpool train. I just had time to visit the newspaper kiosk and clutching my pennies I eased myself through the masses and prepared myself for the big decision… Dandy Summer Special or Beano Summer Special? Beano, no Dandy, perhaps Beano then, or Dan… “Anthony hurry up the trains coming!” shouted my Mam. Beano it is and I hurried back to Mam, Dad and my two sisters.

The steam train, all smoke and noise, slowed alongside the platform and begrudgingly squealed to a halt, a mighty black dragon eager to move on. Compartment doors banged open and my sisters and I rushed on to save the seats for our parents. Cases safely stored in the overhead netting we set off on our journey. Ten minutes later my Mam got the butties out and I sat back to read my comic, this is the life!

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As we got closer to our destination my sisters and I scanned the skyline hoping to be the first to spot the black outline of the famous tower. And then it appeared, the man made monolith of mirth…

We disembarked at Central Station and joined the hosts of holidaymakers packed on the platform, shuffling their way slowly to the exits. Familiar faces lined up with us and I saw some friends from school, Dad his mates from work and Mam… well she knew everyone. A year later and this busy, perfectly good station would be flattened. I hope the Wigan sparrow didn’t come here for his holidays or he might develop a complex.

Outside the station, boys not much older than me waited with homemade trolleys to transport the cases to your lodging house for sixpence. Dad put the cases on one and off we marched like explorers going into an uncharted land. We checked into “Dunroamin” and the landlady Mrs Dunsmilin informed us of the house rules “Breakfast 7am till 8am, off the premises by 9am, no coming back before 4pm, evening meal 5pm till 6pm and the front door is locked at 11:30 pm” She peered down at me and my sisters, like a woman who had found something unpleasant on the sole of her shoe and added “And no running” No running? We’d have to be Stirling Moss to adhere to that timetable.

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Unpacked we set off for the beach with its golden sands…hang on where was the sand? Every space on the beach was taken with deckchairs, prams, tea huts, snack vans, ice cream vendors and the population of Mongolia. We managed to find a spot and settled down, Mam and Dad in the chairs and we kids digging into the sand with our tin spades and buckets. Dad even rolled his pants up a bit.

My sisters built a sandcastle and I dug a moat around it, now to fill it with water. I set off for the sea with my bucket, I knew it was out there somewhere but I couldn’t see it for deckchairs. I gingerly made my way through the canvas maze standing on feet, kids, castles, butties, lovelorn couples and mugs of tea. You could have tracked my progress by my apologetic “Sorry… Sorry… really sorry…” Finally I made it through to the beautiful blue… erm… brown sea.

I filled my bucket with water and turned to go back, but where was back? A sea of pink and white flesh faced me, with a few sports jackets thrown into the mix. I tried to retrace my steps but to no avail and people tend to stare aggressively back when you’re looking to see if they are in some way familiar in a “Did I stand on your corns earlier” fashion. Eventually my Dad turned up in his budgies (I acted like I didn’t know him, the state of that cossie) and I followed him back at a respectable distance.

Our evenings were spent in various places, we went to the pictures, a variety show, the Winter Gardens, up and down the prom with all its amusements, but for me the best place of all was inside the Blackpool Tower building.

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In there I could wander freely while the rest of the family sat watching the dancers in the ballroom and occasionally got up for a twirl themselves. I loved the building with its ornate tiling and grandeur, appreciating the atmosphere even though I was a child. They had a small zoo in the tower back then though the animals didn’t seem happy in such confined spaces and it was closed down eventually. I had come to see one animal in particular, the Black Panther.

I would sit on a stone bench opposite its cage for ages watching him go back and forth against the bars of his cramped home. I liked it best when we were more or less alone. Then I would stand against the safety rail and try to catch his eye but the panther just carried on with his endless walk to nowhere. I concentrated really hard trying to communicate by telepathy, the innocence of youth and the savage beauty of the beast not quite on the same wavelength. With a heavy heart I bid him a fond farewell and though I never saw the panther again I can still see him in my mind.

My favourite place in the tower was the Aquarium. Down in the depths of the building and dimly lit, I walked amongst the denizens of the deep like a mini Captain Nemo. It was designed to resemble a series of caves with stalactites hanging down adding to the authenticity. In fact the aquarium had been there since 1875 and the tower was built around it. Little wonder I sensed the ghosts of the past at every turn. Some of the fish down here were as big as a Roman shield and unlike the panther they looked straight at me until I was forced to look away with a shudder. The statue of Neptune followed my progress through his kingdom with unblinking eyes…

Friday came around too quickly but with it came our last treat… a visit to the Pleasure Beach! It was our own version of Disneyland, colour, carnival and candy floss. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the World (If you take out the boring Hanging Gardens of Babylon)

With the setting sun came the illuminated lights of the rides and stalls. Primary colours pulsed around the Pleasure Beach, it was magical to a young boy that lived in a little terraced house in a place called Wigan…

Tony Topping

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