Tag Archives: Culture

Going to the Pictures in the 60’s and 70’s

20 Mar

Once upon a time in Wigan we were blessed with a good number of cinemas and now what have we got? One, though it is a multi-screen extravaganza with Dolby surround booming out so loud it can make the floor shake sometimes. I still go to watch the odd film at the pictures, mainly Marvel fantasy type stuff with my son Martin but I also go to the Senior Film Club at the Empire Cinema on a Wednesday daytime if there’s anything decent on. Its £3.75p for the film, a coffee and a chocolate biscuit of your choice if you are 60 or over, marvelous! I dare say a few of my fellow senior film club attendees will remember some of these old cinemas that I frequented in my youth.

The Empire Cinema

The Empire was a very small cinema and the first one I ever went to. My Dad took me watching “Mighty Joe Young” there when I was about 5yr old. Or was it “King Kong”? It could have been them both actually as back then they would have double features on i.e. two films shown for the price of one which was common practice in the early days. Both films had been made years and years earlier than when I got to see them on the big screen in 1960. The Empire was situated across from the John Bull pub where that open space is now that attracts so many drunks in summer (Especially the Mudhutter lot after the last game of the season) I just remember the Empire having a narrow door that you had to virtually squeeze through before entering the two tiered theatre. Incidentally the John Bull was actually a Shoe Repair shop back in the day and only became a pub in the 1970’s. The Empire like so many other cinemas was turned into a bingo hall before being demolished not long after the John Bull opened.

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The Princes Cinema

The Princes was the first cinema I was allowed to visit without my parents. They had a junior matinee on Saturday mornings just like the ABC minors club at the Ritz Cinema at the top of town. I don’t know which club came first but I’m guessing it was the Princes as the Ritz was renamed ABC Wigan in 1962, could be wrong though. I was around 7 or 8 when I started going here on my own. I used to get sixpence pocket money back then. It was tuppence to get in the pictures, tuppence for toffee and I used the other tuppence to buy a comic. Last of the big spenders eh? My Grandad the Barry Norman of his day recommended 3 films that were worth watching at the Princes, “Rock around the Clock”, “The Al Jolson Story” and “Gone with the Wind”. I saw the first two films and put off by his choice didn’t bother with the third one which turned out to be the decent one. I also knocked about with a lad who lived a few doors from our house in Yates Street Wallgate and his Auntie was Manageress or something at the Princes so we got in free to some of the afternoon films too. We also got free ice cream from the sellers at the interval. I remember once we went upstairs to the upper circle in there at the time no one was allowed up there. Rumour has it someone fell from there to their death and it had been closed since. It was very spooky and I was glad when we got collared and dragged back down after being caught clodding stuff at the people below. Had 1,159 seats and closed on the 10th of January 1970 with the last film being “The Mad Room” starring Shelley Winters.

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The Court Cinema

So pleased to see that the old cinema/theatre is being restored back to its former glory soon. It wasn’t the most luxurious picture place in Wigan even back in the sixties. It was here that I saw my first James Bond film “Dr No” (1962) with my Dad I was eight years old and I thought it was brilliant at the time. Oddly enough the film only seemed to attract an all male crowd and everyone smoked, you could see the clouds rising to the ceiling. I had my biggest strop here when the family got dragged to watch “The Yellow Rolls Royce” and I wanted to watch “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” at the County. When a blockbuster film was on you would have queues down the side alley and up Library Street especially if it was a Disney film. The Court had a great toffee shop attached to the cinema and it must have done a roaring trade back in the day. Think it was owned by the Westhead Toffee Company and two sisters worked in the shop.

I used to moider the cinema staff for film posters but they wouldn’t give me any, be worth a bomb now. The cinema had 1,295 seats and closed on the 15th of August 1973 with the last film being “The Sound of Music” starring Julie Andrews.

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The County Playhouse

The County was a bit more stylish than the Court Cinema or so it seemed to me. Their tuck shop was inside the foyer where you bought your tickets similar to the Ritz. The first time I bought a Caramac was here and it was a massive bar of chocolate compared to some of the others. One stand out memory I have of this place is going watching “Jason and the Argonauts” with my mate Tony Lowe and having to take my little sister Eileen with us. Tony and I were 9yrs old so my sister would have been around 5 and we were trusted to go to the pictures on our own! There was a massive queue going down the side of the County and over the old iron railway bridge. The steam trains would envelop you in grey clouds as they went puffing past underneath. Everyone wanted to watch this eagerly awaited film and we just managed to get the last 3 seats in the house although Tony ended up sitting on his own somewhere. Always loved the County it was supposed to open in 1916 but a shortage of materials during World War 1 meant the opening was delayed until 1919. It seated 1,070 and the last film ever shown there was the Disney film “The Sword in the Stone” on Sunday 13th of November 1966 just 3 years after the Jason and the Argonauts film. Twelve days after its closure it reopened as the Star Bingo and Social Club. I remember my Mam and Dad being members.

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The Ritz

The crème de la crème of picture houses in Wigan was of course the Ritz. Opened in 1938 it was massive, seating over 2,500 cinema goers and very opulent. The foyer was impressive and had a great kiosk selling everything from sweets to Butterkist etc. In the 1960’s some of the greatest pop groups of that era played here including The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Buddy Holly, The Tamala Motown Revue Show featuring Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and the backing was provided by the Earl Van Dyke Band. The guest artist on this show was Georgie Fame and the Ritz was half empty! Crikey I could have gone this show as I was 9 years old and I’d been swanning round town since I was seven. Saying that I once got refused entry to the Ritz when I went to watch the film “She” starring Ursula Andress because it was PG (Parental Guidance) meaning you had to be 13 to see it unless you were accompanied by an adult. I was 12 and spent the afternoon asking adults could I go in with them blimey! Thankfully everyone ignored me. It closed down on May 28th 1977 and was converted into a 3 screen theatre with a bingo hall opening again on October 27th 1977. The three screens seated 485, 321 and 106 and it closed again on 5th March 1983. That’s not the end of the story though it was bought by an independent company and reopened on 4th of January 1985 staying open until the 10th of April 1997. It was sadly demolished in 2002 despite the best efforts of Mudhutter legend Dylan Harris to keep it open .

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Unit 4

Originally called The Royal Electric Theatre when it opened in 1912 it soon got called The Halfway House Cinema. In 1933 the name changed again to The Carlton Cinema (seating capacity 689) and stayed open until 1959 when it was converted into The Carlton Club later becoming The Sportsman’s Club an entertainment venue for Beat groups, Wrestling, Strippers etc. Resident band were “Eric Peps Combo” those crazy cats! In the 1970’s Apollo Leisure bought the building and converted into its original form a cinema but this time with 3 screens seating 117, 99 and 88. It closed as a cinema in July 1997. My son Martin made his first ever visit to a cinema here watching the film “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” when he was 5yrs old (No he didn’t go on his own, parents had become much more responsible by 1990 besides I wanted to watch it too) Mr Finton Stack our resident Mudhutter reckoned they sold the best hot dogs in the world here “Westlers Hot Dogs” Myself and Mrs T went watching a film for the first time as a couple here in 1980 when we were courting watching “Nosferatu” She wasn’t keen on it, the film not me, and she’s never liked any of my favourite films since. Double bills were a great attraction at Unit 4 like two Clint Eastwood Films, two Woody Allen etc. It was especially handy for the Halfway House for a swift pint before closing time. Although it often meant our mate Kev Leigh missing the end of the film while he got the round in.

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So there you have it and no doubt you have your own great memories of cinemas of the past. Take care kids, until next time.

Tony Topping

 

 

Spotlight on

28 Feb

Hello everyone a while back I started up what I thought would be a regular feature on this blog by introducing readers to writers I felt deserved wider recognition for their craft. Today I want to introduce you to Irene Roberts a writer who is from Wigan like myself. Irene is a big retro fan so as you can imagine we get on famously though we’ve only just become friends. Irene was a regular columnist for the local Past Forward magazine up until around 2010. I love her work and hope you do too, ladies and gentlemen, Irene Roberts…spotlight

The Dream

IN THE dream I am a child again, running over the back-field to the ‘pens’where the men keep hens and pigeons. I run in slow motion – I don’t mean to – that’s just how it is in the dream – that, and the strange silence. I can see my dad chatting with a pal by the pigeon-cotes, and he waves to me, the fragrant aroma of his pipe-tobacco mingling with the scent of privet and rosebay willow-herb, filling the air with familiar, comforting smells of childhood. High above, an aeroplane, inaudible in the odd silence, leaves a trail of white vapour in a perfect summer sky. I feel safe here, in the past, and I hold on to the dream, not wanting to wake up, because I know that, whilst I dream, my mam will still be at home in the kitchen, standing on the pegged rug in her faded cross-over pinny, humming to herself as she makes potato pies – a family one in the big brown dish and two tiny ones in little white, illicit ‘British Rail’ cups – a regular Saturday-teatime treat for my friend Christine and me.

She likes a ‘flutter’ on the horses, does mam – sixpence each way on “Newsboy” – and I hurry with her down the back entry to a house where bets are laid out on the table, and where the bookie’s wife and unmarried daughter are always ready for a gossip. There is a plaster Alsatian dog on a crocheted runner on top of a huge radiogram which, come Sunday dinnertime, will broadcast ‘Two-way Family Favourites’ . . . “And now a request from B.F.P.O. 17” . . . followed by ‘The Billy Cotton Bandshow’.

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Over the fireplace is a mirror etched with a picture of a crinoline lady in a garden. I can see that room yet, and I can hear the clock ticking and the fire crackling. Mam was the Mrs Malaprop of Ince – always getting her words wrong and mixing proverbs with a kind of reckless abandon: “A bird in th’and”, she would state dramatically, “gathers no moss!” – and then she would laugh with us, good naturedly, at her own mistakes. Those precious moments have gone down in history in our family – lovely reminders of that patient, gentle soul whose whole world lay in the vicinity of the damp little terraced house that was her home.

A bus-ride into Wigan, with a look round Woolworths and a cup of tea in Gorner’s Café, was a treat, and half a day at Southport was her holiday. We went from Ince Station, our feet echoing over the covered elevated walkway of wooden planks, and I tried not to look at the ground so far below. My dad bought our tickets from the little ticket-office, and there was a tiny waiting-room whose coal-fire lay unlit on our summer outings. Oh! The thrill as the train chugged into the station, filling the air with the heady smell of steam on a sunny June morning – it was enough to make you dizzy!

We sat in long narrow carriages with pictures above the seats and leather straps to let the windows up or down, and I can still feel the tingle of excitement as the guard blew his whistle and the train gathered speed. My dad always recited the stations between Wigan and Southport: Gathurst, Appley Bridge, Parbold …. And somewhere along the way there was a bone-works which stunk to high heaven, and the thud-thud of carriage windows being shut was like machine gun fire!

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Arriving in Southport, we always went to ‘Mary’s Café’ for our dinner; the building that was ‘Mary’s’ is still there, just down a side street – no longer a café, and seen today through misty eyes and memories, but in the dream we can still go inside. A ride on the miniature railway and a turn on the ‘caterpillar’, and all too soon it was time to go home.

As we walked from Ince Station the evening sun slanted on terraced rows, throwing into shadow the corner-shop with its huge potato-scales and its tiny toffee-scales. On the shelves, bundles of firewood and packets of Omo with 4d off jostled for space with ‘Twink’ home-perms and bottles of ‘Drene’ shampoo. Cards hung haphazardly on the walls, each holding a dozen combs or babies’ dummies or the little bottles of patent medicines in which our mams had such faith. Strings of paper bags hung on nails by the “penny tray” – little white three-cornered ones for sweets and square brown ones for fruit and vegetables; everything else went straight into the customer’s own shopping basket, or a threepenny brown paper carrier bag with string handles – there were no plastic carriers in our little world.

Today there is a fish-andchip shop in Ince Green Lane; in my childhood it was the Co-op – in the dream it still is. Everyone called it ‘t’cworp’ or ‘t’stores’ then, and there were chairs to sit on; the lady assistants wore little caps with “C.W.S.” on, and served you personally, reckoning up your bill at the speed of light on long slips of paper, licking pencils which they kept behind their ears, and our mams collected little yellow ‘checks’ which they stuck onto a card for their ‘Divi’.

Just further down the lane was ‘Little Amy’s’ offlicence, which was in a time warp even then! Ancient, faded showcards portrayed young ladies of a bygone era enjoying Bulmer’s cider – the only decoration to grace Amy’s, apart from the sticky yellow flypaper hanging by the one dim electric lightbulb. Packets of crisps were kept in a blue tin with a Union Jack painted on each side, and we bought ‘Spangles’ and ‘Penny Arrows’, ‘Black-Jacks’ and ‘Sherbet Fountains’; does anyone remember …. Not boxes, but bars of milk-tray chocolate – six different flavours all in one bar? We pretended to smoke our ‘sweet cigarettes’, which in these so-called enlightened days have to be called ‘candy sticks’ in case they encourage children to smoke, and yet I must have eaten enough to sink a battleship, and never once had the urge to try the real thing. download

 

As I emerge from Amy’s dim little shop into the brilliant sunshine, my mind begins to wake from the dream, but I fight it – I want to stay, just for a while, in my childhood, where old ladies sit out on chairs in the sun, watching ‘t’childer’ at play – little girls jumping into skipping-ropes …. “All in together girls, very fine weather girls”……. or whipping tops along the pavement with whips made out of ‘banding’ – a kind of tubular string which my Aunty Mary brought home from the Empress Mill. I walk, a child again, through a vanished world of rag-bone men and gas-lamps, of factory-hooters and outside toilets, of jagged pieces of glass stuck into cement on the tops of walls to deter thieves, and of running to the shop for a ’gas-shilling’ when the gas was ‘begging’.

I know that, if I stay asleep, I can still go on the Labour-Club trip and I will be given 10 shillings in a brown envelope to spend at Southport or Blackpool; and, twice a year, I can visit Silcock’s Fair on the spare land, with its toffee-apples and candy-floss, where the older girls, sporting beehive hairdos and stiletto heels, eye up the fair-lads who stand fearlessly on the waltzer, spinning the screaming girls dizzily round to the strains of ‘Cathy’s Clown’ or Bryan Hyland’s haunting ‘Sealed with a Kiss’. The fair came twice a year – once in the spring and once in the tingling autumn dusk, when we entered a magic world of glitter and flashing lights, and it is only when we wake from the dream that we see it as a few square yards of tattered gaiety set between back-yards and factory walls.

I always know when the dream is ending; I am running, again in slowmotion, down Ince Green Lane, over flagstones whose every crack and crevice is as familiar as my own hands. Little terraced homes, long demolished, still stand, and friendly neighbours, kneeling with buckets and donkey-stones, slowly smile and nod as I pass by in the eerie silence. Our terraced row stood back from the road, invisible until you reached it, and strangely, in the dream, I never do reach it – never get to see again the little row of six houses where I grew up, but I know it is there, waiting for me, just out of sight. I wake, slowly and reluctantly at first, and then I remember that this is a very special day; the past is a dream and I must let it go – the present is real and it’s here, and I have a wedding to go to!

Mam and Dad didn’t live to see the day; they never got to meet our Beccy, my lovely daughter -in- law, but they would have loved her as I do. I see their faces, smiling through the mists of time, but today they must stay behind in the dream, as I walk down the path of a lovely old London church, 200 miles and a million years away from my childhood home, to witness their grandson’s wedding. Their little girl is today the bridegroom’s mother, and I am conscious, as I enter the cool, dim interior of the church, that I must walk slowly with dignity, as befits my role. But the child in me is running – running through the clear air of a sparkling sunlit morning long ago, running for the sheer joy of living, as only a child knows how, across the back-field and down the dear, familiar road that will take me home. 

Irene Roberts

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wakes Week

12 Feb

ud2hngysWakes Week

 

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

Spotlight

28 Nov

Spotlight

Hello and welcome to a new series here at Retroland. In this section I will post links to people who’s artistry deserves a wider audience. To open proceedings I’d like to introduce you to a young man who I think has a big future: Shaun Fallows.

Shaun was born with cerebral palsy and loves writing poetry. What’s that? You’re not keen on poetry? Hey kids this is no ordinary poetry so why not pop over to Shaun’s site at https://shaunfallows.weebly.com/ for more examples of his work.

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