Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Do Not Tape Over!

27 Mar

“Do Not Tape Over!”


I was slightly saddened to see that the VHS Player is being discontinued, and surprised because I thought they had stopped making them years back. I do tend to get sad at the drop of a hat, especially if it drops in a puddle, but I digress and the demise of VHS left me with mixed feelings. Compared to today’s media players the video tape is terrible but back in the early eighties it was a different story…

I was the first in my family to get a video player/recorder back in 1983. I couldn’t afford to buy one nor could many people, they retailed at around £599 in 1983 which is around £2000 in today’s money. I rented one from “Focus TV Rentals” which was next door to Ashton’s Tobacconists on Wallgate Wigan. In those days myself and Mrs T would be out every Saturday night visiting the fleshpots of Wigan town centre or if we were skint Newtown Workers or St Edward’s Club. Thanks to the video recorder we never missed an episode of Sight and Sound in Concert, Dynasty, Match of the Day and erm… Jim’ll Fix It

When bedtime came around we, like thousands of others across the land, covered up the glowing clock on the recorder with a cushion so that passing burglars couldn’t see the light emanating like a neon sign saying “Swag Here!” Sad but true. Blank tapes used for recording didn’t come cheap either costing around £7 for a 3 hour tape. That’s £22 in today’s coinage. So we tended to buy blank tapes sparingly and kept rewriting over them. The tapes came with stickers that you put on the cassettes to write down what was on it. Woe betide the man who ignored the message “Do Not Tape Over!” scrawled angrily over episodes of “Brookside”


To make sure programmes didn’t get copied over you could break a little black plastic square on the back of the cassette making it view only. Once you got tired of watching “Live Aid” for the umpteenth time you could always put a bit of sticky tape over the gap enabling you to record again. After a while your collection of tapes would begin to grow and take over the television corner. Piled high on and at the side of the telly was not the look to impress your friends when they popped round for a prawn cocktail. Then someone had a eureka moment and designed video covers that looked like books! Now you could stroll over to your “bookcase” and get a video for your guests to watch, very classy. Apart from the bit were you had to open every “book” to find the dammed programme you were after…

The VHS revolution gathered momentum and it wasn’t long before Video Shops popped up quicker than Norweb shirts on a Wembley outing. From these shops you could hire films for a night or two for around £1.50p and it’s hard to describe the excitement of watching a feature film in your own house! The very first video we hired was “The Fog” by John Carpenter and we watched it 2 or 3 times to get our £1.50p worth. Some video shops you had to pay a membership fee to join besides your hire fee. Loads of independent shops sprang up from nowhere and even the local off licence had a video corner.

You had to wait around 9 months for a film shown on the cinema to come out on video and it was a struggle to get the film because everyone would be after it and some shops would only have a couple of copies. New VHS films cost around £60-£80 sometimes and obviously small shops couldn’t buy these until the price dropped along with the demand. But the small dealers had something the big retailers didn’t have, a burgeoning pile of Pirate Videos (Copied and banned films nothing to do with swashbucklers. Well not in the “normal” sense anyway)

Ritz video

The video shop that myself and Mrs T frequented was based at the Saddle Newtown, think it’s a dodgy pizza place now. Anyway we, well I, were curious about these “behind the counter” videos everyone at work was on about. Mrs T would have nothing to do with this wicked deed so I had to go it alone. I wandered around the shop stroking my (behave yourselves!) chin and occasionally taking a video box out to peruse. Eventually the shop emptied and I was the only customer in there with the female assistant. FEMALE!!! Suddenly I got very nervous and sweat ran down my red face as I approached the counter, this was it, here goes…

I walked the short distance home clutching my copy of “Gandhi” with my reputation still intact and the behind the counter films undisturbed much to Mrs T’s amusement.

Pirate videos began to really take off and even our Mrs Mop cleaner at work was loaning them out for 50p. Mind you the quality of these films was very hit and miss with “The Empire Strikes Back” pirate copy being a particular low point. Even at 50p I felt cheated and spent the evening trying to make out who was who and what was what through a haze of shifting interference and neon blurred colours played out to Japanese dubbing with what I think were English subtitles.

I eventually became a “pirate” borrowing my dad’s video player and setting it up at the side of mine so that I could copy my rentals to his machine. I got my tapes from Wigan Library and copied classics like “The Demolition of Wigan Market Hall” well my dad liked em’ anyroad.

Anything and everything came out on video back in the eighties and film makers took full advantage of this new medium to showcase their “talent” Someone let me borrow their copy of “The Evil Dead” saying it was the scariest film they had ever seen. I thought it was one of the most outlandish, funny films I had ever seen and my mate thought I was weird when I told him so but later films proved that it was tongue in cheek. Though I think the first film was so bad it turned out to be funny unintentionally.

The Evil Dead

It didn’t take long for Mary Whitehouse and her crew to take umbrage at these gory films and the “Video Nasties” were banned. Rumours abounded that some of these videos actually showed people being killed and mutilated in them and the term “Snuff Movie” was born. Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato was charged after killings in his film were accused of being real. The Italian director was only able to clear himself by getting the “killed” actors to appear alongside him in court.

Some of the old video films are worth quite a bit of money now and it’s worth your while having a root if you still have some tucked away. I say some so I doubt you’ll get much for most of them. Look on the internet for valuations etc.

People of a certain age, and younger ones actually who have never used a video player, still say “I’m taping it” when they refer to recording something today. Long may that tradition continue…

Back to today and I’m typing this article up in my little room surrounded by video tapes that were in suitcases in the garage, a portable television that I recovered from the attic and a VHS player that I found under a wheelbarrow in the old shed. All cleaned up and free from spiders, I hope, and it all still works! I have about 40 tapes or so that I taped stuff on and quite a few have football on. The quality is surprisingly good when you consider they’ve been left untouched for so long.

So I’m now going through those old tapes and seeing long forgotten images once more. It really is fascinating from old adverts to fashion, football to drama; I’ll keep you informed if I find anything of interest to you. Personally I’m thrilled to see the kids when they were kids, Mrs T and her sexy perm and me with hair that wasn’t quite so white…

 Take care kids

Tony Topping

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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’.


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!


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


Taking the Step

18 Jan

It’s only when you get older that you look back over your life and think “If only I’d taken that step” It could have been getting a different job, working harder at school, asking that pretty girl out, moving away from your home town and so on. Well if you didn’t take “that step” it’s too late now my friend and I’ll see you in the coffee shop ruminating over the clouds swirling slowly in your cup…


Back in the early eighties a good work friend of mine who made me laugh a lot and eased the tedium of factory toil, emigrated to Australia. I missed him a lot as work once again returned to the monotony it was before his arrival. Years earlier a girl I worked with in the same old factory emigrated to South Africa and left me with no warm smile to light up the gloom. I was briefly tempted to follow them, one way or another, and while I still had my youth, but I only climbed to the top stage in the swimming pool to look down and not to take that leap of faith.


In the mid 70’s a young man with a wife and children was given the chance to take that leap into the unknown and he soared. His name was Brent Atherton, a Wigan lad like me but unlike me he was good at something, that something being football.


Brent first came to the attention of the football scouts at the age of 18 after scoring 64 goals in the local Amateur League for the SS Club in Downhall Green. Blackburn Rovers moved in and Brent spent a season there playing in the A team but found it difficult to break through.

The following season Brent signed for Prescot Town and later joined Kirkby Town where he teamed up with the infamous Johnny King. In February 1971 Gordon Milne signed Brent for Wigan Athletic. Brent now lives in Australia and I managed to get in touch with him via his old friend Danny Dewhurst another ex Wiganer down under.


TT: The 70/71 team is my favourite Wigan Athletic side of all time. What was it like for you as a local lad to join such a successful side?


BA: It was a dream come true for me personally. Wigan Athletic were one of the biggest, probably the biggest non-league club in the country at the time. Gordon Milne was a top man and a top manager. The training under Gordon was a lot harder than I was used to but the morale and the atmosphere was fantastic. Kenny Banks was trainer and I have fond memories of him, lovely man.


What was it like to be amongst ex England players like Derek Temple and Gordon Milne for example?


Derek Temple was a great bloke and a fantastic player; it was a pleasure to be at the club. Gordon Milne was a real gentleman and of course he had a fantastic career. David Breen was another player who wasn’t always first choice but he was an extremely skilful player, very tricky. It was a very gifted squad and it was really difficult to break into the first team but I enjoyed every minute of my time at Wigan Athletic. Some of the other players who the fans might not recall but were very good Ron Melling and Ivor Swarbrick who played in the reserves with me.


Gordon Milne left the club and was replaced by Les Rigby


Yes that’s right and for one reason or another Les and I didn’t really get along together. Les had his favourites at the club and it was like a closed shop. I left the club and signed for Skelmersdale United. Skelmersdale were a good side back then. They were coached by Roy Rees a top coach and a great innovator. Roy managed the British Universities team and was also a coach with the F.A. He later coached in America having great success with the USA under 17’s team taking them to four U17’s World Cups and beating Brazil, Italy and Argentina.


There seemed to be a flux of good non-league players back then


Some very talented players who could have gone on to play at a higher level which some did of course. Steve Heighway had just left Skelmersdale when I arrived there. Alan Wolf was a cracking player at Skem too. Mickey Worswick was at Chorley when I played and he could easily have played at a higher level. Many others too many to mention but Johnny King was another top player. Dougie Coutts another latics favourite followed me to Skem as assistant coach to Roy Rees.


After appearing for clubs such as Kirkby Town, Wigan Athletic, Prescot Town, St Helens Town, Skelmersdale United and Ashton Town you received an offer too good to turn down I believe?


That’s right whilst playing for Skelmersdale I was approached by a scout from Perth Azzuri a club in Australia. I jumped at the chance to move and together with my wife and two children we set out on big adventure in 1977. The opportunity was too great to turn down and we never looked back after that, settling down here for good.


Did you feel under any pressure to justify your passage from the other side of the world?


No I was always confident in my ability and quite a few players made the same journey from Britain at the time. The players that emigrated helped raise the standards of football in Australia. Perth Azzuri was an Italian based club and they really looked after us. I quickly adapted to the heat and in fact preferred it to the harsh conditions we got in England from time to time. It was less stressful and we just embraced the lifestyle with open arms.


You had a very good career out there too


Yes Azzuri won two Championships while I was there. I was playing in midfield by then and I’ve always been fit so I was quite an energetic player. I later moved to Kelmscott United and was made captain there, well I had to pass the armband on to Sir Trevor Brooking when he arrived for a spell at the club but I said to him “I want it back when you’re gone!” He was a gentleman on and off the field. We won the Cup playing together in midfield that season.  In 1983 I moved to Forrestfield United and it was there that I won my greatest honour being voted the league’s Best Player Award and receiving the Gold Star on television. I’ve loved every minute of my career and been fortunate to play with or against Bobby Moore, Trevor Brooking, Alan Ball, Ted McDougall, Maurice Parkin ex Leeds/Sheff Utd, Peter Holt ex Rochdale and John Salton ex Dunfermline.


Thank you to Brent for agreeing to this interview, many thanks also to Danny Dewhurst for doing the actual interviewing* Danny also performed the laborious task of typing the emails out. Thank you gentlemen it’s been a pleasure.


Tony Topping


*I did want to go over and interview Brent myself but sadly my Mudhutter expenses didn’t stretch that far. Still if anyone wants interviewing in Scholes I can just about scratch enough together for that, sniff…



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…


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


Tony Topping

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

Another respected WAFC historian is Paul Rowley


What I did on my holidays

6 Oct

What I did on my Holidays 

new brighton

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


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