When football resumed after the war, Wigan Athletic played one more term in the Cheshire League, the 1945-6 season. By Christmas 1945, the club was mourning the death of one of their founding directors and by the summer of 1946 the club was unceremoniously ejected from the Cheshire League after finishing bottom of the table. The death of John Worswick in December 1945 left the club owing nearly £3,000 to his estate, prompting an offer by Springfield Boy’s Club to buy Springfield Park. The meeting to consider this offer took place on Monday, February 25, 1946 at the Queen’s Hall. The following report from the Wigan Observer illustrates the first of many times the club was to face adversity and the fighting spirit to overcome this. It also gives a good indication of the financial worth of the ground, all its facilities and the running costs involved. The article also casts doubt on the 1938 claim that the mortgage on Springfield Park had been paid off.
THE FUTURE OF SPRINGFIELD PARK ATHLETIC’S DRIVE TO GET PURCHASE MONEY
The future ownership of Springfield Park football ground, the home of Wigan Athletic A.F.C., was discussed at a meeting attended by about a hundred shareholders in the club, held in the Queen’s Hall, Wigan, on Monday evening. The meeting had been specially called to vote on an offer by the Springfield Boys Club to purchase Springfield Park for £2,750, and to allow the Athletic to use it for a maximum of thirty matches each year at a charge of £4 per match, the Boys Club to pay rates and maintenance costs of the ground. Mr. J. Howarth, chairman of directors, presided, and was supported by his colleagues on the board. The chairman recalled that the club paid £4,000 for Springfield Park, and formation expenses of the Athletic, floating a limited company with 6,000 shares at 10s. each: only about half of those had been sold. They had never owed less than £2,500 to the bank, who were the mortgagees for the ground. They paid interest of £120 per annum on the mortgage, as well as £110 (later reduced to £75) in rates. When the war broke out the club had to suspend playing, and some lean years having prevented their paying the mortgage interest, they were owing the bank £2,870 when the war broke out, and they would by now be owing £3,400 had it not been for the great generosity of one of their directors, the late Mr. John Worswick whose memory they would always hold in affectionate regard as he had a heart of gold. The bank would not reduce the interest rate of 4½ per cent, but Mr. Worswick generously from his personal account, transferred £2,870 to the club’s mortgage account, and thus obviated any further mortgage interest whilst the club was not playing. He lent them that money absolutely free of any interest. Mr. Worswick died with tragic suddenness just before Christmas, leaving no will, and the administrators of the estate now required that deposited sum in connection with the settlement of the estate. Their alternatives now were now to either accept the offer of the Boy’s Club and have only £4 per match for not more than 30 matches a year to pay, or raise another mortgage and have interest, rates, ground maintenance, and groundsmen to pay. Mr. J. Smallshaw, a director, said he disagreed with the price offered by the Boy’s Club, and asked the meeting to send the Board back to get better terms: he agreed that he was in a minority on the Board, some new members of which were not on when the offer was dealt with. A shareholder asked why the Boy’s Club could not pay rent to the Athletic, instead of the reverse as suggested. Mr. G. McNamara (a shareholder) said they must face the fact that they owed £2,870 to the late Mr. Worswick’s estate, he was hostile to selling the ground, but he was also hostile to not meeting their financial obligations. Against the £4 per match and freedom all other ground charges, if they sold to the Boy’s Club, was an estimated requirement of at least 2,000 spectators at each home match, and a spending charge of at least £13, plus players wages (for two weeks), etc. He suggested that not less than £3,500 was required to clear the club of mortgage and other loans. He suggested that they either had to raise£4,000 or sell the ground: what time had they in which to find the money? The chairman said they must raise £3,000 within one or two months, or sell the ground. In addition to the £2,870 owing to the late Mr. John Worswick’s estate, they owed £540 for other loans on which no interest was being charged. They had had other offers, one of £4,000 and one of £3,000 for the ground, but without the playing facilities offered by the Boy’s Club. To a questioner, he said if the Boy’s Club, having bought the ground, decided later to re-sell, they would safeguard in that re-sale the playing rights of the Athletic, and that would be included in the agreement drawn up. They offered them five, or ten years playing facilities, with option of an extension. The Athletic, if they sold, would insist on having use of all the buildings on the ground. Mr. A. Roberts (a director) said the club had four more home matches and seven away; they needed a gate of £120 at each home match, but only three times this season had the gate been over £100.
SPECIAL COMMITTEE APPOINTED
Mr. McNamara, in a fighting speech calling for united action by all shareholders to raise the money to pay off the mortgage so that Athletic could own the ground, said if “little lads” could raise £2750 to buy it for the Boy’s Club, why could not their fathers buy it for the football club? Were four thousand supporters of soccer in Wigan prepared to spend £1 each and raise £4000 to get them clear? He moved the following resolution: “That this meeting defers any decision on the offer of the Springfield Boy’s Club to purchase Springfield Park Football Ground, and further decides to appoint a Special committee consisting of some members of the Board of directors, some of the Supporters Club, and some of the Shareholders, with a view to raising the necessary funds within a period of four months”. If that failed, then they could sell the ground, but there was more credit in trying and failing that in giving up without a fight. This was a time for decision, not criticism, and it was up to every shareholder. This was seconded by Mr. J. Ramsdale and supported by Mr. R. Johnson, and carried practically unanimously. Mr. R. Johnson said the Supporters’ Club would start the fund with £30 as a first instalment. The meeting then elected the following to serve on the Special Committee: Four Directors: Messers. J. Howarth, W. Swallwell, F. Rothwell, and M. McBride; Four from the Supporters’ Club: Messers. R. Johnson, J. James, H. Hartley, and J. Collier; Four Shareholders: Messers. H. C. Smith, G. McNamara, H. Sephton, and J. Ramsdale. This committee held its first meeting at the close of these proceedings.
An artist's impression of Springfield Park from the 1950 league application brochure
After gaining admission to the Lancashire Combination for the 1946-7 season, Wigan Athletic attempted to improve the appearance and structure of Springfield Park with the hope of attaining football league status.
The first development took place in 1947 when a training pitch was constructed behind the Town End terrace, followed in November 1948 by plans to transform Springfield Park into one of the most modern grounds in the county, accommodating crowds of over 50,000. The plans were drawn up by Messers. Grimshaw and Townsend of Accrington, with the reconstruction taking place in well-measured stages incorporating the latest crowd safety measures and first class amenities for players, officials and spectators. They were made public in the 1950 Football League Application, where Springfield Park is described as, ”This spacious ground, which comprises ten acres of land.” The brochure continues, “The ground is owned by the club and can easily be extended to hold 60,000 spectators in comfort. The playing pitch is very good and measures 114 yards by 73 yards, being oval in shape, with six yards between the touchline and fence, and as much as 15 yards behind each goal. The Grandstand is 95 yards long, fronted by a Paddock, which is partially covered. The Stand will seat 2,000 people, and there is shelter on the Popular Side for 5,000. It is intended to extend this shelter to cover a further 3,000. We have made provision for the comfort of the players, separate Plunge Baths, hot and cold shower in each dressing room, electric lighting throughout, and floodlighting for training purposes. There is also a large canteen under the Stand for spectators, along with the usual offices, a boardroom with private entrance to the Director’s Box. The Ground is only a penny bus ride or 15 minutes walk from the town centre. At present it can accommodate 40,000 people. It is so well banked that all can see without difficulty. The Ground with its Stand and shelter has been valued at £12,500.” At this time the Supporters Club built a ten-foot brick wall around the ground, and erected a new main entrance at a cost of £1,000.
The Popular Side - 1 May 1950
On May 1st 1950, Wigan Athletic played Grimsby Town in a friendly match. The crowd of 16,000 was the largest to watch such a game at Springfield Park.
Compare the terrace view with the aerial and panoramic photographs below which shows the true size of the ground before St Andrews Drive was built. The stadium at the top of the images is the Woodhouse Lane Dog Track (Wigan Municipal Stadium).
Mine workings are still visible and St John Fisher School had yet to appear.
Aerial view from 19 May 1948
Panoramic view from 8 April 1949 (Courtesy Britain From Above)
The Phoenix Stand under construction in 1954 (courtesy George Chilvers)
Early in the morning of May 30th 1953, the wooden grandstand, which contained the offices, dressing rooms and the baths, was completely destroyed by fire. Damage was assessed at £7,000 and it was decided to construct a new main stand similar to the one planned in 1948 as a replacement, but despite much fund raising by eager and dedicated supporters, the “new” stand was still not completed by December 12th 1953, when Athletic took on Hereford United in the 2nd round of the F.A. Cup at Springfield Park. The tie drew the largest ever gate (except Wembley finals) between two non-League clubs. A crowd of 27,526 watched Athletic win by 4-1. The record still stands.
The new grandstand was to be called the Phoenix Stand and construction of the middle section was completed for the start of the 1954-55 season. The planned end sections which would have extended the new stand along the whole length of the pitch were never built in the following years due to a lack of funds. The stand cost £23,000 and provided seats for 2,000 spectators.
Springfield Park 1957
On September 15th 1954, Wigan Athletic beat Stubshaw Cross 12-0 in the Lancashire Combination Cup. This is the largest recorded scoreline and the greatest margin of victory by any senior club to play at Springfield Park.
With the club once again in a precarious financial position, Chairman Les Jackson bought 4 acres of land behind the Popular Side during the early months of 1957. St. Andrew’s Drive was built on this land which was part of the old trotting track, effectively reducing the size of Springfield Park by around a quarter.
The photograph shows the middle section of the Phoenix Stand on the right. The entrance to St. Andrews Drive can be seen in the top left corner. The Popular side had yet to be extended and the Shevington End Stand is only partially roofed. Terracing is also absent.
Springfield Park c.1960 (courtesy Bernard Ramsdale)
The new Supporters Club was built in 1958. The club was first used on January 2nd 1959, but was officially opened on August 8th 1959. It was built by voluntary labour around stanchions, ironwork and foundations from an old sawmill at Long Lane Colliery.
October 19th, 1966 marked the first floodlit match at Springfield Park, when Wigan Athletic played Crewe Alexandra. This was a full year before floodlights were installed at Central Park.
October 24th, 1966 saw the official opening of the floodlights, when Manchester City were the visitors. The scheme was delayed by a shortage of materials and late delivery with a great portion of the £17,500 outlay being raised by supporters of Wigan Athletic. Originally the plan was to accommodate 24 fittings per tower, but this was increased to 36 fittings. The first “competitive” match under floodlights was played on November 7th, 1966 when Preston North End were entertained in a Lancashire Senior Cup match.