The first ever League Cup game at Springfield Park took place on 16 August 1978 when Tranmere Rovers were the visitors in the first round, second leg. Frank Corrigan became the first player to score a goal in the competition as Latics ran out 2-1 winners in front of 8,512 spectators.
The first football league game at the Springfield Park for 45 years, 310 days saw champions elect, Grimsby Town, stroll to a 0-3 victory over Latics on 23 August 1978. 9,227 people watched the match. Latics had a shaky start to their league career and it wasn’t until the fourth match, on 2 September 1978, that Joe Hinnegan wrote his name in the history books when he chose Springfield Park to score the first ever league goal for Wigan Athletic in a 2-3 reverse against Newport County. Latics sixth league game saw them record their first ever league win as neighbours Rochdale were beaten 3-0 on 13 September 1978. Rochdale centre-half, Bob Scott, holds the dubious honour of being the first player to be sent off at Springfield Park in the modern era.
Fighting between rival fans was a regular occurrence in the early league days as it was still possible to walk the entire way around the terracing. Alcoholic drink was blamed and consequently banned from the Popside in October 1978.
By November 1978 the floodlight modernisation was completed as fittings and bulbs from the original system had become obsolete. The new equipment would allow televised floodlit matches at the ground. Wigan Athletic chairman, Arthur Horrocks, noted that in the close season of 1979 many improvements had been made to the structure and appearance of Springfield Park. New seats had been fitted throughout the Phoenix Stand, terracing had been built in front of the main stand and the floodlight pylons had been repainted. New toilets had been erected and the existing ones refurbished, the plunge baths in both dressing rooms had been re-tiled and the match officials’ room was modernised. Ground staff and voluntary workers carried out painting and decorating around the ground and the height of the perimeter wall had been raised.
After repeated instances of antagonism on the terraces, rival fans were segregated for the first time in September 1979. The visiting supporters were now housed in the paddock to the left of the Phoenix Stand. This situation was not entirely successful as the home fans could still attack the visitors from other areas of the ground. Objects were seen to be dropped from the stand or thrown from the Shevington End terrace and to make matters worse, the visitors had no means of escape.
Work was started on the extra terracing behind the Town End goal and although work was halted by a long and hard winter the project was completed for the start of the 1980/81 season.
By August 1980 supporters had been segregated completely after a fence was erected at the Shevington End of the Popside. This was still in place at demolition in 1999. Again this situation did not entirely eradicate the violence with police officers regularly having to form a line on each side of the fence to keep rival fans apart.
It was calculated that in the two years Latics had been playing League football, £100,000 had been spent on ground improvements at Springfield Park. Work was in progress concerning the new extension to the Phoenix stand which would house offices and the club shop.
A clock was installed on the north-east floodlight pylon in December 1980, as an early Christmas present for anxious supporters.
In May 1981, the floodlit all-weather pitch on the area behind the Town End terrace (the old trotting track) was opened to the public. The original project was to cost £70,000 incorporating a pavilion, changing rooms, showers, and a gymnasium with weight-training facilities. The pavilion was not completed. New Laundry facilities were built in Phoenix Stand. In July 1981, new entrances were constructed leading to the dressing rooms and executive section in Phoenix Stand. Work was started on the Executive suite in October 1981
Chelsea were the visitors to Springfield Park in November 1981 being drawn against Wigan Athletic in a League Cup tie. To cope with the expected large following from London, a new double turnstile was installed at the Shevington End. Extra fencing was erected to channel visiting supporters to the terraces. A fence was also erected from the back of the Cowshed to the boundary wall to creating a “no-man’s land”.
In the match programme of 20 March 1982 (-v- Colchester), Springfield Park is described in the following way: “Springfield Park covers approximately nine acres and is owned by Wigan Athletic AFC Ltd. The ground will hold over 30,000 spectators with seating accommodation for 1,069 and additional covered standing accommodation for 10,000.” “There are terraces on all four sides of the excellent playing area, surrounded by four 114 feet high pylons with 36 lights on each.” “The dressing rooms are equipped with plunge baths, slipper baths, showers and medical and physiotherapy equipment.” “There are parking facilities for 200 cars.” The entertainment and catering facilities were described thus: “Licensed bar and tea bar in main stand, tea bars on ground, Social Club on ground.”
The club asked for donations to provide further covered accommodation at the ground. The target was to be £10,000. This money was to afford cover for the Town End.
The Executive Suite in main stand opened in August 1982, Springfield Park being one of the first grounds in the lower leagues to have such a facility. It was licensed, centrally heated and had colour TV. The windows suffered from chronic condensation in the winter months and supporters could often be seen frantically wiping the glass to watch the game. “The Golden Jubilee Suite” was so named in recognition of Latics 50 years in existence.
In November 1982, objections were raised by local residents concerning the frequent use of the training pitch behind the Town End terrace. Wigan Council proceeded to ban usage on three nights in the week.