Forgotten Grounds: The Imps and Springfield Park, Wigan

PHOTO CREDITS CAN BE FOUND AT THE BOTTOM OF THE ARTICLE

Apart from examples of ground-sharing there are a handful of venues that Lincoln City have visited to play against two different clubs, writes Malcolm Johnson.

One of these was Springfield Park, home of both Wigan Athletic and their predecessors Wigan Borough. The ground originated as a multi-purpose sports stadium on a site to the north-west of the town purchased for £2,760 by The Wigan Trotting & Athletic Company. Horse trotting was a once popular equestrian sport which consisted of a horse pulling a small two-wheeled cart, and a fifteen-yard wide, half-mile track for this was laid around the perimeter of the arena. Inside the trotting track was a cycling track, banked at each end, and within that was a 500-yard running track with a football pitch in the centre.

Horse stabling was provided at one end and an ornamental lake was created at the other. A pavilion to seat over a thousand people was originally planned but only a small stand was actually built, the whole ground and facilities eventually costing £16,000.

 

Early Years

First use of the ground was made in August 1897 with a cycle race meeting arranged by the newly formed Wigan Athletic and Cycling Club. Meanwhile, the Trotting & Athletic Company had formed a football club called Wigan County and a fortnight later the first competitive football match took place when Wigan County drew 1-1 with Burton Swifts. Bad weather kept the crowd down to 1,500, but having entered the Lancashire League their first league match against Southport Central saw 4,000 spectators witness a 5-1 victory.

A club called Wigan Wednesday Athletic also used Springfield Park during the 1899/1900 season but Wigan County then went out of business. Their place was taken by a club called Wigan United who had been playing in the Whelley & District League but now moved into the Lancashire League, playing at Springfield Park from November 1901.

Meanwhile, Wigan’s Rugby League team became sub-tenants of Springfield Park, playing there between September 1901 and April 1902 before moving to Central Park.  Wigan United also moved out of the ground in December 1902 when their lease expired and no further organised football took place there until November 1905 when the newly-formed Wigan Town acquired the stadium. However, at the end of their third season they finished next to bottom of the Lancashire Combination Division Two prompting their resignation from the league at the end of the season. They then disbanded in the summer of 1908 with many outstanding debts.

For over eleven years Springfield Park was then mainly used for activities other than football, although Wigan Amateurs FC did use the ground at various times up to the First World War.

Wigan United

In September 1919, another side called Wigan United joined the West Lancashire League alternating their initial matches between Springfield Park and another ground. Two months later, they secured the lease for Springfield Park and began to play all their home matches there, now in the Lancashire Combination. Despite being an amateur side, it appears they paid their players and the club was told they would have to turn professional. Before a public limited company could be formed the club competed as Wigan AFC for a brief interim period in the autumn of 1920 before the newly-created Wigan Borough took over their fixtures. Their first game at Springfield Park was in November 1920, when 4,000 spectators watched a 2-2 draw against Bacup Borough.

The new club quickly announced their intention to apply for membership of the Football League and despite finishing next to bottom of the Lancashire Combination became founder members of the newly formed Division Three (North).

September 3rd 1921 saw the first ever Football League game at Springfield Park with an attendance of 9,000 witnessing a 4-1 defeat by visitors Nelson. As fellow founder members of Division Three (North) Lincoln City played their first ever game on the ground in March 1922, their goal in a 3-1 defeat saw Charlie Lemons become the first City player to score there. Just under a year later the home side ran up their record score in what is still Lincoln’s second-heaviest ever defeat. There were some mitigating circumstances to the 9-1 thrashing however, as Imps goalkeeper Jack Kendall had to go off injured after 30 minutes with the score at 2-0. With full back George Greaves in goal and down to ten men in the days long before substitutes another seven goals were conceded, five of them scored by inside forward Billy Glover. City’s consolation came from William Morton.

Another year later, and after conceding 12 goals on their first two visits, there was a big improvement as a struggling Imps side picked up their first point on the ground in a goalless draw. Just over six months later though, early in the 1924/25 season another four goals were shipped without reply.

Improvements

Following Wigan’s election to the Football League some improvements had been made to the ground, with the construction of a new main stand followed by the erection of a wooden shelter over part of the Shevington End. Finally, the Popular Side stand, which ran from the half-way line towards the Shevington End was built in the close season of 1924 from funds raised by the Supporters Club. Much of the ground however, consisted of cinder or earth banking.

Lincoln achieved another draw at the end of September 1925 when centre forward Harry Havelock became the first City player to score two goals on the ground, and a goal from left back George Page produced a 3-3 scoreline. Three goals were conceded again the following season, but City went down to defeat with only Harold Andrews and right winger Charlie Bosbury on target in front of a crowd of just 2,835, the lowest on record for a Wigan Borough match against City on the ground.

September 1927 saw City at the start of their best Division Three season to date and Wigan at the start of what was to be their worst. Under recently appointed manager Harry Parkes Lincoln’s 3-1 win put them into third place in the league table and achieved a first win at Springfield Park at the seventh attempt. Outside left Frank Pegg became the second – and last – City player to score two goals on the ground with the third coming from legendary striker Billy Dinsdale.

City finished the 1927/28 season as runners-up to Bradford (Park Avenue) while Wigan escaped the re-election zone by one point in 20th place. However, they followed this up the following season with their highest ever league placing of fourth while City slipped to sixth. The game between the two sides at the end of December 1928 produced City’s second 4-0 defeat in five games at Springfield Park, the attendance of 7,517 being the highest recorded for a Lincoln City match there. A couple of weeks later saw the largest attendance ever recorded at Springfield Park, with 30,443 spectators watching a 3–1 defeat by eventual league champions Sheffield Wednesday in the Third Round of the FA Cup.

City shipped another four goals at Springfield Park the following season but did manage one in reply through future England international Henry Roberts. The last game of the 1930/31 season brought a second win on the ground for the Imps and only the second time a clean sheet was kept. The only goal of the game was scored by Harold March after a run of four defeats in five games which saw City slip from top place to finish second and miss out on promotion by a point. City went one better the following season, including a 3-0 win at Springfield Park with goals from record scorer Allan Hall and wingers Philip Cartwright and George Whyte.