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Two Teams in Wigan!
Wigan Highfield
Springfield Borough
Two Teams in Wigan!

On two separate occasions in the past the town of Wigan has been home to two professional Rugby League Teams. First Wigan Highfield between 1922 and 1933 and then Springfield Borough for one season in 1987-1988.

Wigan Highfield

Wigan Highfield were formed around 1880 and went out of existence for a few years following the rugby schism of 1895. They reformed in 1902, the club originally played in a league comprising the "A" teams of the major clubs.

In 1921—22, the club made an application for full Rugby League status, but it was decided that the ground was not big enough. By incorporating a field, it was possible to increase the size of the ground and so in 1922-1923 a second Wigan team had joined the RFL. The club didn't actually die until 1997 but by then the Wigan connection had long gone. The clubs shirt colours were Yellow and Blue Hoops.

On December 14th 1932, the main Wigan Rugby League team played Leeds in an exhibition game under Floodlights at White City Stadium in London. Floodlit sport was a new concept and the stadium authorities were so impressed by the success of the exhibition match they decided to take over Wigan Highfield, who had finished second from bottom in the league, and agreed to pay off their debts. The club had been struggling for a long while with money problems and was facing bankruptcy, so this investment was a huge relief.

But sadly the new owners moved the club away from Wigan to London were they became "London Highfield" in 1933-1934. They did however retain most of the local Wigan players who travelled down to London to play home matches. Most of their matches in London were played under floodlights, which was quite a novelty back then, but despite good crowds by today's standards the White City Company lost money on the venture and decided not to continue Rugby League in London beyond that first season.

So the owners moved the club back up north to Liverpool to the Stanley Greyhound Stadium in Fairfield where they became Liverpool Stanley. The club continued to change name and move places over the years becoming, Liverpool City (1951-1968 - playing in Knotty Ash), Huyton (1968-1984), Runcorn Highfield (1984-1991), Highfield (1991-1996) and finally Prescot Panthers before the club folded at the end of the 1997 season.

With "Highfield" in the title one might assume Wigan Highfield played in the Highfield area of Wigan but they actually played down the road in Pemberton. If you know your geography you might know of a road called Tunstall Lane at the Wigan end of Pem near the "Halfway House" Pub. Perhaps you remember the old Unit 4 Cinema which Tunstall Lane ran along side? Next to where that cinema was is a road which leads to the "Ravine Club" (still there today) and that little road is where you would have entered the ground that Wigan Highfield played their matches on. It was all fields back then, nowadays it has been replaced by many houses.

Highfield generally struggled in the lower half of the league tables but in 1927-1928 they managed to finish above Wigan in 7th place on points percentage. However in their ten year existence Wigan Highfield beat Wigan only once, 9-3 at Central Park on 13th September 1930. There first match was also against Wigan on September 2nd 1922 at Tunstall Lane, in which Wigan beat Wigan Highfield 25-10. My granddad told me that Wigan and Wigan Highfield were actually great rivals and it wasn't a case of fans supporting both clubs. He also regaled tales of how the team was full of local talent, unlike Wigan who were known as the "team of nations" at the time due to them constantly signing players from all over the world.

Wigan Highfield actually reached the semi finals of the Challenge Cup in 1925/26 but lost in the semi finals against Oldham at Salford. In the Lancashire Cup they never managed to progress past Round 1 in any of their 11 seasons in the league. They also hosted the touring New Zealand side during their 1926 tour but lost 14-2.

After Wigan Highfield left Tunstall Lane for London the ground was taken over by the nearby Ross Works (known locally in Pem as the "Slipper Works") who played Football and Cricket on it. It was eventually sold off for housing (during the 1980's I think).

For a full list of Wigan Highfields League Results - Click Here

Springfield Borough

Blackpool Borough was taken over in April 1987 by a consortium, on the condition that they would leave the town. They had become homeless during 1986-1987 as there ground was declared unfit due to them being unable to meet the cost of new safety measures brought in after the tragic Valley Parade Fire at Bradford City FC in 1985, which killed 56 people.

So the new consortium took up an offer from Wigan Athletic to play their games in the Springfield area of Wigan at the old Springfield Park ground that closed in 1999. They put their application to move in to the RFL but the move aroused a storm of protest from both Wigan, and to a lesser extent, Leigh. After two lengthy meetings the Rugby League Council on 15th May 1987 gave permission for the relocation by 22 votes to 11. Springfield Borough was born and that brought a second professional team to Wigan for the first time since 1933.

A five year deal (with a further five year option) to play at Springfield Park had been agreed  but sadly, Springfield would only last one season in Wigan. The Springfield Park pitch was suffering badly from overuse and an argument over unpaid rent in late January 1988 saw Wigan Athletic give Borough six months to quit to ground.

The team played most home games under floodlights on Friday Nights, to avoid a clash with Wigan's first team fixtures at Central Park, but attendances were often less than 1,000. This wasn't helped by Wigan who scheduled "A" team fixtures, which were attracting crowds of about 2,000 at the time, to clash with Springfield fixtures and harm their attendances.

Coached by Stan Gittens, the Springfield team included ex Wigan players such as Carl Briscoe, Tracy Grundy, Dave Woods, Steve Donlan, Dave Walsh and Mick Nanyn. They club had an excellent season on the field, winning 18 of 28 matches. They finished fourth in the table which was just one place short of promotion to Division One.

The clubs most notable match during 1987-1988 was a Challenge Cup Second Round tie away at First Division Salford. A shock result was on when Springfield led 10-2 with just 14 minutes to go, but tries from ex Wigan player Keiron O'Loughlin and Steve Gibson put Salford 12-10 ahead. However, Springfield still had a chance to force a replay right at the death but Mike Smith's 30 yard penalty goal attempt went wide.

Another notable game was a John Player Trophy Quarter Final tie at Springfield Park against First Division giants Leeds. 3,894 attended as they pushed Leeds all the way in a 22-12 defeat. Ironically, Wigan would play both those sides later on in those competitions, so who knows we could have had a Wigan derby at either Central or Springfield Park!

Springfield's last match saw them fall one match short of a trip of joining Wigan at the Premiership finals day at Old Trafford. They lost 18-10 away at top of the table Oldham in a Second Division Premiership Semi Final. The clubs last home match was a Second Division Premiership Quarter Final that was played at 6:30pm on a Sunday Night after Wigan had played Warrington in the First Division Premiership at Central Park.

After being forced to move after one season, Springfield relocated to Chorley for 1988-1989 and in 1989-1990 they moved to Altrincham and became Trafford Borough before returning to Blackpool as Blackpool Gladiators in 1992-1993. Blackpool were demoted to amateur status in 1993 and joined the National Conference before folding.

For a full list of Springfield Borough's 1987-1988 Results - Click Here

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