Northern Union - 1895 to 1922

1895

At a meeting at The George Hotel, Huddersfield on 29th August, twenty one Northern clubs, one of which was Warrington, voted to form a breakaway Northern Rugby Football Union, and to allow broken time payments with a ceiling of six shillings per day for loss of earnings through playing rugby. Full time professionalism was still illegal.

Early proposals to further the interest of spectators i.e. "reducing the number of players from fifteen to thirteen, abolition of line-outs and using a round ball" were put forward. Trial games were played, resulting in opinions that players did not like a round ball, and other changes would tend to make the game faster than the players could stand.

The Northern Union Competition was established. Warrington wins its first match in the Northern Union by

beating Hunslet 5-4. Foden scores the only try and Burton kicks a goal, at the "old" Wilderspool.

1896

In April the away match to Wakefield Trinity is switched to Warrington, because of a ban on the Wakefield ground. The Wirepullers win 10-3.

Warrington finished the first season in 13th place with 17 wins and 5 draws from 42 matches.

The widening of Wilderspool Causeway caused the Club to move back some boundary fencing at a cost of £242 and a new stand, the installation of turnstiles and an embankment cost a further £527.

At the end of the first season in the Northern Union the Club had paid out £96 5s in broken time payments.

So many clubs had joined the Northern Union that it was decided to abandon the one league system and

introduced two county leagues, the Lancashire Senior Competition and the Yorkshire Senior Competition.

 

1897

The first Challenge Cup competition was held. Warrington's first match was a scoreless draw at Broughton. The second round home victory of 24-0 over Holbeck was played in four quarters of 20 minutes each instead of 2 halves because of a very strong wind. The Club eventually lost 6-0 in a semi-final tie with Batley at Fartown.

Mr J.E. Warren of Warrington was elected President of the Northern Union. As Warrington's secretary he had been largely responsible for the Warrington Club's involvement in the foundation of the Northern Union.

New rules were implemented; goals, however kicked were to count as two points; line-outs were abolished, to make way for the "punt-out" from touch.

On 3rd September 1898 Warrington played their first match at Wilderspool. It was against Swinton, when a crowd of 7,000 witnessed a drawn game, 3-3.

Warrington was ordered to put up 200 notices round the town warning spectators about unruly conduct at games.

 

1898

Warrington had to re-locate again this time due to the building of Fletcher Street and its houses, on a portion of their old field. This was to be the club's sixth venue since formation. Fortunately, after fears that Fletcher Russells had earmarked the adjacent land for development of their factory on Priory Street, the Club were able to agree a ten-year lease on Wilderspool with local brewers Greenall Whitley. Latchford Rovers Rugby Club previously used this pitch.

£251 was spent on removing some of the ground fencing and establishing the boundaries of what became Wilderspool Stadium. The grandstand was moved from the old ground to the Priory Street side of the new ground.

Wilderspool Stadium takes its name from Wilderspool Causeway. "Wilderspool" means "wild beast's pool". So it was perhaps appropriate that the ground was nicknamed the "zoo" in the 1970's & 1980's.

Professionalism is adopted in the Northern Union, but players must have other employment.

On 3rd September Warrington played their first match at Wilderspool. It was against Swinton, when a crowd of 7,000 witnessed a drawn game, 3-3. Alf Boardman made the first of his 403 appearance for Warrington in this match. Robert Bate scored the first points at the new ground, when he scored Warrington's try. A right winger named Morgan Bevan was the Swinton tryscorer - an omen perhaps of the great try-scoring feats of his future Warrington namesakes, Brian and John. A crowd of 2,000 watch as Wilderspool stages a Lancashire County trial game between the "Probable" and "Possibles".

In October the Club signed Jackie Fish at the age of 18, for the princely sum of £50. He was born in Runcorn and had played for Lostock Rugby Club. He played his first match for the Club that same month against Barrow in a friendly, when he scored a sensational try.

 

1899

An association football team was started in the town and there was a real concern that the sport would become more popular than rugby. However this was not to be the case and the team folded after a year, rugby has remained the major sport in Warrington ever since.

On 2nd December Jackie Fish scored three tries in a 14-6 win at Leigh. This is the first ever hat-trick of tries by a Warrington player.

 

1900

In March, winger Jackie Fish became the first Ernie Brookes signed for the Club, his signing on fee was a small lemonade, a cigar and a pat on the back

Warrington player to score five tries in a match, when he did so in a 44-0 win over Goole at Wilderspool, in the second round of the Challenge Cup. Fish also kicked seven goals for good measure to give him a tally of 29 points.

George Dickenson signed for the Club.

 

1901

Warrington beat five Yorkshire clubs, Leeds, Heckmondwike, Leeds Parish Church, Bradford and Castleford to reach the final of the Northern Union Challenge Cup. Jackie Fish and the defence were the stars of the cup run, with Fish scoring at least a try (10 in total) and a goal (8 in total) in each match. Batley, won the cup for the third time with a 6-0 win, at Headingley, before a crowd of 29,569. The only highlights for Warrington were the brilliant runs of winger Jackie Fish.

Warrington appeared in the renamed South West Lancashire Cup against Leigh two days later. The strenuous game against Batley had taken its toll on the Warrington players and the match ended in a scoreless draw, a replay never taking place.

Three hat-ticks helped Jackie Fish to twenty-two tries in the 1900/1 season.

In June, fourteen clubs including Warrington resigned from the two county leagues to form a new Northern Rugby League. This could have lead to the formation of Super League ninety five years before it actually happened.

 

1902

The league was restructured with two divisions of eighteen teams. Warrington finished 8th in the first division. St Helens were relegated and Leeds were

promoted from the second division. Thus Warrington are the only founder members of the Northern Union in 1895 never to have been out of the top flight.

Warrington win their first Northern Union trophy by winning the South West Lancashire and Border Trophy, with a 7-2 win over Widnes on 29 April. Jackie Fish scored all the points with a try and two goals.

There were more rule changes; the punt out from touch was abolished, a scrum on the 10 yard line was substituted.

Ernie Brookes signed for the Club, his signing on fee was a small lemonade, a cigar and a pat on the back.

 

1903

Jackie Fish received £3 to sign on again for the 1903/4 season and his match money was increased to £1. Centre George Dickenson received £4 to sign on and received 17s 6d a win and 12s 6d lose or draw.

In August George Thomas joined Warrington from Newport Rugby Union Club.

On 12th October, Jackie Fish played and scored for both teams in a match at Wilderspool. The match was a Lancashire county trial, Fish started with the "Probables" and scored two tries and kicked three goals as his side led 28-0 at half-time. The backs changed sides for the second half and Fish then scored a try and kicked a goal for the "Possibles".

 

1904

The South West Lancashire League match against St Helens at Wilderspool, on 4th April counted as double, in that league. Warrington won the match 19-3. A fixture congestion caused Warrington to play twelve games in the month of April.

Warrington again reach the Challenge Cup final. They got there with victories over Swinton (after a replay), Wigan, Pontefract and Bradford (also after a replay). Defeat was suffered again, this time to Halifax at The Weaste, Salford 8-3, before 17,041 spectators. Davies scored Warrington's only points with a try.

New rules introduced included a three man front row in the scrum. The knock-on rule was also amended.

Frank Shugars signed from Penygraig Rugby Union Club.

 

1905

1905 Team witH Challenge Cup

Warrington made their third Challenge Cup final appearance thanks to a brilliant interception try by Fish against Bradford in the semi-final. Warrington had beaten Morecambe, Keighley (after a replay) and Wigan in the earlier rounds. The replay at Keighley kicked off an hour late, at 5pm, because of the late arrival of the train carrying the Warrington team.

It was a case of third time lucky as Warrington went on to lift the Challenge Cup after a 6-0 victory over Hull Kingston Rovers before a 19,638 crowd at Headingley. The star of the show was again Fish who scored both the Warrington tries.

After three seasons the two division idea was scrapped. One major division of 31 clubs was established. However not all clubs played each other and league positions were decided on a percentage basis. A smallpox epidemic again disrupted fixtures, whilst Warrington played 38 matches some clubs only played 20.

The Lancashire Cup was introduced for the first time. Warrington won their first match in this competition with a 10-0 win at Rochdale Hornets, in October. Harmer and Isherwood scored tries and Preston kicked two goals. The next round tie was played at Wilderspool, but lost 2-5 to Leigh, with Preston kicking the Warrington goal. This was the first match in which Warrington's players had worn numbers.

 

1906

A The top four play-off was introduced for the first time to decide the championship.

The Challenge Cup semi-final tie between Salford and Keighley was held at Wilderspool. A crowd of 8,500 generated receipts of £246.

Warrington play their final 15-a-side match against Hunslet at Wilderspool. Warrington win 15-2, with Lees scoring the final try, he also kicked the final goal.

A proposal by Warrington to reduced the number of players from fifteen to thirteen was approved by the clubs. The play the ball when a player was tackled was introduced as was the scrum back if the ball was kicked out on the full. So the new code of streamlined rugby began to develop.

The first thirteen-a-side match at Wilderspool was a 33-7 victory over Hull. The extra space benefiting Warrington's backline as the Wirepullers scored nine tries, including a Brookes hat-trick.

On 20th October Jackie Fish scored thirty points in a 50-3 victory over Huddersfield at Wilderspool. The winger scored 4 tries and kicked 9 goals. This was the first time that Wilderspool had seen Warrington score 50 points in a match.

Warrington reached the final of the Lancashire Cup for the first time, when they lost to Broughton Rangers, 156 at Wigan in front of 14,048 spectators. George Dickenson and Ernie Brookes score the Warrington tries.

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Northern Union - 1895 to 1922

1907

1907 Cup Winning Side

Warrington reached the Challenge Cup Final again following easy wins over Batley (34-9), Hull (160), Huddersfield (15-7) and Swinton (21-0). The Cup was won for a second time by beating Oldham 17-3 in the final at Broughton. Tries from Isherwood, Fish and Hockenhull and four goals by Fish helped see Warrington home before a crowd of 18,500. Thousands of townsfolk crowded the train station to meet their conquering heroes. A band played the team to the Town Hall where a reception was expected, but incredibly it was locked, someone had forgotten the local heroes.

The 1906/7 season had been the most successful so far with a creditable 8th place in the league and two cup final appearances. The reduction in the number of players to thirteen had benefited Warrington's exciting backline, with Ernie Brookes scoring 26 tries and Jackie Fish 24.

Mr. Harry Ashton of Warrington was elected President of the Northern Union.

The first tour of Britain by New Zealand took place. Warrington beat Albert H. Baskerville's touring "All Golds" 8-7, before a crowd of 8,000. Fish and Taylor scored the tries and George Thomas kicked a goal.

Warrington played Wakefield Trinity at West Ham, in an exhibition match.

 

1908

George Thomas played in the first ever International Match, for Wales against the touring New Zealanders, on New Years day at Aberdare. He also

played for Great Britain against New Zealand, to become Warrington's first ever Test player.

The players were told that they must attend twice weekly practice games before the season began, but several Welsh players failed to turn up and missed early season fixtures.

A new ten-year lease was granted on Wilderspool by Greenall Whitley.

In the summer, William Dowell and William O'Neill, Welsh Rugby Union international forwards signed for Warrington from Pontypool and Cardiff respectively.

The first Australian tour began in October. Warrington played the tourists twice. The first was won by Warrington 10-3, Fish and Taylor scored the tries with Fish and Isherwood kicking a goal each. The Australians disappointed at losing requested a re-match. This time the match ended in an 8-8 draw. Fish and Jenkins being the try scorers and Thomas kicking a goal.

In December Ernie Brookes played stand-off, scoring a try and two goals and George Dickenson was in the centre, in the first ever Anglo Australian Test Match, in the historic 22-22 draw at Park Royal, London.

George Dickenson and Ernie Brookes played for England against Wales, William Neill and William Dowell represented Wales.

 

1909

Ernie Brookes retained his place at stand-off for the final two tests against the Australians. Two of the Australian test players, speedy winger Dan Frawley and forward Larry "Jersey" O'Malley signed for Warrington and remained in England.

Frank Shugars became Warrington's first tourist when he was selected for the 1910 tour of Australasia

In April, Warrington recorded their highest score at that time by beating St Helens 78-3. George Thomas scores a record 33 points with five tries and nine goals. In total Warrington scored 20 tries, with Bradshaw also scoring five tries.

Frank Shugars gained the first of his five Welsh caps against England.

 

1910

Warrington lost to Leeds 11-10 in the Challenge Cup semi-final at Broughton. Tries by Dickenson and McIntyre and two goals from McIntyre were not sufficient to see Warrington to progress to their fifth final in ten years.

Frank Shugars became Warrington's first tourist when he was selected for the 1910 tour of Australasia. He played in one test against New Zealand. The tourists sailed from Tilbury on 15th April and returned home on

On 9th October Wilderspool held its first representative match. Lancashire lost 28-7 to Cumberland in front of a crowd of 4,000.

On 29th November Jimmy Tranter received £4 to sign on and his junior club, Newton received £5.

On 30th December the Australian tourists recorded their first win at Wilderspoool when the defeated Warrington 34-6. A crowd of 8,500 saw the tourists comfortable victory, Johnson and Bradshaw scored tries for the home side.


1911

February, Jackie Fish plays his 321st and final match, at Coventry and scores his 215th try for the Club. He is still second on the Warrington all time try scoring list

In the same month Arthur Skelthorn signed from Stockton Heath, both he and his junior club received a £5 signing-on fee.

In September the first section of the new north stand was opened. It was built by H. Fairclough Ltd, seated 900 and cost £1,500. It was opposite the old grandstand. It was opened prior to the 16-10 win over Leigh by Mr Thomas Locker, the Club President.

In 1914 the ground was purchased from Greenall Whitley. The freehold was held in trust for Club members until it became a limited company in 1941

Bad light during the winter months led to many matches being abandoned and so the Northern Union proposed earlier kick-offs. Warrington and Widnes proposed playing for 70 minutes instead of 80, but the Northern Union proposal was adopted.

 

1912

In the first round of the Challenge Cup Warrington drew with junior club Normanton St Johns 6-6. Two days later Warrington made only two team changes and won the replay at Wilderspool 75-0, with 19 tries.

Rhys Thomas a Welsh Rugby Union international forward

16th September. Jackie Fish was awarded a testimonial, and received the sum of £268 15s 11d.

 

1913

Jackie Fish, Stuntz and Frawley playing cards

Warrington reached their fifth Challenge Cup Final, with wins over Keighley, Hull KR, Salford and Dewsbury. The Final was lost 9-5 to the mighty Huddersfield team of "All-Stars". Warrington scored first through a try by Bradshaw converted by Jolley and gave a wonderful display in what was considered to be the best Cup Final of the pre-war era.

A disappointing league season had seen Warrington finish 18th, their lowest pre Great War. So the Challenge Cup performances were a tremendous achievement.

On 15th November the referee, Mr Crabtree was carried off injured in the match at Broughton Rangers. A touch judge took over and Warrington lost 0-12.

 

1914

In January the players went on strike over the payment of a £1 bonus. George Thomas addressed a 4,000 strong crowd at Wilderspool, after an "A" team game, to explain their grievances. This was the second time that the players had been on strike at the Club. The committee refused to give way and the players backed down.

The ground was purchased from Greenall Whitley. The freehold was held in trust for Club members until it became a limited company in 1941.

Billy and Tommy Cunliffe joined Warrington from amateur club Pemberton Rovers. They played over 750 games for the Club between them.

25 players from the Club enlisted in the Forces and they agreed to a 15% reduction in playing terms.

 

1915

On January 16th efforts by the Warrington Fire Brigade to remove water from the pitch fail. The game against Leeds still went ahead but the referee had to abandon the match after 65 minutes with the score 3-3, the result stood.

A Warrington v Wigan midweek match had to be postponed because Warrington had so many of their players on Government work that they could not raise a team.

Wilderspool staged its second Challenge Cup semi-final by hosting the 5-5 draw between St Helens and Rochdale Hornets. A crowd of 10,000 witnessed the tense match.

At the AGM of the Northern Union in June 1915 it was declared that "except for schoolboys and intermediates under eighteen years of age, competitive football under Northern Union rules would be suspended for the duration of the war".

Warrington did not take part in the series of friendly games arranged for the 1915/16 season. As a result a number of players played for Runcorn.

 

1916

On 3rd July, George Thomas was killed in action on the Somme. An eye witness reported that he was "blown to pieces" by a German shell. He was only just 35.

Warrington resumed playing friendly matches. The first, a friendly at Leigh in September is lost 3-29. Warrington had difficulty raising a team and play a stranger, called Wheeler, at full-back. He was picked up at the railway station after he said that he had played before.

St Helens were struggling to carry on playing, so when they visited Wilderspool in October, with a very young team, Warrington paid them expenses for fulfilling the fixture.

 

1917

In November, Swinton arrived at Wilderspool with only four players. They borrowed six Warrington reserves and played the match with ten men. The delayed kick-off meant that the game finished in semidarkness and, not surprisingly, Warrington won 33-0.

 

1918

On 14th September JE Warren died at the age of 58. He had been one of the finest football reformers of his day, he was a great organiser and was largely responsible for establishing the Club as a force in the Northern Union.

The Armistice was signed in November and the ban on competitive football was removed. Over 90 past and future Warrington players served in the Forces during the war.

After three friendly matches a short season of county leagues took place. Warrington finishing fourth in the Lancashire League.

 

1919

R.F. Anderton and S. Jones were appointed Secretary and Treasurer, respectively for the first season after the Great War. Mr T. Pemberton retired as Treasurer after 37 years service.

In October 1921, Warrington became the first side to defeat the touring Australians, 8-5.

The Entrance prices for matches were, 1s 3d on the enclosure side and 9d on the Popular side.

Many of the pre-war players returned to the Club and a number joined from the disbanded Runcorn club. Forty-five new players were signed by the Club during the season. The first match was at Wilderspool and was won 7-5 against Oldham. Tommy Cunliffe scored the try and Ben Jolley kicked 2 goals.

Alf Peacock, became Warrington's first specialist hooker when he joined the Club after the war, receiving £7 10s as a signing on fee.

On 27th December full-back Ben Jolley scored his only try for Warrington in a 15-4 win at Wigan. Jolley played a total of 282 matches for Warrington. Oddly enough he scored 5 tries in 30 appearances during the war-time matches, which are not counted as official matches. The Corporation Fire Engine was called in to pump water off the pitch, in order to allow the Christmas games to proceed after very heavy rainfall.

 

1920

Bill Cunliffe and Arthur Skelhorn were selected for the Great Britain tour of Australasia. They both played at prop in the final test against Australia which Great Britain won 23-13. Skelhorn played in all three tests in New Zealand and Cunliffe in the first two. All three tests were won 31-7, 19-3 and 11-10.

Additional land was purchased on the north side of the ground to facilitate ground improvements. The stand on the popular side was re-roofed and a low wall built in front for banking purposes to improve the view of spectators. 300 yards of drains were repaired and this considerably improved the drainage.

Jackie Hamblett joined the Wilderspool groundstaff.

The highlight of the year was the defeat of St Helens Recs, at Wilderspool, 12-5. The Warrington side gave a great exhibition of rugby in a match that was interrupted by a terrific downpour of rain. Peacock and McNulty scored tries and Jolley kicked 3 goals.

 

1921

In March, Wilderspool experienced its first 20,000 crowd, when 23,206 fans see the Challenge Cup first round replay against Hull. A Bradbury hat-trick helps Warrington through to the next round, 16-5.

Wilderspool underwent a series of changes. The north west wall and turnstiles were built. The formation of offices and the committee room under the stand were also completed. 700 loads of soil were laid on the pitch and this allowed a levelling process, it turned a very poor pitch into a good one.

Frank Williams was discovered playing in the Warrington Works Competition, for Cheshire Lines and received a £25 signing on fee. He went on to make 352 appearances for Warrington and score 87 tries, then a record for a forward at Wilderspool.

In October, Warrington became the first side to defeat the touring Australians, 8-5. The magnificent victory was sealed with 4 goals by Jolley, in front of 16,000 delighted spectators. The Kangaroos returned to Wilderspool later in the tour, only to lose their second match this time 8-6 to Lancashire.

Bill Cunliffe and Arthur Skelhorn were back together at prop for all three test matches against the Australians. Great Britain again triumphed by winning two matches of the three test series.

In December, Warrington won their first Lancashire Cupby beating Oldham 7-5, at the Cliffe, the home ofBroughton Rangers. A try by winger Bradbury and twopenalty goals by Ben Jolley saw Warrington home andskipper Jack Prescott lift the trophy.

 

1922

Full back Ben Jolley became the firstWarrington player to kick 50 goals in a season.Despite missing 10 consecutive matches through injury.

A heavy trading loss of over £1,000 and a similar spendon land and ground improvements put theClub in a very poor financial position, with debts ofover £2,500.

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