Springfield Park was home to Wigan Athletic, and its predecessors Wigan County, Wigan United, Wigan Town, and Wigan Borough from 1897 until the last game played there on 15 May 1999, which was in the end one of the most important games ever played there, a Second Division play-off match against Manchester City. Although no Latics supporters were sad to be moving to the ultra-new JJB Stadium the ground was one of the best non-League grounds in its time, and has many memories for the fans.
Springfield Park had been used in the latter years of the 19th century for a variety of sports, having a concrete bicycle track and a half-mile running track. Horse-trotting was very popular. It was also used for rugby and by the local police for their athletics meetings. The first professional football match was played on 1 September 1897 when Wigan County played Burton Swifts in a friendly. When County played their first Lancashire League game on 11 September against Southport Central 4,000 watched the Wigan team win 5-1. The Wigan Observer of 18 September reported that the fees “for admission are rather sharp (4d and 8d), but that is not the fault of the Wigan County Club, as they are compelled by the Lancashire Association to fix the prices as announced.” The fees represent 2p and 4p in modern currency!
Local dignitaries cut the first sod of Springfield Park on 20 January 1897
The facilities at the ground improved in the years that Wigan Borough played League football at Springfield Park. In the early 1920s a new main stand was constructed, cover provided at the Shevington end, and the Popular Side Stand (later to be the St Andrews Stand) was built extending from the half-way line down towards the Shevington End. The OS map of the time shows the changes from the 1900 plan.
Springfield Park 1920
In 1950 Latics’ application to the League included an optimistic overview of the potential of Springfield Park. It describes the playing pitch as very good and measuring 114 yards by 73 yards, being oval in shape with a space of six yards between the touch line and fence, and as much as 15 yards behind each goal.
Springfield Park in 1950 – a friendly against Grimsby Town on 1 May The game ended 5-3 to the visitors
It then further describes the Grand Stand as 95 yards long fronted by a Paddock which is partially covered. The Stand, it says, will seat 2,000 people, and there is shelter on the popular side for 5,000. There were plans to extend the shelter to cover a further 3,000. The application then went on to list the amenities available: separate (!) Plunge Baths, hot and cold shower in each dressing room, Electric Lighting throughout, and Floodlighting for training purposes.
The old Main Stand destroyed by fire in 1953
The ground was stated to be capable of accommodating 40,000 people, and “is so well banked that all can see without difficulty”. The Ground and its stand and shelter had been valued at £12,500. However, alterations had been proposed which would take the capacity up to 60,000. The pièce de resistance however was that the ground was “only a penny bus ride or 15 minutes walk from the town centre”.
On 30 May 1953 however fire swept through the grandstand destroying it entirely – damage to the value of £7,000. This was a great blow to the club and probably dealt a fatal blow to their end of season League application. It took nearly 12 months for funds to be raised to build a replacement, and as recorded elsewhere Newcastle United, who Latics drew to play in the FA Cup, complained, rather unsportingly, about the lack of facilities.
Springfield Park plays host in 1954 to Newcastle, with the new main stand under construction Newcastle arrogantly complained about the lack of facilities
By the time the 1960 application was being made the club were publicising the fact that the ground, holding 35,000 at the time, could be “a 100,000 Ground”.
Springfield Park from the air in 1960 – note the absence of houses behind the St Andrews side
Floodlights made their appearance on 19 October 1966 for a Northern Floodlit League match against Crewe Alexandra, although the official “unveiling” took place five days later for a friendly against Manchester City. 10,119 attended.
Election to the League brought improvements to the ground, but as football progressed to the end of the century and Bradford and Hillsbrough brought ground safety to the forefront Springfield Park began to look its age. Barriers were obtained from the old Holte End at Villa Park, but for Latics to progress as its Chairman wanted things had to change.
Springfield Park 1960
Plans to redevelop the ground were effectively non-starters because of the access routes available to the ground, and the decision was taken to move away to a new ground. Initially plans were made to utilise the athletics stadium at Robin Park, with two stands at either side and the ends open, providing the possibility of further development.
The story of what actually happened is well known, and now Latics play at the JJB Stadium.
1974 FA Cup tie against Mansfield Photo copyright of and reproduced with kind permission of Ivor Hilton
As Springfield Park fell more and more into disrepair the move to the new stadium was eagerly awaited. Here are a few photos below I took around the ground in its latter days. The photos may be used for private purposes only, with suitable acknowledgement please.
. You will find these photos on a few other sites. Rest assured, they are OURS – we have the negatives!!
Seats in the Main Stand St Andrews Terrace The view from the Shevington (away) end The Main Stand Up the steps from the Main Gate A rather rusting turnstile
My thanks go to the officials of Wigan Athletic FC for letting me take these pictures.
One of the most famous photos of Springfield Park entitled “Sunset over Springfield Park 1990” which can be obtained from Homes of Football in Ambleside
I also have some fine pictures taken by my good friend from the Netherlands, Han van Eijden, at the Play-off game against Manchester City. Once again, copyright belongs to him, and these pictures can only be used with his express permission!!
The entrance to the Supporters Club The view from the Town EndThe Main Stand That’s me in the red and yellow coat right on the halfway line!! The Town End St Andrews Terrace
And to end with a question….do you recognise this ground?
You think so…?
You may be mistaken….
The Oval in Belfast – home of Glentoran.