Wi­gan Ath­letic’s first Football League team 1978-79

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Neil Fissler

JOE HIN­NI­GAN is in the his­tory books as be­ing the first Wi­gan Ath­letic player to score a goal in the Football League. The Lat­ics had a long tra­di­tion of suc­cess in the Cheshire League and North­ern Pre­mier League be­fore they were elected to the Football League for the 1978-79 sea­son.

But they failed to score in any of their first three games and were 2-0 down at home to New­port County in the fourth when Hin­ni­gan’s mo­ment of glory came.

“It was a Jeff Wright cor­ner and I rose above some­body to head home but it never ever dawned on me that I was the first to be hon­est,” he says.

“It was only when we were in the bath­room when some­body said ‘Joe do you re­alise you will be in the his­tory books’.

“We had just lost the game so it didn’t re­ally mat­ter to me. I was more dis­ap­pointed with los­ing the game.”

Wi­gan's first vic­tory in the league didn’t come un­til their sixth game when they beat Rochdale 3-0 at Spring­field Park.

They ended up fin­ish­ing sixth in the league, six points off the pro­mo­tion places but Hin­ni­gan ad­mits that sur­vival was their pri­or­ity.

He says that Spring­field Park, which has long since dis­ap­peared gave them a real edge be­cause it was open to the ele­ments.

Hin­ni­gan reck­ons that es­pe­cially teams from the south were beaten as soon as they stepped into the car park and felt the chill­ing north­ern winds.

“We drew the first game nil-nil against Here­ford, then we lost our next four. A lot of it was down to con­fi­dence. As soon as we started to get a few re­sults the con­fi­dence in the lads just grew and grew.

“We were more or less un­beat­able at Spring­field Park at one stage. Teams hated go­ing there.

“It was open to all the ele­ments, the wind and rain, and the south­ern teams were more or less beaten in the car park

Closed shop

“The likes of Read­ing when Kerry Dixon was play­ing for them and Portsmouth who were a mas­sive team in the di­vi­sion.

“Wim­ble­don were the ex­cep­tion. They were very sim­i­lar to us, they had come from the non­league they had lads who were hun­gry.

“We had all types of dif­fer­ent play­ers turn pro­fes­sional for the year and give it a go.

“Teams just didn’t get elected back then. Wi­gan had tried for years and The Football League was like a closed shop.

“You had the Rochdale, Hartle­pool, Crewe ap­ply­ing for re-elec­tion ev­ery year but the chair­men used to like keep­ing it in house. They voted for each other.

“But we man­aged to get in on ta re-vote on the back of Southport go­ing out of the league.

“We sur­prised a lot of teams. That was great credit to man­ager Ian McNeil, who brought in some good Scot­tish lads.”

1. Kevin Smart: The right back set­tled in Dover af­ter fin­ish­ing his ca­reer and earned a liv­ing by work­ing as a brick­layer.

2. Peter Houghton: The scorer of Wi­gan's last goal in non-league football, lives in Liver­pool and works as a car en­gi­neer.

3. Neil Davids: Lived on the Flyde Coast, build­ing up a chain of jewellery shops and then a prop­erty port­fo­lio un­til his death in De­cem­ber 2011 aged 56.

4. Ge­off Gay: The mid­fielder was a civil ser­vant in Hor­wich and then close to his Westhoughton home.

5. John Brown: The goal­keeper spent many years work­ing as a bus driver in the Pre­ston area.

6. Frank Cor­ri­gan: He lives in Win­ning­ton near North­wich and spent 16 years work­ing for the lo­cal wa­ter­board. For the last eight years he has worked in a pa­per mill.

7. Noel Ward: The cen­tre-half broke his leg three days be­fore he was due to sign for Chelsea. He be­came a su­per­mar­ket man­ager and is still a reg­u­lar at the DW Sta­dium.

8. Joe Hin­ni­gan: The defender has been coach at Ch­ester, Wi­gan, Bury, Rochdale and a physio at Shrews­bury, Ac­cring­ton then Rochdale.

9. Jeff Wright: The mid­fielder spent 18 years work­ing for Pearl In­sur­ance in Belling­ham where he still lives, be­fore set­ting up his own mort­gage and in­sur­ance busi­ness.

10. Ian Mc­Neill: He had two spells man­ag­ing Wi­gan and an­other stint at Shrews­bury and was as­sis­tant boss for six years. He scouted for Bolton, Leeds, Nor­wich and Chelsea.

11. Alan Cromp­ton: The mid­fielder lives in Black­burn and has been work­ing as a driver in the lo­cal area.

12. Ian Sed­don: The mid­fielder coached at the Bolton acad­emy and has worked in the build­ing ma­te­ri­als in­dus­try. He is the bi­og­ra­pher of for­mer Eng­land player Tommy Banks.

13. Tommy Gore: The mid­fielder lives in Billinge and ran a snooker club and a golf land­scape com­pany. He now has a com­pany pro­vid­ing clean­ing con­trac­tors for fer­ries.

14. Ian Gil­li­brand: The cap­tain be­came re­serve-team coach and was then man­ager of the Robin Park sports com­plex, un­til his death in Septem­ber 1989 aged 40.

15. John Wilkie: A char­tered ac­coun­tant be­fore run­ning night­clubs and be­came the man­ager of a hol­i­day park in Rhyl, north Wales.

16. Ian Pur­die: The first sign­ing fol­low­ing elec­tion to the Football League set­tled in Can­berra Aus­tralia, where he has set up his own haulage busi­ness.

17. Kenny Banks: Served Wi­gan as trainer for over 20 years and died in Abergele near Col­wyn Bay in Au­gust 1994 aged 70.

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