Founded in 1872, Wigan was a founding member of the Northern Rugby Football Union following the schism from the Rugby Football Union in 1895.
Wigan are the most successful club in the history of British rugby league, having won 19 League Championships (including 2 Super League Grand Final victories), 18 Challenge Cups and 3 World Club Challenge trophies. They had a period of sustained success from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, winning the Challenge Cup 8 seasons in succession and the League Championship 7 seasons in succession.
The club has played its home matches at the DW Stadium since 1999,before which they played at Central Park from 1902.
On 21 November 1872 Wigan Football Club was founded by members of Wigan Cricket Club following a meeting at the Royal Hotel, Standishgate. Wigan F.C. played on Folly Field, near Upper Dicconson Street.
The first match took place on 30 November when members played against each other, in a practice match, at Folly Field. After a series of trial and practice matches, they travelled to Warrington to play their first competitive match on 18 January 1873. The game ended in a draw.
Financial problems and an inability to recruit quality players led to the club amalgamating with Upholland F.C. in 1876. The club became Wigan & District F.C. The club moved and played its home games at the then Wigan Cricket Club at Prescott Street just off of Frog Lane. It is unlikely that the club fulfilled its fixtures in 1877 before finally disbanding at the end of the 1879 cricket season.
On 22 September 1879, the club was reformed as Wigan Wasps by many ex-members of the original Wigan Football Club, following a meeting in the Dicconson Arms. The club moved away from Prescott Street back to Folly Field.
In 1884, Wigan won its first trophy, the West Lancashire Cup. The club initially played in blue and white hooped jerseys before changing in 1886 to cherry and white hoops.In 1888 they hosted and beat a touring New Zealand side.
Wigan were suspended by the RFU for breaking the strict amateur code despite their argument that broken-time payments were necessary to avoid undue hardship for their working class players. In 1895 Wigan joined with other clubs from Yorkshire and Lancashire to found the Northern Union which led eventually to the sport of rugby league. This was a result of the breakaway from the Rugby Football Union. This was when the “Wasps” tag was dropped and the club simply became known as Wigan.
The County Championship was introduced in October 1895 with Cheshire entertaining Lancashire. The Red Rose side contained three players from Wigan: Winstanley (full back) and Unsworth and Brown (forwards).
In 1896/1897 due to the increased number of Northern Union teams the Northern League was abandoned in favour of two County Senior leagues. The second half of the season saw the introduction of the Northern Union Cup (later known as the Rugby League Cup). Wigan reached the third round before being knocked out by St. Helens.
In 1904, fourteen clubs resigned from the two county leagues to form a new Northern Rugby League for season 1901–1902. Wigan however remained in the Lancashire Senior Competition.
Wigan became sub-tenants of Springfield Park, which they shared with Wigan United AFC, playing their first game there on 14 September 1901. A crowd of 4,000 saw them beat Morecambe 12–0. During this season Wigan won the Lancashire Senior Competition.
Wigan’s record crowd at Springfield was 10,000 when they beat Widnes on 19 March 1902. The last game was on 28 April 1902 when Wigan beat the Rest of Lancashire Senior Competition. Two meetings were held by Wigan members during the season to discuss the possibility of turning the club into a Limited Company but the idea did not take off.
On 6 September 1902, Wigan played at Central Park for the first time in the opening match of the newly formed First Division. An estimated crowd of 9,000 spectators saw Wigan beat Batley 14–8.
In the 1905–1906 season they won their first cup, in rugby league, the Lancashire Cup. Between 1906 and 1923 Wigan won the Lancashire League another seven times and the Lancashire Cup another four times. Wigan were the first winners of the Lancashire cup.
Wigan played New Zealand on 9 November 1907 and ran out winners by 12 points to 8 in front of a crowd of around 30,000. Great Britain, then known as the Northern Union, played their first ever test against New Zealand on 25 January 1908. James “Jim” Leytham, Bert Jenkins, and John “Johnny” Thomas of Wigan were in the home side and James “Jim” Leytham scored a try. Bert Jenkins, and John “Johnny” Thomas had previously played in the first Welsh game against New Zealand on 1 January 1908.
On Saturday 28 October 1911, Wigan played a match against the Australasian team which visited England on the 1911-12 Kangaroo tour and won.
On 12 May 1921, Wigan became a limited company.
In June 1922 Jim Sullivan joined Wigan from Cardiff RFC when he was only 17. His cash value was put at £750, which was a staggering signing-on fee for an adolescent who had not yet played 13-a-side rugby. His first game was at home against Widnes on 27 August 1921, and he scored ten points in a 21–0 win. Almost inevitably, Jim Sullivan scored the first points in the first Challenge Cup Final to be played at Wembley Stadium, kicking a penalty after only three minutes of the inaugural Challenge Cup Final against Dewsbury in 1929 in which he led Wigan to a 13–2 victory. Sullivan became player-coach in 1932.
Wigan won their first Challenge Cup in the 1923–24 season when they beat Oldham 21–4 in Rochdale.
In 1933 the Prince of Wales attended Central Park, becoming the first royal to watch a rugby league match.
On 25 October 1938 Australian Mr. Harry Sunderland arrived in Wigan to take up the duties of Secretary-Manager at Central Park. On 28 September the following year, Sunderland’s contract was terminated and he and the club parted company.
The outbreak of World War II disrupted the Rugby Football League Championship but Wigan continued to play in the Lancashire War League and the Emergency War League.
During the war years the club went through the 1940–41 season unbeaten although they lost the Championship final. They lost the 1944 Challenge Cup Final over two games to Bradford Northern 8–3 but made up for it beating Dewsbury in the Championship Final.
Jim Sullivan’s last game, as a player, for Wigan was at Mount Pleasant, Batley, on 23 February 1946. He remained at Central Park for another six seasons as coach.
In 1948 Wigan took part in the first televised rugby league match when their 8–3 Challenge Cup Final victory over Bradford Northern was broadcast to the Midlands. In another first this was the first rugby league match to be attended by the reigning monarch, King George VI, who presented the trophy.
On Saturday 27 October 1951 33,230 spectators saw Wigan beat Leigh 14–6 in the final of the Lancashire Cup at Station Road, Swinton. In 1952 Wigan won their sixth consecutive Lancashire Cup.
Wigan were also featured in the first league match to be broadcast, a clash with Wakefield Trinity at Central Park on 12 January 1952.
In 1953 Wigan signed William ‘Billy’ Boston for £150. 8,000 fans saw Billy Boston début for Wigan in the ‘A’ team. He later became one of the most successful and famous Wigan players of all time. Eric Ashton signed for Wigan for £150 in 1955. Wigan went to Wembley six times in the Boston/Ashton era and won three times.
The visit of St. Helens on 27 March 1959 produced Central Park’s all time record attendance of 47,747 which is still a record for any rugby league game in Lancashire. Wigan went on to win the game 19–14 after holding off a Saints comeback.
Joe Egan returned to coach Wigan and during his time they won the Championship play-off final in 1960 defeating Wakefield Trinity 21–5, the Challenge Cup in 1958, 1959, 13–9 against Workington Town and 30–13 against Hull respectively before losing in 12–6 to St. Helens in 1961 which was to be his last game in charge.
Wigan continued to have regular success in both league and cup competitions until 1974 when Wigan went 8 seasons without winning any leagues or cups.
Eric Ashton coached Wigan from 1963 to 1973. In 1966, Wigan locked television cameras out of their ground in the belief that they affected attendances. They were fined £500 by the Rugby Football League. Wigan beat Oldham 16–13 in the 1966 Lancashire Cup Final. Billy Boston played his last match in the cherry and white, against Wakefield Trinity at the end of April 1968.
Wigan celebrated the centenary year of the club in November 1972, with a match against Australia at Central Park, on Saturday 17 November, the result finished as an 18–18 draw.
Wigan pulled off a surprise victory 19–9 over Salford in the Lancashire Cup Final which was played at Wilderspool, Warrington on Saturday 13 October 1973. Cup holders Salford had lost only one match prior to the final, against the touring Australians.
Ted Toohey became coach of Wigan in May 1974 before being sacked in January 1975, this would set the pattern of coaches lasting one or two seasons before being replaced. Star coach, Joe Coan (who saw St Helens through multiple victories) then took control until he resigned in September 1976, the board accepted his decision “with reluctance”. Vince Karalius then took over but was sacked in September 1979.
Kel Coslett was coach between October 1979 and April 1980.
In 1980, Wigan were relegated from the top flight for the first time in the history of the club and Coslett was replaced by George Fairbairn as player-coach. During the second division season they recorded a record average attendance for the division of 8,198. Wigan won promotion back to the top flight the following season but Fairbairn lasted no longer than May 1981 before moving to Hull KR.
Maurice Lindsay came to Wigan in the early 1980s to join directors Jack Robinson, Tom Rathbone and David Bradshaw. Wigan became one of the first teams to go full-time professional in the league, this led to an upsurge in the fortunes of the club.
Between February and October 1987 Wigan won a record 29 games in a row as follows: 20 Division One matches, 3 Premiership Trophy matches, 4 Lancashire Cup matches, 1 Charity Shield final, 1 World Club Challenge final. Wigan defeated Australian club Manly-Warringah 8–2 in front of a crowd of over 38,000 at Central Park for an unofficial World Club Championship. It was the first time a team of Englishmen had beaten a team of Australians at rugby league since 1978. From 1988–1995 Wigan won the Challenge Cup 8 seasons in a row; this period was Wigan’s most successful period to date. They also won the Championship seven times, League Cup four times, Premiership Trophy three times, Charity Shield twice and three World Club Championships.
John Dorahy became coach for the 1993 season. Despite supervising Wigan through to the Challenge Cup and the Rugby Football League Championship, Dorahy was dismissed in May 1994, only days after the club’s return from Wembley. In a statement by the club, Dorahy was said to have been sacked for “gross misconduct”.
Wigan also played in a special 2 match challenge series against Bath RFC in 1996, with one game played under league rules, and the other under union rules. Wigan won the league game 82–6 at Maine Road, but lost the return union game 44–19 at Twickenham.
In July 1996 Andy Farrell was named the Wigan club’s captain.
In 1997, the club was renamed Wigan Warriors. Wigan’s dominance came under threat with the new league now fully professional and the introduction of the salary cap and the 20/20 rule. After going out of the Challenge Cup to Salford in 1996 and St Helens in 1997, they returned to Wembley for the final time in 1998. Still undefeated in the league and the fact coach John Monie had never lost a cup tie meant Wigan were huge favourites against the unfancied Sheffield Eagles. But on 2 May 1998 the Eagles would go down in rugby league history causing the biggest upset in the competition’s history with a 17–8 win.
Wigan won the Minor Premiership and the first Super League Grand Final in 1998 with a 10–4 victory over Leeds Rhinos at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester.
In November 1999, coach Andy Goodway was sacked by Wigan chairman Maurice Lindsay after the Warriors’ failure to win a trophy for the first time in 15 years. After a buy-out by Dave Whelan, both the Warriors and the town’s football team, Wigan Athletic, moved to the JJB Stadium. As part of the rugby league’s “on the road” scheme Wigan Warriors met Gateshead Thunder at Tynecastle, Edinburgh. Maurice Lindsay also returned as director. On an emotional day of high drama Wigan’s final game at Central Park was against arch rivals St Helens on Sunday 5 September 1999 . Wigan legend Ellery Hanley returned as St Helens coach but a Jason Robinson virtuoso try meant the game was won by Wigan 28–20. The first game at the new stadium was a defeat in a Super League play-off match against Castleford Tigers on 19 September 1999.
Frank Endacott joined Wigan Warriors as head coach after the 1999 season and in 2000 Wigan finished top of the Super League and reached the Grand Final for the second time but this time lost to St Helens 29–16. Wigan reached the Grand Final again the year after but lost to Bradford Bulls 37–4 which is still the biggest winning margin in a Super League Grand Final. That year Andy Farrell also set a new club record for points in a season with 429.
In 2001 Endacott was sacked. In 2002 Wigan won their 17th Challenge Cup when they beat St Helens 21–12 at Murrayfield Stadium, 8 years after previously lifting the cup.
Wigan coach Stuart Raper was sacked as head coach of the club on 29 July 2003 due to a lack of success.He was replaced by assistant coach Mike Gregory and the team improved and reached the Grand Final only to lose to Bradford Bulls 25–12. In 2004 Gregory guided Wigan to the Challenge Cup final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff but Wigan lost to St Helens 32–16. It was Mike Gregory’s last match as head coach of Wigan, he travelled to the United States of America to get treatment for an illness that he contracted after an insect bite while in Australia. It was revealed that Mike had motor neurone disease and he did not return as Wigan coach; he was not sacked but Wigan allowed his contract to expire. Mike felt that during 2004, he was able to return but the club blocked his return to work. Wigan also appointed Ian Millward as head coach. Wigan did not have the success they expected under Ian Millward and in 2006 Wigan were bottom of the league and facing relegation from Super League. Wigan sacked Millward and replaced him with Brian Noble. Brian Noble signed Michael Dobson.and signed Stuart Fielden from Bradford Bulls for a record fee of £450,000Wigan avoided relegation in 2006 but still had problems with the salary cap which they had breached in 2005and 2006.Some of the fans chose to blamed Wigan Chairman Maurice Lindsay for the lack of success and salary cap problems at the club, Wigan were fined and docked points for exceeding the salary cap by £222,314.In 2007 Maurice Lindsay announced that he would step down as Wigan Chairman at the end of 2007and later that month Dave Whelan announced he would consider selling the club at the end of the season. Harlequins RL chairman and lifelong Wigan rugby league fan Ian Lenagan bought the club from Dave Whelan promising to start a new era at Wigan Warriors. Ian Lenagan officially took over as chairman and owner on 1 December 2007.
The 2007 season saw Wigan reach the Challenge Cup Semi-Final losing out to Catalans Dragons by 24–37.
During the 2007 season, Wigan would go onto reach the Final Eliminator of the Super League play-offs. However, the team lost that particular match by 36–6 against Leeds Rhinos. The same fixture at the same stage of the 2008 season took place with Wigan coming out losers on that occasion also against Leeds Rhinos by 18–14.
Wigan confirmed via the official website that they had been granted charitable status on Wednesday 29 April 2009. This involves the club receiving extra funding to provide rugby league related activities to young people throughout the North West of England.
Wigan confirmed in an official club statement on Tuesday 23 June 2009 that Gareth Hock tested positive for the primary metabolite of Cocaine; Benzoylecgonine, following an ‘A’ sample taken following a match vs Salford on Friday 5 June 2009. Wigan also confirmed that Gareth Hock faces a two year ban, beginning June 2009, from the sport as sample ‘B’ came back positive. This is the first publicised incident of its kind in the club’s history.
Wigan reached the Challenge Cup Semi-Final in 2009 losing out to Warrington Wolves by 26–39. The team also reached the Final Eliminator once again. This time, losing out to St.Helens by 14–10. Following that loss, Brian Noble, then head coach confirmed his departure. Michael Maguire was appointed new Head Coach on 7 October 2009.
Under new coach Michael Maguire Wigan started the new season with a 38 to 6 win over the Crusaders. Wigan won their opening 4 games to take them to the top of the Super League table. Wigan remained top of the league throughout the season.
During 2010 the Wigan club won 3 pieces of silverware. These were the Floodlit 9s, Super League Grand Final and by becoming League Winners in a 18–38 away win against Hull Kingston Rovers on 22 August.
On 2 October they won the Super League Grand Final, their first win since 1998, beating St. Helens 22–10.
The club also swept the boards at the annual Man of Steel Award, with Sam Tomkins winning young player of the year, Mike Maguire won the coach of the year award, Pat Richards won the Man of Steel award and the club won the club of the year award. On 6 August 2011, Wigan made it to the Challenge Cup final after beating St. Helens 18–12.
On 27 August 2011, Wigan Warriors won the Challenge Cup final against Leeds Rhinos at Wembley Stadium.The final score was Wigan 28–18 Leeds. The match was the first visit to Wembley for Wigan in 13 years.
Colours, kits and sponsorships
Until 1886, the Wigan team played in blue and white hooped jerseys before changing the colours to cherry and white hoops. The colours cherry and white are synonymous with the club. From then, the home kits have consisted of the colours cherry and white in different variations, usually hoops. Over the years the home kits have consisted of a lighter shade of red rather than the cherry colour, however, even when this has been the case, the club has still been known as “the Cherry and Whites”.
The Away or Alternate kit colours have usually been blue and white. Some fans assume this is because Wigan originally played in these colours before the switch to the cherry and white hooped kits and it would therefore be appropriate that these colours became the club’s secondary kit colours. The Away kits have been in different shades of blue over the years, royal blue, navy blue and light blue with varied designs. These designs have sometimes been hooped, one irregular hoop or just a block colour of blue. There have been a few exceptions, with a black and white alternative kit being used in 2001 and a black kit with red piping in 2007.
Wigan have only ever had three main shirt sponsors.
From the 1981 season the first sponsor to appear on the shirt was JJB Sports. In 1989 the club had the jersey sponsor Norweb on the front of the home and away jerseys which would remain the club sponsor until 1998 by which time the Norweb company had been merged into United Utilities. The following season Wigan was sponsored by Energi the electrical branch of Norweb. In 2000 Wigan changed their kit sponsor to JJB Sports. The owner of JJB sports Dave Whelan at the time was also the owner of the Wigan Rugby League club. JJB Sports remained the main sponsor of Wigan Warriors despite Dave Whelan selling the club in late 2007 and selling JJB Sports earlier in the same year. It was announced during the 2008 season that JJB would not be renewing the sponsorship contract for the 2009 season. It was announced on 24 January 2009 via the club’s e-news facility that the new sponsor would be Meccabingo.com.
Wigan has had a number of kit manufacturers including Umbro, Puma, Adidas and Nike. When JJB became the shirt sponsor the kit manufacturer was usually an associate of JJB Sports at the time. Wigan’s 2000 kit was made by Adidas who also sponsored the East Stand at the JJB Stadium but when the association with JJB ended, the kits were made by Patrick, Dave Whelan’s own clothing company. In 2006 and 2007 the kit manufacturer became JJB Sports itself which meant that the kits had JJB Sports as the main sponsor and as the kit manufacturer. The kit manufacturer changed to KooGa for the 2008 season. KooGa itself though is 48% owned by JJB Sports.
In 2008, Wigan signed a three year deal with KooGa which will mean KooGa will be kit manufacturer for seasons 2009, 2010 and 2011. It was the largest kit deal signed in the club’s history and believed to be one of the biggest ever in rugby league history.
In November 2008 Wigan also announced that the club would be producing a limited edition shirt, with £5 from each shirt sale going to Wigan & Leigh Hospice.
In January 2009 the shirts for the 2009 season were unveiled. The home kit was a return to a darker shade of the colour red which is known as ‘cherry’ red. The home kit consisted of the traditional club colours of cherry and white hoops. The replica shirts which are sold to the fans had full hoops all the way around whilst the players shirts had a white panel on the back so that the name and number could be displayed and viewed easily. The away shirt was blue with one wide irregular white semi-hoop which was across the front of the shirt but did not stretch to the back.
Wigan continue with a variation of the cherry and white hoops for the 2010 home kit with the away kit returning to a mainly black kit featuring silver slashes.The ‘Home’ kit for the 2011 season was revealed on 18 November 2010. An official description of the shirt was released on the clubs website. ‘The distinctive new design is a break from tradition and features shaded cherry-to-white irregular hoops. It also incorporates white flashes over the chest and hips which are designed to accentuate the shoulders and shrink the waist making the Warriors look even bigger and more fearsome than before.
The KooGa shirt, which will display the logo of new Main Sponsor Applicado-FS across the chest, will be worn with cherry red shorts and cherry red socks both with white flashes.’ The club opened an official club shop in the Grand Arcade, Wigan as an outlet for selling merchandise, on 9 December 2009 with an official opening taking place on 10 December 2009. The shop replaces the old club shop situated on Hilton Street.
In October 2011 Wigan announced a three-year deal with Australian sports brand, ISC. The ISC home kit for 2012 was launched on 2 November 2011 and was described as “a return to tradition and will feature the famous cherry-and-white hoops. The clean design will have minimal trims and simple detailing to retain an authentic style. The shirt will be accompanied by white shorts with a cherry red trim and cherry-and-white hooped socks” on the club’s website. The 2012 away kit was launched on 17 November and is described as “a contemporary alternative to the traditional home strip released recently. The kit is predominantly black with the shirt featuring gold sleeves and shoulders with white stripes around the midriff. The shirt is also accompanied by back shorts and socks both with a gold trim.” Both kits display the logo of main sponsor Applicado-FS across the chest.
Wigan Football Club played on Folly Field, Upper Dicconson Street. The club played its first match at Folly Field on 30 November 1872 and remained at the ground for four years. Wigan Football Club went onto become Wigan & District Football Club, the newly named Wigan & District Football Club played its matches at Prescott Street. The club played at Prescott Street until the club disbanded. With the reformation of the Club as Wigan Wasps Football Club, the club returned to Folly Field from 1879–1886 when it moved its matches back to Prescott Street.
Wigan played their home games at Wigan Cricket Club on Prescott Street until 1901 when they moved to Springfield Park which they shared with the town’s association soccer club Wigan United A.F.C. The first rugby match at Springfield Park was played on 14 September 1901 and was between Wigan and Morecambe in front of 4,000 spectators. The record rugby attendance for the ground was 10,000 achieved on 19 March 1902 when Wigan beat Widnes. Forty days later Wigan played their last game at Springfield Park when they defeated the Rest of Lancashire Senior Competition.
In 1902 Wigan moved to their purpose build rugby ground called Central Park. Wigan played their first game at Central Park against Batley on 6 September 1902 which Wigan won 14–8. Central Park would be the home of Wigan Rugby League until 1999 when they moved to the newly built JJB Stadium. The last match at Central Park was against St Helens on 5 September 1999, a game which Wigan won 28–20 in front of 18,179 supporters. As Wigan developed into one of the most famous rugby league clubs in the world, Central Park also became one of the most famous rugby league venues.
Wigan now play their home games at the 25,000 all-seater DW Stadium (formerly JJB Stadium) at Robin Park, Wigan. Their first game at the JJB Stadium was a Super League play-off match against Castleford Tigers which Wigan lost 14–10. The DW Stadium is shared by both Wigan Warriors Rugby League club and Wigan Athletic Football Club: the football club are soon to become owners but as a guarantee to Wigan Rugby League, the rugby club was given a 50 year leaseon the stadium so that the club could still use the stadium, as part of a stadium share, when Whelan sold the club in 2007.
Wigan also have a state-of-the-art training facility at the small stadium Edge Hall Road in Orrell (now named the Co-Operative Community Stadium) where the first team, reserve team & academy team prepare, train and rehabilitate ahead of and after matches. It is also where the Reserve & Academy sides play their home games.