Leigh Rangers a continuing History
Going back in time to almost the beginnings of Rugby League itself, as opposed to Northern Union, which bore little resemblance to the game we all know. The earliest findings of a Rugby team bearing the name Leigh Rangers is 1903, by this time in the games development the teams had been reduced to thirteen players per side. We find the first report of any kind is the 25th September 1903 when they played Highfield away in the Wigan and district league and came away with a 3-3 draw, this league was in those days classed as a junior league as in the sense that it was not professional or in receipt of broken time payments as professionalism was not what we know today, the ages of the players from early photo graphs would suggest that they range from fourteen to gentlemen with drooping Moustaches. Teams taking part in the league at that time were as follows, Ince, Highfield (Wigan), St Thomas’s (Wigan), Westleigh,( who played on a field where Boston Grove now stands) Plank Lane, (who played on Heath Lane) Leigh Shamrocks, (Who played on a field in Bridgewater street which in later years was BICC Bowling green and canteen) Upholland, Platt Bridge, Silverwell (Wigan), and Leigh St Josephs (who’s pitch was the iconic Charity farm off Hope Carr Road) . It would be remiss of me not to expand on a couple of the clubs named as it will add to the sheer doggedness of the sport to develop or indeed survive, Silverwell( who were based at a public house of the same name on Darlington Street Wigan and the team possibly evolved in 1910 as St Patricks RLFC,) a team Leigh Miners Rangers still have an acute rivalry with to this day, Highfield a club originally formed in 1880 then reformed in 1902 and became the iconic rugby league club in the professional game with more name changes than league points in some seasons, Wigan Highfield, London Highfield, Liverpool City, Liverpool Stanley, Huyton, Runcorn Highfield, St Helens Highfield,(Saints objected and the team returned to its original name Highfield) and finally Prescott Panthers before its final demise in the 1990’s. the first recognised signing for Leigh RFC was Paddy O’Neil who went on to complete 211 games for the senior club scoring 15 tries and kicking 11 goals in an 8 year career, another signing which will connect to more people of later days was Herbert Woods 1906, 173 games only 1 try unlike his Grandson Leigh’s legendary John Woods. The next information we can find is of a league table in the Wigan League for Jan 29th 1904 and was as follows.
Highfield. P 11 W 7 L 1 D 3 pts 17
Westleigh 10 7 1 2 16
Ince 10 5 2 2 14
Leigh Shamrocks 9 5 4 0 10
Upholland 11 5 6 0 10
LEIGH RANGERS 10 3 6 1 7
Platt Bridge 13 3 9 1 7
Silverwell 9 3 6 0 6
Plank Lane 9 2 6 1 5
The following season 1904 /05 we find that the Rangers have joined the Manchester and District second division nothing is recorded as to why they moved from the Wigan league but Northern Union/ Rugby League as an amateur game being in its infancy various districts were developing all the time, on the 27th Jan 1905 the League was shown as follows
LEIGH RANGERS P 9 W8 L0 D1 Pts 17
Salford St Johns 9 7 1 1 15
Egerton 7 4 3 0 8
Salford St Barts 6 3 3 0 6
Adelphi Lads 11 2 8 1 5
General Electric 3 1 1 1 3
Prestwich 6 1 5 0 2
Pendleton 6 0 6 0 0
There is no way of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the different leagues but I think looking at the names of the teams in the Manchester League and knowing the longevity of some of the Wigan teams it’s fair to assume that the Manchester league was weaker.
Leigh Rangers continued to develop as we see from the scant reports of the day, it would seem that the team changed leagues on numerous occasions or due to the lack of teams within the leagues, they played in more than one, we assume this as the game grew, with teams springing up all over Lancashire and local leagues developing and disappearing frequently, it becomes difficult to follow. We have to jump to 1908 for some continuity of reports and league placing’s, indeed this was something of a memorable year for the Rangers, by now they were again playing in the Manchester and district league and a certain number of the clubs games kicked off at five pm during the early and later parts of the season, these games being played on the Mather Lane ground home of Leigh RLFC, as opposed to their normal ground, which was attached to Mather Lane and was possibly a training pitch. Crowds at these games were measured in the high hundreds as opposed to just a hundred or so, it is also safe to assume a connection to the senior club as the following report is taken from the Leigh Journal 27th March 1908, “Rangers gained a pronounced victory over Swinton Hornets 11 tries and 6 goals for a score in their favour of 45-2, the Rangers now have a capital team the combination shown by the back division being really superb, Smith gives promise of being a capable recruit his giving and taking of passes being admirable, in the three quarter line Leah, Roscoe and Attwell are almost up to first team form and the Mather Laners ought never to be short of a capable three quarter” that last statement would seem to confirm our assumption. The high spot of the season was the teams winning of the Oldham Standard Cup Final on Good Friday, May 1st 1908 against Egerton, not exactly a name synonymous with Rugby league these days, the game was staged at Mather Lane, in front of a crowd of 2000, a prestigious tournament still played for on Good Friday to this day (2014), the team to represent the Rangers that day was, Higson, J Stout, HL Roscoe, W Leah, B Benson, J Lawless, E Smith, J Tobin, Collins, Grimes, Porter, Simpson and Woolley. The game itself does not appear to be a great spectacle as the final score was 4-3 with E smith kicking two penalties, Leigh Rangers were officially presented with the cup at a concert at the Coop Hall on June 13th 1908
Leah, Tobin and Porter, all represented the Leigh RLFC club at different times and this would also add to the assumption some link was present at that time.
The 1908/ 1909 season we find Leigh Rangers once again in the Manchester League and were, judging by some of the fixtures becoming stronger as a club, being drawn against St Helens A team in the Lancashire shield away, although no result of the game was published the following week so we can assume they lost, we also see them losing a friendly 3-2 against Warrington A at a later date, they also made what would seem to be a first appearance in the Lancashire junior cup on Sept 27th 1908 pitted against Leigh Shamrocks in a local derby at Mather Lane, 1250 spectators were there to witness a dramatic 7-7 draw and according to reports the St Joes brass band provided the HT entertainment emphasising the popularity of the developing game and the need to interact with the spectators , unfortunately they could not repeat the performance against the Rocks in the replay, who were at that time playing in the Lancashire combination, which was effectively the A team league and competing well. Back playing at their own level the Rangers were really performing well and it culminated at the end of the season with a championship win, the table before the final weeks games read as follows.
Cadishead P 13 W9 L 1 D 3 Pts 21
Prestwich 13 9 3 1 19
LEIGH RANGERS 12 9 2 1 19
Radcliffe Rangers 13 5 6 2 12
Salford St Barts 12 4 7 1 9
Egerton 13 3 7 3 9
Swinton Hornets 13 2 9 2 6
Heyside 12 1 8 3 5
Leigh Rangers won both their last fixtures beating Heyside 18-2 and finally Salford St Barts 12-0 to take the title, Cadishead and Prestwich could only manage draws in their last game RANGERS taking title the by a point.
After the euphoria of 1909 disaster struck Leigh Rangers on 24th September they dramatically disbanded due to their inability to secure the use of a field, no records of any games are to be found but we do come across names of some of their players turning out with other clubs during the season also that the Leigh club ran an A team was probably one contributory factor, as we have previously mentioned Leah, Tobin and Porter all played with Leigh A and Leigh first team in 1909/10
1910/ 11 we see the Rangers reformed and playing in the Leigh and District League, by March 11th 1911 they were top of the league, teams in the league were as follows
Lilford Ward Rover
Shamrock Rovers A
At the end of the season however there was a play off and Lilford Ward Rovers beat the Rangers 9-6 at Mather Lane, once again in front of a crowd numbering over 1000 here we have a rare photograph of The Leigh rangers team 1911 with Leigh’s Australian full back Mick Bolewski lending support, ( photo available when required.)
Into 1912 and a successful season was beckoning Leigh Rangers having disposed of Westleigh in the first round of the Lancashire junior cup followed it with a 5-3 win over Hindley to earn a tie against Cadishead from the Manchester and district league, we have seen in previous seasons that they are worthy opponents and this proved to be case once again, Rangers winning the game 6-5, Hilton and Morris scoring the tries, the winning score coming in the last minute to the delight of a large crowd. The competition now entered the stage where teams from further afield were in the draw and Rangers drew Askam from Cumbria (an amateur club since 1879 and still competing in 2014.) The game played on 6Th December 1912 at the Dakins Lea ground (Butts Bridge area of Leigh, this being the first mention of a home ground since their re-entry into the league) drew a crowd of 2000, this being largely due to the Leigh RLFC game with Oldham being called off, Rangers won the game 8-2 and earned themselves a place in the semi final, a substantial amount was taken on the gate of which Askam obtained a healthy share.
The final was played at Central park Wigan and it proved to be an anti climax for the Rangers losing 33-0 to a Pemberton side who were playing in the A team league, some weeks later Pemberton beat Leigh A in a league fixture at Mather Lane which just further emphasises their superiority.
1913-14 seems to be lacking in reports of any substance Leigh Rangers were still operating along with Lilford Ward Rovers, Firs Lane, Westleigh, St Joseph’s, Leigh Hornets and Warrington Rangers, on 14/2/14 the Lilford team resigned from the league as War clouds gathered over Europe, the only result to hand was Rangers loss to Albion foundry in the Shaw cup final and the league was then suspended. Very little evidence of any leagues where operating during the war years.
At the cessation of hostilities the game as a whole was slow to start mainly due to lack of participants the war having decimated the local population along with other towns. We find no reports of a Leigh Rangers team but we do find a Bedford Rangers, I make the assumption that this is a morph of the team as they would seem to be playing on the Dakins Lea ground, Leigh Rangers the name reappears after WW2 when on February 22nd 1946 we find the Leigh Rangers playing in the Wigan League we also see eight of the players named in a Leigh town team along with eight from the Culcheth team who themselves were playing in the Warrington League, the Leigh town team were to play St Helens Town team, this would in my opinion suggest that the Leigh & District league was not functioning and would be one reason Leigh Rangers were noticeable by their absence in any local reports. It is also feasible to say the team had once again an attachment to the towns now reformed senior team Leigh RFC, we see a report attached to the Leigh supporters club re launch, that, “the number of players on the Leigh Rangers books is steadily increasing and it is hoped to run two sides, further reports connecting the Rangers to the new Leigh Rlfc on 18th April when “on Easter Monday Leigh Rangers entertain Belle Vue juniors at Mather Lane, several players are being tried out in the local side with a view to being signed by Leigh RFC,” the Rangers side on the day trounced Belle Vue 44 -2. We find no further reports of a team bearing Leigh Rangers name during the Leigh RFC reformation without having written knowledge it is more than an educated guess that that the team became an integral part of the Leigh RFC supporters club side