In the ten years since Wigan rugby league club and Wigan Athletic FC moved in to share the then-new JJB stadium it's remarkable how the fortunes of both clubs have changed. Wigan rugby, probably the most famous rugby league club in the world, have sunk to a level of mediocrity which is hard to fathom. Meanwhile Wigan Athletic have climbed through the divisions to become established in the Premier League.
Before the functional 25,000 seat JJB stadium opened Wigan rugby league club played at Central Park in the town centre and Wigan Athletic's home was Springfield Park just a short distance away. Central Park opened on 6th September 1902 when a crowd of around 10,000 saw Wigan beat Batley 14-8. Over the next 97 years the ground witnessed many great games as Wigan teams took on and often beat the best, including national touring teams from Australia and New Zealand. Sheds Wigan Many test matches were also played there over the years. Players who wore the cherry and white hoops down the years comprise a who's who of rugby league legends.
A record crowd of 47,747 watched Wigan beat the old enemy St Helens in 1959. Crowds of over forty thousand were quite common into the 1960's and, after a bad decade for rugby league attendances the crowds were back in the 1980's and 90's with crowds of over 20,000 quite regular and 30,000 not unusual.
Wigan Borough originally played league football at Springfield Park until they went into liquidation in 1931. In fact Springfield Park's record crowd was 30,443 for an FA Cup match with Sheffield Wednesday in 1929.
After the demise of Wigan Borough a group of locals formed Wigan Athletic in 1932 and the club joined the Cheshire League. The biggest crowd at Springfield for a Wigan Athletic game was 27,526 against Hereford in the FA Cup in 1953-54.
Athletic became a well-known 'giant-killing' club in FA Cup games over the years and perhaps their most famous run was in 1954-55 when they reached the third round and were drawn away to the (then) mighty Newcastle Utd. Over 52,000 were stunned to see a 2-2 draw at St James Park. The replay was played on a weekday afternoon at Springfield (no floodlights in those days) but 26,000 managed to give work or school a miss to see Newcastle prevail 3-2. Newcastle went on to win the competition, their last major cup win in England.
After many years of trying Wigan Athletic were finally voted into the football league in 1978 and remained at Springfield until the move to JJB stadium in 1999.