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Wilderspool’s final curtain call!

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Pictures Eddie Whitham
WARRINGTON’S famous Wilderspool Stadium took it’s final curtain call as a sell out crowd saw Warrington’s Under 16s stars of the future defeat Cumbria Academy Under 16s 46-16 as local photographer Eddie Whitham captured the occasion, as he took a trip down memory lane, remembering the many legends he has photographed since 1958.


Eddie had a tear in his eye as he bid farewell to Wilderspool home of the Wires/Wolves, with the old stadium now showing it’s age apart from the playing surface which in over 50 years of photographing games at the ground he have never seen better … fit for Wembley!
The Wolves youngsters made sure that the last game at the stadium would be one to remember running out winners by 46 points to 16 over Cumbria.
Although there were no Bevan’s (Brian and John), Harry Baths, Alex Murphys, Alfie Langers the stars of the future put on a show that fans will remember for a long while. There was no shortage of effort from the young Wolves Academy side as they steadily built up their lead over a very good Cumbrian Academy side. A full house of almost 800 (a full house because of restriction on the number allowed into the stadium) fans cheered there hearts out to create a typical old Wilderspool atmosphere. This was the final game before the Stadium in demolished in a few months time. At the final whistle crowd gave the players a well deserved standing ovation.
Eddie recalled: “In 1946 my father and Uncle Jim took me to my first game of Rugby League at Wilderspool and in those days almost every one walked to the ground and we were no exception.
“As we reached the old railway crossing and the gates closed to let the train through as we waited uncle Jim, who had been extolling the virtues of Wire’s Australian winger Brian Bevan, said ‘thats Bev’…I looked at the man in a rain coat trilby had with a small parcel under his arm and thought he was pulling my leg…he looked less like a rugby league super star than any thing I could imagine. That man can ‘catch pigeons’ said uncle Jim.
“The gates opened an the man in the rain coat went on his way and so did we…we got on the ground and soon the music Entry of the Gladiators rang out…”what numbers Bevan” I asked…number 2 was the reply…out came number 2…and I could not believe my eyes…a bald headed man with a stoop, no teeth and more bandages on his knees than were in a chemist shop came onto the field…I really could not believe my eyes ..could it be the man at the crossings gate in the rain coat and trilby hat….after about ten minutes number 2 got the ball and ran…it was like magic …for me I had seen the WORLD’S GREATEST WINGER EVER going on to break and still hold the try scoring record.
“In 1958 I was working for the local paper as a photographer and was sent to Wilderspool to take some pictures. When I got there I was met by the grounds man Jack Hamblett (one of the nicest people you could ever meet) “come in son, would like a cup tea” he said, “go and sit in the dressing room I won’t be long”…now I had seen him play by then many times…but there he was sat in the corner smoking..Brian Bevan….”hello” he said and I think I just about managed a squeaky reply and I was rescued from my trance by Jack bringing in my cup of tea which I could hardly hold.
“This was the start of me taking photographs of rugby and I reckon I over the years I have seen and met the best players. Too many to mention but for me the greatest was ‘BEV’ I met him and photographed him many times until his last game for the Wire in 1962 and it was still magic.
Now we have a statue to immortalise him out side the Halliwell-Jones for fans to look up to.
When the player go onto field at Wilderspool they go down and several step and up several steps on to the pitch…I think I have over the years gone up and down those steps more times than any player has and to this day it still makes me think of the famous names who have done the same.
“Wilderspool with all it’s memories brought a tear to my eyes as I went up and down those steps for the last time last night.”

Pictures from the top show the sell out crowd, the players tunnel, Brian Bevan and Jack Hamblett in the dressing room at Wilderspool, Billy Aspinall and Reg Gasnier coming up the famous steps when the Wire played Australia in the 1960s.


Brian Bevan attempting a goal kick in his last game against Leigh on Easter Monday 1962.


Action from the final game

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About Author

Experienced journalist for more than 40 years. Managing Director of magazine publishing group with three in-house titles and on-line daily newspaper for Warrington. Experienced writer, photographer, PR consultant and media expert having written for local, regional and national newspapers. Specialties: PR, media, social networking, photographer, networking, advertising, sales, media crisis management. Director Warrington Chamber of Commerce Patron Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace. Trustee Warrington Disability Partnership. Former Chairman of Warrington Town FC.

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