Date: 2nd June 2016 at 9:15am
Written by:

38 years ago today, 2nd of June 1978, I can recall that day as though it was last week.

It was the day of the Football League AGM, the day when, amongst other items on the agenda, the four clubs that finished the season in the bottom four places of the old Fourth Division had to apply for re-election, clubs from the Southern League and the Northern Premier League were in the running to take the place of any club not receiving the required votes. At times it felt like a bit of a closed shop, Southern League club Hereford had managed to break the mould in 1972 and in 1977 another Southern League side Wimbledon gained entry into the professional ranks, but this was more the exception than the rule.

Despite a great season for the Latics, finishing runners-up behind Boston United in the Northern Premier League and reaching the FA cup 3rd round by defeating league clubs York City and Sheffield Wednesday along the way, it still felt a tall ask, after all we’d already had 34 knock backs. Also with Wimbledon gaining entry just a year earlier lightening didn’t strike twice so soon, or did it?

Our 3rd round FA cup tie away at St Andrews, where we were well beaten by Birmingham City, went a long way to aiding our fate on the 2nd of June, Birmingham were a top division side and managed by England’s World Cup winning manager Sir Alf Ramsey, who was very impressed with the professionalism of the club, so much so that he promised to canvas on our behalf at the League’s AGM in the summer.

We also had to contend with the old North South divide issue that appeared to prevail, no Northern club had been elected to the League since restructuring had taken it to four divisions despite five ‘northern’ clubs leaving, Workington Town in 1951, were in fact the last Northern club to gain entry through the voting system and that was to the old 3rd Division North, so we really did have some barriers to break down.

In 1978 I was working as a motor mechanic in a garage at the top of Anderton Street in Higher Ince. This was the days before the internet, 24 hour news coverage, indeed the radio appeared to be at least two days behind what was occurring in the world! There was however one reliable source of information, the Wigan Post and Chronicle late edition stop press section; at 3:30pm I ran out of the garage and headed to a local paper shop on Manchester Road Higher Ince, I had a short wait until the papers were delivered by the Post’s van, grabbing a copy I immediately focused on the right hand side of what was a broadsheet publication, there was the stop press margin with the magical words – Latics Elected To Football League – an unbelievable feeling.

Sir Alf had been true to his words and canvassed on the Latics behalf, the votes had been close, York City 49, Rochdale 39, Hartlepool United 33, Southport 26, Wigan Athletic 26, Bath City 23.

With the Latics and Southport tying a 2nd round was called, this time there was no stopping us, the Latics gaining 29 votes opposed to Southport gaining just 20 and the rest as they say is history.

Wigan Athletic are the last club to be elected to the Football League under the voting system, in 1986/87 it was changed to relegation and promotion, effectively creating a 5th division and opening up permanently the closed shop.

The Latics board celebrate election to the Football League

By permission of Tony Horrocks