A Time To Live, A Time To Die by Jonny Fairclough

Here is a piece by Jonny Fairclough which appeared in the recent Mudhutter Football Express. It appears with my gratitude for doing some of my work for me and with all due apologies to Mr Emile Heskey, amongst others.  It’s also a bit racier in parts than my regualr efforts and, although I don’t understand a lot of it, I will apologise to my mother just in case.



No two ways about it. Wigan was the most terrifying place on earth in the 70s and 80s.

All manner of people, places, and strange happenings kept a young ‘un at wit’s end during broad daylight, never mind at night.

Most Haunted? Don’t make me laugh.  That Derek Acorah wouldn’t have lasted two minutes in a late 1970s Wigan.  And we never had a full film crew following us around. It was just me and my mates on our Grifters and Choppers, with only street-craft to keep us from harm’s way.

Forget Salem. Ghosts, ghouls, perverts and weirdos: Wigan had the lot.


A smelly old tramp with a big beard who wandered round town in the 70s.  I once saw him take a pie off a stray dog on Hall Gate and eat it (the pie, not the dog).  Most tramps – such as Johnny Wellies in St Helens – end up with cult celebrity status. Not Skippy. He was just far too frightening, and mothers ushered their children to the other side of the road when Skippy was sighted.

  • He’s rumoured to have been a doctor who’d had a breakdown of some sort.
  • He’s rumoured to have slept in the old church behind Tudor House and Blue Coats School, where he caught and ate pigeons and young children –or so my Nan once told me.
  • He’s rumoured to have been distantly related to Mido.

Ryland’s Mill Air Raid Shelters

WW2 air raid shelters behind the fence on the ‘Top Field’ of Mesnes Park.   If you were on your bike at the top end of the park and you suddenly found it going dark, the options were to risk a twilight dash through the park with the prospect of running into The Parky (see later in this piece), or, out of the top gate across Ryland’s Field, but with the knowledge that the haunted air raid shelters were only feet away from you and you could be dragged off your bike and through the fence at any given moment.  Curling up in a ball and crying was also an option too.

  • It’s rumoured to have been haunted by the ghost of a boy who didn’t get to the shelter in time and was hit by a German bomb.
  • It’s rumoured to have been where a lad called Higgy fingered a girl in the dark, who, when they got back into daylight, turned out to be his cousin.
  • It’s rumoured to be littered with discarded vintage bottles, one of them being Gary Teale’s.

Ryland’s Pond

Next to the air raid shelters, surrounded by rusting machinery.  Its water looked as appealing as ingrowing testicle hair, and there always seemed a ghostly calm around it.  The place was riddled with rats and to this day, my mate Glue Bag Gaz swears he once saw a crocodile swimming in it.

  • It’s rumoured to have been a mile deep with ropes just under the water that would wrap around your legs and pull you down if you went in.
  • It’s rumoured to have contained the body of a dead German pilot who parachuted in during the war (presumably after dropping the bomb on the young lad who was on his way to the air raid shelter).
  • It’s rumoured to have a war-chest dated from 2005 weighted to the bottom with an 80s style leather jacket and a video entitled ‘PJ’s Porn Tape – Master Copy’.

The Parky

Probably a normal bloke, albeit an unusually grumpy one, employed by the council to keep Mesnes Park clear of cyclists and late night trespassers, but the very sight of his van appearing from behind a rhododendron bush was enough to make the hairs stand up and the back of any young lad’s (or girl’s) neck, and turn their running or pedalling feet into a blur of lactic acid, panic and Dunlop Green Flash.

  • He’s rumoured to have tied up anyone he caught, and then threw them in a shed until the police arrived.
  • It’s rumoured that if he didn’t catch you in the park, he’d be waiting for you when you got home.
  • He’s rumoured to have been a much better keeper than either Joe Paladino or Vladimir Stojkovic.

Douglas Valley

The Douglas Valley flood plain, between Whelley and Wigan Lane can still be eerie even today,  and especially when there’s a hint of mist or the smoke from a burning Citroen Saxo about.  Apparently the Dougie was once abundant with fish. Today the only fish you’re likely to find in it come with their own rusty key and tin, courtesy of a man called John West.

  • It’s rumoured to have been haunted by Roundhead and Cavalier soldiers killed during the Battle of Wigan Lane, during which the River Douglas ran red with spilled blood.
  • It’s rumoured to have been where one soldier fired an arrow which landed in Longshoot – after it had flown over the heads of everyone, and missed its intended target by a mile.
  • It’s rumoured that this is where Ronnie Stam practices his crossing.

The White Lady

Said to be the ghost of Lady Mabel, who haunts Haigh Hall and The Plantations.  As a child, if you were in The Plantations at dusk, every rustle of leaves had you twitching and turning, imagining you had just caught a glimpse of The White Lady gliding across the path behind and into the bushes. These days it’s much the same up there after dark, but the white flashes you’ll glimpse are the bare arsed participants enjoying a spot of dogging.

  • She’s rumoured to have walked from Haigh Hall to Wigan Lane every day wearing just sackcloth as penance for bigamy – hence why a stone cross was erected on Wigan Lane and it became known as ‘Mab’s Cross’.
  • It’s rumoured that when it’s quiet in The Plantations, you can hear her piercing inhuman screams of anguish and her unintelligible ramblings.
  • It’s rumoured she now sits two rows behind me in the West Stand. 

Purple Aki

Six foot six, twenty stones, and so black he was almost purple.  Purple Aki preyed on young lads, predominantly those who frequented gyms – getting them to show him their muscles while he touched them ‘inappropriately’.  For young body builders from both St Helens and Wigan, the very name Purple Aki was enough to put the willies up them.  (Note: I only found out about his preference for muscular lads years later. Had I know that at the time with my pipe-cleaner arms, I’d have been as right as rain)

  • He was rumoured to have given his victim the choice of ‘Pop or slash?’ (ie. Pop their cherry or carve his initials in their buttocks).
  • It’s rumoured that everyone in the North West of England had at least one mate who’d been touched up by Purple Aki.
  • He is rumoured to have left Aston Villa when his contract expired last season, and is now plying his trade in Australia.

 The Poppies

It was an area between the Deanery High School and Wigan Cricket Club where a forest of bamboo stuff grew, which popped when kicked.  Most of it was eventually taken up by the Deanery’s all weather pitch and a patch of land named ‘The Glebe’ where school kids can carry out nature related projects and smoke fags unobserved.

  • It’s rumoured that a lad once got skewered on one of the ‘poppies’ and was stuck there until someone found him dead three days later, half eaten by foxes.
  • It’s rumoured to have been one of Purple Aki’s (see above) sex lairs.
  • It’s rumoured to contain a remote and long forgotten sentry post where Ryo Miyaichi is holed out, unaware that pre-season has ended. 

Wigan Lane Bogs

Also known as Vaseline Villas, these public toilets were near Wigan Infirmary. The somewhat dubious reputation these toilets acquired over the years has never officially been confirmed by anyone, but I’ve got a good idea of what went on in there because I once heard a careless whisper.  Even so, the place scared young lads so much that a piss against a tree in full view of Wigan Lane’s traffic was a more appealing prospect than risking a trip into the Pink Santa’s Grotto.

  • It’s rumoured to have been a hang-out (literally) for Boggy and other ‘colourful’ local characters at the time.
  • It’s rumoured to have actually once been used many years ago as a public toilet and not just for bumming.
  • It’s rumoured to be where Maurice Lindsay first spotted the Wigan Athletic job in a discarded newspaper following a sudden urge to ‘use the toilet’.

Don’t have nightmares.



Leave a Reply