When the Pistols came to Wigan

Punk covers

3 September 1977

WIGAN’S FIRST GAME IN SEPTEMBER is away at Scarborough and like many I decide not to go. I’ve been before and while it’s one of the furthest trips of the season there is a main attraction happening inWigan that Saturday.

A Jobless march is to stop in Wigan. Some Wiganers will be among the 500 unemployed people on a sponsored march from Liverpool to Blackpool and will stay the night in a Wigan park en route. The organisers: ‘The Right to Work Campaign’ applied to Wigan Metro for permission to use land in Wigan as a campsite for the night. After hearing that they would fulfil a number of requirements including clearance of the land after use and providing stewards and security staff to ensure orderly conduct and minimum noise Wigan’s Recreation and Amenities Committee agreed to let them use the land. Now my sympathies lie with the unemployed and as my politics are just to the left ofTony Benn I obviously support the march.What I am concerned about is that Director of Leisure Gil Swift has deemed that the land at Montrose Avenue is suitable for their campsite. The poor buggers. Unemployed, tired, hungry and having to spend the night on the field by the Montrose pub in Montrose Avenue. I wouldn’t walk passed there in daylight!

A good mate of mine, Orrible Ives, remembers the day.

“So there I was, a young 9-year old Orrible Ives enjoying a game of football on the island in front of the Norley Hall shops. Soggy Houghton and me had picked our teams and were in the middle of a 10 half time – 20-up match when we heard what sounded like a large crowd walking down Norley Hall Avenue. Straight away shouts of ‘If they want to play us we’ll fuckin’ murder them’, was heard on our pitch.Then as if by magic thousands of people came marching down the road singing:‘What do we want? …..A right to work …..When do we want it? ….. Now!’ It looked like a scene from Braveheart for the unemployed. Why exactly they were chanting this on the streets of Norley when most of it’s residents were either on the dole or working on the sly I’d no idea but one thing is for sure we were gonna follow them.We joined in the march until it came to a stop by Montrose Special School playing fields. I can remember a big tent being put up that looked like a circus big top and all the marchers slept in there.We stayed down with them until late at night and helped them make a rather large fire. I can even remember Tom McDonald asking if any of the marchers would swap a glass of their cider for a toke on his gluebag!

The march is due to pass through Wigan before they set up site. However what does interest my mates and me is that there is a benefit gig for the marchers taking place at the Casino in the evening and it is strongly rumoured that the Sex Pistols are playing.

To get around the problem of getting gigs the Sex Pistols had started making occasional appearances as S.P.O.T.S. Short for “Sex Pistols on Tour Secretly.” They played at the Lafayette in Wolverhampton with a £1.50 admission on 15th August. It was their first gig in England since December. A Virgin spokesman said that these “concerts had to be held clandestinely and if word were to leak out about one it would be cancelled immediately.” The word hadn’t so much leaked out in Wigan as broken the bloody dam down.

As well as appearing as S.P.O.T.S. they have also used the name the ‘Tax Exiles’. In Scarborough on the 25th August the band was simply billed as ‘Special Guest’. Whilst the following day they were booked into Middlesborough Rock Garden as ‘Acne Rabble’. In Plymouth on the 31st August they were billed as ‘The Hamsters’ and on the Thursday before they were due to play in Wigan, while we are actually at the Casino watching Eater, they play at the Winter Garden in Penzance billed as ‘A mystery band of international repute’.We are in no doubt that they are playing.

It seems that every other punk in Lancashire has the same feeling. Andy, Paul and myself get into town on the Saturday afternoon and the whole of the town centre is full. Split almost equally between yellow-jacketed marchers, punk rockers and policemen. We watch the proceedings, politely clap the marchers and then do the punk rock thing by going home for our tea before catching the 7pm train from Orrell back into Wigan.When we arrive back in town there is rumour and counter rumour. Some say the Sex Pistols are in town already while others claim they have no intention of playing.What is certain is that the Casino is ram-packed. Including lads that I know that have never heard a punk rock record in their life.

The Pistols showed but for whatever reason they didn’t play. The Wigan Evening Post & Chronicle’s headline two days prior to the event:‘Mystery of Sex Pistols Wigan Date’ certainly didn’t help matters! Instead we were treated to sets from The Drones and The Nosebleeds; and a magnificent reggae set by China Street. Just the type of music to get you in the mood for a ruck.While the atmosphere in the venue had been fine there had been bits and bobs of trouble going on around town. In the past the Northern Soul fans had tolerated us punks using the Casino before their all-nighters.And rightly so as many of the faces on the Wigan punk scene were big soul fans themselves who on any other night may well have been queuing up to get into the all-nighter. I’m not sure what happened but as we walked out it was all going off.

I saw nothing. I mean that – not out of any solidarity with those involved or to save myself possible prosecution thirty years down the road. More due to the fact we did a quick right when we came out of the Casino and zigzagged our way across Wigan for as long as it took for them to stop chasing us.

Meanwhile I’ll let the Wigan Observer of 9th September 1977 give their version of the events.


Two youths were stabbed and eight others arrested during Saturday’s Punk rock violence in Wigan. The first stabbing occurred just after 11pm when an 18- year old was set upon by three youths outside Wigan NW Station. He was involved in a struggle before falling to the ground. Unable to breathe properly he made his way to Wigan Royal Infirmary where he was treated for a punctured lung caused by a knife wound. Police want to interview three youths aged 18-20 with local accents who were wearing leather jackets. 90 minutes later a gang fight involving 20 youths developed outside the Casino. During the incident a 17- year old was stabbed with a flick knife just below his right armpit also puncturing his lung. Police want to interview a man aged about 20 with black spiked hair dressed as a punk rocker. He was wearing black drainpipe jeans and a waistcoat and is believed to be a regular visitor to Wigan Casino. 8 people were arrested during various incidents in the town centre. The Punk Rock concert at Wigan casino was attended by ‘Right to Work’ campaign marchers who had walked from Merseyside to Wigan on their way to Blackpool to lobby the TUC Conference. Punk rockers turned out in force and many other youths were present outside the Casino Club at the time of both incidents.

If we had needed to keep our wits about us before then we most definitely had to now.We were public enemy number one.

Meanwhile earlier in the day over on the Yorkshire coast a football game took place.Thank God I didn’t go.

PUNK FOOTBALL: 40th anniversary edition out June 2017


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