History repeating itself

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You know me, I’m a worrier. Not to be confused with being a W…..oh you know. I’m always optimistic about watching my football club but I also fear what the future holds when you starting peeling away at the finances, the infrastructure, the support base of the club and past history, both recent history for Wigan Athletic, and going further back the perilous state of football in the town.

There’s always the chance a downward turn could go terminal, the doomsday scenario and when you’re in the swamp of a relegation battle watching heartless, soul-less football and the club itself closes rank and puts it’s fingers in its ears, you can only fear the worst.

History repeating itself was the often used quote, and last year did indeed feel exactly like it did two years ago. But who knows, maybe history will repeat itself again. There are positive signs afoot.
Paul Cook is perhaps a much better manager than we could have hoped to have attracted given some of the other names being bandied around. The fact that down on the South Coast, we seem to have boiled enough p*** to sink the Mary Rose (again) is evidence of that.

Nothing is guaranteed but this is how it begins though, with a strong, positive appointment. A backroom clear out to follow and the retention of most of our squad and we should be in a healthy position next season. We might lose one or two players, but hopefully they will fund a few, I said A FEW key acquisitions and the settled squad we have, who were perhaps limited in some aspects at Championship level will find themselves a lot more accomplished in League One, call it the “Michael Jacobs effect” if you like.

I was disappointed to see Graham Barrow go but not surprised and think it is definitely for the best. He has been that rod of stability through the good times and the bad, and I’ve never understood the disrespectful attempts to portray him as “the cancer destroying the club from the inside” (Yes I actually read that somewhere)

Which brings us right up to date. Expectations. The Cook appointment is an intriguing one. If you believe people who like putting words in other people’s mouths – who usually do that by putting words in other people’s mouths, then he won’t get a warm welcome because “he wears shorts”.

Yet he is also a football tactician with modern, innovative coaching methods who plays a patient possession based game. Given this information, I suspect I know which group will break rank first here, and it won’t be the ones mildly offended by the sight of Paul Cook’s knees.

Sound like another year of social media slanging, blocking and sniping is just a matter of weeks away.

This is clearly an argument which plays out up and down the country given Cook himself won the league and apparently spent much of last season attracting criticism from some Pompey fans. (What? He won a league title and all some fans did was criticise him all year? How is that even possible? *winky emoji*)

Now I wouldn’t dream of claiming I’m right and you’re wrong but the fact of the matter is that over the last ten years we have got every single one of our big results playing possession football. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but compared to the awful dirge served up by the likes of Mackay and Joyce which was neither pleasant to watch nor did it get results, then regardless of what the fans think, it’s good to see that the club know what the right approach is.

You can’t please all of the people all of the time though can you? Even if you do win a league title in some cases. And with that in mind what will await Paul Cook. This morning, BT Sports commentator, Ian Darke, has today claimed that he’s coming for an easy ride, a quiet life.

Does he not know WE’RE F***ING MASSIVE??

The truth of the matter is that where Wigan Athletic fans are concerned, we may not have many fans but if you canvass enough opinions you will find that some of our expectations are way out of distortion with the size of club we actually are, perhaps – well undoubtedly – as a consequence of us experiencing twenty years of unparalleled success which a club of our size perhaps had no right to enjoy.

Take away Whelan’s cash and we’d be no bigger than Oldham Athletic. That hurt but it’s true. 25 years or so, we had the lowest crowds in the whole league, down there with Scarborough, Torquay and Hereford, clubs that have since bumped out of the league completely.

Of course those crowds increased, but they increased as we rose through the leagues and we rose through the leagues because Whelan pumped money in to yield success. And now we are falling again, those crowds are falling. The same would happen anywhere, I’m afraid to say.

I had an interesting dialogue the other day with a long standing Latics fan who claimed Portsmouth are not a bigger club than us, that they only have 5,000 fans than us and, in any case, that doesn’t matter. Does it matter? Well, yes and no.

First of all, I suspect it’ll be more like 10,000 fans difference this year as they have climbed a level and we have dropped one. How much of our average attendance last year was bolstered by travelling fans? Going off the last game, it felt like half the crowd was Leeds fans and that won’t be the case next year (Yes OK smarta*** I know)

The one unknown is season ticket sales, I speak to a few people online or in the pub who anecdotally tell me so and so isn’t renewing and all that but then you also hear tales of new fans coming along, people bring kids and siblings. I think it’s fair to say that over the past ten years or so, we’ve lost a lot more than we gained, but again maybe simplistically, it all follows the bell curve of success.

The bottom line is that every year I hope that season ticket sales and attendances will shoot up, and that finally the Wigan public will recognise what a fine football club they have on their doorstep. That those fans who near filled the ground in the first Premier League season will return to pay their debts and watch us do battle in the third tier. Yet every year I end up disappointed and I can’t see us mustering up more than 5-6,000 season ticket holders next year.

It’s a shame because the club, and by that I mean the Whelan family, deserves better for all they’ve put in over the years. You end up asking “why should they” but I’m very glad they do. Again, the post-parachute world means that we will slowly but surely be feeling the pinch. The fact that Pompey have twice as many season tickets as us gives them an advantage. The fact that those season ticket holders pay £400 each for their season ticket not £250 furthers that advantage. More fans buying more shirts, hiring more executive boxes, sponsoring more kit at higher prices. All more revenue.

Sorry to bang on, but this is all about self-sustainability in future, the Whelan family cannot put money in like they once did, even if they wanted to, because of Financial Fair Play rules. It’s not impossible, when you look at the new superclubs like PSG or Man City to use the money wisely to get a competitive advantage and I’m sure Pompey’s incoming Disney billionaire will have some ideas on that. The fact is though that they are a big city club with a large, captive fan base and therefore they already have a strong advantage over most of League One. There’s a reason that big city clubs tend to be near the top of the higher leagues and small town clubs mainly reside in League One and Two and that reason is support.

Enough wallowing though, if there’s one club who deserve a break it’s Portsmouth given everything they’ve been through in the past decade and the fact that their 16,000 home fans stayed loyal whereas our crowds halved once we started to descend, deserves a lot of admiration, though I don’t see much of it being mutual right now. I wish them nothing but goodwill, even though we could possibly (hopefully) be challenging for the League One title against each other next season.

Back to history repeating itself: the Wigan Athletic rebirth. It starts with getting the right managerial appointment and back room team, signing (and selling) the right players and then developing a consistent way of playing (and then winning) football matches.

The gloom and doom of the Mackay era was quickly resolved by Gary Caldwell, who built a completely new side from nothing to win the League two years ago (yeah but PARACHUTE PAYMENTS BLAH BLAH!!!) The fact is he did it and deserves respect for that not criticism.

I wonder if Sheffield United fans will spend all summer berating their manager, walking around with gritted teeth telling anyone that will listen “YEAH BUT HE SHOULD HAVE WON THE LEAGUE, HE HAD THE BIGGEST BUDGET”. I doubt it.

Nor did those criticising Caldwell last time leap to the defence of Martinez for finishing 17th when we had the smallest budget in the division. The “budget” is just a weapon to use or retire at will depending on whether you like the manager or not it seems.

So, last time we did have the biggest budget (apparently), this time we won’t. This needs to be factored into expectation this time around. If our crowds are 8th highest in the division and we have the 4th biggest budget, and with no external income, then if we can get near the play offs then that is a reasonable expectation.

Yet I’d be lying if I didn’t look at our squad (if we can keep it together) and a new manager coming in with a good pedigree, and knowing that he’ll be given a reasonable amount to spend and think “well no actually, we look like we’re having a good crack at it here” so I can’t blame other fans for thinking the same.

On the one hand, the club deserve lots of credit for making what appears to be a determined effort to get us back up to the Championship. Yet I suppose that begs the question of why we make such a hash of trying to stay in it when we get there….

The above point I am trying to get at though is that alternatively the club could easily pull up the drawbridge and say that’s your lot, we’ll live within our means now thank you, and not a single Wigan Athletic fan would have the right to complain about it (they will though obv.) The fact that they appear to be pushing the boat out* to recruit Paul Cook is a great positive sign (*subtle naval based pun there).

Like I said at the outset, I worry a lot but in the short term at least there are promising signs that Latics are again, intending to put right what went wrong last year. History repeating itself? Let’s hope so!

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