Expect the Unexpected

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The time is upon us again: little ole’ Wigan Athletic are playing in the quarter final of the FA Cup. It was thirty one years ago when we faced Leeds United in the same round, with us being then as we are now, a League One team and Leeds, being then as they are now, an average second tier side.

I was 14, and sat on a crush barrier, nervously peering at the Leeds hooligans, fully expecting them to riot at any time but on a cold, windy day, good old Bobby Campbell missed a sitter and Leeds got the win courtesy of a goal by John “son of Nobby” Stiles. We even had an FA Cup record which lives on to this day, remixed and digitally mastered several times over.

The miracle of 2013 needs no introduction or further comment right now so I won’t bother, we can’t keep going on about it forever can we? Of course we can!!

I often feel that we overlook the achievements of the following year: Wigan Athletic, a Championship side, reaching the semi finals of the FA Cup – at Wembley, and only being 8 minutes away from a second consecutive FA Cup final, after beating several Premier League teams including Man City (again).

And here we are again with another quarter final incoming. I don’t particularly care that Southampton have appointed Mark Hughes. This game is still there for the taking, given what we have already beaten to get here. Of course, the further we get, the more likely that games tend to go to form and league position. You can’t defy the odds forever. We’re having a pretty good go though!

I have been a bit dismissive of the cup, more out of concern as to what it will do to our league campaign and actually thinking that I’d prefer that we were out of it. I didn’t bother thinking about this in the last round, like most people I thought we’d get stuffed anyway. In any case, I’m happy to continue this “reverse jinxing” in the interests of the club’s progression.

If we were to get through, then the favourites in the other ties would be Man United, Chelsea and Spurs but we’re all daft enough to believe that anything is possible when it comes to our beloved FA Cup.

I am genuinely delighted that we have become so synonymous with the competition in recent years. We are the perfect antidote to all those clubs, players and fans who believe that the league is all that matters and dismiss cup competitions in favour of avoiding relegation, or trying to finish a place higher up the Premier League table.

It’s a highly clichéd statement these days but it is pure “against modern football” to actually go out and win a trophy these days, certainly for several of the Premier League teams we have faced.

We’re at that stage now when even if they don’t take it seriously, the teams left in generally have enough to win the game regardless. It is indeed a familiar roll call when you look at the past winners, with Arsenal in particular featuring heavily.

So it’s no wonder Wigan Athletic get such praise for being a small club who went all the way, as it so very rarely happens these days. Can it happen again? One game at a time I guess, but there’s not many left to go is there? Scary, and exciting times indeed!

Article first published in the Wigan Evening Post’s 12th Man column on Friday 16th March 2018

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