Looking back on 2017 the contrasts from the start of the year are stark. At the turn of the year Latics were on the floor. Both in terms of the table position and the atmosphere surrounding the club. The sacking of Gary Caldwell hadn’t had the impact it required. In fact most people would say it made a bad situation worse.
Graham Barrow got a reaction of sorts from the lads but it was too little too late and Latics embarrassingly crashed back to League One at the first time of asking. When clubs with less resources than ourselves managed to stay in the Championship.
I think the summer of 2017 will be seen as a watershed moment for Wigan Athletic. Three relegations in the space of four seasons could have very well seen the club plummet further through the divisions.
League One wouldn’t be as easy as last time, there were no parachute payments to make up for the loss of income this time around. No large transfer budget, instead Latics had to get clever and find a manager willing to take on the challenge of getting a club on it’s knees up again and back to a level befitting of the set up at Wigan Athletic.
That came in the form of a former player, the best Latics managers have traditionally been former players or at least those with some association with the club. They understand this most unique of clubs and this most unique of areas. Certainly Scousers like Cook and Jewell understand what it means for Latics fans, they know that we’ve come from nothing because they’ve been on that same journey.
I didn’t think we’d manage to prise Cook away from Portsmouth but kudos to David Sharpe and Jonathan Jackson. They made it work and in came Latics fifth permanent manager since Roberto Martinez. Sixth if we count Graham Barrow’s three spells in charge. A club that had seen far too much upheaval in too short a space of time would have to start planning for the future and cut their cloth accordingly.
Free transfers and working with what you had was now the order of the day. The fact Latics ended the transfer window without spending a penny on transfer fees showed the new conditions Latics were operating in. This included a fascinating sub plot of former Manchester City director Gary Cook being added to the board as a director supposedly to seek out investment.
I’m not sure any of us would have predicted the start the side made. Even less so when that start was maintained and became an assault on the top of the league. There have been a couple of disappointing defeats but nothing more than that and Latics have always bounced back after those defeats.
Players like Will Grigg, Michael Jacobs and Max Power who looked jaded last season now are revelations again. All agreeing to stay with the club and fight for Latics. That’s without mentioning the enigma that is Nick Powell. Playing the most football he’s played since his first season with the club in 2013/14 and arguably his best football since then.
With 2017 drawing to a close the question is can this Latics side keep up the impressive start to the season through 2018. I have every faith they can and if Paul Cook can get Latics back to the Championship at the first time of asking he’ll have written himself in to Wigan Athletic folklore. Much like a previous incumbent of the managers office at the Dave Whelan stadium. A Scouser also named Paul. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves but being able to replicate what Jewell did would be nice wouldn’t it?
Happy New Year and up the tics!
First published in the Wigan Post, Friday 29th December
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