Those with a keen eye will be aware of the significance of that year, and now the reality is, that with time passing by, it is a mere twelve years away.
It is just a year, a point in time in the future but on the 27th August 2032, it will be a hundred years since Wigan Athletic played their first ever football match. The club was actually formed 88 years ago yesterday. Of course, we are behind the curve compared to many other clubs. However, most other clubs haven’t had the fractious history and local challenges, yes let’s call them challenges, that simply don’t exist in most other towns.
Lest us forget that it was only a couple of decades ago that it looked like Wigan Athletic could go the same way as Wigan Borough, Wigan County, Wigan Town and Wigan United.
The reasons why those clubs fell by the wayside is equally murky, if you dig around a bit into the history. Although to be honest the themes are mostly consistent with the treatment that Wigan Athletic suffered in the late eighties and early nineties at the hands of others, many of whom whose job it was to support and protect their community football club, yet often seemed to do the exact opposite. Many of whom were climbing over each other ten years later, albeit some through gritted teeth, to congratulate Wigan Athletic, as it made an unlikely ascension into the Premier League.
For many misguided football fans, and indeed sports fans, history seems to equate to trophies. Those who choose a team to support in order to maximise their bragging rights rather than adopt a little humility and look around their community and think about where their support could have the greatest impact.
Yet every football club has a unique history and it is very often the struggles and adversity they face that really bring the colour into the archives. As it goes, we’ve been lucky enough to have quite a bit of success as well, but nobody got into supporting Wigan Athletic to take the easy option.
Make no mistake, the greatest achievement of all that Wigan Athletic FC has done is surviving. I don’t have the wordcount to document the challenges this club has faced, from formation to trying to become established in the league, to financial difficulties and some draconian treatment from the local authorities, all twisting the knife when a helping hand was needed.
Triumphing through all that, with more than a little help from a certain white haired white knight in recent times, needs celebrating. It needs remembering and celebrating every time we take to the pitch, whenever that next might be.
Now that Dave Whelan has cut his ties, of course, the future is uncertain once more. And to be fair, both the subtle and overt obstacles that once stood in the way of Wigan Athletic are now less of a concern.
It is of course, the money that has flowed into football, that has perhaps steam rollered any past perception that having a thriving little club in the town might not be desirable. We are established and playing in one of the biggest leagues in the world, bringing the footfall of three hundred thousand people into the town over the course of nine months. Thankfully most football fans seem to enjoy our pie shops and pubs and famous hospitality with good spirits these days compared to the bad old days of smashing things up.
Yet money is also the biggest threat to our existence, as it is to every football club’s existence. And when I look at our current custodianship, I can only revert to the same question that goes through my head all the time “what’s in it for them”.
I can’t answer that of course. Yet without their financial support we have no football club. Let’s be clear, this isn’t an isolated scenario: there isn’t a club in the Championship who don’t have an owner with deep pockets, it is a pre-requisite of owning a football club now.
To speculate as to where we might be in another 12 years’t time and with the expectation of a Bruce Forsyth type ‘higher and lower’ response, I would tend to believe we would be lower but I’d be happy with that, so long as we are still in the game.
If there’s one thing that I hope people have learnt during these strange times, it is that, yes of course, results are important. But they aren’t the be all and end all. Having a football club to watch is what matters, a place to spend your Saturday afternoon.
Whatever society emerges outside the other end of COVID-19 will undoubtedly be very different, and indeed football and sport you’d like to think will be very different. Everywhere, business models are being adapted, reviewed and amended and I’d like to think football will do the same.
I’m not holding my breath though as the rumours won’t go away that Premier League football will recommence in just five weeks. Apparently, it will be good for the morale of the country. I tell you what will be good for my morale: people not dying. Everything else can wait.
Including my beloved Wigan Athletic. So long as we have a football club to watch in one year, five years, ten years and yes, twelve years’ time, then we have something to celebrate and be thankful for, through good times and bad.
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