Or “Wot I done on mi summer holidays”
I left things somewhere between the FA Cup final and the game at the Emirates that sealed our Premier League fate. Somewhere between the happiest times and, what some would have you believe was, the worst. I get that for some, experiencing their first relegation, it will have been hard, but for the rest, who went through the pain of 1993, this should have been a walk in the park. Like Benjamin Franklin might have said “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death, taxes and Wigan Athletic’s eventual relegation from the Premier League”.
Defeat against Arsenal making the final game against Villa a dead rubber left me with possibly the first genuine dilemma of my football watching career. Over the years, I’ve missed football matches because of work, because of finances and because of family and friends’ special occasions but never before could I remember choosing to do something I could realistically get out of over a Wigan Athletic match, especially one I already had a ticket for.
The “something” in this case was Wigan Thirds vs Orrell Red Triangle Fourths at Bull Hey which looked set to be the first fixture of my cricket season that made it off a piece of paper and onto a wicket.
As, it was, I chose football, the game felt like a chance to say goodbye, although I wasn’t sure to who (or what) and there was the undeniable suspicion that this might be the last time we saw our team feast at the top table and, of course, there was the FA Cup to celebrate. Although the choice was made moot after the cricket was called off, leaving me free of any guilt and able to fully enjoy Latics premier league wake.
As wakes go, it was a good one, akin to a memorial for a rich old uncle who’d died peacefully of old age and remembered you in his will. We had an FA Cup to celebrate (again) Visits to Europe and the seaside to look forward to and the good times to remember. The rest didn’t matter and so, with pints in hand, we drank the night away, missed trains and buses and said hello to the summer.
To be honest, I’ve not been paying too much attention since then. I spotted the obvious things, Bob’s leaving was mourned but understood, Coyle’s arrival spat at other comings and goings noted and the fixtures given a cursory glance, but the summer for me was relatively (for someone who helps run a Latics website) football free.
The biggest distraction has been the pull of cut grass, whites and the smell of leather on willow. Ok so the sun, cider and teas have played their part as well, but the point is the same, I’ve had a full summer of playing, watching and drinking whilst pretending to watch cricket. Work has got in the way a bit, but it’s been like the longest summer holiday I’ve had since college, and whilst you’ve been getting excited about… whatever it is that’s been getting the Latics Wide Web salivating over the summer, I’ve been enjoying what Jimmy was quick to label my mid-life crisis.
You probably don’t care, but highlights of my cricketing summer include:
- Winning nearly as many games as we played last summer
- Beating local rivals (Highfield) with a performance that included ridiculously good bowling figures and an almost perfect opening partnership both involving yours truly
- My first half century in club cricket (I’ve only been at it 2 years) and finally getting a (reluctant) well done from the U13s star batsman
- Seeing the young lads that have started with us in the fourth team develop and play a real part in positive results
- Watching a third team game against Fleetwood Hesketh (confusingly, not from Fleetwood) that, from the sidelines, was something akin to Blackpool away a couple of years back
- Lytham, and their tennis club, in Wimbledon week
- And the resulting trip to Whelan’s (that’s why Sharpy’s is called Sharpy’s) Chippy on the way home
- “Socialising” enough to forget the low points and it being ok because I’d booked every Monday off over the summer
At some point I’ll write the story of it up, and it’ll be called “Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches” not because the Mondays were happy, but because of the ibuprofen that saw a few of through the games, the nature of our wins and because of the second teamed who joined us for one game, fielded at slip, bowled a few overs and then spent the rest of the game in a darkened changing room because the pint of milk he’d drunk that morning was “on the turn”.
It was grand, but at some point football was going to come knocking again and, after eschewing the delight’s of Leigh Sports village to watch an U13s cricket match at the start of the week, I trolled up to the Dundee United friendly to see just how far from plan-Bobby Owen Coyle had taken us.
I was shocked. It takes me time to settle into the rhythm of football after time off, but these lads had already played five friendlies and it didn’t look like they knew what they were doing. Maybe that’s unfair, Latics looked fairly solid at the back and it took a classy goal for the visitors to win but ahead of that they looked unbalanced and disorganised. It’s a common complaint that managers don’t have a plan B, but if these lads were operating on manager’s instructions then it won’t be long before we’re moaning about Coyle needing a plan A.
Even so, it wasn’t a lack of inspiration that saw me miss the next three games. The Charity Shield was the easiest miss as I was holed up in a tin box in North Wales but I’m still paying for the two trips to Wembley at the end of last season so, Barnsley and Bournemouth were off the cards for financial reasons.
The opening day win soothed plenty of concerns, I’ve no idea how we played, but no-one nicks a lucky 4-0 so all seemed good. The turgid turn at Wembley could easily be put to one side, we won’t have to play United to do well in this division and there was the added bonus of not having the ritual capitulation we’ve got used to against them men, but then there was Bournemouth.
I was fairly gutted not to be going, the weekender back in May 2000 being one of my favourite away trips, but the news that my mates would be going there and back in a day and, even if I had the money, I just didn’t have the energy. Neither did the players from the sound of things, flopping to a 1-0 defeat that saw Newcastle fans revelling in the resurrection of Callum McManaman’s “bad boy” reputation after the briefest of substitute appearances ended with a reckless challenge and a probably deserved red card.
And so to Doncaster, or to the DW at least to watch Latics play Doncaster. Or to watch 15 minutes of it before I’m wondering whether it is possible to fluke a 4-0 win. Latics were far from great here and the lack of structure that had marked the Dundee Utd game was all too prevalent again. I’ve heard plenty describe this game as exciting, and to be fair there was lots of action at either end of the pitch, but I’ve paid to watch football, not ping pong, and there certainly wasn’t much of that going on.
In the end a draw was possibly a fair result neither team, Shaun Maloney aside, had shown any quality and Latics were lucky to get off the hook after gifting their visitors a couple of goals. The question was whether, after four competitive games, this was a sign of things to come or the result of a new team bedding in with a new manager.
The next match wouldn’t offer many clues to help me answer that conundrum. The dilemm
a that had been avoided for the Villa game had raised its ugly head again and this time cricket was the winner. As Grant Holt slotted in his penalty I was enjoying tea courtesy of Southport and Birkdale CC (in the slightly less salubrious surroundings of Ainsdale CC due to Lancs’ pending county championship fixture against Hampshire) and celebrating a tidy 3 wickets for 23 off 9 overs that had put our young side in a good position to beat the eventual league winners.
I was batting as Boro equalised and came out of the shower to the news that they’d taken the lead. I don’t know how tense the finish at the DW was following Jordi’s late equaliser, but nerves were jangling for both sides in Southport as, following a good start from the openers, Orrell survived a bit of a wobble to get back in the game before collapsing again falling a tantalising ten runs short of victory.
Twelve months ago I’d have felt extremely guilty for missing a home game, but here I was on a field worried more about whether our last three batters could hold on long enough to scrape together the winning runs and if not to keep their nerve and get the draw than I was events back home. If it wasn’t for my phone reminding me with updates I might have even forgot there was a game on, but you know what? I bet I was about ten times happier than I would have been coming up past the Red Robin on my way home.
Cricket didn’t win the week after, despite an offer to play for the Second team at Rainhill. I’d already told the kids that we were going to the football and, no matter how much I’d enjoyed the previous Sunday, missing two home games on the bounce just didn’t sit comfortably with me. It didn’t take me long to regret it.
This is another game where I seem to have watched something different from a lot of people. There was even more ping pong, even less quality and my quarter of an hour in thought this time was “I could have been playing cricket and I’m here instead”. The “excitement” was there again for all to see but to be honest I’d rather see my team try to hold on to the ball and exert some proper pressure on the opposition, in fact the best spell of the game was when one side did just that for about 15 minutes in the second half.
Only problem was that it was Nottingham Forest.
But a win is a win and we were going into the international break on the back of three points and sitting on the edge of the play-off places. I normally hate the first break of the season, it’s way too early and just disrupts any momentum that your team has, but this time it allowed for an uninterrupted end to the cricket season and, rather than crap leadership from the stand-in captain (me), I’m blaming Owen Coyle for the defeat of our fourth team at Norley Hall and the damp squib of an abandonment that saved our thirds from embarrassment and cost Highfield the league title.
Which brings us round about up to date and as you might be able to tell, I’m not too happy with the prospect of another eight months of what we’ve seen so far. There’s a fair bit more to say on Bobby, Coyle, comings and goings but I’ve gone on for way too long already, so I’ll save that for part 2. Until then…
Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.
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