**Written before the news that the Spanish takeover of Wigan Athletic had collapsed. Revel in the relative positivity of seven days ago**
How do you even begin to look back on the last twelve months? I’ve tried and failed to start this intro three times now. There is simply no way of dressing it up – 2020 for a myriad of reasons has been one of the toughest of years any of us will face. Now of course it isn’t fair to compare the ups and downs of a football club with the loss, grief and hardships that millions of people the world over have faced in 2020 but the two sadly do combine.
Let’s have a look back and see how we ended up where we are, 2020 started off on a decent enough footing. A trip to Birmingham on New Year’s Day saw Paul Cook’s side take three points with a hard fought 3-2 win.
Looking back now, it’s easy to forget that wins hadn’t been easy to come by last season and despite getting the win over Birmingham it would be another three and a half weeks until Latics won again with a last minute goal from Jamal Lowe earning Latics all three points against Sheffield Wednesday and really giving our survival chances a shot in the arm.
I vividly remember driving back in the bitter cold of that January evening and listening to the news reports of what was happening in China following the football round-up’s. Little did we know how quickly life would change.
It was February were survival in the Championship became less of a pipe dream and more of a significant target. The first Saturday in February saw Latics travel over the Pennines to Leeds to once again upset the odds against the promotion favourites. This was arguably a bigger achievement than the win back in 2019. The win over Leeds set the foundations for a bumper month of results that saw Paul Cook’s side pick up a remarkable fourteen points.
Wins were chalked up over the aforementioned Leeds, Millwall, Reading and the other promotion favourites West Brom. Latics managed to climb out of the relegation zone and heading in to the Spring with another set of favourable fixtures Latics fans were dreaming of the play-offs rather than relegation.
It was an amazing turn around for a side that although impressive at times had struggled badly in the first half of the season and had given away numerous soft goals and lost leads and indeed matches in the dying minutes. With January additions including Keiran Dowell and Leon Balagoun it felt like Latics were finally going places and the only direction was up.
Whilst Latics on the pitch were flying there was confusion off the pitch. The long protracted takeover of Wigan Athletic was finally ratified in October 2018 and IEC took over the shares of the Whelan family. It was to many Latics fans surprise that barely more than a year later IEC issued a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange that laid out their plans for disposal of the club stating their disappointment in the club’s performance.
Alarm bells really should have been ringing at that point but when a fan base has been as secure as ours has in the nearly 25 years since Dave Whelan took over I can see why not many raised more than a cursory glance at the news.
Especially when it was explained that the president of IEC Stanley Choi would still be the majority owner and would simply be moving Wigan Athletic from one holding company to another – it all sounds extremely plausible and these sorts of deals happen all the time within the modern game.
Nothing else was announced on that score until the summer and events in the rest of the world overtook our ownership structure. Italy swiftly followed by Spain was a precursor to what we could expect to arrive in the UK in the not so distant future and it was no surprise that the football league and premier league ceased on Friday 13th March 2020.
My final match at the DW was the 0-0 draw with Luton the week before. I never imagined walking back in to Wigan on that Saturday evening that nearly a year later I wouldn’t have returned and seen another match there.
The world closed down and the sporting world wasn’t immune to that. You know it’s serious when major events like the Euros and the Olympics fall by the wayside. It truly is once in a lifetime events that we’ve lived through this year and we should all be thankful that we’re here because many haven’t been as lucky as we have.
From March to June not much happened in the way of football, Latics returned to pre-season training on Monday 25th May and ten days later on June 4th it was announced that Next Leader Fund limited had completed the takeover of Wigan Athletic from IEC. There was so little information surrounding Next Leader Fund and the new man at the helm of the club Kenneth Au Yeung that it was difficult to gauge if this was a good or bad thing for the club but I think any deal where information is so limited is always a worry.
Nonetheless the re-start rolled on apace as Latics got ready to face Huddersfield on the first day of the continued season. We all had to get used to switching the laptop or tablet on rather than heading to the pub and instead of England v Scotland at the Euros it was wall to wall domestic football that kept us entertained in the summer months.
Latics made a remarkable start to the return, truly picking where we had left off with three wins against Huddersfield, Blackburn and Stoke with seven goals scored without conceding. At the end of the Stoke match it felt like we had secured safety and although we weren’t in the DW to celebrate it was exhilarating to see us finally play to our potential.
Little did we know what was around the corner for us. That day, that horrible day where administration was announced still feels like a blur, I was working a double shift that day whilst trying to home school my son and can remember hearing it on the news and thinking they must have made a mistake. ‘Surely not us’, ‘they must mean Oldham, we’ve only just been taken over’.
But as we know it was us and there was no mistake. The pain has subsided since but the heartache over what we could have achieved and how unnecessary it was will never go away. At least in normal times you can go and offer your support to your club at matches, we couldn’t even do that. It truly has been the worst thing any of us will ever experience following our football club.
There’s no need for me to go over old ground, Latics mounted a stunning attempt at staying up. Picking up nine points from a possible eighteen in July to try and ensure we stayed in the division. If we hadn’t conceded in the last minute against Charlton the chances are we would have done it. But even though they fell at that final hurdle this Latics side shouldn’t be remembered as the one responsible for our relegation. That falls at the door of the EFL, Stanley Choi, Au Yeung and yes even Begbies Traynor.
It’s been a horrific summer and autumn; the club has literally had its soul torn out of it. Good honest, hard-working people lost their jobs almost immediately whilst one of the most talented sides we had assembled in years were sold off for a pittance. Relegated to a League we shouldn’t have been in and without the manager who deserved to keep us in the Championship. Administrators brought in to steady the ship have exacerbated the issues the club faces and helped to spread misinformation and pick fights with supporters whilst earning a pretty penny for the few assets the club had left.
Bidders some good, some not so good and some downright terrifying have been and gone whilst the one party to have a bid accepted and pay a deposit for the club still haven’t completed the takeover despite their bid first being announced over 13 weeks ago.
Yet to look at the few positives, we are still standing. Yes we are battered and bruised and it will take a long time for the club to return to the position it was in (if we ever do) but we are still here. This is despite the raging pandemic and the best efforts of those who attempted to kill us off.
Though they’ve had criticism the save our Wigan Athletic fund set up by the supporters club was an amazing moment of unity as close to a million pounds was raised by supporters, ex-players, ex-managers and the general football world. That is the sort of spirit we need to take in to 2021.
Leam Richardson, Gregor Rioch and the remaining coaching staff have done a marvellous job and our academy graduates have done a remarkable job. We are still winning football matches and we are still competing. They desperately need support from new owners to assist financially but to also provide direction for the club. We hope that comes from Leganes owner Felipe Moreno but time is running out and we don’t have much of it left.
What are my hopes for 2021? Well first that the Coronavirus vaccines allow a return to some sort of normality and that we can once again walk up those steps to sit in our seats, surrounded by our friends and be able to show our love for Wigan Athletic. On the pitch survival, survival can take on many forms, I dread the thought of us dropping in to League Two but if the club is still there and we can take a long term view and aim to one day return to the Championship many Wiganers will take that.
The hurt of the last year will never go away but that would be nothing compared to the hurt of Wigan Athletic failing to exist which still feels a reality too close to home. Let’s hope that 2021 can be a year we can all celebrate in.
Happy New Year
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