Boxing off Bristol

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Let me state the obvious first. This season is proving to be one of the most exciting for a while, even though we aren’t winning every week. I don’t think we will get promoted, we’re unlikely to finish above Brentford, for a start. Yet we are having a go in every game, watching a team who appear to be relishing each match every bit as much as the fans are doing.

As a group, they may even be able to find more as the season goes on to push further up the table but let’s not be too demanding. A long overdue season of consolidation after years of bungee jumping throughout the divisions is no disaster and the fact it’s at Championship level means it is still potentially a level higher than we should be at but both fans and players are setting out to prove much bigger teams wrong.

So, why do I say that about the level? After all, you earn the right to play at a certain level by winning football matches. Uh oh, here comes the gripe – it’s the crowds you see. I can’t help feeling once more that Paul Cook’s side are not getting the recognition they deserve. It’s perhaps even more baffling because I know a lot of new season ticket holders, of the lads and dads variety, who have come along for the first time this year.

There’s only three types of sports fans in Wigan: people who don’t watch football (i.e. rugby fans), people who do watch football, either live or via the telly, but support another bigger, glory team from out of town (including a lot of rugby fans). Then there are Wigan Athletic fans. I won’t be permitted enough column inches to delve into the veritable can of worms that is the first two categories but even amongst the latter category, I’m sure we could do more.

I suppose £20 to watch the Tics take on Hull isn’t always the most appealing prospect for the non-season ticket holder, plus there are people who work away, do shiftwork or have young children. But then there is also the latest curse of the match going supporter: the red button, the option to watch a game live without ever leaving your armchair. It seems another nail in the coffin for the increasing minority of people who turn up and watch the game, and once again it hits the club in the pocket. What the TV companies give them with one hand they take away with the other.

A lower crowd diminishes the atmosphere for both home and away fans. Bristol City are only bringing a few hundred for tonight’s game, despite it being a tenner a ticket because it is on Sky and I wouldn’t expect any difference if it was the other way around.

This debate usually descends into a number of arguments, where some fans will cite unaffordability and the club will respond by pointing out how competitively priced the tickets are, even compared to National League clubs. At this point I walk off whistling, having dropped the bomb. But I’m just saying, it is a terrible shame that we can’t muster up 10,000 plus home fans for a team that sweats blood for the Wigan Athletic shirt, even in spite of all the factors involved.

Unfortunately, football is no longer a spectator sport. The stat doing the rounds is that only 0.18% of all football fans watch the game live in the flesh in any particular weekend. So who is going to get preference here? Is it the 360,000 who are paying through the turnstile or the 200 million watching via a plethora of different sized screens?

The game has gone for the paying spectator, the same thing which keeps it alive is also harming it on other ways, and I suppose you can’t blame people for watching it via other means when there is such accessibility to do so and at a much cheaper price if you know what are doing.

The club have certainly done what they can to counteract the impact of a live game by slashing ticket prices to £10 a head. Let us hope that fans take this offer up in good numbers: enjoy a few pre-match refreshments, bring some noise and boost that gate. Oh yes, and three points would lift us into third place, what an incentive that could be?

First published in the Wigan Evening Post’s 12th Man column on Friday 21st September 2018

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