Another week in purgatory flies by, 206 days in total now. Not that anyone is counting. I’d like to perhaps talk about the on field activity this week but I can’t promise it will last, as one is inextricably linked to the other. Now, more so than ever. So when Rochdale went down to ten men last Saturday, no doubt many Latics fans were rubbing their hands, maybe some of the players were too. Yet that lack of experience came to the fore once more, as a wily and energetic Rochdale side made light of their player deficit to steal an equaliser. I can’t get angry or recriminate right now because that essentially, is our Under 23’s team out there wearing the shirt and they are learning with every game.
Fleetwood are up next, and they have also struggled since the exit of Joey Barton. Was this perhaps linked to the inglorious exit of Ched Evans a few days earlier? I’m fortunate enough to be able to offer a different perspective on The Joey Barton Experiment here. A couple of years ago, we did a charity walk to Fleetwood to raise funds (£36,000!!!) for Joseph’s Goal. Not only did our CEO, Jonathan Jackson, join the walk but we also had the Fleetwood Town chief exec, Steve Curwood, join us for the final day to walk the full length of the Fylde coast from Blackpool to Fleetwood.
Now I must say, it feels that football clubs, certainly in the higher echelons of the Premier League, are as distanced as they possibly can be from the fans in these times. So, to get such support from both football clubs, was massively appreciated. Fleetwood could not do enough to help us, they looked after our bags, they let us go on the pitch for a photo shoot and even gave me fifty beer tokens to get every one of the walkers a free pint in their supporters’ club after the game. At this point, a few of them might discover that I might have accidentally supped their free pint too, whoops.
Pre-match, whilst walking up the promenade, I got talking to Steve, and at this time, the Joey Barton appointment was imminent. I asked why. Why, Joey Barton? He hadn’t at that point got any managerial experience whatsoever, indeed, he still hasn’t, other than at Fleetwood. Steve explained, that as a smaller club, they had to look outside the box and get creative when it came to finding a good fit. They couldn’t necessarily afford or attract a higher profile, experienced name, so instead they took a punt on someone up and coming.
Secondly, we’ve all got opinions on Joey Barton, and by that I mean the person, not necessarily the footballer turned manager. Steve explained that they had lost their edge and perhaps needed to be a bit more nasty in their approach to the game. He did use that exact word “nasty” but I don’t take offence at it, I get what he was saying. I’ve always said at Latics, when we are at our best, we are a fierce, attacking side and partial to more than a touch of erm, how can I phrase it, in this publication….fond of using the outside toilet. In order for a club like Fleetwood to punch above it’s weight, they have to use every weapon at their disposal. And to be fair, for Fleetwood Town to reach the League One play offs, shows that Barton did indeed take the club further than it had ever been.
Returning closer to home, I can’t help thinking that, although we are desperately lacking in experience, we are also short on identity right now, and it’s not surprising really, given that the squad was ripped to pieces over the summer. When we have that identity back, and it may be slightly different from our previous one, we will have our football club back. We will be able to see out games like the one at Rochdale. Now, I’m not advocating appointing Joey Barton, or even his methods. We have two brilliant people in Leam Richardson and Gregor Rioch, who I think we would all be happy with long term, if they were willing to stay. But they are both working with their hands tied behind their back right now.
If we can emerge out of admin, even if there is such a hangover that we end up in League Two, we are a football club with tremendous principles that have been forged over time: beating the odds, punching above our weight and playing great football. We turn footballers into better versions of themselves, develop and then sell them for a big profit (in normal circumstance when Begbies aren’t running things). We have a tremendous community spirit and this football club does things in the town of Wigan, far beyond it’s remit. So many players who come through the door, completely get this ethos. Just how many past players describe their time at Wigan as the highlight of their career? Not Josh Windass. But so many others do.
We’ve got something special here and it will be special again. We just need to get these admins out ASAP and get away from our current nomadic football status. We are sick of their Friday updates**, which we are expected to be grateful for, even though they only serve to obfuscate even more and ruin many a weekend. Like many, I was sceptical at first about Frampton and possibly correct to be so, but then when it looked like he was going to progress the deal, I was also happy, as I was initially with the Spanish. It doesn’t matter who it is as long as we get somebody owning our football club. Well, it does matter but you get my drift. I hear whispers about other bidders now looking to buy us and dearly hope it comes to fruition. But then, as others have said, if we end up getting into bed with a bad owner, it will only end in tears again.
**To be fair, this week’s was a bit more expansive and detailed. Though we could probably do with Begbies playing in our back four tomorrow, given how defensive they are of their actions to date.
The bottom line might be that nobody will buy us. But there will always be a Wigan Athletic and I know that a handful of people are working tirelessly to make sure that happens. Sure there would probably be more pain, a fifteen point deduction and relegation, and a scaling back on the field for a period of time, but we will get through it, and rise again once more with a club we can be proud of. If we had to drop out of the league, that would be an awful, awful situation but would I give up watching a football club I have given over 35 years of my life to if that happened? You are joking aren’t you. From despair comes great resilience. The good ship HMS Wigan Athletic is still in very choppy waters, and may even be heading for an iceberg.
Yet, in true Wigan Athletic style, we will smash through it, pick up the pieces and rebuild a bright future. Maybe not now, maybe not next week or even next year but we will, So, stick with us.
Article first published in the Wigan Evening Post’s 12th Man column on Friday 22nd January 2021
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