Do, do, do… Do the ayatollah

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Yes, It’s MFE week again, so we’ve been trawling the archives for something for you to enjoy. With Simon Haworth taking over the reins at Clitheroe FC at the back end of this week what better than this 2014 interview with our own Johnny Bogroll? If you like what you see then you can get copies of the magazine from or at stockists across the town.

Simon Haworth scored 44 goals in 117 games for Wigan Athletic between 1998 and 2002. He later went on to play for Tranmere before a serious leg injury caused him to cut his career short at the age of 27. He has recently moved into coaching and management, starting his first job at amateur club, Eagley in January 2014. The week after he took up the job he agreed to an interview for me looking back at his career at Wigan.

You’re now managing Eagley FC. How are you finding that so far? Was getting into management a recent decision or has it always been a long term plan for you?

Managing is something I have always thought about but really hit home in the last few years after really missing the game since retirement. So I have been and got my coaching badges and am thoroughly enjoying managing at Eagley as a start.

Going back to the start of your career. In 1997 you scored the only goal of the game for Cardiff against Wigan at Springfield Park. You were the only team to beat us at home that calendar year during our promotion season and I remember you being a handful up front. Do you have any memories of that game and your first visit to Wigan?

My memories are that it was a tough game where we played well and I had a good game myself. I still wind Colin Greenall up, insisting I had the better of him.

What was it like as a teenager to get a sudden move into the Premier League when Coventry signed you from Cardiff?

My move to Coventry was exciting and nerve racking. It was a huge step, maybe too early but that’s football. Cardiff needed the money. It was a great experience of probably which I didn’t make the most of.

How hard was it to take when after such a short period, they decided to let you go? Do you feel you wasn’t given long enough to prove yourself?
Gordon Strachan wanted me to stay and fight for my place but I was young and naïve. I wanted to play so I chose to move on and regret doing that so early in my Coventry career.

Was it a difficult decision to sign for Wigan or were you sold on Whelan’s dream of a club on the rise to the Premier League?
It was an easy decision. Dave Whelan sold me the dream but John Benson and Michael O’Neill whom I knew from Coventry played bigger parts in my move.

Signing you was a big deal for Wigan at the time. An international signed from a Premier League club for a record transfer fee. It was a millions miles away from what Latics fans had been used to in years gone by. Did you feel any pressure at all with the fee paid?

The fee didn’t bother me. I was young and didn’t feel any of it. I knew I could play at that level comfortably and just played with freedom. I was very laid back as a kid maybe too much but it was just the way I was no malice in it just my style.

What are your thoughts on your first season with us? The majority of us look back on it with incredible fondness. We played some fantastic entertaining and attacking football that season. It was a joy to watch, especially with yourself, Stuart Barlow and Andy Liddell all linking together up front.

The season with Barlow and Lidds was probably my best as a pro. All three of us gelled and played some Premier League football between us at times and scored some amazing goals. Very happy days with a good group of lads.

How well did you get on with Ray Mathias? His sacking seemed an incredible injustice at the end of that season. We won the Auto Windscreens and only missed out on reaching the play off final due to two shocking refereeing decisions. Were the players as upset as the fans to see him go?

I got on great with Ray as I did every Wigan manager. I felt he was hard done by getting the sack but the Chairman was in a rush for promotion and Ray, like a few after him felt that; until Jewell was given the time needed to do the job.

The following season, the fans never warmed to John Benson. They were still unhappy about Mathias’s departure, didn’t like his style of play and saw him as being a ‘Yes man’ to Whelan. What were your own thoughts on John Benson and the change in style of play?

John Benson got more from me than any manager at Wigan. I liked Benno; he knew his football and that was a great team we had, certainly Championship level. His mistake was bringing John Bond and some players we didn’t need in the January and it ruined the whole team spirit and style we had. If he hadn’t brought them on board we would have walked promotion without the playoffs.

In the play-off final against Gillingham, with a moment of sublime genius you scored possibly the finest ever goal scored by a Wigan Athletic player and one of the best goals ever scored at Wembley. What are you memories of that goal?

It was a special goal. Being in the final at Wembley made it special but any Wigan fans that seen me play would know I scored lots of great goals. Down to my laid back style of play I was never afraid to try something as players who trained with me will testify.

How much did it hurt to then go on to lose the game after it was seemingly won by Barlow’s penalty?
I was devastated we lost as we should have won, but my real sadness after was that what I previously spoke about; the messing with a team and coaching staff that were on fire and just needed leaving.

The 2000/2001 season saw three different managers take charge. How difficult was it for the players to cope with so much constant upheaval?
Yeah it always takes time for a new manager to settle and for players and the manager to gel so three in a season was insane and always doomed to fail

For some, the play-off loss against Reading was the hardest to take of all three. We seemed destined to never gain promotion. How hard was it mentally for the players to lose in the play-offs three years running?

Yeah it was hard to keep coming up short, but the year we lost to Gillingham I felt was our best team in my time at Wigan and that frustrated me the most. That was a special team.

What are your memories of Roberto Martinez? Did you ever imagine him going on to have the career he has had in management so far?

Roberto was always a real student of the game and had great knowledge and ideas on the game and was always a top fella. Even when I see him around now he’s the same top man. I’m sure he would admit it’s gone better than his wildest dreams as a manager but he’s a role model for me as a young manager and I hope he continues his great start to his managerial career.

Kudos nightclub shut down due to lack of business shortly after yourself and Roy Carroll left us. Coincidence?
Hahaha! Me and Roy got plenty of stick for our nights in Kudos but we were young and naïve and just young lads enjoying life. In them days you could have a beer and night out with fans and we never caused any bother and it didn’t affect our performances so we enjoyed it. But I’m sure Kudos missed our contribution to their takings ha!

Yeah, those were some of the last days of seeing Latics players around town. It’s almost unheard of these days, and there’s less of a connection with players because of it. Was it enjoyable to chat with the fans on a night out or did you get into any dodgy situations out drinking after losing or having a bad game?

Yeah we had some good nights out after wins and tried to avoid town after a defeat but it was all good fun trust me.The intensity in Cardiff City centre after a poor game was more abusive than Wigan. I never got in any bother as I was so laid back and just took it all in my stride. Fans sounding off is the norm on a Saturday night in town. I never argued back just had a laugh and a beer with fans over it.

During the last couple of seasons with us, some of the crowd would increasingly start to get on your back and accuse you of being lazy. How hard was that to deal with?
It was hard to get some stick from certain sections as I gave them plenty of good times and happy times. I tried to entertain and my workrate was just me. It wasn’t a personal insult to the club that’s my body language and I justified my place in team with goals and performances.Trust me I wouldn’t have been picked otherwise. Benno used to say “I have to play you cos you will do something good for us and if I don’t play you, we will miss you out there. You lift the team with some magic or a goal. Just your presence would lift us.”

 sections of the crowd turned against you in your last home game when you did the ‘Ayatollah’ to Cardiff shortly after being brought on as a sub. It was seen by many as disrespectful and as a sign of you angling for a move to Cardiff. In all honesty, were you just doing it to pay respects to your old club, or was there more to it than that? And did you expect it to get the reaction it did?

I was and still am massively shocked and disappointed at the fans reaction to the Ayatollah as everybody can see it’s a harmless gesture from current and ex players. I done this for Coventry and Tranmere without so much as a murmur. Aaron Ramsey just last week was doing it in a Premier League game. There was never a move back to Cardiff in the offing trust me it wasn’t about that. I done it at Tranmere weeks after joining – was I angling for another move then? It was a huge over reaction and it’s a shame as it left a bad taste to a wonderful four years at the club. It still makes me sad that the fans never took it the way it was intended. Wigan are the only set of fans in the country to kick off over a player doing this. If they signed Ramsey or Ledley tomorrow and played Cardiff it’s a 100 percent they would do the ayatollah. How would they react then?

What were your main reasons for wanting to leave?
I didn’t want or ask to leave Wigan Athletic ever and every manager will tell you that the whole ayatollah farce got blown so out of control. Paul Jewell got caught in the crossfire and moved me on in everybody’s interest. Quite sad as he thought a lot of me as a player and wanted me as part of the future.

How much did your history with Wigan have to do with the sending off for Tranmere the following season? Were you particularly riled up for that game? Did it upset you to be jeered off by the away end?
The sending off was just me having a lash out with frustration. I also did it several times in a Wigan shirt. I was young and petulant at times but never any malice. Being jeered off made no difference to me I was mad at myself for being silly like I was every time I got sent off anywhere.

It was sad to see you have to cut your career short at such a young age. How hard was that to cope with?
Yeah it was very hard and still is hard at times after my leg break but it’s made a real man of me. I’ve grown up so much and am probably the complete opposite of me as a player. I work so hard at my coaching and managing and have such enthusiasm to be a success in the game again and stay there too. I realise if I can work hard and be committed with my football brain and natural flair and an eye for good football plus bags of experience I’ve gained as a footballer after my playing days; I can be successful.

You were recently voted number 45 in a list of the top 50 Wigan Athletic players. Fans still hold you in high regard, and the general consensus from fans was that you were one of the most technically gifted players that has ever played for us. When you were on form, you were unplayable. The main criticism was that most found it frustrating that you didn’t replicate that top form more regularly and that you were capable of so much more and playing at the highest level. Do you think it’s a fair assessment to say you never reached your full potential and if so, what do you think the main reasons are for that?
I never reached nowhere near my potential and there are many reasons for that but I don’t want sympathy. It was what it was and it’s done. I still achieved good things and had good times and it will shape me to be a much better professional and a much better person as a manager.In a nutshell I have had to grow up and learn the hard way, losing my playing career.

Looking back at your playing career, what would you say was the highlight?
The highlight was scoring goals at all my clubs.The best feeling in the world. Also having my first start for Wales away in Brazil. No higher honour than playing for your country.



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