Somewhere deep within the bowels of my hard drive I possess a 10,000 word article entitled the football club which ate itself. One night, full of ale (probably) maybe five or even ten years ago I decided to document the rise and fall of Wigan Athletic. A lot of the in the future stuff was fictional and speculative but given my (observational) knowledge of the football club, of Wiganers and of Dave Whelan’s business dealings I felt like I could give it a punt. Not that it was all about Whelan, a lot of it was about this football club which I frequently pour my heart out over, situated in a town where a large proportion of it’s residents don’t love it and never will for reasons of their own bigotry. And that’s just those who are against us, those of us who do call ourselves Wigan Athletic fans spend half the time infighting and threatening to walk away.
I’ll not bore you with all the details from Wigan Borough to Maurice Lindsay to the horrible tossers at the Council but the bottom line is this: when Whelan wants to wrap up a project, then he will. And nobody will stop him. We all know what he has done for Wigan Athletic and are eternally grateful. However, it will not last forever – even if his family inherit the club. There is a precedent here: JJB Sports, Orrell RUFC, Pooles Pies – nearly but not quite – Wigan Rugby. I guess what I’m saying is that when he walks away from something he doesn’t necessarily leave it in the best shape going off precedent, it may take a while to unwind but it will. Even Blackburn under Jack Walker did. You could even speculate that he winds things up on purpose so as to make him look all the more of a benefactor.
The thinkers out there can visualise ten, twenty years into the future and see what sort of football club Wigan Athletic will be, the worriers – like me – are all the more concerned. I did a piece at the height, or should that be depths of the Martinez regime a few years back about the situation we were in and that our fans were in danger of moaning our football club to death and I was praised b a few and rounded on by others as per usual. What is most bizarre is that following a change of management, many of those so vocal against Martinez are now blogging their hearts out telling us how disruptive it is that people ‘aren’t giving Coyle a chance’. Well, who’d have thought it?
I’ve got this all squared off in my own head. There’s a nice four box matrix which I can’t be bothered to draw out and essentially every one of our supporters is somewhere in it: some fans supported Martinez and support Coyle, some hated Martinez and hate Coyle, some loved Martinez and hate Coyle and some hated Martinez and love Coyle. We all sit at different points on that spectrum and it defines our views, friendships and of course arguments.
To repeat a little chunk of my Mudhutter editorial, I was always highly supportive of Martinez because he had the club at heart, was always a true professional and he achieved what he set out to do three times out of four – which was to keep the club in the Premier League and the one time he didn’t well I think we can let him off for that.
Well I can but I’m not sure everyone can because all the “what would you rather do – stay up or win the FA Cup” discussions quickly went out of the window a few days later and it’s back to “that Martinez who relegated us”. Me, I’m not a**ed that he could have sorted the defence out and we’d have finished 14th, the Premier League is a cartel run by money and comparative to everyone else, we have none. Give me that undetachable one off memory of winning a major trophy every time.
Of course, now in the Championship we have comparatively plenty of money and although there’s probably more to be spent I think many people are questioning who should be the man to do it. if you can imagine me on that matrix above, I was always firmly in the lover Bobby camp and considered myself close to the line of supporting Owen Coyle as well. Privately, like many, he wasn’t my man and we’ve had a pop at him in print before so it feels a bit hypocritical to suddenly think he’s the best thing since sliced bread but then I haven’t personally gone out and openly criticised him because that is not the done thing. Because the football club is important, and we all need to pull in the same direction and staying together is the only option because a disruptive fan base helps nobody.
Yes I get all that and have been one of the biggest advocates of it for a number of years, he says typing away on a website that is an amalgamation of three that we had considerable challenges bringing together but did so because we wanted the sum to be the greater of it’s parts. I’ve heard tales about changes in training and fitness routines, dressing room disruptions and perfectly decent players being ostracised because they happen to have been brought in by the last bloke and of course putting any manager on a one year contract is hardly going to put him off signing two 32 year old strikers. I don’t like what I see on the pitch but then you could say that for long spells during the last 28 years, it’s not why I go. The style of play is not one I’d prefer but if it’s effective then go for it by all means, although it seems it may not be right now. So yes we should be doing better but this isn’t the start of a summons to rally a pitchfork waving mob, because I think a little deeper than that.
As ever, survival is what concerns me and that comes from the fans every bit as much as what happens on the pitch.
Don’t blame the man in charge, blame the man in charge. As I say, having a pop at Whelan is even more dangerous than having a pop at the manager but it was his decision to put Owen Coyle in charge, give him a one year contract and a reputed £1m bonus to get us back up. Short-termism in the extreme. But we all know that this is the way it works and don’t really have a lot of choice in the matter.
Now again, I don’t mind that but it has been a continual theme running through Wigan Athletic and indeed many other football clubs. Hire and fire at will to get yourself over that immediate hurdle and damn the longer term consequences. I can cope with all that. Your only option as a fan is to stay or walk away and I don’t think walking away is an option because no matter how bad you think things are they’re probably going to get a lot worse at some stage and it won’t be Owen Coyle’s fault.
We’re on borrowed time with our parachute payments and when they dry up we simply won’t be able to afford the players we have right now and will be left to generate revenue through gate money, which is – oh yes – the fans. Whelan – yep he might throw a few million more at “the project” but all the signs point to otherwise as he’s not getting any younger and without him….well you remember that football club we were before he turned up and started pumping the cash in? Yeah, that.
Now I don’t care whether you love Coyle or hate him, you owe this football club some goodwill and I’m talking years, decades of it – not throwing social media strops at players after a couple of home defeats and threatening to take your ball home. I was reading a Barnsley fanzine on the way to work this week and they are still talking about their FA Cup win in 1912, the likes of Bradford won it in 1910 and of course Newcastle did a bit in the 1950’s and done diddly squat since before the majority of their fans were even born, all in the case of the others I suspect. You’ve invested time and effort into this football club and you got your reward on 11th May 2013 and now it’s payback time. You’ve got amazing memories and experiences that many football fans of many other football clubs will never encounter and are less and less likely to in the future given that a handful of top heavily monetised sup
erpower clubs have nearly a complete monopoly on trophies these days.
I’m not going down the route of my Mudhutter co-editor who gleefully did a piece aimed at all those who moaned at Martinez when Coyle arrived with a you made your bed so lie in it type article but the sentiment is a similar one:
No party lasts forever.
And to paraphrase Bill Shankly “If you can’t support us when we lose, don’t bother supporting us when we win”
I can’t go around saying “we all need to have the same opinion and it’s got to be mine and all support the club the same way, my way” because that would be incredibly arrogant, even from someone who has edited nearly 100 issue of a fans’ magazine and gets asked to try and make sense out of it all. But somehow we need to conquer this need to fight with our fellow fans and continually slag off fans, players and manager.
Despite all this perceived slight, many of my cohorts from other clubs who run fanzines, fans trusts, football clubs in some cases see Wigan as a great club with great fans. However they also advise the need to get organised in the good times and then you’re better prepared for the bad.
At some point in the future, this club will probably get relegated again. We may hit financial difficulties post-Whelan. We may get booted out because 5,000 fans in a 25,000 seater stadium doesn’t pay the rent (and who was it who decided to build such a grand stadium? Oh!) This isn’t doom mongering this is all possible and even probable in the next twenty years. Look around you and it’s happening everywhere. It’s been good fortune that we even have a football club now. Without that one rich man, we’d have a very different football club and maybe not one at all.
We need unity.
I’ve long since given up trying to put thoughts into actions. It’s pointless as the moment you try, somebody blocks it or accuses you of having an agenda. We saw it with the brief attempt to set LISA up and again with Latics United. The Supporters Club, Vital Wigan, this website, all the other websites, the Mudhutter fanzine – all do their bit, a lot of good for the club and the fans and we all pull together when needed but the underlying status quo of the fans as a movement will never change unless we face a crisis.
And that’s not having a go at any of those organisations at all as we have all collectively achieved great things on the charitable front from Anthony Ramsdale to Emma Hoolin to Joseph’s Goal. I’m just saying that if the time ever comes where we have to fight for the football club itself, that will be the only time any divisions are truly broken down and by then continual moans about Owen Coyle’s long ball and Roberto Martinez’s defensive deficiencies will seem relatively trivial.
In the meantime we have to put up with day after day of fall outs on websites and battlefields on social media of fans of the same club. It’s pointless, it’s destructive but that is where we are.
I sat up past gone midnight on Thursday night reading tweet after tweet of anger and drivel and stayed well out of it. Woke up six hours to more of the same but amidst all that noise, there was one tweet which put it all in perspective.
A tweet from Joseph’s Goal saying little Joseph Kendrick had come home from hospital. I’d had a very different message on the Monday from Greg at the WEP when I’d enquired and it seemed very, very serious and worrying for a while and went very quiet. What that little boy and his family must go through.
Perspective eh? I think we all need to get some of it.
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