Jimmy did his bit on these Chinese rumours yesterday. As usual, because he’s a polite and diplomatic sort, he was measured and took a balanced of things. Which is a great way to go about things, because it allows people to make their minds up whilst you get on with making your own point. But, and I speak from experience rather than any suggestion that Jimmy missed anything out. Sometimes, whilst you’re busy being reasonable, some things get left unsaid.
Like, how these things hardly ever end up well. And I’m not talking about Blackburn or Portsmouth type disasters. Look at Sunderland or Villa and their American billionaires. Money guarantees you nothing in football these days and when your sugar daddy gets bored and the fans revolt over false promises; when the dream goes sour and your owner wants to cut his losses amongst a myriad of holding companies and offshore accounts then you really find out how strong your football club is.
Because you don’t measure the strength of a football club in league positions, you don’t measure it in attendances, you don’t measure it in silverware and you, definitely, don’t measure it in shirt sales in the elusive Asian market. You measure the strength of a football club in the togetherness of the fans when it’s needed, after all the fans are the club, the players, the managers, the admin staff, the owners come and go; we pass the club down the generations.
Owners can really mess a club up, but only if you let them, only if we let them. Whether it’s standing up and being counted when the sh*t hits the fan, standing up to things that are going on and decisions that are being made or just standing up and make sure our voice is heard so people know we won’t let people take us for granted then there’s probably going to be some standing up needed in the months and years after the Whelan family vacate the stewardship of the club. I hope your knees are up to it.
From the day Grandad took over I said that he was chasing honours rather than glory or profit. Whether it was a knighthood or a statue in Wigan Park, Whelan’s success would always be measured in how he was thought of after his tenure had ended. He might have done his (unintentional) best to blow it all to smithereens, chances of a gong and a plinth in the town centre might be beyond him now but that lump of brass outside the DW will serve as a (semi)permanent reminder of how good we had it when our dreams and our owners were, at least, mutually compatible.
With Sharpe and Jackson running things, we know we have fans in places that matter, that decisions will be made with the best interests of the club’s future at heart. Once due diligence happens, once new owners have proved themselves fit and proper, once the contracts have been signed and once money has changed hands; then what are the chances of that happening for us again?
Well, next to none, I’d say. Just ask yourself why a Chinese Consortium would be interested in little Wigan?
Trust me, it’s not because they want to run Wigan Athletic. Duncan Sharpe did and it didn’t take long for Whelan to catch the bug once his son-in-law convinced him to get involved. He might have tried to sell us a Premier League dream, he might have even delivered one, but you know what? I reckon he would have been just as happy kicking around the Championship for a while as long as people loved him for it.
A list of why a group of mystery foreign investors might want to buy a little football club, in a small town, in the north of England with all those empty seats might include vanity, exposure and profit, all of which are in short supply around our special little club. “Not to worry” the sales pitch might go. “You’ll own all-but all of the club, you’ll have free reign, you’ll be getting a blank canvas to throw money at. They’ve no fans, they can’t organise, you’ll have no opposition, their knees aren’t up to standing up to you,”.
So there’s probably a few of you right now thinking “what’s wrong with a bit of investment? What’s wrong with putting a bit of dosh into another tilt at the Premier League? We did it before and we’re here to tell the tale aren’t we?”. Yes we did, yes we are, but if we’ve not learned anything about our capacity to maintain ourselves at that level then at some point we’re doomed to become a Blackburn, a Portsmouth or them men over the hill.
The club’s biggest achievement over the last ten years is how they’ve managed the retreat away from the precipice of becoming like almost every other Premier League club, shackled with spiralling debts and a mortal fear of relegation. It’s taken hard work, a bit of pain and three relegations but we now look, and feel, like a football club that’s comfortable in it’s own skin, one that knows its natural position is at the cusp of the second and third divisions and is ready to enjoy it. The Premier League is back to being the pipe dream it should be, and good riddance to it.
I know there’s a few of you still shaking your heads at that last statement but my question to you is one I asked at many times over the last few years in the top flight “but at what cost?”. The best thing about supporting a football club is that we, the fans, mostly get to decide what real success is for our club, we don’t have to aim for Sky’s glass ceiling. Being stable in the championship, the odd cup run or two, sticking it to a few of our better off every once in a while are all honourable aims and enough of a stretch based on the size and turnover of our club to keep any prospective owner busy.
Whatever happens, whatever fanfares accompany the announcement of any new owners, there’s bound to be a honeymoon period. We’re doing well in the league and look like we can make the first step upwards without the need to dip into any hedge funds. The new guys can afford to take a back seat, leave Sharpe, Jackson and Cook to run things and see how it pans out, there might even be talk about listening to the fans and recognising that they’ve bought into a special little club.
I would imagine things will feel pretty good. Honeymoons usually do, then you go back home, to your job and your day to day grind and everything becomes that bit more hard work. Yes, that’s a massive cliché, but it’s supposed to be a story with a moral, mainly that the time to work on a relationship is when things are good, not when they’re on the turn or, god forbid, when they’ve gone to pot already.
A few people have talked to me about Latics United over the last couple of days and asked whether “you’re going to do or say something about the situation” my answer has always been “probably not” because asking whether someone else is going to do something about it misses the point, that whole thing always never about the few people who stuck their necks out, it was about trying to get people to unite behind those things we have in common and to create the ability to stand up and speak with a collective voice, not a thousand tweets, message board posts and, yes, blogs.
The question shouldn’t be “are you going to do something about it” it should be “are we going to do something about it?” and until it is, we’d be fighting a losing battle to even think about it.
Jimmy mentioned the scars we carry from daring to speak like this before. Disappointingly, there’s been too much suspicion, too much sniggering in corners, too many knives in backs for anyone to stick their head above the parapet and even suggest that now is the time we need to be speaking with one voice. But, whether your phrase of choice is striking whilst the iron is hot; making hay whilst the sun shines or something else, now is exactly the time we, as fans, should be able to do just that, to make sure that people know where we stand; to seek assurances about the club’s future, about the roles that people like Sharpe and Jackson have in the future, about how our views will be taken on board; to make sure that any new owners know that they are on notice, that we won’t let them mess our club up – if they try.
Basically we should be able to show them, in a nice, polite, measured and reasonable way, that we have got the knees to stand up to them, if, or when, it comes to it.
Episode 33 of the Pie at Night Podcast can be found itall the usual places, our Soundcloud page, on iTunes or by searching on your preferred podcast app. You can also get it on our brand spanking new AudioBoom page, or if you like it here, by clicking play on the player below…
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