I’ve been holding my tongue recently, specifically upon seeing comments online in recent games stating that Wigan Athletic have been lucky. Lucky? Us, LUCKY? You are joking aren’t you!! May I remind you that we were 13th in the Championship, when our owner tried to liquidate us. We were then relegated on the last day of the season due to a 12 point deduction. £30m of talent sold at a derisory fraction of the price. Then they came for our academy stars, and Premier League clubs turning over hundreds of millions of pounds, picked them off for peanuts and now ignorantly proclaim that said players are now “one of their own”.
All whilst the club, who fortuitously got out of jail at our expense, celebrated their “Great Escape” in a gloating manner, and are now sitting in the play offs of a division they shouldn’t even be in, while we languish near the bottom of League One through something that was never our fault. And you call us lucky? Tell that to the 75 decent staff who lost their jobs! And everyone else across a whole community, who suffered during nine months of administration, as a perfectly decent football club got ripped apart.
Us? Wigan Athletic? Lucky? Someone associated with the club must have run over a lorry full of black cats in June 2020 given the events that followed and the damage subsequently done. Even now, that nature is healing and thanks to a fantastic job by the remaining backroom team, we have miraculously turned our season around, we still don’t seem to be getting the rub of the green. We have spent all season marooned in the bottom four, with the only consolation being that the other teams around us appear to be equally as hapless, thus meaning we don’t end up hopelessly adrift from safety.
Then, oh look! What happens when we start winning a few games? What happens is that nearly all our relegation rivals suddenly metamorphosise into variants of the Brazil 1970 World Cup winning team, walloping teams who are chasing promotion, and thus making our own attempts to pull clear of the mire, a million times harder. Whereas a month ago, 45 points would have had anyone home and dry, it now looks like 50 points may not even be enough, as those around us suddenly can’t stop winning football matches. A complete reversal of the previous forty games. It’s never easy, is it?
So, we still have work to do and it still might go to the final day. It would be a miracle if this team does stay up, given everything it has faced. Yet it would also be a travesty if we went down, given the superb way that everyone has responded. It is in our hands, but it is far from straightforward. I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting that I spent most of the second half against Shrewsbury watching the game, whilst peering nervously through my fingers. Real heart attack stuff, compounded by the score flashes from elsewhere. As ever, it is the hope that kills you. We dealt with the despair and accepted it months ago, but now we’ve got renewed hope, it is all the more terrifying.
Finally, I must offer my congratulations and thanks to Leam Richardson. Throughout the past year, he has conducted himself with amazing class and dignity, in what must have been one of the most diabolical of situations for anyone in football to face. The fortitude and strength of character that he has shown, has quite rightly meant that Phoenix 2021 have made their first big decision to give him the manager’s role on a permanent basis. I have no idea what impact this will have on the squad, but I dearly wish that it will cause them to add even more grit and determination to push through and win the final few games as a tribute to “their” manager. It is the least he deserves and indeed they all deserve.
Longer-term, Leam will no doubt face pressure of a different kind, no matter which division we are in. However, the pressure with which he has undoubtedly faced whilst running the club over the past year would be a stern test of anyone’s character, and the fact he has come through it, and he still has a smile on his face, is to his eternal credit. I wish him all the very best, and I can think of no better person to lead and deliver the five year plan that has been laid out. Will he have the support and patience of our entire fanbase? I think we are best to live in hope there. But you certainly get my vote, Leam and no doubt thousands of others.
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