My #top50wafc top ten – NRP

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 I haven’t written for a while, time and inspiration have been somewhat lacking, but with the season underway and about to really (after the next international break) get rolling I thought it was probably best to give the blogging muscles a bit of a work out (3/16 of the brain, left arm for holding coffee, right thumb for typing). With the TNS Top 50 Latics Players run down poised just inside the top 10 i don’t even need to think too hard about the first, and often the most difficult question “what am i going to write about today?”.

Just to remind you of where our top 50 comes from, earlier this year Jimmy invited all and sundry to chuck him a list of their top 10 Latics players. He left it up to individual voters to decide whether ‘top’ meant ‘best’, ‘favourite’ or something else, basically to try and ensure that the list we ended up with represented how a mix of fans value different things about their football. It’s not just about ability, just as it’s not just about your ‘cult heroes’.

Well, anyway, here’s my top ten. They’re in no particular order and the thoughts I’ve given you on each represent why I think I picked them.

Roy Tunks

The first of a couple here on the benefit of the mists of time rather than any solid memories. It felt right to have a keeper in my list and I’d discounted John Filan and Roy Carroll as too ‘current’. Phil Hughes was in the running but in the end I decided to go with the man who held the No1 jersey pretty much throughout my all-important teenage years. They’re the ones that decide where you end up as a football fan and so my judgement of what makes a good keeper is pretty much weighted by my memories of Tunsky.

And those aren’t of a keeper flying full length to make saves or diving at strikers’ feet (although there was plenty of that too to boot) but are of a giant of a keeper strolling around his area with a commanding presence keeping things calm and rarely panicking. The sort of man that you can rely on when the chips are down, or you have a shaky defence. In short, the sort of keeper we could have done with over the last few years.

Peter Atherton

Football these days is full of energetic whippersnappers, when I was younger it didn’t seem like that and I’m not quite prepared to accept that it’s me, and not the game, that has changed. That said, I do remember the watershed moment of realizing that one of the key members of the Latics team was only, just over, a year older than me.

Atherton had come up through David Crompton’s Latics youth set-up and made his debut in 1987, he impressed from the outset, but mostly out at right back, but with Andy Holden and Paul Beesley’s terms in the Latics defence drawing to their respective closes (rough translation – with them about to be sold off on the cheap) his time was sure to come. I really remember him coming to fore playing as a sweeper (no mean feat for a youngster) in one of those Friday night away games at Prenton Park.

An excellent defender and steady beyond his years, Peter was always destined for better things, so the only disappointing aspects of his £300k move to Coventry were the timing (he could have still learned more at Latics), the destination (a middling top flight team, who’d just struggled to knock us out of the cup, he could do sooo much better) and the fee (it might have been a record fee for Latics, but he was worth much, much more, in my eyes at least). So not much then, and certainly something for me to remember the next time I’m laughing at the kids for bemoaning the departure of our latest ‘star’.

Still Atherton was at Latics when we really did need to sell to survive and it was great to see a Wiganer plying his trade in the top flight alongside all the other stars that had slipped away from the club in the late eighties (around this time there were more ex-Latics player in the top flight than there were ex-players from any other club outside the first division). He went on to be Mr Reliable for Coventry and later at Sheffield Wednesday, I’m biased of course but, he really should have been the first Laticsmon to go on and be capped for England.

Colin Methven

He’s already had a mention and when I look at the reasons I’ve given for my first two players, most of them apply to Colin too. You can’t really ask more of a defender than to be cool, calm and collected and you got all of that and spades more with Methvan. In his mid-twenties when he joined Latics, he already looked about 45 and played with that level of experience as he helped Latics into the third division and the Freight Rover Trophy before disappearing to gather just as much respect in a four year spell at Blackpool.

As someone who (wrongly) fancied himself as a bit of a centre half during his school years, Methven was an ideal role model and it obviously wasn’t only me who was impressed as Colin snatched the vote as Latics’ best ever player in a poll run by the club back in 1998.

Arjan de Zeuuw

You remember him, so I’m not going to bother tell you how cool, hard and just damnright good at football our ‘ary was. I’ll leave all the “total gent” stuff to one side and instead focus on just one moment that in itself is worth a players inclusion on this sort of list.

At some point in the second half of the 2006 Carling Cup final, Cristiano Ronaldo obviously got bored with hammering Latics and decided instead to play keepy uppy with the ball in the middle of the pitch. His captain, Gary Neville’s reaction was immediate, firing the winger a volley and a lesson on respecting your opponents and winning with dignity. Our captain took stock and stored the memory for later.

Not much later mind because United were next up at the JJB and within five minutes Ronaldo took another lesson as he picked himself up from the advertising hoarding where de Zeuuw had landed him with an ‘over-exuberant’ challenge. The yellow card that followed was well earned and a nice bit of closure on the previous week’s proceedings at Cardiff.

Of course we shouldn’t be encouraging that sort of behavior, but then again if the story that Gary Neville patted ‘Ary on theback, handed him a pint and totally empathised with the Latics’ captain in the players’ lounge after the game is true, then I guess it’s ok.

Peter Houghton

I’m gutted that “the original Andy Liddell” didn’t make the top 10, firstly because he was my childhood hero, but mostly because I’d promised his daughter he would on twitter, but the weight of time (and the age profile of the current Latics fanbase) has obviously diminished Peter’s standing. A player with pace, skill, strength and a knack for goal he was ideal idol material, even without his three goal heroics that helped Latics to one of the greatest comebacks of all time (or at least before we distilled the concept into a fine art that is).

He was the main man for me back then and it would take a very special player to lodge him from being my favourite of all-time…

… and speak of the devil.

Andy Liddell

Lids first came to my attention during Barnsley’s ill-fated tilt at the Premier League. His career with the Tykes was already on the wain, but he never let himself down, putting in some (what we’d later find out were) typically tenacious performances. I’d pegged him as the sort of little guy who’d never quite make it in the top flight but was still pleasantly surprised when he turfed up at Springfield park as one of Ray Math

ias’ first signings.

Fourteen years on and with seven top flight seasons behind me, I’ve never been more convinced that I was wrong. Given time and the right club, Lids in his prime could easily have made it in the top flight and the club damn well did him a diservice by not delivering him that chance.

Of course, I don’t mean the disservice thing, but Andy would have fitted perfectly into Plan B-obby, a forward who could fit in anywhere in the front line, imaginative, skillful and quick, with an eye for goal and a knack of finding space between the lines. He was the player we wish Jordi Gomez could be and hope Shaun Maloney will become.

Was he good enough to make it at the same level? Who knows? The turning point on that front came in 2002 when ‘Ary left, Lids stayed. One returned a conquering hero, the other became a true legend, in my eyes at least.

Neill Rimmer

Obviously there’s a connection and my pen-name is based on a story that accompanied Rimmer’s arrival at Springfield Park. He’d been a promising apprentice at Everton and turned pro in the Howard Kendal era. As he got closer to the first team his ‘flowing mane’ didn’t quite fit with Kendal’s idea of how a footballer should present himself, and he was told to cut his hair. He didn’t and he ended up pushing the first team at Portman Rd rather than Goodison.

That sort of tale resonates with an impressionable, idealistic 16 year old and Rimmer imediately became an antiestablishment hero in my mind if nowhere else.

A leader on the pitch, his style of play was busy and combative, but Neill wasn’t short on ability and everyone of his ten goals for the club was a 35-yard screamer (yes, that’s one of those memories generated by the blue tinted mists of time). Rimmer was at the club for 8 seasons, wearing the captain’s armband for many of them, but came up short in terms of appearances. There was a conract dispute thrown in there, but the reason he onl managed 220 games was mainly due to injury, leaving a perenial doubt over what he, and the club, might have achieved if he’d stayed fit.

Neill has pone of those infectious, positive personalities and it’s great to see him still involved in the club, if only because there’s a chance of getting some payback on the six cans of Schlitz I gave him in on an end of season do in the Playhouse.

Roberto Martinez

Nobody seems willing to admit it these days, but Bobby wasn’t universally loved as a player, for pretty much the main reason he will never be universally loved as a manager. As much as Wigan must have been a massive cultureshock to the boy from Balaguer, he was a shock to the system of a crowd brought up on non-league and lower division football. Just watching him in the warm-up you could tell that he wasn’t our usual sort of player and from the moment that I saw him flick a stationary ball up by kicking it on to his standing foot I was hooked.

You only need to see Bobby now to know what sort of player he was, just as he tries to get his team to, he always wanted to get the ball down and play it, he was clever and thoughtful and if he’d been a yard quicker then I doubt he’d have been at the club for the six years he was. And six years really weren’t enough. After a couple of rough seasons, Martinez featured heavily in Bruce Rioch’s side in 2000-01and was key to Steve Bruce’s resurection of the side’s fortunes at the end of that season. According to Bobby, Rioch had wanted to offer him a new contract, but he fell foul of Bruce’s end of season shenanigans and got stranded with no contract and no manager to sign one with and so he went without the chance for a proper goodbye

David Lowe

Looking back at my ten players, there isn’t one of them that fits the natural image of a centre forward, but the inclusion of David Lowe sees me include the top three all-time league goal-scorers for Latics. I’m not sure what that means, have Latics always been ahead of their time on the “who needs strikers” front? Has it always been the case that your number 9 will be snatched away as soon as he shows half a touch? Or, were these three just streets ahead of others that have worn the blue and white.

Lowe took the longest of the three to get his goals (to dispel the “don’t need strikers” theory, Nathan Ellington took less than half of Lowe’s 297 games to get on his coat tails) having spent two of, arguably, the club’s most successful periods plying his trade at Latics.

Lowe joined the club in that wave of young Liverpudlians picked up by Harry McNally and had the air and floppy wedge(ish) hair do of the scouse youths that was being much emulated on the streets of Wigan at that time. So he looked the part and had the skills to match, a winger/inside forward, another that would have fitted in perfectly with plan B-obby, Lowe was destined for a higher standard of football which came in the shape of Ipswich Town and England U21s.

A decent career in the top two divisions with both Ipswich and Leicester followed with Lowe returning to Latics in March 96 for £45k more than we’d sold him for. Lowe proved a key part of the side that won the third division the following season, providing the ammunition for Jones & Lancashire, whilst firing quite a few bullets himself. Lowe wrapped up his time In a Latics shirt following the ‘nearly season’ under Ray Matthias, turning down a coaching role (that he’d later take up anyway) to squeeze in another year playing with Wrexham and Rushden.

John Butler

The quiet men of the game rarely come to legend status, but when you’ve got one short of three hundred league appearances for a team that you’ve played in every position for and never, ever let them down then you deserve some sort of recognition. Another young scouser snaffled from non-league football because of the keen eye of Harry McNally, Butler joined Latics from Prescott Eagles during the 1981-82 season, enjoying Latic’s first promotion within the football league in his first season as a professional. In another common theme, Butler was ‘stolen’ away from Latics for a paultry £100k, ensuring that Mick Mill’s and Stoke’s names were muck around Springfield Park for the rest of the ’88-89 season.

Another measure of club legend status is often how many clubs a player turns out for. The reality of Latics’ finances might have prevented John from being a one club man, but after six and half equally reliable years playing in Staffordshire Butler turned up back at Springfield Park to book end his professional career with another spell in the blue and white and our second League promotion. And then off he went, for a couple of years in non-league football and a regular spot playing five a-side at Robin Park on a Tuesday night.

So that’s my ten. Three haven’t turned up yet, and surely they have to, but positions of 36, 19, 22, 20, 28, 15, 30 For the rest suggest that I’m not on my own in my thinking. Looking back, there are son many that I could have easily thrown into the mix and didn’t. I could easily have done a top 50 all by myself, and would have loved to give bandwidth up to talk about some of the more ‘cult players’ to have turned up in blue and white over the years. Because of that I was sorely tempted to throw a Don Page or Pat Gavin into the mix. But I think the list I’ve given is about right. Add another midfielder and you’ve got an 11 that, in their prime, I reckon could have given today’s team a run for their money.

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