I first visited Reading on a Tuesday night when they played at Elm Park. A £20 train fare, the only complication being that the return trip involved getting the overnight sleeper to Carlisle. Then first train of the day to Wigan, arriving at 07:43 after which I quickly went home, got changed and went to college. We lost 3-1.
It’s hardly been plain sailing between the two of us ever since. Anyone there for the second leg of the 2001 play offs will confirm it was one of the worst nights ever watching Latics. Yet they were also the team we beat on the glorious day we made it to the promised land in 2005.
Like ourselves, Reading got the new ground, the large scale investment, the flirtation and eventual romance with the Premier League. We are alike in many ways, yet now the two clubs seem so different.
To be fair, Reading have never achieved the highs we have. You won’t find too many smaller clubs that have. Yet their “lows” in the modern era have been much more moderate since they got relegated with us in 2013. Floating around the Championship before installing Jaap Stam this season who has got them up there challenging for promotion playing decent stuff.
I’m sure they’ve had their managerial ups and downs but they look set up to succeed at the very least at Championship level for a number of years, without ever being an established Premier League club. Sadly, you can’t really look forward and say the same of Wigan Athletic.
There has been quite rightly been anger from the fans over the millions of pounds of parachute payments frittered away. Massive mistakes have been made, and that’s coming from me who tends to also see parachute payments as a millstone around our neck, a distress payment with which to offload big earners rather than a financial advantage.
You can’t build your future on temporary debt relief though and Reading are also in their final years of parachute payments. They are however, a smart club with 17,500 fans, a highly regarded manager, a great reputation as a family club and are situated in a growing, affluent Home Counties large town.
Can you say the same of us? Skint and managerless and readying ourselves for another summer of turmoil and player upheaval? Disappointing attendances in spite of cheap as chips season ticket prices which clubs like Bradford and Huddersfield sold double of at a similar price. Hemmed in by the Manchester and Liverpool clubs affecting our catchment area. And for every new fan we attract, someone older walks away because we’re losing every week.
OK so this is perhaps not the speech we need before a big game. Some of the above has been of our own making, other issues are a potent reminder of everything we have achieved against the odds.
Relegation isn’t a pleasant experience but it’s only happened so often recently because we had the audacity to climb four divisions in the first place. What goes up must come down as the old saying goes.
We’re still not out of it. Yet, if and when the worst happens, it’s perhaps worth remembering the good times rather than getting angry over the mess we’re currently in. Because we’ve had good times and then some.
First published in the Wigan Evening Post’s 12th Man Column on Friday 28th April 2017
You can listen to more of Jimmy’s thoughts on the Reading game, rubbish goal keepers and other nonsense on The Pie At Night podcast. Episode 23 – Keep(er) Net is available now, find it on iTunes, your favourite podcast app or use the player below. Listen responsibly