Ah, yes that time honoured retort. Usually opined by those simply minded buffoons who seem to be misguided into thinking “trophies” equal “history”.
Funnily enough we have a lot of those in our town seeing as we have one sporting team who hoovers up trophies for fun in their narrow gene pool given the competition incorporates a couple of teams the next postcode along plus a handful in Yorkshire.
But back within the confines of a competitive sport, I’ve never seen the sense of latching on to a football club solely because of its history. Don’t get me wrong, over the years I’ve read time and time again about the history of hundreds of clubs, each of them as unique and inspiring as the rest. Yet it’s the hard luck stories and those moments of a lifetime that get me all of a quiver, not the giants of the game who steam roller all in their path.
For every Man United, Glasgow Celtic or Newcastle United there’s an Accrington Stanley, Third Lanark or Bishop Auckland. When it comes to history all clubs have one, each as colourful as the last. if anyone out there reads the poncy football quarterly The Blizzard then you, like me, will be overwhelmed with tales of glory and woe from war torn Serbia to Afghanistan to the Italian lower leagues and Scandinavian works’ teams. From the counter culture evolution of St Pauli in East Germany to the Grande Torino team killed in an air crash, as eloquently written about by Ian Such in the Mudhutter, football is beautiful and history is the clothing which makes it appear so.
So what of our own history? We know what we have done and we know where we are. It’s highly probable that last twenty years will have been the zenith of Wigan Athletic’s history, a never to be repeated period of glory which we will look upon misty eyed in years to come. We are destined to slowly return to our rightful place amongst the minnows after a hiatus spent slaying giants.
That’s the romantic bit over. The reality is that David Whelan pumped an awful lot of money in to make that happen and that was the catalyst in to making that happen. The future will not involve a cash injection of anything like the same amount, if indeed at all and I think that most right thinking supporters understand that. Note the use of the words right thinking there.
You see, it seems some of our supporters don’t understand this. It stands to reason that as we picked up a hell of a lot of fans during our Premier League era that those type of fans will (in some but not all cases) have developed a Premier League mentality about them. And I’m afraid it’s simply not on. You see, it all comes around again to money at this level and when you set aside the rapidly diminishing TV money and parachute payments, well, we have none. Our commercial revenue is tiny because our season tickets are priced low and Wiganers simply don’t spend money because we don’t have much basically.
If you are one of these lunatics who believes that not only there is a bottomless pit of money but you are such a passionate fan that you think that you deserve to support Wigan Athletic in the Premier League and you only want the best for them and get upset when the club falls short, then more power to you, there’s nothing wrong with dreams. But sadly, a modicum of reality also needs to be injected into proceedings: there aren’t enough of us. Even at our peak there were maybe 16 or 17,000 fans and now we’ve started down the slippery slope to oblivion, there’s barely half that again. It’s all very well comparing us to Southampton, Norwich, West Brom or Stoke, even Swansea. But they all have something we don’t: a large fanbase to fall back on. They are big cities, or clubs with a long track record of being a top flight club stretching back decades. Plus their fans spend more: on season tickets, on merchandise, on executive boxes. This is not “little Wigan” defeatist behaviour. This is a dose of reality, you can only beat the market for so long. We may have temporarily been as “big” as some of the aforementioned clubs but we were artificially inflated by success and money and nowhere will it be more evident than when there’s 3,000 on at home to Bury in the League Cup in August.
Yet still the hand wringing goes on from sections of our support who think we should go out and break the bank to sign a Chesterfield winger or bring back Rodallega or Palacios (yes seriously) to help us get back to our rightful place. For every player who gets released or is linked on those awful sh*tty transfer gossip pages, there leads a trail to a cry ar*ing Wigan Athletic fan “WHY AREN’T WE SIGNING THEM”. Er, possibly because there are some other football clubs knocking about who are also trying to buy footballers at this time of year. There might only be Wigan Athletic in your world but sadly we are a mere bit part again in the circus that is modern football.
Can we please stop the hysterics and totally unrealistic expectations and over-reactions when we don’t get our own way? Never mind ISIS, the biggest danger we have amongst our supporters (with apologies to Les Bagg) is ISMES. Yes that’s right the Internet Screaming Mary EllenS of Wigan Athletic skriking their way through social media. How on earth did it ever come to this with little old Wigan Athletic?
We’re just not that club. We’re not the club they want, the one they signed up to. We were only ever playing at it. Of course we want to get back up there but buying our way out of the division isn’t going to happen. Let’s face it, even though we had the income and transfer budget to outspend most teams in the Championship last year it managed to backfire badly. Essentially, money gets you so far and then becomes a millstone around your neck, like a lottery winner who suddenly inherits a lot of best friends, money turned us into a club where players come to take the p*ss and the traits which made us so great: loyalty and hard graft simply cannot be bought.
What I am saying is that the next chapter in our history is undoubtedly going to be one to consolidate, one to pause for reflection on what we have achieved. Admire and absorb the club’s history.
Now this again is a key factor sadly overlooked by the youth of today and indeed many older fans (older as in age not longevity of support I should add, despite their protestations otherwise). As a young lad when I first got into Latics in the early League years, I was handed a copy of The League at Last and I cherished it, read it cover to cover and put it back in the sellophane package it came in.
I listened to my elders tell me about non league trips to exotic places like South Liverpool, Frickley and er…Fleetwood. I read up about the Newcastle cup ties and Sheffield Wednesday, the legendary Harry Lyon or Jacky Lyon who went before him or Billy Lomax or Johnny King. And that Maurice Whittle free kick and Ian Gillibrand leading the team out at Edgar Street for our first ever league game. So many names who fought for this fine football club for generations when league football was just a pipe dream.
Here’s the rub again you see. We have some fans who read that last bit and think “there’s your proof!” The proof that nostalgia and under-ambition is nothing and only the future matters. We didn’t get in the league by accepting our lot and we didn’t win the FA Cup by accepting our lot either. But the reality now is that expectations have to be moderated and we’d do well to spend a bit of time admiring our recent past. Yet still a shockingly large amount of our fanbase only seems to care about the future progression of Wigan Athletic and has no desire to imbibe itself on our rich history at all levels of the game.
Throughout the summer, the club itself hit upon a great idea to maintain interest during a traditionally quiet period by running a season by season campaign on the website going through the eighties and nineties. It was well received by a few, brought back some great memories of great players and some digitally re-mastered YouTube footage. Going back some time, a particular highlight of my sporting calendar in the 1980’s was receiving the end of season video (VHS) from the club itself or via Micron. Some absolutely shocking/comical away footage but simply three hours of Wigan Athletic heaven in the days when there was no internet and even no TV footage bar a few grainy bits at the end of Kick Off when Elton Welsby had finished masturbating over Crewe and Tranmere.
And look at us now! The club actually takes the time and effort to put all this online! For free! For all those beloved fans out there! And what do they get in return? Loads of snide cocks making sarcastic comments and getting angry “WHY ARE THEY DOING THIS? TO REMIND US THAT WE ARE S**T AGAIN!” The poor young lads and lasses who are probably paid a pittance that run the club’s Facebook and Twitter accounts end up getting dog’s abuse getting told continually to “f*** off” from the young and not-so-young, infuriated at this apparently light hearted nod to our current lack of status. Come on, is there any chance at all you can grow the f*** up? Or alternatively take your own advice and f*** off?
Of course, I’m sure if they can be arsed reading this, I will be next in line to be told in no uncertain terms to f*** off by the all conquering ISMES army and their barbaric swarm of f***wits but guess what I’m not going to. No, just for a change and in stark contrast to the way it has often been with the Mudhutter over the years, I’m going to side with the club here. OUR club. Because that’s what we need to do at this point in its existence. Regroup as a unit.
As the club inevitably shrinks and declines, the club becomes a part of us again. As the glory hunters and wasters find somewhere else to feed their greed, as a football club we can become a genuine community club again where the fans are truly part of the club. Those who don’t have the stomach for it, be they backroom staff, on or off the pitch, players or fans will find no place for them at Wigan Athletic any more. So now is the time to get used to graft again and being supportive of one other instead of shouting your mouth off and coming out with ridiculous claptrap on the internet about a football club you claim to love.
And you know what? Celebrating our history isn’t about living in the past as some would have it. It’s about galvanising the future. A club whose future looks very uncertain as it stands. All the great clubs celebrate their past, it is a badge of honour, whether it is littered with trophies or a long struggle against adversity. It would be nice if we could do the same. And maybe some of the screaming internet bitches could perhaps spend a bit a time listening, and reading up about our history instead of spouting off to the club about it or moaning because we’ve not spunked a million quid on a Chesterfield player.
The Fifth Horseman
The above article was taken from the Mudhutter Summer Special, which is available to download for free here
To subscribe and receive every copy of the Mudhutter for the 2015/16 season for just £7 download and £10 printed, click here
You can find the latest episode of the Pie at Night Podcast on ITunes, on Stitcher or by searching for us in your favourite podcast App. You could also pop along to our AudiBoom site where you can find all our episodes. Or you could just use the player below. Give it a go, we might go on a bit, but you might enjoy it.