As this is my seasonal debut on the ol’ 12th Man, I have a bit to say. There are three elements on my mind. Firstly, let’s talk about the squad we are building. I can’t help but find myself raising an eyebrow or two at our dealings. Let’s take James McClean for instance. On his day, he is a brilliant player and an absolute trojan in terms of workrate. I have no issue with his political views, as he generally leaves it off the field. I just can’t help thinking that we should be signing 22 year olds not 32 year olds. Indeed, there isn’t a lot of resale value in many of the signings we’ve made. They are nearly all closer to 30 years old than 20.
NB This was written on Thursday, proving once and for all that I know nothing about football
This seems a bit strange based compared to the usual Wigan Athletic approach but that is where my gentle criticism ends, as I generally trust the management to get on with the job of building a squad to be competitive and ultimately, take us out of this division (the right way!) It may be that there was a strategy put in place this summer to recruit older, proven heads to give us the experience required to launch a promotion campaign. With the added benefit of them passing on their knowledge to the younger players, who have served us so well during the last eighteen months. It definitely feels like we are attempting to get out of League One sooner rather than later, and the squad that Leam is pulling together, certainly seems capable of that.
Secondly, onto more aesthetic matters and the reinvigoration of the place where we kick a ball about. I’ve had my say on social media about this and received both praise and criticism from the usual, expected sources. Contrary to popular belief, I have no idea what goes behind the scenes but I can understand the logic behind the re-branding that is going on based on the people involved. It seems Talal has ruffled a few feathers by talking about wanting unity in the town and then replacing red seats with blue in the same sentence.
Firstly, the stadium is desperately in need of a refresh. Secondly, there has been a continual move by the rugby club to distance themselves from the DW Stadium, ever since Wigan Council gave them a newly refurbished Robin Park next door. (Seats now all painted red and entire building rebranded) Thirdly, I think the new owners want to try and create a more positive environment and atmosphere for existing and new potential football fans in the town and surrounding areas. Matchday experience is what the kids call it, I believe. This is for the kids as well in my opinion.
Now, whereas our brilliant new chairman has done an exceptional job integrating himself into the Wigan community during his short time here, we must not forget that we also have the vastly experienced Mal Brannigan in charge and the enigma that is Tom Markham, who literally has a PhD in football on the board. These are people who have been there and done it, so to suggest that any behaviour is of a rash nature simply isn’t the case.
There are tens of thousands of kids in and around the Wigan area who wear the shirts of Premier League teams, and increasingly top European sides. They align themselves to football teams they will rarely, if ever be able to physically watch in the flesh. Of course, League One football is a tough sell versus top flight football but Wigan Athletic can offer them something that these club can’t: accessibility and affordability. The kid in the class at school who goes watching Wigan Athletic home and away gets an experience that those in his class who follow other teams doesn’t, and I know that the new board are really keen on creating that buzz and inclusivity.
It won’t be easy but we are starting to see the seeds being planted here of something big. Whisper it quietly here, but I hear a similar thing is happening up the road in Bolton. Locals who perhaps supported Man Utd or City are reconnecting with their resurgent local club. Urgh, did I really use the words Bolton and resurgent in the same sentence?
I believe that after the Super League debacle and the continued hyper-inflation in the Premier League that football is starting to come full circle again. People are starting to look within their community again, and they are finally opening their eyes to the fact that these false gods that they worship in far off cities, simply do not care about them and give very little value back. Why not be part of something that is closer to home?
We are in prime position to capitalise on this. It won’t happen overnight but it starts by creating the right environment. I genuinely don’t think turning all the seats blue will create harmony in the town. But, on the flip side, very few rugby fans actively support Wigan Athletic anyway. You can’t lose support you never had, so the club are quite rightly targeting their efforts elsewhere, and like an American soul singer I have just anonymised for copyright reasons, they believe that children are our future. The artwork currently appearing around the ground is an exceptional effort into turning what has been a very bland and decaying stadium (for both clubs) into something that should be the pride and joy of our town. I look forward to the next phase of the promotional campaign.
Finally, just a word on the Mudhutter fanzine. I was very nervous about resuming this after eighteen months out but my arm was twisted by my fellow editor, Migs. The response we had was phenomenal with close to 200 copies being posted out and far more being sold at the game on Saturday and in the shops and pubs of Wigan. Furthermore, the number of people coming up to us and thanking us for what we do, was both humbling and slightly bewildering. We just do what we have always done, you see. It may have been a general feeling of missing a small part of fan culture the past 18 months. It may be the fact that we can cast a critical, independent eye on the club when needed. It may be that myself and Migs were, one of the few voices who constantly highlighted how dodgy IEC and Choi were from the start. Not that we have the reach or consensus across the fanbase to stop them, and even if we did, well could we or anyone stop them?
I’d like to think as a fanbase we have all learnt a lot from the past year or so, and can work together to prevent it happening again but a quick glance at the #wafc timeline on Twitter suggests it’s business as usual, with stratospheric levels of bickering!! For me, I am trying (not always succeeding) to take a backwards step now as I’ve served my time. I just want to focus on watching my team as often as I can and continuing to produce the fanzine. There’s a million and one things I’d like to get my teeth into, things I’d like to see happen at this great club of ours, but admin took a toll on lots of us and, as I have said, the new people seem to know what they are doing. Time to sit back and enjoy the ride!
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