Oliver Langford? We’d have been better off with Bonnie Langford reffing us. So I uttered after the game, probably for the first time, since the last time we played them. In a small sense, it was reassuring to see the fans take out their displeasure on the man with the whistle rather than the players or manager for a change. Football, just the way it should be, with apologies to refs everywhere. I wouldn’t do that job for a golden pie.
To be fair, dodgy ref decisions serve a great purpose in whipping up the crowd and indeed the players on what was a cold and dismal night and turned Tuesday’s game into a thoroughly entertaining, feisty encounter. If we were safely ensconced in mid-table, everyone would have gone home happy. But we’re not. We are staring down the barrel of yet another relegation unfortunately, and whereas I always been of the belief, particularly before last Saturday, that we would go on a good run to pull ourselves up the table at some point, it’s now looking decidedly ropey. Once you get further than three points away from safety, then you need more than one good result to get out of it, you need at least two, and even that depends on the teams above losing as well.
Am I disappointed? Of course I am, I do think we put too much emphasis on words though. Words said before the start of the season about kicking on, words from our owners about kicking and aiming for the Premier League and more or less every reported word that comes out of Paul Cook’s mouth. What is the difference between us and the other teams that came up last year from League One such as, Luton, Barnsley and Charlton? We survived last year for one, but that was at least partly due to the talents of James and Powell, who both went for free. Sure we spent between £8m and £12m over the summer, depending on how much the individual spouting it is exaggerating but I’m pretty sure we lost £10m of talent when the two aforementioned names walked out the door to offset that.
I think it is time that we (the club as well) admitted that staying in the Championship is going to be a struggle, that we are in a relegation fight and that perhaps we always were going to be, and always will for as long as we get the crowds that we do. Of course, money is put in but only put in to sustain the club not bankroll a charge to the top of the league. There are exceptions but sadly there is now a significant gulf between League One and the Championship and there is another gulf between the bottom quarter of the Championship and the top quarter. Sure “anyone can beat anyone on the day” but generally the teams at the top remain at the top because they have more good days than bad, because they have better players, more money, bigger wage bills, a period of stability from which to build or expensive, long term scouting models.
This quite rightfully implies that there is more than one way to skin a cat of course, but we never seem to have the time as a football club to stop and take stock and put planning in place. Mainly because nobody, from fans to the boardroom, has ever had the patience to implement it. Away from the first team it’s different of course. Witness the youth team under Gregor Rioch: he didn’t just magic up an exceptional bunch of under 18’s from thin air, it took years of hard work, coaching and nurturing those young lads, both as individuals and as a unit, not only because he is very capable but because he was allowed to do so without the pressure that a first team manager would face.
So if we can all accept that patience is a commodity scarcely found in first team football, then we need to get on with the job in hand, which is staying up. It would be lovely to think that Tuesday would spark a longer resurgence in the need to right the wrongs on the pitch throughout the club and in the stands. And it would be lovely if those fans continually ranting about the manager could perhaps adapt a siege mentality in favour of the club instead of against it. Because, contrary to what many people say, being 22nd in the Championship isn’t the worst position we’ve ever been in. It is arguably the top end of what we should be able to achieve, if we hadn’t been so spoilt over previous years.
I get that we have always been known for punching above our weight but from what I saw on Tuesday night and in many other games, we are putting up a fight and you can see what it meant to the players (and manager) when they do win a game. They haven’t given up and nor should you. I don’t buy this “I’m not going till Cook’s gone” stuff, often spouted by people ironically purporting to be lifelong fans. I was here before Cook was and will still be here after. I don’t want praise for it, and I fully expect I’ll get some stick for saying it from faceless internet individuals. I didn’t particularly like watching the brand of football Joyce and Mackay put us through either but I didn’t sit at home sulking via the red button.
I am hopefully preaching to the converted here when I say that we have been exceptionally lucky as Latics fans, and even our lows are pretty high compared to many other North West clubs. But moaning is an art form to Wiganers and it will never stop. Of course, it’s louder than normal because we are in the bottom three but let’s face it, the moaning was constant when Cook, and Caldwell before him, won the League One title. We only did it because they got lucky, the other teams were poor and we had more money than the rest of them. Yet now we have less money than almost every other team, we are not allowed to use that as an excuse for our poor showing at Championship level?
Well, no we shouldn’t to be honest. Excuses are exactly that. What we can do though is be completely supportive of the club for the rest of the season and they might just surprise us. To be fair, the fans at the games are generally very supportive given our predicament and long may it continue. To return to my opening gambit, even social media was a reasonable place after Tuesday’s game, with all brickbats aimed at old Bonnie Langford rather than Coronavirus levels of toxicity aimed at the manager we have seen. I know it won’t last but trust me when I say, you’re wasting your efforts and they’d be better utilised by supporting the team. Picking fights with each other fans, snide comments or hurling abuse into the echo chamber of cyberspace solves nothing. Let’s leave the post mortem till the end of the season. It’s only a game, and even when it’s terrible, I still love it.