The Football Club That Refused to Die

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Come on put that league table away, you’ve been looking at it for long enough. It’s nearly twenty years since Wigan Athletic last got relegated and we’ve still only been relegated once since we became a Football League team. I’m sure a few others reading were there but let me tell you how it was.

A certain club official of Wigan Athletic has a photograph of me at the end of THAT game at Bournemouth, a callow teenager with floppy hair, a Naf-Naf t-shirt and about two stone lighter. We were hanging over the perimeter fencing (remember that?) clapping the players’ off at the end and shaking their hands. Elsewhere, a coffin was going around the away terrace with ‘Wigan Athletic RIP’ scrawled on it carried by four pall bearers.

They were dark times when a football club who had punched above it’s weight for most of the Eighties and come within a play off final of getting into what is now the Championship, ended up going the other way and sliding back into the old Fourth Division. Yet somehow we look upon it fondly now, with rose tinted glasses maybe.

I might have been of a much more impressionable age but it still seems a bit odd that an away support should all join in clapping their team off for the season when they’d just been relegated. All the more so in these times of rabid internet forums and angry, shouty voices on radio phone ins. Let’s consider that coffin again though: I know the lads who did it and they still go now. I don’t think they were ever the sort to get involved in the political side of football and if I was to guess I’d say it was half done out of retaining a sense of humour amongst a sea of desperation.

I probably didn’t even realise the significance of it myself as I was all enthusiasm and no judgement. I drove there and back in a day in a borrowed Toyota Corrolla with three mates and landed back in the Pagefield at ten to eleven just in time for last orders. When you’re young, you do that kind of thing without batting an eyelid.

There was a serious message of course: you can’t bring hordes of talented young players through and flog them off to bigger clubs at knock down prices and expect to go anywhere but down in the long run but that was the way it was before a certain sports company boss rolled up. 18 years later and well the pall bearers hadn’t read the script just like the rest of us!

Even before we were relegated in 1993, we had spent much of the previous decade being kicked from pillar to post by various bodies in the town as Maurice and his heavies at the council, the media and the police took turns to shaft the football club whilst encouraging fans of the all conquering rugby club to laugh in the faces of the poor little football club across town. The council who would reduce the capacity of a nearly brand new stand to just 378 because the crush barriers weren’t adequate yet saw fit to raise the capacity of Central park by ten thousand for a one off game versus Manly. The local press who gleefully reported any incidents of fighting at football on their front pages yet conveniently glossed over weekly pitched battles in the town centre when Warrington, Saints, Hull, Widnes et all came to town. The police who wouldn’t think twice about beating up innocent football fans yet turned a blind eye to that very same spectator violence mentioned above across town. The rugby club and its’ fans who laughed as we came cap in hand to ask if we could use their ground for a one off game and their chairman who made constant derogatory comments about us. How dare Wigan Athletic operate in THEIR town? If they had got their way, we’d be bankrupt or moved to Skem or Warrington, let alone thrive and prosper for many years and become the main sporting attraction in the town.

Never get confused as to who are the bullies and who are the underdog. Wigan Athletic are one of the most bullied clubs in history. Nearly bullied out of our own town and hated by many even now for having the audacity to EXIST. Bullied by fellow Wiganers, fans of other clubs who look down their noses at us, rugby fans who hate us and haven’t a clue why other than because they were told to and their kids who mock the other kids in the playground who wear the shirt of their home town club who are bottom of the league. Bullied by the national media for the crime of being a small town unfortunately full of the people I have just described with no loyalty or morals and who prefer to kick the little guy rather than pick him up and wouldn’t watch us if it was free.

Guess what? In spite of all that we’re still here. Be proud of that and be proud of your football club. Remember that you gave your support to the team that needed it and refused to be brainwashed by those in our town who chose the easy option and went for glory elsewhere rather than sticking up for the underdog in your town. You had a mind of your own and put it to good use, don’t ever apologise for making the choice that every right thinking football fan indeed every right thinking sports fan would do.

That one in ten that really understands what it truly means to support a football club. The minority that ‘get it’, what supporting a football club is all about but rarely get heard above the sea of hype and bollocks that we are all supposed to buy into in the year of 2011 and get constantly rammed down our throats. Just because we have fewer fans doesn’t mean we aren’t great fans. That football club needs you more than ever now and that siege mentality is drastically needed, so get behind them like never before.

Enough of that I’ve made my point, there was no burial in 1993, merely a little spell of ill health followed by a full and blossoming recovery. The fact is that there is a lot of football to be played yet.

I am sure that the Birmingham game will be extensively built up and it goes without saying that we really need to get three points out if it. Beyond that, we have a week off and then eight weeks on the bounce of Premier League football. They could end up being the greatest eight weeks of our lives if we can go on a run and finally put together a decent run of form. But whatever happens, there’s no way they’ll be the worst, we’d had it far rougher than this.

Sometimes you just have to enjoy the ride rather than worrying about the outcome, starting this weekend. Treat the game like a party and we might just end up having one.

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