The final part of my chats and e-mails with Mick. He speaks with great affection of the managers he worked under, giving a unique insight as to what life was like at Springfield Park in the seventies.
I thought it may be of interest if I wrote down some of my memories of the managers that I played under at Wigan. I’ll start with Les Rigby who as you know signed me for Latics and who was a man with the most incredible knowledge of non-league players that I have ever known. He was well known at every non-league club from the Midlands upward, due to the fact that he was out watching matches every night of the week.
He was also a man with a wicked and somewhat sarcastic sense of humour. One of his favourite pre match comments would go something like this, “Right son, I want you to go out there and play like you’ve never played before, I want you to play well!”. Maybe some of the fans reading this will say, “Oh yea, the old one’s are the best”, but I am convinced that it must have originated from Les.
Incidentally, that is also a quote from one of Fred Eyre’s books, (Kicked Into Touch – an awesome read – BR), who many of the older Wigan fans will no doubt remember managed the Latics reserve team for a time during the mid to late seventies and I had the great pleasure of playing for Fred when I was coming to the end of my time at Wigan. I am still convinced that had he not turned to media work and after dinner speaking he could have managed at a very high level.
After Les, came the splendid Brian Tiler who had been a very good player with Aston Villa and Rotherham (his home town club) and indeed started off his time with us at Wigan as player manager. However, this turned out to be a mistake, as his best days as a player were behind him, and to his credit he recognised this pretty quickly. From then on he concentrated on management and turned out to be incredibly popular with his players. His motivational skills in the dressing room were second to none and he sent every player out onto the park feeling ten foot tall.
In fact reading some of his programme notes from his time at Wigan he gave praise, not only to his players, but to his chairman and fellow directors, and also, just as importantly, to the fans. In fact, in the 1974/75 season under Brian we won the Northern Premier League by attaining a record number of points, 72 I think it was, and that is when it was only two points for a win. A lot of credit for this success was down to him. Unfortunately, Brian left the club to go to the USA and manage in the North American League. Brian eventually came back to England and was Managing Director of Bournemouth FC when he was tragically killed in a car crash travelling to the 1990 World Cup in Italy with his good friend Harry Redknapp, who was fortunate to survive the smash that also claimed the lives of four other people.
Finally, I played under Ian McNeil, who will always be remembered as the manager who took the club into the Football League, and I will always be grateful to Ian and the board of directors for offering me a full time contract for that first historic season, even though I was 33 years of age at the time and had a steady job with British Aerospace. When I told them that I would not be turning full time professional they kindly asked me if I would like to stay as a part-time pro, an offer that I immediately accepted, even though I realised that it would be unlikely that I would get back into the first team.
Nevertheless, I think I must have created some kind of record for Football League appearances –13 minutes I think it was , as a substitute against Newport County. Ian McNeil was a canny little Scotsman, and as thrifty as many of his countrymen. I remember him taking us on a short pre season tour to Scotland where we were to be based in Edinburgh. Anyway, on the way up the M6 on the club coach Ian was asked about the accommodation that he had booked for us, “Well”, he said, “I can tell you that it is a nice wee place and there are 15 singles for the players.
On hearing this some of the younger players were rubbing their hands in anticipation of going on the pull in Edinburgh that night and maybe bringing some bonny Scots lassie back to their own room. Well sure enough the coach pulled up outside the hotel which looked tidy enough and once inside we were pointed in the direction of our accommodation, and sure enough 15 single beds it was. All in the same bloody dormitory!
The wee Scotsman also had a warped sense of humour.
Mick ended his interview/s with a special mention for all Wigan Athletic supporters who made his Latics career so enjoybale and he wished Latics all the very best as the continued their Premier League adventure.
He is pictured with his team mates and club officials in the Wembley goalmouth in 1973.
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