In May 2011, a young man whose name I understand to be Liam sat for hours in his house hand painting a flag before a crucial relegation crunch game. The flag had one word on it and you don’t need me to tell you what it was.
I frequently have a pint before or after a home game in the South Stand Bar. It’s not because it’s brilliant, cheap ale or owt, for me it’s the sort of place where you sneak an extra one in and when you reach a certain age, life is all about getting a clandestine pint in. It’s celebrated like a 90th minute Ben Watson glancing header. I digress.
There’s pictures all over the wall in there, some of that rugby lot but plenty of Wigan Athletic too. There’s the picture of the Duke & JR celebrating promotion to the Premier League, there’s the picture of David Unsworth slotting home a penalty at Bramall Lane to keep us up and send Sheffield United to a slump from which they’ve never recovered and there’s a beautiful picture of Wigan Athletic passing a crude “BELIEVE” flag down the stand at Stoke when quite frankly, we were f*cked and had little else but rosary beads to cling to. Yet we came out of the other side and this piece of pretence served us well.
You see believing was about dreaming that the impossible was achievable or at least an underdog could stand a chance with the right level of support and thinking. Who would have believed that Wigan Athletic could one day play in the Premier League? Who believed that Wigan Athletic would stay there for eight years and win an FA Cup? Ray Dorset did but I suspect he’d been on the whiskey.
Somewhere, somehow it got adopted. When Huddersfield got promoted via the play offs 12 months ago they were interviewing some middle aged bloke on SSN – his comments “one word – BELIEVE!” When City beat United to win the league the year before last they seemed to adopt it as well. Even Wigan Reds on Twitter were at it last year. Google the words BELIEVE FLAG now and you’ll get a picture of a grinning Ashley Cole draped in a blue flag. What does he BELEIVE in? That Arsenal were defrauding him so much that he nearly crashed his car because they refused to pay him another ten thousand pounds a week?
I suppose it’s always nice to start a trend than be the ones to clumsily copy it and I love the fact that we did and one of our younger fans started something but now it’s gone too far with every sporting team in the country adopting it, indeed everyone from cack handed golfers to bank managers on team away days uttering those seven letters like it will make a difference to their sorry lives stitching up fellow human beings to climb the career ladder.
Of course last and boldest on the bandwagon are our beloved local council. Let’s start with what matters: what they did for Wigan Athletic in May was fantastic. It was an amazing, open display of support which went a little way to recompense 80 years of indifference and downright bigotry towards this town’s little football club. The council adopted the “Believe” motto and plastered it all over billboard and empty shopping units and got behind the town’s football club like never before. They even started tweeting about Wigan Athletic instead of under 5’s touch rugby every f**king ten minutes.
Of course it paid off and if we’re looking for indelible images the sight of an open topped bus attempting to squeeze it’s way through 30,000 people into the Market Square is again a pretty priceless one.
The trophy is landed, paraded. Job done. Let’s go home and live off the memory for a thousand years.
But no. Before you know it. It’s “let’s believe in Leigh”. Why? Leigh, whereas not quite Super League class are a permanent fixture towards the top half of the Northern Rail Championship or whatever it’s called and let’s be honest apart from being part of the same administrative district of Greater Manchester have nothing to do with Wigan. They aren’t underdogs in any sense at the level they are at.
And now we’re all expected to get behind the Wigan Rugby “Believe” campaign. And again I’m not having a go at them (well not much like) but why does a team that has traditionally been the biggest in it’s sport need to BELIEVE? A team that has steam rollered all before it in the Eighties by becoming the first one to become professional and has always bullied it’s lesser clubs? I saw someone on Stalag RL fans calling Wigan Athletic a “Tory Club” because of Whelan’s very public political support the other day. Remind me again, which sporting intitution spent most of the eighties trying to wipe out it’s weak and financially inept sporting neighbours simply because they existed in a town and didn’t fit their own sporting agenda. Letting the weak go the wall. I wonder which political party their own millionaire chairman Ian Leneghan voted for at the last election?
Anyway, I digress (again). A rich, powerful team who is 2nd in the league who has won more trophies than any other shouldn’t need to BELIEVE to beat a team in 8th in Super League. Statistically it should win easily anyway. Belief was about dreaming the impossible not cajoling along the probable and whereas I don’t have a problem with Shaun Wane, Ian Leneghan or anyone else associated with Wigan Rugby apart from some of their bell end hating Latics fans, it won’t be the BELIEVE motto that wins them the Challenge Cup it will be the fact that they have the bigger wage bill, a more embedded local infrastructure of throwing skull caps on five year olds in preparation for them getting sleeve tattoos and injecting steroids ten years later supplemented as ever with a sprinkling of Australian imports and put simply they are expected to win. They’ve even nicked two of Hull’s better players in the last few years to rub salt into the wounds.
If I’m wrong then I’m sorry but rugby league isn’t my specialist subject despite local press and council attempts to ram it down mine and your throat for the best part of four decades. So stop it Wigan Council, you opportunists. Don’t take a Wigan Athletic idea, which probably died the night Roberto Martinez’s considerably paler than usual crestfallen mugshot appeared on Sky at 10pm at the Emirates the Tuesday after the FA Cup and treat it like your own. We believed. You just jumped on the bandwagon as usual. It wasn’t an idea for wider adoption.
It was about a team costing £10m going out and beating teams which cost £300 million not about one group of slightly more well built young men running faster with a ball and barging others out of the way with the odd skilful sidestep thrown in for good measure followed by a tweeted picture of themselves naked in a hotel room several hours later.
It’s about a small provincial town club beating big city clubs and even this weekend when 5,000 will travel to London to watch the Community Shield there will be more leeching bells than that supporting Man United in Wigan pubs, simply because it’s the easy option than genuinely getting behind the underdog, a team that should by rights achieve nothing yet somehow performs miracles.
So stop it now council or where will it end.
At Christmas is it going to be BELIEVE in snow ploughs.
Next April will it be BELIEVE we’ll freeze your council tax? (Fat chance)
What would it have been twenty five years ago – we BELIEVE Wigan Athletic would be better off moving to Skem because Wigan’s a rugby town and we’ve closed half their ground dow
I think the believe thing is probably dead as far as Wigan Athletic are concerned. From a practical point view we are now a bigger fish in a smaller pond, albeit due to parachute payments rather than gate receipts.
Plus whereas Owen Coyle talks about belief, I suspect his strapline is more along the lines of UNITY, which is fine by me as it’s part of our motto. He has re-built in a no-nonsense manner bringing players together of a similar ilk and weaving them nicely into the backbone of Roberto Martinez’s team.
The team already has the feel of the Paul Jewell’s team which got us promoted last time with plenty of seasoned professionals who may not be as talented as some of those who have worn the shirt but will make up for it in heart and spirit. A little bit more pace in the team and we’ll be in for a great season. But all that’s for another day as this isn’t an article about Wigan Athletic, this is an article about bandwagon jumpers who give you an umbrella when the sun is out and take it away when it’s raining.
I wish Wigan Warriors all the best at Wembley but the fact is that they don’t need it and going off viewing figures – one FA Cup is worth 100 Challenge cups, let alone one won by a team who based on ranking should have never even been near the place and competed against another 756 teams to get there to win the most famous cup competition in the world.
Thanks for your support and all that, but you’ve still got another 75 years to catch up on, oh plus another 30 or 40 when you refused to lift a finger to support Wigan Borough, Wigan Town, Wigan Country, Wigan United et al when those football teams really needed your help…..
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