WAFC 101

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First up a bit of a lecture.  I’ll start off with the young lads and ‘Johnny come latelies’, you might be part of, potentially, the club’s greatest period but you need to remember that some of us have been here a lot longer than you.  For some of us it’s a family thing and for others it’s something we’ve always known.  Your part in that is to know it and respect it, hardly anyone will claim the ‘better fan than you’ argument and even more of us are ready to welcome as many new people into the fold as can fit whether or not the town is turning blue, we want it to, you see? 

An example?  Well the woe is me attitude when we’re at the top end of the First Division, but have lost a few games doesn’t wash when you remember chucking your money in the pot to pay for a player’s wages.  For the older heads?  Well you have to remember how cold it was in a crowd of 1,500, it may grate that for a lot of these new lads arguments about Latics’s greatest players begin with Jimmy Bullard and end with Nathan Ellington, but remember they’re watching us and not the thugby, how pissed off must their dads be?  A bit of education and a push in the right direction and in ten/twenty years time they’ll be knocking about their version of cyberspace shoeing youngsters for not being there the day that Leighton Baines’s 40 yard screamer put us into Europe.

And now onto business after being berated on the CL message board for not sharing the club’s history with a college student (do they not teach them how to learn anymore?) I’ve decided to put this article together.  Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the history of Wigan Athletic, it’s just small parts of it and there’s loads more.  Hopefully though, it will be enough to make you think the next time that you argue that history ‘don’t mean shit’ in the face of criticism from fans of ‘big clubs’.  History does mean something, all clubs have one (with the exception of MK Dons maybe) and they should not be denied.  The club existed before Dave Whelan, it existed before 1978, and it means enough to enough people to ensure that it will continue to go on no matter what.

“I have no hesitation in saying that the … public of Wigan have shown once again that they have no desire to maintain league football in Wigan” sound familiar?  No it’s not Rodney Marsh’s latest attack on the club/fans, but a quote from a prominent Wiganner in 1932, following the collapse of Wigan Borough, and I suppose that’s the first thing you need to know.  Professional football in Wigan goes further back than Wigan Athletic.  Prior to Wigan Borough, Wigan County and Wigan Utd also played in the league at Springfield Park.  The right-minded people of the town took this slagging on the chin and took on the challenge to prove this idea wrong, and so Wigan Athletic was born.

They found out pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to be smooth running, the collapse of Borough (and their failure to fulfill 1931/32 season’s fixtures) was to hang over Latics for the foreseeable future.  Early struggles to be recognized by the FA and to find a league were followed by repeated failure to get elected to the Football League meant that the club had to regularly change Leagues to keep the competitive edge. 

Throughout the time in non-league football Latics were one of the most successful teams around, league successes

were added to with numerous cup runs and famous victories, the 6-1 bashing of Carlisle in the FA cup 1st round of 1934/35 caused a national stir.  The FA cup second round victory over Hereford Utd in 1953 had a crowd of 27,500 still the highest crowd for two non-league teams away from a cup final.  In 1954 we took Newcastle (Jackie Milburn and all) to a replay at Springfield, losing that by the odd goal in 5. 

Finally whether because they were scrapping the election system anyway, or because we finally convinced them we were worth it, we were elected to the league for the 1978/79 season.  Promotion in 81/82 saw us share a fairly unique position with, I think only Arsenal of being the two only teams who could have been relegated but hadn’t.  This lasted until 92/93 when we after a few years of trying desperately we finally managed to get relegated, worst of all, on Challenge Cup Final Day. 

After the game Wigan was awash with people who hadn’t been to either game but were cockahoop that the fat lads had won without even noticing the people with tears in their eyes (and there were some) sat amongst them.
I’ve mentioned them now so it’s probably a good time to talk about the rugby.  Don’t ever be fooled into thinking that any animosity is a jealousy thing.  Don’t even think that it’s a recent thing either.  Disagreements between Football and Rugby in Wigan can be traced further back than either Latics or Rugby League for that matter.  For most people that you meet now a dislike of thugby and the Worriers in particular can be traced back to two things, their schooldays and the  mid to late 1980s. 

Schooldays because of the way that Rugby was shoved down our throats, one year we even had to argue to get to play cricket in summer, instead of practicing scrums, and the way that both teachers and fellow students would look down their noses if you had the temerity to mention that you were a ‘tic.  The time period is significant as during this time the club was struggling.  Poor results, poor crowds and mismanagement were driving the club under. 

A time for the sporting community of Wigan to pull together?  You’re having a laugh.  High profile cup ties against Leeds in the FA cup and Liverpool in the League Cup were threatened through what if you were kind you could describe as the Rugby fraternity not helping us out.  If you scratch the surface you could be excused for thinking it was a little more than that, these people may have actually tried to put these games at risk.  Bitter?  You bet.

It wasn’t all bad in those times.  We expanded our reputation in cup competitions; ask Man City, Everton, Chelsea and the aforementioned Leeds and Liverpool amongst others.  We also had, at least two extremely good sides that were unfortunately sold off on the cheap to ‘keep the club going’.  In fact in the early days of the Premier League featured more players who had played for Wigan Athletic than any other club outside of the chosen few.  But we were where we where and in the early 90’s that was that was in the mire, flirting with relegation from the league and also with going out of business altogether.

In the face of this the fans gathered together to put pressure on the board to get something done.  There then followed a couple of uncertain years with a new owner and chairman and conspiracies ahoy as most puzzled as to who actually owned the club and what was behind this.  At no time during this period was the football spectacular, but we did seem to be improving, if only a little, but I think it’s fair to say that no one was really prepared for what happened next – Dave Whelan.

That’s as far as I’m going to take you.  Like I said earlier, I’ve not told you everything, hardly any of it really.  Hopefully I’ve given you enough to realize that a) we’ve a history that’s worth knowing and protecting and b) you want to know more.  If that’s the case then I’ll point you in the direction of two excellent websites chock full the history of WAFC
The Ultimate Wigan Athletic Website Home Page
Ye old tree and crown

have a look you might get a pleasant surprise.

That’s almost the lot, just a little bit of ho

mework to keep you going, firstly revise these three short lists, memorise them and by the end of the season try and know something about each of the people on there and if you hear them mentioned in the future then either nod your head appreciatively or pull an ugly face as appropriate.

Good Guys
Ian Gillibrand
Bobby Campbell
Harry Mcanally

Bad Guys
Bill Kenyon
Brian Hamilton
Elton Welsby

Inept Guys
Kenny Swain
Jimmy Carberry
Pat Gavin

Secondly, learn the significance of the following events;

  • The Easter weekend game against Port Vale in the 78/79 season
  • Harry Lyon’s hat-trick against Doncaster Rovers in 1965/66
  • The game against Bury on 18th October 1993

Finally, by the end of the Sunderland game, write 700 words on why a blue and white vertical striped shirt will always be held more dear in the hearts and minds of Latics fans than any other kit, no matter what the club achieves, and submit it to blasterbill@notapatchon.co.uk.

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