“We all agree, Jeff Stelling is a w…” or at least that seems to be the #wafc meltdown consensus. His crime? Making a joke at expense of our club. The joke? That no matter how much we might protest, no number of FA cup wins is worth swapping trips to Old Trafford for trips to Gresty Road. The punishment? To be placed on the list of people who’ll be lined up at the Rodney Marsh wall, come the revolution, and pelted with sopping wet caseys.
If it’s any consolation Jeff, I don’t hate you, not for any perceived swipe at Latics anyway. If there is one then your crime would be nurturing the modern culture of football where consumption trumps support, where bants beats debate and where four blokes sitting in the same room keeping an eye on four different games, without upsetting their banter quota becomes an acceptable model of supporting football rather than, I don’t know, getting off your arse and going to the game.
But that’s not your fault, Jeff, you’re just an occasionally amusing SkySportsNews whopper who’ll never really be a patch on Greavsie or Saint, or Des Lynham for that matter. If you didn’t hang around with the likes if Merse, Champagne Charlie, Thommo and Big Al then we might get on, we could chat about lower league football, make self depreciating jokes and slag Kammy off behind his back (although I bet you all do that anyway, eh?).
I’ll move on, because this isn’t supposed to be about you. It’s supposed to be about that joke and the idea that Latics fans would (or is it should) prefer to be watching their team play Crewe rather than any of those four or five teams that make the “BPL” the “greatest” league in the world. It might have tickled Merse, but you know what Jeff, it couldn’t have been further off the mark.
You know what we were really doing three years ago today? We weren’t licking our wounds after a 4 – bout New Years Day drubbing by Manchester United at the DW, celebrating the point we’d snatched at the cottage or taking consolation from a spirited, yet fruitless, comeback against Sunderland. We were buzzing about the next game, about the chance to put all the Premier League bullshit behind us and go back to our roots with a trip to Macclesfield.
And we were going en mass, officially close to 2,500 of us, probably more. As many as could get there anyway and at least double the number that had gone to Old Trafford and Fulham combined. We were proving that the romance of the cup was not dead and that, regardless of what anyone believes, we’d rather be anywhere else than in those soulless citadels of greed that pass for top flight football grounds.
And this weekend, with the “undesirable” trip to Crewe, we’re proving it again. Not the cup bit, but that for some of us, predominately those that make up our away following, a railway siding in the grub bier bit of Cheshire is preferable to the Theatre of Dreams. Is that strange? Possibly, but that makes it no less true.
Maybe everyone should try it. Going away is different from home games. At home where you’re stuck with your environment and prices, you know which pub you’ll go in before the game, where you’ll sit. You know what time you’ll be home and what you’re having for your tea. With all those fixed points on the match experience continuum increase the importance of the actual football being played and the presence of some fancy Dan international types might actually add to things. From that perspective it makes sense for your club to be playing at the highest level where your team won’t actually embarrass itself.
You can get to an age where going to home games is an obligation or an addiction, it’s a reflex, something you do without thinking, away games are different, they are where the real buzz is, where the romance of the game still thrives, they are where people of that age can experience the game like they did when they were kids (they might also get to behave like kids, but that’s another story). Because of this, away trips are about much more than the game itself, the day that surrounds it is just as, if not more, important.
And it’s great, going on day trips to Old Trafford, the Etihad, the Emirates and all those massive architectural monuments to modern football, but that’s modern football with all its soulless celebration of capitalism, modern football as a product, modern football with all its excess. It’s great going there for the first time, but the one thing I never heard anyone say coming away from one of those cauldrons of consumerism was “I can’t wait to get back there”.
And all the while we were visiting these places, we were telling stories, stories about places we would like to go back to. Generally they were small towns, with back street boozers before and after the game; terraces, standing and singing during it. Running amok, running into trouble, but never hiding from it. Enjoying the day for what it was, dashing for the last train home and then on it again around Wigan if we were lucky enough to still be standing. It was all about experiences, experiences that were few and far between in the Premier League.
And we thought it might be our age, but then we noticed that it wasn’t just us, that younger lads were yearning for the same things, not because they had it once and lost it, because the stories they heard were full of life, full of soul and seasoned with a barrel or two of beer. On top of that, trips to places like Everton and Fulham had whet their appetite for “proper” away days and they wanted more. There was a growing consensus that life might be better in the Championship for exactly those reasons (plus we might win more than a couple of games).
There was more to it than that, throughout that period in the top flight there was a constant feeling of anticipation. Waiting for the moment that gravity would take hold and plunge Latics from whence we came. Knowing that there were positives in our inescapable destiny meant we could take it that much easier when it came. Then it came, but only after trips to Macclesfield, Huddersfield and Everton had lead us to FA cup glory, not only had we put our name on the oldest, most famous tin pot the game had to offer, we did it our way and without having to put up with any of that modern shite (apart from Wembley, but that’s a price every football fan will be paying for years to come).
Relegations are never nice, don’t kid yourself we wanted to go down. Two years earlier we’d been as good as relegated against West Ham at home and the pain was there for anyone in the ground to see. But getting relegated when you’ve still got an FA Cup hangover, is possibly the best way to do it, there was very little gnashing of teeth that night after Arsenal took us down, it would simply have been churlish.
No one else has ever been given that choice with such a stark contrast before so maybe we’re wrong to expect others to understand. You can only beat gravity for so long, but now we had something that no one, not even Isaac Newton could take off us, and yes, we knew what we’d prefer.
And, apart from winning more games, that first season gave us the best of both worlds. The bright lights of Europe mixed with the lowlights of England. Bruges and Blackpool, Maribor and Middlesbrough, Kazan and Knottingham. The football wasn’t great, but the times were good. The same goes for last year as well and despite the hard reset, despite having had two managers who’ll be lined up at that wall with Rodney and Jeff, we came out the other side with a smile, with some stories to tell.
And now, all of a sudden, it feels like we’re back in Kansas, back home with the fire on, not telling stories anymore but writing new ones. Enjoying life, enjoying trips to Crewe or Rochdale, to Scunthorpe or Sheffield, to Burslem, Barnsley, Blackpool or Bradford. Places where we can feel at home, Running amok, running into trouble, but never hiding from it. Enjoying the day for what it is, dashing for the last train home and then getting back on it again around Wigan if we’re lucky enough to still be standing. Away from the bright lights and soulless citadels, back where we belong.
So yes, as strange as it seems, we’d rather have our FA cup replica than your Premier League place, and we’d rather be at Gresty Road than Old Trafford. It will always be that way, whether you understand it, or not. We might be back with you one day, after all we all want to support a successful club, but it doesn’t mean we’ll let the pursuit of success.
ss define us, or that we’d enjoy being in a higher division more than we’d enjoy everyone being pissed off about us being there and we’ll always rather be at Crewe than United.
Keep the Faith,
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