It seems wholly appropriate, after a season of barely writing about football, that I take up a couple of pages of this summer special talking about football. I was supposed to be having a summer off the “beautiful’ game but I had to get back on the writing horse somehow so, like a bowler returning to his stock delivery because nothing else is working, here I am talking about where it all went wrong at Latics.
Did it go wrong back in 1932? Should anyone have even bothered picking up the pieces of Wigan Borough and have a go at building a football club in the backyard of Rugby League, the place where not that long before had proved “yet again” that it had no appetite for the sport of Association Football?
Of course not, without those few good men taking on the local establishment we’d never have had those proud 50-odd years where Wigan was home to “the Manchester United of non-league football”, the club that regularly took on League clubs and bettered them, the club that hosted 27,546 people for a game between two non-league sides (a crowd that remains a record away from Wembley).
So maybe it went wrong in 1978, when all those applications to join the big boys finally came to fruition? Maybe Latics had aimed too high, were starting to fly too close to the sun. Yeah right, as if that League place wasn’t earned many years before and like, with the advent of promotion to division four, it wasn’t inevitable at some point in the next few years anyway.
So what then? Promotion to Division 3? The Freight Rover Trophy? Staying alive despite the rugby fraternity’s best efforts. The run to the FA Cup quarter final? Making the first ever third division play-offs? Relegation? Rebuilding? Spending 15 years or so being your average, lower division side? To be fair, I don’t think you can blame being unremarkable for many things… but then came 1995…
1995 and a promise of Premier League football.
But to be honest, I don’t think even that can be blamed for our current predicament. No one actually believed big Dave when he came out with that statement, did they? On top of that, Whelan’s early touches weren’t exactly Midas-like and it was a long hard slog from the bottom of the league to the FA Cup final.
Maybe it went wrong somewhere along the way? With that “second” auto-windscreen shield win, playing City in the league and the play-offs (before they were rich), promotions, heart-aches or the Soccer AM “superstar”? Maybe it went wrong when we realised that all those years of “failure” had finally added up to a place in the second division or when we finished that first season in the top half of the football league chasing a play-off place.
Or it could have been the following season, ten years on from that promise, fifty years on from VE day, on that day of tears, cheers and plenty of beers, when Super Lee, J.R. and the Duke fired Latics into the top flight. Maybe it all went tits-up on that day when we no longer needed to dare to dream, when it all became very real?
Or three months later when the champions came to town, or those first trips to Anfield and Old Trafford, or meeting old friends in the top flight AND on the way to the League Cup final. Maybe it went wrong on that trip to the Millennium Stadium, then again, probably not – even if the result was a bit shit as was *only* finishing in the top half of the table that year.
The intervening years were a bit hit and miss, but for every hammering, there was a glorious victory or a spectacular survival bid. Maybe things got broke at Bramall Lane, when N’Zogbia turned Arsenal on their heads (or Wilshire on his arse), when Hugo headed us to safety at Stoke or when we rose from the dead to send West Ham down. Somewhere down that line, as the wage bill shrank, expectancy rose for many the success of staying in the Premier League became the failure of not “pushing on”.
Maybe they were right, maybe we didn’t make the most of our Wonga loan (£46 million at an easy to repay APR of your soul) but then again…
There was 2012 and that moment in March where Gary Caldwell turned Andy Carroll and smashed us to victory at Liverpool, kick-starting a run of spectacular football, of seven wins in nine, of pass and move, of the truly beautiful game, of Bobby’s boys taking full points from United and Arsenal, of ripping Newcastle a new one to set up a sprint finish that sent Blackburn and Wolves down at our expense.
If expectations were already high, maybe everything went awry when that period sent them sky rocketing or when dodgy knees and assorted other injuries robbed Roberto of the defence that could have seen us challenging for Europe in the League, or at Bournemouth, Macc, Huddersfield or Everton, or on one of those trips to Wembley. Maybe the bottom fell out of Latics when Boycie and Gary Caldwell lifted that most historic of football trophies.
Ok, so that all came to an end a few days later and the appointment of Agent Coyle never felt quite right, but there was Europe, trips to Belgium, Slovakia and a far flung corner of Russia. How can things be wrong if you’ve got train cans on the trans-Mongolian express? Then there was the u-turn, Uwe, another great escape, another FA cup semi-final, another dose of hope… Is that where the wheels came off?
I think I’ll have to stop there. I can’t bring myself to make light of last season. A dismal start turned rotten by the appointment of a rotten manager, stinking form turned into the stench of relegation, everyone’s second favourite team turned into that club everyone wants to see the back of. Apparent financial prudence turned into lunacy and asset stripping.
Of course it went wrong last season, spectacularly so, but that’s not really the point of this article. No one knows what’s to come for Wigan Athletic, but whether it be rocky roads, obscurity or bouncebackability we know where we’ve come from. We’ve had to fight before, fight for national recognition, for local acceptance, for bragging rights, for our survival and we’ll have to fight again, maybe this season, maybe not.
Either way, just as one swallow doesn’t make a summer (special), one sh*t season doesn’t spoil a football club and, whilst it doesn’t do to dwell on the past, we should never forget our history or that there is more to be made. Bring on League one and the start of the next chapter of the Wigan Athletic story, whatever it brings…
Keep the Faith
The above article was taken from the Mudhutter Summer Special, which is available to download for free here
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