I started by calling us Latics because that’s what they call us. And what’s wrong with that, after all it’s our nickname? Well you see that’s not the reason they call us ‘Latics’ – the real reason is that they simply can’t bear to call us Wigan Athletic because they want Wigan to themselves and as we shall see below, they always have done as long-standing Mudhutter contributor, who has seen both sides of the divide, explains here…
Apparently, there are a lot of rugby fans on social media sites and in the pubs who rather than being pre-occupied with their impending trip to Wembley (congratulation by the way) seem to be more eager to rub Latics’ fans noses in it.
The recent emergence of a Facebook “banter” page has provided a vehicle for teenagers of both persuasion to hurl foul mouthed badly spelt abuse at each other and personally I just don’t get it. I will provide you with my take on matters below. I can understand why Wigan Athletic fans of a certain age hate Wigan Warriors, as we shall see their incessant playground bullying of the little club across town was implicit for years. But as to why Wigan Warriors fans hate Wigan Athletic, well that bit has always puzzled me. Even more so that some of these rugby kids out there who hate the football club on said Facebook pages are barely in their teens – and the same can also be said about some Latics fans to be fair. It can only have been passed down through generation as there simply is no reason why the two can’t exist together and yet the hostility burns stronger than ever.
There are always reasons behind hatred, or so you would think. A Latics fan much more erudite than me once scrawled on a message board:
We hate them because they tried to kill us
They hate us because we exist
It’s a bold statement and one which rings true with many Wigan Athletic fans who lived through the Eighties and Nineties but the trouble is that the one thing there is a lack of abundance of in all this is facts. It’s also fair to say that neither party can agree in many cases who started the war, and some of the excuses younger Latics and Rugby fans come up with are flimsy to say the least. You could argue that half of them don’t even know why they hate each other. Clearly I am a Latics fan so my words may be taken immediately as biased, but I’d like to write this without taking sides. I will relate my personal experiences and understanding of the situation from
as far back as my memory will take me to current day. I will also try and understand why the rugby lot hate Wigan Athletic as well. Will this solve anything? I doubt it!
However, as a keen football scribe, I know that the one thing that baffles fellow football fans and journalists up and down the country is why the two sets of fans don’t get on. You don’t hear about the animosity over the Pennines in Bradford, Leeds or Hull. Nor is there massive conflict in Leicester or Northampton where the Union code has a strong presence. These are all much bigger places than Wigan and you could argue that maybe as these other places, with the exception of Northampton are all cities, they have a more outward looking mentality than our own fair town and there probably is a lot to be said about that.
Surely we should take pride in the fact that we are a much smaller town than the above five examples and yet have a better football AND rugby team? There is a minority who feel that way in Wigan and support both, and God bless their cotton socks but how on earth did the other 90% or so develop such animosity? Time to delve into it….
I’ll start as far back as my memory goes, but that is not the start of the story. There is no doubt that the sport of rugby was borne out of the sport of football but unlike many other towns, the Wigan Football Club actually played the sport of Rugby and was formed out of Wigan Cricket Club. The first recorded actual Wigan football club in Wigan was Wigan County in 1897 (and I’m sorry if you’re confused but there’s no way I’m using that horrid American term “Soccer” to describe our game like so many rugby people do) Wigan Athletic of course did not exist until 1932.
So when it comes to who got here first then of course rugby wins and Wigan Athletic are a bunch of Johnny Come Lately’s. Some rugby fans actually use this as a modern day excuse for hating Latics: “We are the town’s true club – Ancient & Loyal” they say, not that they were very loyal when they were struggling to pull in 3,000 most weeks in the late 70’s/early 80’s mind you but this is seen as a valid reason for not supporting the town’s football club: “We were here first”. The trouble is that the people coming out with this guff weren’t around in 1932 (unless they were at least 80) let alone 1872 when Wigan Rugby were formed. And weren’t they formed out of a cricket club anyway? So cricket got here first. And football was played before rugby anyway in Wigan because football existed before rugby because rugby was created when a fat lad sat on the ball? But then wasn’t football in the older days not much different to rugby anyway? Does any of it matter?
No it doesn’t, there has been a football club in the town for nearly 80 years now going under the name of Wigan Athletic and being there first matters very little otherwise Notts County (formed 1862) would get to win the league every year and be the biggest football club in the world and Manchester United would have remained a bunch of workshy railway yard workers.
There is evidence to suggest that right from the beginning there was animosity towards football in the town from the Rugby League fraternity and I believe that a forthcoming book about to be published about Wigan Borough details the rivalry and hostility between the two codes which was alive and well in the 1920’s. You can look at this two ways:
Football failed to establish itself in Wigan several times and therefore we can conclude that there was never any interest in the sport; or
The fact that there were so many attempts to both start up football clubs and subsequently prevent them from thriving in the town not only shows that the interest was there but also implies that there was a co-ordinated approach to prevent football from establishing itself within the town by the powers that be within the town who have always had close links to the rugby league fraternity
What? A conspiracy theory? Don’t be ridiculous! Surely it was just that no-one was interested.
This has been the stock response from the RL community presumably from back then right up until the present day but we all witnessed the way Wigan Athletic were left to die in the 80’s and in the 90’s and with that in mind, let’s bring the history up to date.
There were two catalysts for much of the animosity: the first one occurred when Wigan Athletic were elected into the Football League and the second followed several years after, during the glory years of Wigan RL’s Challenge Cup run in the
1980’s. For the six years between 1976 and 1982, Wigan RL were barely on the radar. Their average crowds dipped below 5,000, they often struggled to pull in just over 3,000 and they were relegated into the Second Division of Rugby League, something which would be practically impossible nowadays. Wigan Athletic however, with their newly found league status started to pull in the sort of crowds which
matched and then eclipsed the rugby team. It wasn’t an issue at the time. There were a body of sports fans in the town who went to both throughout this period and I am proud to say that I was one of them: Latics on the Saturday, rugby on the Sunday. It was that simple: supporting our town at whatever it did.
As Wigan Athletic were still very much a lower division side, many football fans in the town had a second team as well, usually a Division One side with coaches leaving from the Gas Showrooms for Old Trafford, Anfield and Goodison every weekend, some would alternate between watching top flight football one week and then Latics at Springfield Park the next. Football was cheap and affordable and the concept of having your own team and a ‘big club’ to follow as well was common up and down the country. Indeed many had a Scottish team they’d follow as well, usually brought on by religious persuasion and Scholes was a hotbed of Celtic fans.
So what went wrong? Two words: Maurice Lindsay.
Now there is in no way that Maurice Lindsay can be blamed for everything that happened between Wigan Athletic and Wigan Rugby but it’s fair to say that he was a figurehead for a cartel of public bodies who served to bully the football club across town throughout the Eighties and Nineties and create a massive rift.
Ed Jones summarises it perfectly in his book ‘A Northern Soul’ when he says that the
animosity was always implicit not explicit and it always enabled the rugby club to
maintain the moral high ground but speaking as someone who lived through it, I can
confirm that what they did to the small, struggling football club across the town was
nothing short of an outrage.
Throughout the late Eighties, Wigan Athletic had an exciting young side brought together by Harry McNally and Bryan Hamilton and hopes were high that the club could reach the lofty heights of Division Two (that’s the Championship to you youngsters). Across town the rugby club were also re-emerging as a force to be reckoned with after several lean years, including time spent in the Second Division.
Wigan RL emerged from the doldrums of the early 80’s to reach a Challenge Cup final in 1984 losing narrowly to Widnes and then returned the following year to beat Hull in the final and end an exodus from major honours. Many Latics lads were there that day and had a whale of a time, in 1985 with Wigan Athletic also winning the Freight Rover Trophy, it was a good time to be a sports fan in Wigan.
The warning signs where there and so the story goes that both clubs were approached in 1985 to do a joint photoshoot to foster cross sport harmony in the town upon which Maurice Lindsay was rumoured to have said we don’t want anything to do with them. Rather than offer the hand of friendship to a neighbour, thus began a co-ordinated campaign to wipe out football in the town of Wigan forever. Wigan RL went on to secure a league title in 1987, enjoyed a famous night at Central Park beating Manly in the World Club Challenge and a record breaking seven Challenge Cup wins in a row and ten years of domination and a return to the pinnacle of rugby league for the famous old name of Wigan RLFC.
Personally I had severed my ties at this point, the decision was made easier by the death of a family relative who had always encouraged me to take interest in rugby league but the other thing this relative taught me was that bullying was wrong.
And my God were Wigan Athletic bullied by Wigan RL and their cohorts within the council, the local press and the Police throughout the next decade, all under the spell of their chief puppet master. Of course, as I have previously mentioned you will not find a written agenda in some dusty cabinet of their actions but those of us who stuck by the football club in the town during what was a very difficult period know differently. We can of course produce evidence of Chairman Mo’s finest hour but even that isn’t absolutely blatant: it’s not so much the words he says but the way he says them but even that can’t incriminate him:
Check out this snippet, for proof
“They took 15,000 but we took 40,000”
“They’ve chosen the backyard of Rugby league to do it in”
In other words, they’re not welcome around here
The trouble is I had to add that bit. Oh come now. That was over 20 years ago, and although Maurice has never outright apologised for his comments, when he took his place on the Wigan Athletic board four years ago, he made it clear that they were comments made in the past and what’s the big deal, again turning the situation on it’s head to make out that Wigan Athletic fans were the bitter ones for holding a grudge for so long. He then comically went on to justify his place on Wigan Athletic’s board by saying ‘I’m a massive soccer fan, I was a Bolton Wanderers season ticket holder for years…!!’
Maurice’s very public statement of ridicule was very much in evident across the town of Wigan. I remember getting abuse for wearing my Latics shirt when catching the bus to football training ‘what you doing wearing that puff’s shirt? Play a proper sport!’ On the playground’s across town, kids wore rugby shirts or big club’s shirts and Latics fans were spat at and laughed at by the RL fraternity, keen to show us up as pariahs in our own town. Visitors to the town enquiring where the football ground was were frequently given directions to Central Park by hilarious wags who would respond to a mention of Wigan Athletic with a token ‘Who?’
Indeed a glance of the RL forums now still sees the insulting terms for football of ‘puffball’, ‘wendyball’ are in common use, this despite taking such a keen interest in Wigan Athletic to the extent that numerous groups on Facebook were started ‘Wigan Athletic 2011 Relegation party’ whilst at games towards the end of the season their fans were singing West Ham and Stoke songs.
They would never openly admit the hatred but it was cultivated across their fans that the football fans were a bunch of hooligans and their club was not welcome in the town. A read of a WRLFC programme of the time reveals it was littered with patronising digs towards Wigan Athletic, most prominently from a columnist called Doug Stand, who was also the Sports Editor of the local Wigan newspaper at the time.
“Why is ringing a Latics fan like phoning Australia?”
“You have to wait three seconds before you get an answer”
And that was one of their better ones….
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s the local press literally plastered their daily and weekly papers with rugby league news and features and barely gave Wigan Athletic a mention, no doubt influenced by Lindsay’s cosy relationship with the editor of the time. It seemed that the town of Wigan wanted to take revenge on the nation’s
obsession with the more popular sports of Football and Rugby Union, often complained about amongst Rugby League fans, by choosing to barely acknowledge Wigan Athletic and Orrell RUFC in the town and the public milked it. Match reports were a rarity, usually provided by the legendary “Post Reporter” i.e. a press association because they couldn’t be bothered sending anyone and during the week Latics at best warranted a small column.
The exception of course being on occasion where there were outbreaks of trouble at the football when all of a sudden Wigan Athletic became front page news. It became en vogue to run scare stories be it
trouble at Springfield Park (and no-one is denying there was) or even on the national stage, there would always be the flimsiest attempt to link it to Wigan Athletic. The public needs to know these things of course, the only problem was that Wigan town centre was much more frequently a battlezone when Wigan RL played the likes of Warrington, Saints, Leeds and Hull with pitched battles being fought most weekends the length of Standishgate between rival RL fans, yet these bloody, regular exchanges were strangely absent from the following week’s papers.
On the odd occasions they felt obliged to report anything, the reporters were always keen to point out that it was infiltrating ‘football hooligans’ on the rampage and nothing to do with their sport. It was almost as if they were trying to protect the image of the sport as a family game whilst any outbreaks of violence involving the football club across town were further evidence that this nasty little team didn’t belong in the town. This also translated into police victimisation as the local plod had clearly read the script and many Latics fans suffered at the hands of the local police force for the heinous crime of watching their team with batons drawn at every opportunity yet across town mass outbreaks of violence were passed off as exuberant spirits never to be mentioned again, even when famously hundreds of Hull & Leeds fans were fighting on the pitch at Headingley a few years back.
It always tickles me to hear of RL fans moaning that their sport doesn’t get the coverage it deserves in the nationals, the token answer is always that the public isn’t interested in it, although it is of course a chicken and egg situation as if you don’t get the coverage then how can you increase the interest. This was clearly the approach taken the local press in Wigan towards football right up until around about 2005. They certainly got their own back in the town with regard to disproportionate coverage nevertheless using that same excuse to deny Wigan Athletic any sort of coverage in the town.
All this bleating that rugby league doesn’t get the coverage it deserves and it’s not fair that it’s not being allowed to thrive and prosper in the country by Southern based editors with an RU bias unwilling to give airtime to the less popular code. Funny how they weren’t so keen to lend a hand to the less popular sports club in Wigan and actively sought to discredit Wigan Athletic at every opportunity. Still it’s fair game when the boot’s on the other foot isn’t it?
What of the local council? Well as the old song used to go ‘all the council’s had a go’,
councillors getting freebies to Wembley, trips to Australia and failing to invest a penny in football in the town as many of us who played the game (and I remarkable number of lads from Scholes/Whelley/Beech Hill started to do so once they had left school, free from the shackles of being forced to play RL) were forced to play in run down facilities and dilapidated pitches meanwhile public money was poured into rugby league and many schools refused to even play football whether there was interest or not. From cradle to grave it was RL all the play because the kids weren’t interested in soccer right? Give over, for the Catholic schools in particular it wasn’t even an option as the kids weren’t even permitted to have a football team.
It became routine for the council to close large sections of Springfield Park for the slightest reason and more than once threatened to close down the ground altogether – believe me, they would if they could – yet the same council increased the capacity of Central Park for a one off game versus Manly by over 10,000 at a stroke of a pen.
Meanwhile the newly erected Popular Stand at Springfield Park, the only covered standing area at the football ground was restricted to just 378 fans due to inadequate crush barriers. Make those pesky football fans get wet, even though they don’t need to, keep breaking their resolve and they’ll go away. Needless to say no money was ever forthcoming for ground improvements from Wigan Council and when Wigan
Athletic finally landed a money spinning cup tie against Liverpool in 1990 and asked if they could use Central Park for a one off game, they were met with a flat ‘we’re not letting that lot in here’ and Latics were forced to play both legs at Anfield.
Even after moving to the JJB Stadium, Wigan Athletic were told they would not be allowed to have more than 10,000 spectators on ‘as it was a Saturday and it would cause too much congestion for shoppers and an access road would have to be built’ Yet strangely Wigan RL were never hampered by such restrictions, even though the Robin Park and Asda complex is equally gridlocked on a Sunday since seven days a week opening.
So there you have it, that was the 80’s and 90’s in the town, if it’s purely paranoia in the case of football fans in the town then I’m sure you’ll agree that Latics fans have a pretty vivid imagination. As part of the 25 year celebrations of pivotal football fanzine When Saturday Comes, they have recently been reproducing classic articles and managed to pull out this gem which seems to validate a lot of the above.
Why the hatred then? Particularly from rugby fans towards football fans:
What had Wigan Athletic ever done to hurt Wigan Rugby?
Well that is where I really am struggling. If I was into dramatising the situation I would liken it to Thatcher’s crushing of the miners in the Eighties. We were a small but proud body of people who just wanted to get on with our lives and every section of the establishment were slowly turned against us until we were perceived as the enemy, yet unlike those miners we wanted nothing in return, just the opportunity to get on with our lives where we lived. Looking back, it is a miracle that the football club survived after wave upon wave of attack from the various establishments in town, some of whom were supposed to protect and represent us.
I wonder what your average rugby fan thinks if they have made it through uo to here? Will they feel ashamed of the bullying tactics and attempts to eradicate a football club which never did any harm to anyone? Or, more likely, will they again, pull on their rugby shirt and claim it is the delusional rant of a football fan telling porkies. Well I lived through it mate, no porkies here.
Just to prove that, I’d like to point out that Wigan Athletic fans are not completely blameless. Since the football club started it’s upward momentum, there was inevitably going to be a backlash. Most rugby fans you speak to will have a tale of getting abused by Latics fans: called names and spat at, even though there seems to be an almost cut and paste uniformity about these tales, I’ve seen it happen so I’m not about to deny it. Of course, ‘the town is turning blue’ was a popular chant when
Latics secured the Second Division Championship and can be perceived as rubbing rugby fans’ noses in it.
Two wrongs don’t make a right and I’m not about to justify any of that but it is easy to equalise these two crimes:
Maybe if rugby fans weren’t too busy calling Wigan Athletic fans homosexuals for having the audacity to follow their local football team in the Eighties, then maybe Latics fans wouldn’t have felt the need to call rugby fans a bunch of fat egg chasing idiots.
Maybe if Wigan Athletic fans hadn’t spent the Eighties being laughed at and having the wor
ds ‘it’s a rugby town’ continually rammed down their throats for the best part of decades, they wouldn’t have felt the need to crow about ‘the town turning blue’ when their team endured a period of growth and success.
After all, there’s only so many jibes you can get rammed down your throat before you learn to spit a bit back out, and after being the victim for so many years and surviving constant attacks from those in authority and those who took their view to be the authority, well you couldn’t really blame Wigan Athletic fans for giving a little bit back, you reap what you sow, whether you agree with it or not.
Of course, in more recent times Wigan Athletic, or more specifically Dave Whelan have also incurred the wrath of rugby fans for asking them to move a few fixtures around to accommodate the football club’s fixtures. First there was a play off game which Wigan Warriors were forced to play at Widnes as Wigan Athletic also had a pre-scheduled home fixture in the Premier League. Now most rational sports people would naturally conclude that the Premier League, one of the richest’s leagues in the most popular sport in the world may take precedent over a Super League play off game, especially the residents of that particular town but the uproar at the time further created a wedge between the two sports’ clubs with rugby fans threatening to
arrange protests at games, road blockages for Latics matches and plenty comments on message boards along the lines of ‘Hope you die soon Whelan’.
One of the more moderate views was expressed by a local MEP, Brian Simpson, who opined that he felt that Rugby league fans in the town were ‘being treated like second class citizens’. Hello, Mr Simpson, care to read the previous pages!!
For the record, for the whole of the decade of the Nineties, Wigan Athletic played at home just once on Boxing Day, playing away nine times out of ten in order to accommodate the traditional Saints derby and the one time they did play at home was subject to a twelve noon kick off. Did Wigan Athletic fans threaten to go around to Dave Whelan’s house and chain themselves to his railings and fling excrement at him? I don’t think so.
Whereas I can understand Wigan Rugby is a passion for many people in this town, as I said right at the beginning, Wigan Athletic have existed in the town for nearly 80 years. If Rugby League fans were fair minded sports fans, as are the natives of Bradford, Hull, Leeds, Northampton or Leicester they would indeed appreciate and support their town’s football team and recognise that to have a Premier league football team in such a small town is some achievement and want it to thrive and prosper not actively hate it. Both teams are at the behest of Sky Sports ultimately who have been more pivotal than any sports’ official body or club when it comes to shuffling fixtures around.
Yet still the hatred flows. I’ve seen Wigan Athletic referred to as Africa Athletic on RL forums when there’s only been one African player in the squad. Make into this what you will, I would say it’s outright racist given the number of black faces we have in the squad, many of them French and – shock horror – English and as someone who cheered on Ellery Hanley and Henderson Gill in a past life (Green Vigo was just before my time) wearing the cherry and white I find it truly appalling but it’s still all about anything to discredit Latics and pass them off as outsiders in the town.
From the other side of the coin, the fact of the matter is that when Wigan Athletic reached the Premier league in 2005, the rugby league club became barely an issue to most football fans. There was a period of time where Dave Whelan attempted to bring together an admirable two teams, one town’ concept, and brought the aforementioned Maurice Lindsay onto the board and this was understandably scoffed at by many Latics fans after all the suffering and hatred aimed at them over
the years from the rugby and Lindsay in particular. As soon as the football club are the main draw in town, they finally come to us and talk about a partnership?? When we were truly in need and didn’t have a pot to p*ss in, they laughed in our faces.
The psychological bit
Like many people, I struggle to forgive and forget, I don’t like bullies and whenever I see someone in town wearing the colours of Wigan Rugby, I see someone wearing a shirt that represents a group of evil bullies who tried to wipe out their town’s football club so that they could have the town to themselves. Quite how they continue to portray this brainwashed image that they are the good in the town and Latics are the bad and should be treated with derision is beyond me after everything that has gone on. I do find this largely unforgivable but life is short you know and if there ever was the opportunity to bury the hatchet, then I would indeed bury it.
The only reason I feel animosity to any Wigan Warriors at all nowadays is because of the animosity their fans show towards the town’s football club. If there was a pact tomorrow I would genuinely buy into it, no matter who the aggrievers where in the past, we co-existed fine when I first started watching sport in the town and it’s not inconceivable we could do again
There are a small minority of people, no more than 5% to 10% of each team’s fanbase who do watch both sports or at least support both teams, many of whom I consider to be my friends. It is my wish that somehow we can hold these people out as shining lights of how to be a sports fan in Wigan. If they were the majority not the minority then we would have something very special in the town indeed.
As it stands, no-one looks at Wigan and admires the town for it’s sporting divide: they just don’t understand it. I have in the above lengthy piece tried to provide a narrative of the history between the two and maybe I am biased but for me the hatred always flowed one way, then ebbed back a little but since Wigan Athletic arrived in the Premier League most fans barely directed any vitriol towards the rugby league team whereas the rugby league fans continue to hate Latics, even singing songs about Latics on match days
Needless to say, I haven’t heard anything like this at a Wigan Athletic football match for years, the colours of Wigan Rugby are worn by many people at Wigan Athletic games on a regular basis and no-one bats an eyelid, I am reliably informed that if anyone turned up in the South Stand wearing Latics gear, they would be met with threats of physical violence which apparently are common place anyway on a Friday night when the rugby are at home.
Again, what did Wigan Athletic ever do to hurt you and what can we as a town do stop this prejudice? The fact of the matter is that as it stands neither team sells out but both can boast a 16,000 average in a 25,000 all seater stadium. There are occasions during the cross over period where over 30,000 people watch sport in the stadium in a single weekend in a town of 80,000 people yet neither day is it full. There is a greater good here staring at us all straight in the face but it is going to take a lot of olive branches to make it happen and may indeed prove futile.
We seem to be in a ‘who blinks first’ situation at the minute, where many rugby fans believe that it is only a matter of time before Wigan Athletic get relegated/go bust and they will again reclaim the town for themselves. Most Wigan Athletic fans know that without Whelan in the future it may well be
bleak. Wigan Rugby are resurgent after a lean period and have finally made the DW Stadium home with flags, banners and a cracking atmosphere but sadly they still set aside some of their passion for their own team to find room for hatred for the town’s other team. Whereas the smart money would be on Wigan Rugby being the one with the greatest longevity, is there any need to continue this rivalry now both teams are roughly at parity (it’s true – they are even though both sets of fans might not like reading that)
Both teams have had halcyon days in recent years and instead of sharing in each others’ success it has simply increased resentment which considering many people live and work together in the same town is nothing short of pathetic.
But of course THEY started it….
Who started it?
Oh never mind, it was just an idea…….
Taken from the Mudhutter Summer Special which you can download here
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