Wigan Athletic v Mick Dennis – Part Two

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Many of you will have read a piece I put on TNS last week, regarding an email I sent to Mick Dennis, a journalist for the Daily Express concerning disparaging remarks about Wigan Athletic.  If you haven’t read it, you can do so here

http://www.thisnorthernsoul.co.uk/articles/articles/1997-the-national-media-continue-their-vendetta-against-wigan-athletic

As you’ll see, I promised to print any response I received, and in all honesty, wasn’t really expecting one. I’ve had a few other things on my plate at the weekend so when I didn’t I received a follow up email from Mick Dennis.

As he has specifically asked me to print his response, I would be delighted to do so. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions as to whether the ‘idiotic delusion of my argument has been exposed’.

I have now however, found the time to respond to Mick myself and my response to him is also included below:

On Sun, May 8, 2011 at 9:22 AM, Mick Dennis wrote:

What happend to the promise, on the thisnorthernsoul website, to publish any response you received? Don’t you want the idiotic delusion of your argument exposed? In case you’ve “lost” my response, I repeat it for you here:

 
Firstly, I do apologise for the “four teams” error. I looked in the wrong column (highest attendance, instead of average). That was slipshod of me.

Of course, as I am sure you know, there are ten teams in the Championship with a better average this season than Wigan, that Blackpool (with a smaller ground) are the only Premier League team with a lower average than Wigan, that Wigan’s average percentage of seats filled (65.7) is the lowest in the division and 13 per cent worse than the next bad.
The defence you cite about the population of Wigan (which I have also had put to me this week by the club’s press officer) is specious tosh. You deliberately quote the town’s population but the popolation of the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan is 305,600. Anyway, no club — none at all — draws its support only from the town whose name it carries. A fifth of the folk on your customer data base do not have Wigan postcodes, so to define your catchment area as narrowly as you do is either deliberately misleading or deluded.

Your comments about Norwich are equally silly. You suggest that Norfolk is the catchment area, because there is no other team in it. But of course people in Norfolk travel to matches in London, folk from outside Norfolk support Norwich (me, for instance) and you taken no account of the fact that if you drew a circle around Norwich with a radius of what might be considered a reasonable travelling, the cricle would include mostly farmland and the North Sea. In League One, Norwich filled their ground and took more to away games than attend some of your home matches.

But, more importantly than any of the above, I am not alone in thinking the level of support for Wigan is dreadfully poor. So do many posters on The Wiganer message board. When researching my piece I happened upon a message thread there bemoaning the fact that so few folk in the area can be bothered to get along to the ground and debating what could be done to get bums on some of those seats.

If you are genuinely content with the level of support your club “attracts” then you are easily pleased. But the “context” you seek to provide for the shocking attendances is utterly fallacious.
Mick Dennis

My response to Mick:

Dear Mick,
 
Thanks firstly for your response and congratulations on Norwich’s return to the top flight.
 
I see you are familiar with Wikipedia but clearly lacking in local knowledge of the area. The Metropolitan Borough of Wigan is indeed 305,600 and incorporates four towns: Wigan, Leigh, Atherton and Tyldesley. I don’t know how far you have carried out your research but if you went on a Leigh website and asked them if they consider themselves Wiganers or would support a team from Wigan, I don’t think you would receive too many positive responses. If you asked them to their faces indeed a punch in the face may be more forthcoming, it is akin to calling a Mancunian a Scouser consequently there is not a lot of love from Leigh folk towards the football or rugby clubs of Wigan.
 
As for Atherton and Tyldesley, these towns are again nothing in common at all with Wigan, and they are closer to Manchester than Wigan so who would you think that the majority of their townsfolk would support? A team who up until ten years ago had never been outside of the bottom two divisions in it’s football history and prior to that were a non league team for many decades or like their Salfordian neighbours just a short hop over the Metropolitan border, would they choose to support the 18 soon to be 19 times League champions and self proclaimed biggest club in the world?
 
Indeed, for older fans Bolton & Manchester City are also in just as close proximity to Wigan and have an illustrious top flight and major cup final history during a period of time, Wigan Athletic where in the Cheshire League, Lancashire Combination and Northern Premier League.
 
Come on Mick, you’re the football expert. Do you seriously expect the residents of these areas to simply jump ship and change club when a ‘new’ Premier League team appears within the boundaries of the Metropolitan Borough with which they had been placed? People don’t just change their team, and certainly don’t stop following a very successful team in favour of one for whom finishing 17th in the table and winning 5 home games a season is considered a good return.
 
Also, as I’m sure you are aware, support is passed down from father to son (and daughter) so it’s very hard to break the cycle and this is a problem within Wigan itself where people who started supported United and Liverpool during their glory years of the 70’s and 80’s bring their children up to support the same team with Wigan Athletic being that non descript 4th division/non league team down the road who don’t win trophies. Furthermore, as soon as you head West from Wigan you are in Scouse territory, with large parts of Wigan being Liverpool overflow estates. Can you guess who most of those families support? I’ll give you a clue, this team has won the European Cup five times, although to be fair many do support a team in blue which also endured fleeting periods of success. Just like their Mancunian cousins, it will come as no surprise, that they too are a little reluctant to change sides and support a less successful one, whether they live in the town or not.
 
This is further complicated by the long time presence of the rugby league team who also average about 16,000. A couple of internet surveys have shown that no more than 5-10% of Wigan people support both, I have always been a football player and spectator and don’t really care either way for rugby league, but a large portion of their support hate Wigan Athletic and many of their fans actively would like to see us go bust/get relegated or both. Quite what we ever did to offend them, well you’d have to ask them about that but rugby fans see it as a rugby town; another popular myth as more watch Wigan Athletic than the Warriors from Wigan, let alone the 1,000-1,500 season ticket holders of other football clubs who for reasons best known to them travel to Old Trafford, Goodison, Anfield and Eastlands every other week.
 
So if you’re still reading consider yourself educated on these local matters. As I said Wigan is a town of 80,000, large areas of the town to the West (Winstanley, Hawkley, Orrel

l) are full of Scousers and areas to the East lean towards Manchester and Bolton (Hindley, Golborne), the rest of the borough is made up of separate and distinct towns, nothing to do with Wigan save for an administrative title. Many Wiganers for reasons I stated above and in my previous email, support these clubs anyway as they/their parents chose to support a football team before Wigan Athletic were even in the football league. And there are lots of rugby fans in the town, who actively hate their local football club for having the audacity to exist in what they consider to be ‘their’ town.
 
To settle this issue of catchment area, I would suggest that, like any other sporting club, it is potentially the whole wide world but much of the rest of the footballing world are not surrounded by most of the giants of the modern game (and the Manchester and Merseyside clubs haul by far eclipses what London clubs have achieved) and share a town with one of the biggest clubs in rugby league. We therefore are up against it and I would say it is a miracle that we get the support we do. To use your own statistic, where you say a fifth of our support does not have Wigan postcodes, all this proves is that 80% of our support does come from Wigan and only 2,500-3,000 people support us from outside Wigan, many of whom will be exiled Wiganers who have migrated from Wigan due to the lack of local employment opportunities in what is an economically deprived area, not that we’ve even touched on the affordability issue
 
I don’t really see the point of comparing our attendances with other Championship clubs as similar to the League One clubs, most of those teams are situated in large towns and cities which are not in close proximity to four of the biggest clubs in the game. Oh and Bolton. The only Championship teams Wigan Athletic are comparable to are probably Burnley or Scunthorpe, but unlike Wigan, they do not have a prominent rugby league club competing for people’s limited disposable income in their towns.
 
My context, was and is based on facts, history and geography. I bear no malice to you or Norwich but suggesting that your team suffers in the same way that Wigan does I would say is also utterly fallacious, Norwich is over 100 miles away from London, Liverpool and Manchester are no more than 20 miles away from Wigan. There are 12 Premier League clubs closer to Wigan than the 100 or so miles distance from London to Norwich, every one of them bigger and more established than ourselves.
 
Nevertheless, in my previous note, I was perfectly happy to concede that I am far from content with the level of support Wigan Athletic achieve. I have worked with the club on numerous occasions to come up with initiatives to try and overcome this. However, as noted, with all of the above factors taken into consideration, it is some achievement that we manage to get crowds as decent as we do. With hindsight, maybe we should have re-developed Springfield Park or built a smaller stadium. You can’t have failed to notice QPR rocking with just 18,000 fans on at the weekend? I let out a little ‘if only’ when I saw it, having been there many times.
 
Personally, I’ve watched my team over 25 years in all four divisions, over 80 or so grounds, spent a fortune and spend many hours a month writing and selling a fanzine for the fans, which is currently losing money. On a personal level, I refuse to be ridiculed as I have made the sacrifices many fans of many other clubs have done plus more. There are hundreds if not thousands like me at Wigan and they too, don’t deserve to be ridiculed or told that their views don’t matter or they don’t care because there are empty seats in the stadium. 16,000 people might not be many in comparison to some clubs from bigger towns and cities, but you couldn’t fit them all in your front room.
 
Your view that bigger is better is insulting to all those decent people who follow smaller, local clubs up and down the country in the face of more successful, trophy winning alternatives. If you had emptied all the pubs in Wigan (and it’s supposed borough catchment area) yesterday afternoon of United and Liverpool fans and locked them in the DW till next Sunday, then the ground would be full at a stroke. They are the people you should be pointing the finger at, or at least trying to understand the complexities of the situation rather than criticising the Wigan Athletic fans who turn up week in, week out. We might not fill our stadium but we still have a lot of fans in it considering what we are up against
 
I don’t expect to change your opinion given that you think mine is specious tosh but thank you for reading this if you have made it this far.
 
I’ll gladly publish your response if you are happy for me to do so
 
Best regards
Jimmy T

Finally, whilst putting this story up, I received the following response again from Mick Dennis:

Yes, please publish my response. There is nothing to be gained by our debating each other’s points endlessly but I have replied to everyone who emailed or wrote to me on this subject, and it would be a courtesy to acknowledge that. I don’t doubt the quality of your club’s support, but remain appalled by the lack of quantity — as do some (not many, I conceded) of your fellow fans who have been in touch.
Mick

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