If you’re not a fan of Wigan Athletic, you simply won’t get it.
From the outside, this club is a small, family club that has been punching well above its weight, and winding fans of bigger clubs up, for almost a quarter of a century. But unless you’re on the inside of it, you won’t understand.
It’s quite difficult to explain in words what this club is all about, and why Wiganers and Latics are one of a kind, but I think actions tell you about it more.
It’s Emmerson Boyce deciding to carry Joseph Kendrick onto the Wembley turf on the club’s biggest day as he’s one of our own. It’s Max Power picking up a flare and jumping in the away end with the crowd at Doncaster away as we win the title, and it’s 4,000 Wiganers sticking two fingers up at Rodney Marsh at Leeds away on our way to the promised land as he declares we’re not fit to be promoted to the Premier League.
More recent evidence is Sam Morsy putting a Latics shirt over a cardboard cut-out of a young baby that passed away, and never had the chance to watch our club with his mum, before our home game against Stoke, before the skipper dedicates the win to his mum on social media.
Shaun Maloney did a piece recently with Wigan Today and Paul Kendrick, and spoke about what I’m talking about in terms of what Wigan is, and sums it up perfectly…
“From the outside – or if you’d never played for Wigan – you probably wouldn’t know that connection exists. But during the period of time I was there, I was certainly well aware of that bond that isn’t always there at other clubs.
“It’s strange, and it’s quite hard to explain. I’d come down from Celtic, which is obviously a massive club in terms of fanbase and stadium.
“You come to Wigan and it’s a very different feel…because of the town, where it’s come from, it just felt very personal.
“And I hope that’s still there, because it’s one of the reasons Wigan is such a special club.”
We know we aren’t or never will be a big-hitter, we know fans of other clubs think we’re tinpot and don’t deserve any of the success we’ve had, but we’ve had it for 25 years and we don’t care one bit. We know they’d kill to experience half of the stuff we’ve witnessed.
To be honest, it would have been miles easier to do what a lot of people in our town does, and pick a Premier League powerhouse, sit in the Berkeley with a pint, and pledge my allegiance to a club I will barely ever see live.
If I did that, my biggest worry right now would be whether Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes can play together in midfield long-term, or whether Jurgen Klopp can back up a Premier League title win with another in 2021.
Oh, how easy that would be…
But instead it’s trying to stomach the fact my club, the one I’ve followed since the age of 5, may never be the same again.
You regularly hear of club’s hitting financial trouble, including our neighbours down the road at Bolton, and obviously the troubles of Bury FC, and you never expect it to land at your doorstep. Naivety I know, but after decades of being run outstandingly well by the Whelan family, you just expect it always to be that way.
We owe Dave Whelan more than he’ll ever know, and we can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for our club and the ride he has took us all on these last few decades.
Since the news of Wigan Athletic entering administration, and the strange circumstances in which this has all unfolded, I’ve had time to reflect on my relationship with my football club.
Latics has always been a part of my life, for as long as I can remember. My mum, along with my brother and sister, have had season tickets for years, and it was the highlight of our week.
Along with family friends, we would all pack into the Vauxhall Zafira, 2 adults and five kids, travelling all over the country (via a trip to the local pie shop of course!) to watch a small football team defy the odds.
Being so young, I didn’t have a real grasp at just how big of a deal it was to see Latics going toe-to-toe with some of English football’s biggest names. I was just enjoying the ride and going along with it.
Memories like skipping school to take a trip to Stoke away on a Tuesday night in 04/05, with Lee McCulloch banging in a last minute winner to make it 19 unbeaten in the league. 2,000 Wiganers spending 15 minutes in the away end after full-time to sing ‘We are unbeatable’ to the exiting Stoke fans, only to be humbled by Plymouth Argyle at home four days later. Typical Latics…
Memories like jumping up & feeling pure sadness after losing my meat and potato pie in the carnage because of Jason Roberts’ debut goal after 34 seconds at Preston always make me laugh, or even the heartache of Brian Deane knocking us out the play-offs on the final day of 03/04 with the dream of the Premier League fading away. I hoped one day we’d get West Ham back, thank you Charles…
Add the promotion day against Reading, and eight years of the Premier League, and the trips to Belgium, Russia, & Slovenia, and I’ve loved every minute of it.
But as I look at this relationship I have with the club, I’ve found that it’s more than one that stops at watching them on a Saturday at the DW, and waiting for the next game to arrive. It’s one that has provided much needed relief and loving support to my family.
I’ve spoke above about what Wigan Athletic is, and nothing can sum that up to how they’ve treated my family in recent years. On the field, they have been a rousing success for most of my time supporting them, but it’s off-the-field where they’ve made the biggest impact. Here’s one example why.
It’s no secret my mum, a woman I thank for dragging me along to a Wigan game all those years ago, suffers from a rare disease named Gorhams, which yet has no cure. She’s had years and years of weekly chemotherapy, and as a result we’ve had years of worry and stress. In 2018, we decided to treat my mum to watch a Latics game from a box in the West Stand, as a bit of much needed relief and family time after a month of straight chemo.
On arrival, the club got wind of the situation with my mum and decided to act, and quickly. At full-time, after another superb win, we returned to our box to find Chairman, David Sharpe, waiting to greet us. David had been told about my mum, and was insistent he wanted to meet her and give her his best wishes on behalf of the club. He came in and told us that he wanted to give us something else on top of the day we’ve had, and gifted us another box for the following home game against Blackpool on behalf of himself as thank you to my mum for her support. A man, who probably has more pressing and more important matters and duties to deal with as Chairman of our club, doing all of this because he cares, and it completed summed up what our club is about.
David left, and we thought that was a wonderful way to end the day. How wrong we could be…
15 minutes later, Will Grigg, Nick Powell and Dan Burn arrive in our box to come and say hello to my mum after people inside the club mentioned to them the situation my mum found herself in. They spent time with her, getting to know her and about Gorham’s etc, really taking an interest, before wishing us well and heading on their way.
That’s just one example of what Wigan Athletic is, and there has been loads more, but I found it hard to believe that other clubs would go to the lengths Latics did to make my mum feel important, forget about her problems, and have a day she’ll never forget. I’ve always loved the club for its on-field success, but it really opened my eyes on how they treat their own, and how they know of the importance they have and carry in our town.
And it’s not just the high profiled names at our club that make it what it is. There is people behind the scenes that have been brilliant too. The media team have always offered us signed shirts/memorabilia for the fundraising nights for my mum whenever we have asked. The likes of Julie Lavin and so many more, who always look after us and simply show us they care, are what make our club great.
They are the people that makes me worry most about our current plight, as they are now plunged into uncertainty about what the future holds for them. Having been there myself 12 months ago with work, I know how horrible that wait is for any flicker of news. If, and hopefully when, this club comes out the other side, those people are still there and sat firmly at the heart of our club.
Going back to on-the-field, the records speak for themselves. If you had told me 20 years ago when I was watching us in League 1/2, I’d have seen promotion after promotion, eight years in the Premier League, a major trophy in the cabinet, and trips into Europe to watch the tics in the Group Stages of the Europa League, I’d have laughed at you.
I think of clubs like Ipswich Town, who spent 10-15 years stuck in the Championship, with no promotion or relegation, probably with as little to worry about as possible, and wonder what that must be like. I can’t remember many, if any, seasons where Latics have had nothing riding on it going into the last 5-10 games. We’ve been spoilt.
Even in our darkest times in the Premier League, where we were thumped 9-1 at Spurs, 8-0 at Chelsea, or every trip we made to Manchester United to roll over and lose 5-0, the tics would come out of nowhere to show you why you support them.
Moments like Unsworth’s penalty at Sheffield United, Rodallega’s header at Stoke, N’Zgobia’s winner to relegate West Ham, Maloney’s winner against United, Caldwell silencing the Kop. There’s so many to mention, and given the current situation, so many to cherish and look back on fondly now.
Even more recently, after months of looking down and out, wins at the likes of Leeds United and West Brom, and 7 consecutive clean sheets, now has us (let’s forget the -12 for now!) sat in mid-table of the Championship.
There’s no other club, especially of our size, that has done what we have done, and that is something they can never take away from us, no matter where we end up.
But as I’ve eluded to, it’s not primarily the football that is making us spend endless time and money following them.
It’s the endless away trips and day sessions with family and mates, wondering if there’s any point doing this anymore after losing 3-0 at Forest which is sending us towards a deserved relegation…
It’s the love and effort of those that are no longer with us, that worked so hard to keep our club alive in the early days so we can enjoy the success we’ve seen in the last 20…
It’s holding Will Grigg aloft in Revs as the players join the title celebrations with the fans up King Street rather than a private function…
It’s hugging complete strangers, and seeing grown men cry at Wembley as years and years of watching absolute rubbish is rewarded with a moment to last a lifetime…
One. Of. A. Kind.
After all this, I simply can’t believe the club has been allowed to be dragged into this mess. You’d think these kind of people would be washed out by the governing body before they are able to complete a takeover, but sadly that isn’t the case.
I just pray that there is a solution to this situation, and it results in the people accountable being brought to task for what they have done to a club that is so vital to the community.
Like I said, if you’re not a fan of Wigan Athletic, most of this is oblivion to you. But wherever the tics end up come the end of it, I know there’s a band of crazy, daft but passionate supporters waiting to continue this rollercoaster we’ve been riding for decades.
Keep the faith. Up the tics. 💙