Hundred of Wiganers turned out as the sun broke throught the clowds for the unveiling of the Dave Whelan statue on the tycoon’s 80th birthday.
Today, on this landmark birthday as a statue was unveiled to him outside the DW Stadium, Mr Wigan reflected on some of the highs and lows of his life thus far.
Mr Whelan said: “It all boils down to one high and one low when I think quickly about it: the high was winning the FA Cup and the low was Wigan Athletic getting relegated from the Premier League, which all happened, of course, within a few days of each other.
“There have been other good and bad times of course. I am sorry that I sold JJB for instance.
“I did so because I had been told that I had a gene that had gone funny and if it didn’t right itself I only had three months to live. As it turned out it corrected itself but I wasn’t to know that.
“If I hadn’t sold JJB I could have continued growing it. It was making a £100m profit when I had to give it up, but I came back with the DW Sports health clubs.
It all boils down to one high and one low when I think quickly about it: the high was winning the FA Cup and the low was Wigan Athletic getting relegated from the Premier League, which all happened, of course, within a few days of each otherDave Whelan
“I have been very lucky though, especially with my health. Apart from that one scare and a few broken bones, I’ve been pretty unscathed.
“I still go to work every day and still watch Wigan Athletic. As you get older you have to slow down or nature will slow you down anyway. But I’ve no plans to grind to a standstill yet!
“I have enjoyed every minute of the last 80 years, from playing professional football to winning the FA Cup with Wigan Athletic to building businesses.”
Mr Whelan said he had also taken great pleasure in seeing his dream of creating a Wigan boys and girls’ club, modelled on the youth club which he says set the wayward Whelan Jnr on the straight and narrow as a child, come to fruition in the form of Wigan Youth Zone.
Born in Bradford on November 24 1936, Mr Whelan was hastily bundled over the “right side of the Pennines” and says he is a dyed-in-the-wool Wiganer.
He was brought up in Poolstock and was an accomplished footballer whose professional career went into decline after he broke his leg during the 1960 FA Cup Final playing for Blackburn Rovers.
On quitting the game as a player he turned to retail and over the ensuing decades established himself as one of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs.
A father of two, grandfather of five and great-grandfather of five, he lives in Parbold with Pat and also has a home in Barbados.
Around 60 guests are due to attend a special birthday bash at the Wrightington Hotel and Country Club, which Mr Whelan also owns, tomorrow.
What they said ...
Wigan rugby legend Billy Boston said: “What can you say about Dave Whelan? Only nice things. He’s a fabulous chap and a great ambassador for Wigan.
“He has done tremendous things as far as sport and business is concerned.
“I have alot to thank him for, I consider him a wonderful fellow and a good friend. I am proud to know him.”
Fellow tycoon and Wigan Youth Zone founder Martin Ainscough said: “I have only known Dave Whelan personally for the last six years.
“I was asked by the Onside Charity to head up the funding and building of a twenty first century facility for the young people of Wigan.
“I knew it was critical to get the most influential man in Wigan to support his project. Mr Wigan himself, Dave Whelan.
“I was staggered by Dave’s enthusiasm and generosity in making Wigan Youth Zone such a fantastic success.
“He has not only donated millions to this cause but he gives his time and considerable influence to make sure that the Wigan Boys and Girls’ Club charity is secure for generations to come.
“He has become a close personal friend and is great company to be with.”
Veteran Wigan newspaper columnist Geoffrey Shryhane said: “I first met Dave when he and his young family became my neighbours when they bought a house at Prospect Road in Standish in the 1960s. He was always ready to chat about his days growing up in Wigan.
“Some years ago, he gave me his views on his life and sport at his beautiful home in Parbold.
“And the next time we met, he agreed to talk about his childhood. It was an absolute revelation.
“The lad from Chadwick Street in Poolstock spoke of happiness wrapped in hardship. His mother took in washing.
“His dad was away at war. His story is of an ordinary lad who made it good.
“Very good. His pride in his home town has never been in doubt.”
Former Wigan Athletic chief executive Brenda Spencer said: “I met Dave Whelan for the first time in February 1995 when he became the new owner of Wigan Athletic.
“It wasn’t always easy working for this very successful businessman.
“He was a hard taskmaster, but I also felt we had a mutual working respect for each other and, whatever that was, it worked.
“Dave has done so much for Wigan and Wigan Athletic Football Club and the statue, placed at the stadium in his honour, is a fitting tribute to everything he has achieved.
Thank you Dave for the incredible journey, not only for myself but all the fans of our club.”
Former Latics manager Steve Bruce said: “Dave Whelan is certainly up there with the best chairmen I’ve ever worked for.
“He’s as straight as a die, strong, no-nonsense, and very good company.
“I found him an absolute joy to be around and to work alongside.
“As a manager, he backed you with everything he had, and of course he understood the game which helps.
“He should be very proud of his achievements, and I would like to wish him many more happy years in the game.”
Former Latics manager Roberto Martinez said: “I know Mr Whelan doesn’t like to celebrate birthdays, but he will forgive us for making a fuss of him turning 80.
“And I feel so privileged to have been a small part of his story.
“What he has done is simply unique in world football - it will never be repeated.
“To have taken a team from the bottom division to the Premier League, having built the stadium, and then winning the FA Cup is an amazing story.
“It’s humbling to have been involved for 10 of those years - six as a player and four as a manager - and I thank him for allowing me to do so.
“I remember joining Wigan in 1995, and then the following year celebrating his 60th birthday. Back then he had a lot of dreams and hopes for the club and the town.
“He has achieved all that...and much more.”
Latics chairman David Sharpe said: “The statue is a tribute to the work my grandfather has put in to the club over the past 21 years and it is only right that the club comes together on this occasion - players, staff and supporters - to celebrate a unique moment.”
Leader of Wigan Council Lord Smith said: “Dave Whelan’s contribution to Wigan through sport and business has been huge which the council has recognised with a star in Believe Square and by appointing him a freeman of the borough. “We all wish him many happy returns on this special occasion.”
John Harker, director and general manager of Wigan Youth Zone: “Mr Wigan fits perfectly when describing him. He has literally put Wigan on the map and his dedication to supporting young people is tangible.
“He has made an invaluable contribution to the fortunes of Wigan and, above all, has sought to apply his personal wealth and organisational capability to the task of improving the prospects of Wigan’s youth and the disadvantaged in many ways.
“But to everyone involved in the youth zone, his vision of recreating a 21st century manifestation of Wigan Boys’ Club to support the aspirations of Wigan’s youth is his crowning glory.”
Wigan Warriors owner and chairman Ian Lenagan said: “Dave is a Wigan man through and through. I first met him when I was owner of London Broncos and we came up for the Broncos game at Wigan and met Dave in the boardroom at the DW Stadium. He had no idea I was a Wiganer too but as soon as he found out, he treated me like a long-lost friend. We shared stories - about Poolstock and Wigan St Patricks - and discovered quickly that we had a lot in common.
The episode summed up Dave Whelan’s attitude towards Wigan and Wigan people. He’ll always support anything Wigan whether it’s the Youth Zone, Wigan Athletic or Wigan Warriors and has done an immense amount for the town and for its people. A lasting memorial of his business success and love of sport is the DW Stadium, conceived and paid for by Dave himself which has ensured a superb future venue for both Wigan clubs.
I shall never forget when Wigan won the Challenge Cup in 2013 following Latics victory earlier that year in the FA Cup Final. Dave was with us at Wembley that day and brought the FA Cup with him - but kept hidden at our request just in case Wigan didn’t win. But we did win and Dave brought the trophy into the Wigan dressing-room to celebrate with us.
It was amazing for the town of Wigan to hold both famous Cups at the same time at Wembley and all made possible by one man’s business success, his passion for Wigan and his generosity – Dave Whelan!”
Former Wigan Athletic manager Paul Jewell said: “We had some good times together, me and the chairman. It’s probably easy to forget given what’s happened in recent years, but I wish him well.
“The club needed stability when I first went in, and I’d liked to think we brought that. The first season was a very tough one, but he stuck by me when others might not have.
“I’ll always thank him for that.”