Jackson’s review of the year: Winning promotion such a fantastic achievement

Wigan Athletics chairman David Sharpe and chief executive Jonathan Jackson
Wigan Athletics chairman David Sharpe and chief executive Jonathan Jackson

Another year – another eventful 12 months in the life of Wigan Athletic.

2016 was certainly more enjoyable than the preceding year and, although we were competing in League One for the first time in a while, the performances on the pitch and the response from the supporters meant it was a memorable season for everyone connected with the club.

An inconsistent start to the season reflected we had not adapted to life in the third tier immediately, but we started to climb the table.

And by the time we visited Glanford Park to play Scunthorpe on January 2, we had reached fifth place and were unbeaten in eight away matches.

Unfortunately, the death of ex-player Steve Gohouri, which was announced on the same day, was a sad moment for everyone who knew the big Ivorian centre-half.

Later in the year we were also saddened to say goodbye to two more of our favourite former players, Bert Llewellyn and Bobby Campbell.

Although we are currently not winning as many matches as we would like, it is important to recognise that football is always a roller-coaster of emotions, and the future will probably be just as unpredictable

Jonathan Jackson

On the pitch, we were gathering momentum and our first home league match was a real turning point in our season.

In front of the Sky cameras, we were 2-0 down at home to rivals Gillingham after 60 minutes, when Will Grigg and Max Power both scored to bring us level.

Craig Morgan’s last-minute winner, a header from a corner, was a massive boost to our promotion push and a devastating blow to the Gills, whose season never really recovered.

The reverse happened a week later when we surrendered a 3-0 lead at home to Sheffield United and, although it felt like a low point the result, a draw, continued our unbeaten run.

The signing of Yanic Wildschut in January was also a significant event.

The Flying Dutchman, one of the quickest players I have ever seen play for Latics, had been on loan from Middlesbrough since October.

And although his electric performances had increased his price tag, the £1 million we paid has proved to be a shrewd investment.

We remained unbeaten throughout the early part of the year, and by February we faced another key match at promotion rivals Walsall.

By now, our supporters were travelling in large numbers, far more than in the Premier League.

And backed by over 1,500 Wiganers, we looked to have secured a point as the match entered injury time.

Yanic had other ideas, though, and a devastating turn of pace and shot into the bottom corner won the match and sparked delirious scenes behind the goal and in the directors box.

It was another key moment as we entered the automatic promotion places for the first time all season.

Our exceptional form continued, and by April, I was fortunate to co-commentate on Wish FM/Player HD with Ash Houghton as we breezed past Shrewsbury in the Shropshire sunshine, winning 5-1 and hitting top spot for the first time.

Another full away end sang a newly-created song acclaiming our top goal scorer, Will Grigg, who was in a rich vein of form, and it was another high point in a season that was fast becoming the best in the league for years.

The season culminated in a brilliant 4-0 win at the seaside at Blackpool, which clinched promotion, followed by a less impressive 4-1 defeat at home to resurgent Barnsley in the final game.

But nevertheless our lead at the top was unassailable, and seeing Gary Caldwell and the squad lift the League One trophy at the DW Stadium was a fantastic moment.

Winning matches certainly brings everyone together at the football club, and the connection between supporters, players and staff was very evident as the celebrations on King Street late into Sunday night provided an incredible conclusion to the season.

There is no doubt that the tune to ‘Will Grigg’s On Fire’, which rang out in the streets of Wigan that night, became a theme tune for the whole of football over the course of the summer, and I’m sure brought a smile to the face of every Latics supporter.

We were delighted to move our senior players and staff into the new training facility at Euxton during the close season, allowing Christopher Park to become our academy base, and the team began their preparations for the new season in a wonderful new facility.

The second half of the year, competing at a higher level, has undoubtedly been a challenge.

The Championship is even tougher than the last time we competed in it.

However, the 3-0 home win against Blackburn Rovers in August showed we have the players to win matches at this level.

An obvious low point was relieving Gary Caldwell of his duties after the home defeat to Brighton.

Even with the team in the relegation zone, it is never an easy decision to make.

But the board believed it was necessary to give the club the best chance of success in the future.

Warren Joyce has a tough job this season, but his experience at Manchester United – working with some of the best players in the world – will be invaluable in the coming months.

In November, we unveiled a statue of Dave Whelan outside the DW Stadium.

It was a fitting tribute to a remarkable Wigan man who has funded the club for over 20 years, built a new stadium to allow the club to compete in the Premier League, and taken us to unimaginable highs over more than two decades.

As December brings the year to a close, as a Wigan Athletic supporter, I look back on some memorable and enjoyable moments in 2016 – especially that special day in Blackpool in May.

And although we are currently not winning as many matches as we would like, it is important to recognise that football is always a roller-coaster of emotions, and the future will probably be just as unpredictable.

A final word of thanks to our supporters, who have lived through the highs and lows with us over the past few seasons, and I’m sure will continue to do so in 2017 and beyond.

On behalf of everyone at Wigan Athletic, I wish them all a Happy New Year as we look forward to the challenges ahead.