WIGAN Athletic legend Neill Rimmer is hoping there will be a carnival atmosphere at Sunday’s visit of Aston Villa to celebrate the club’s Premier League adventure and FA Cup success.
And he’s confident Wigan Athletic will be back at the top table of English football before too long.
The 4-1 defeat at Arsenal in midweek signalled the end of Wigan’s top-flight stay after eight years.
It was only the second time Latics have ever suffered relegation – the previous occasion being 20 years ago when they dropped from the third tier to the fourth.
Rimmer was club captain back then, although he missed the entire campaign with a serious knee injury which undoubtedly contributed to Wigan’s lowly finish.
Now back with Latics as the expert matchday summariser for local radio and the official website, Rimmer knows more than most the pain that the players will be experiencing.
“The players, the management and the staff will all be deeply disappointed by what’s happened,” Rimmer told the Evening Post.
“I have to say the fans have been absolutely incredible, and this year has been special for a number of reasons aside from the relegation.
“The quality of football has been great, the cup run was so exciting and for a lot of people it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we will never forget.
“Obviously we’re all down about relegation, but when we step back and look at the bigger picture the whole story – over the past eight years – is certainly beyond most people’s expectations.
“I’m thinking Sunday will be a pleasant day – a day for celebration rather than anything else – and the important thing is that we all enjoy the day.
“We may be down but we’re definitely not out. Far from it.”
Rimmer empathised with the pain the Wigan players felt as they left the field at the Emirates in midweek, some in tears.
But he backed them to bounce back after the initial disappointment has given way to a steely determination to make amends.
“You’re disappointed, obviously, but you go away for the summer, and vow to come back stronger the next year,” Rimmer recognised.
“I can only talk from personal experience, but I’ve found that footballers are people who move on pretty quick. The reason for that is that they have to do so on a weekly basis.
“You get beat one week, and you have to be ready to go again the next week. Ultimately, I think that is what will happen.
“The players will come and they will be dead keen to bounce back at the first attempt, because everyone wants to be in the Premier League.
“They’ll probably work that extra little bit harder to prove to themselves and everyone else that they are capable of playing higher.
“There will be a lot of work that needs to be done behind the scenes to get their minds right, because it’s important to start the season brightly to keep those doubts at bay.
“But there will be so much determination to put things right, because it’s a travesty what’s happened to us with all the injuries we’ve suffered.”
Two decades ago, it was Rimmer and his pals who were left with the sinking feeling of relegation into the bottom tier. It’s a feeling that still hurts even to this day.
“It was obviously a bad time for me, having missed the best part of two years with injury – and not being able to get out there and help the lads made it doubly difficult,” he revealed.
“I was club captain at the time, and I would have given anything to be able to do something to help.
“I remember going to every game, home and away, and it was a frustrating time for us all. It was tough to watch.
“There were some who didn’t seem to care, but most of the lads were desperately upset by what had happened and it really affected them.
“The club were really struggling for money at the time, and any decent players we did have – like Peter Atherton and Joe Parkinson – were sold to keep us afloat.
“We were already gone by the last game, which we drew 0-0 at Bournemouth.
“I was fit enough to be named on the bench and played the last few minutes, which on a personal level was great because my career had been in doubt at one point.
“Bournemouth had actually come in for me just before the transfer deadline, but I wanted to stay and thank Wigan for sticking by me through my injury.
“I never wanted to leave – I love this club – and probably getting injured when I did helped to keep me here in a funny way!”
Rimmer also sees similarities between both relegation campaigns in one fateful and fatal area – injuries.
“We had a lot of injuries as well that year – as well as myself I remember Joe Parkinson and John Doolan were also out for a long time, and that does play a part as it’s done this year,” Rimmer added.
“When you’re a small club you can’t afford to run with a large squad like some of the bigger clubs in the division.
“We’ve never seemed to have that luxury down the years, and it does leave you stretched when things don’t go your way.
“The fans never left us, though, and they were fantastic on that final day at Bournemouth.
“They really got behind the lads, laughing and joking, and they helped to make it a great atmosphere.
“It was nice of them to do that, and hopefully it’ll be the same on Sunday.”