Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'If there’s any indication that all is right at the DW, it’s that Sam Morsy and Will Grigg could move to league rivals on deadline day, and one does not feel envy and despair that we missed out on both...'
Caddy from the 5:
No game this week due to the international break, robbing the ‘Tics fans and the pub landlords of a great trip to Fleetwood via Poulton and Blackpool...oh, and a game! This week has seen us gain three points in a truly awful game against Portsmouth, and retain our unbeaten record at home with a 0-0 draw versus Wolves Under-21 in the Clown’s Cup. Sorry what, we lost on penalties? I don’t think so, we drew the game 0-0 we didn’t lose, that’s how it goes isn’t it? The Portsmouth game’s build up on Twitter was far more entertaining than the actual game because of a few things said in this column last week, even if Paul’s ever-receding hairline (final warning, Cadman -Ed) lost a few more strands with the fall out from some irate Pompey fans!!! Oh well! The transfer window ‘slammed shut’ this week with the ‘Tics having the audacity to sign St Johnstone’s captain Jason Kerr, a massive step down according to their fans, whose club won its first Scottish Cup the year after we won our first FA Cup – the world’s greatest Cup competition – and once drew with Galatasaray. What is it with small clubs having draws with foreign teams in their trophy cabinet? Yes I’m looking at you, Horwich... Brocol House hasn’t had as many signings on as Curtis Tilt has had at Wigan, but it’s great to see the big man back, an excellent signing, as is Joe Bennett, according to the more gracious Cardiff fans. The squad looks a lot more balanced now and packed with quality. Are we good enough? That remains to be seen. But if 100 points isn’t enough so be it... Last word goes out to all the fans of the clubs saying we’re ‘buying the league’. We’ve actually paid cash for two players, the rest are shrewd signings, do they not remember we only had six or seven players at the end of last season? Maybe look at your own owners for a lack of ambition rather than ours, who’s putting his faith and money where his mouth is. Jealousy is an awful trait. If we do go up, it’ll be – as Talal says – because of the hard word Leam and his team are doing at the club on and off the pitch. Right I’m off to help Paul Cook book all his 18 new players in...they’ve all got bibs with their names on to help him remember who he’s bought. Enjoy your free weekend, ‘Tics fans, get plenty ‘Bow down your neck and UP THE TICS!!!
Well it’s been a while since I’ve done this. First off, I don’t think I’ve felt the feel-good factor and buzz going into a season since 2005. The fresh air approach of Talal and all involved in the Phoenix group is amazing to see. On the pitch has been an excellent start for a team just getting to know each other. The transfer window is now shut and Leam now looks to have a squad to have a right good go this season. There looks to be quite a few jealous managers out there, led by you know who down the road, saying we are throwing money around trying to buy the league. But with the sale of a couple of young players, sell-on clauses and targets achieved at other clubs, it looks we may have turned a profit on dealings this summer. The last 18 months has taught us to appreciate what we have in life, and a now healthy Wigan Athletic is right up there after family – and I’ve personally seen over the past month Wigan Athletic and our fans is part of my family.
One month down, eight to go. If you could have envisioned the month of August going any better for Latics, you would have had to be playing the latest FIFA video game on the lowest difficulty setting. Things have gone so well for Wigan Athletic, the football powers that be have determined Latics must be rewarded with a break from play this weekend after such a phenomenal start. In all seriousness, it is refreshing to once again have individual players like Jordan Jones and James McClean to follow and support during World Cup qualifying matches – especially as someone who has little to no vested interest in UEFA competitions. Turning our attention back to Latics, four of our first five league matches have come against teams that currently sit within the top eight places of the league table alongside Wigan. The only team that doesn’t, Charlton Athletic, was nearly a play-off side last season and will surely find their form as time progresses. The competition we’ve faced over the month of August was every bit as stiff as the fixture list suggested it would be, and we’ve prevailed through it exceptionally well. We’re matching the form of our 17/18 League One title-winning side so far by producing an impressive return of 10 points from five matches. We’ve won two League (EFL) Cup matches for the first time since we were a Premier League side. We’re beating good teams and we’re doing it with a dressing room that features more new faces than familiar faces for our gaffer Leam Richardson.
The positive momentum continued through Deadline Day as Latics wrapped up the summer transfer window with another set of shrewd signings in Joe Bennett, Jason Kerr, and Curtis Tilt. We may be far away from becoming the league’s top goal-scoring team, but why would we need a 20-goal talisman when our defence might not even let 20 goals in this season? As ambitious of a team goal as that may be, it’s hard not to look at our early defensive performances and not get giddy over how we have strengthened that position group with our last bit of transfer business. I do not envy the decisions our manager will have to make to pick a starting XI week-after-week. We may end up having to keep some players out of the matchday squad who were strong enough to be among the first names on the team sheet last season. Most importantly, with our squad now set in place for the next several months at minimum, we can take all of a few seconds to scan through our players list and be assured that we will compete with any team in this league on any given day.
If there’s any indication that all is right at the DW Stadium, it’s that ex-Latics heroes Sam Morsy and Will Grigg could move to league rivals on deadline day, and one does not feel envy and despair that we missed out on both. We will likely not see the pen emoji appear in our chairman’s tweets as frequently as we have enjoyed over the past several months, but there is still very much to be excited about. We’ve said goodbye to a valued friend of the club in Keith the Duck, but another bird still watches over our club to ensure our well being. Phoenix 2021 continues to rise and there is no reason to believe that our club’s ascent will stop any time soon.
Where to start? From where we were to now has been a huge transformation. We’ve added to the squad in more ways than one, mourned a duck because the person they got mixed up with is still fighting his fight, and our ‘Believe’ campaign was launched. It’s been a great month of football and I for one am looking forward to the rest of the season. I’m cautiously optimistic about our end of season position, but football is a funny old game and, remembering we almost didn’t have a club, I’ll continue to support us and see what happens! ‘Let Latics gel’ really will come into its own over the next few months, especially as we normally only kick on after Christmas!
A cracking cup-tie last week with a great atmosphere under the floodlights decided in a tense penalty shoot-out. This was just the game Wigan and Bolton fans thought they may never see again after all the trials and tribulations of recent seasons. Two clubs re-emerging from probably the darkest times in their histories. That could never be the story though could it? It had to be about Bolton selling out their ticket allocation and using it as a stick to mock Wigan and its fanbase etc. The same Wigan that is supposed to be tin pot, irrelevant and the contradiction seems lost on them. To take 4,700 to an away game and make a din and crank up the atmosphere was great, albeit with the caveat that tickets were only £15 and you can walk from Bolton’s ground to the DW in an hour or so. Latics fans are used to being reminded about being a small club with a small fanbase with comments ranging from good-natured banter to absolute mindless bile. And it’s not just Bolton that lay it on thick. Even clubs with lower average attendances still think they are ‘bigger’ than us. The reality is that we are a small town club with a small fanbase , and so what? We have punched above our weight after Dave Whelan bankrolled us, and again, so what? There is no club in the country that would snub their nose to a generous local benefactor or even an overseas one . Since we entered the Football League in 1978, many other clubs have followed us in from non-league – Fleetwood, Accrington, Morecambe, Burton, Salford City to name a few. Wimbledon entered the league just before us, in 1977, and have since been reborn. All have lower fanbases than us, but we don’t mock them as we understand the concept of population and location. There would no doubt be banter if and when we actually play any of these new clubs, but not the obsessive goading we seem to attract.
Where did this special dislike and goading come from? Jealousy is partly an explanation, as so-called sleeping giants looked on as we marched on to the Premier League and had our name written on the famous old trophy. Some of its perception and at times the club has inadvertently reinforced the stereo type of a club with no fans. When the JJB opened in 1999, the East Stand was not used for a couple of seasons and, with the TV cameras in the West Stand, the stadium looked empty. Then for a while the East Stand was the away stand, which was entirely filled with Sunderland fans for one fixture which prompted the ‘where are all the home fans’ barrage. I worked with fans from all over the country, and generally they give me a bit of kudos for supporting my local team and not one of our more illustrious neighbours. However, there was one famous fixture when even these more level-headed friends waded in to have a pop. The promotion home game v Reading in 2005 when the East Stand was still for away fans. The three other home stands were sold out, but Reading had nothing to play for and brought a few hundred fans. A handful of them stayed behind to offer sporting applause to Premier-bound Wigan. The problem was their blue scarves at a glance appeared to be a paltry group of home fans. I received texts and calls expressing amazement that we could not sell what was then the biggest day in our history.
No amount of explanation cut through. Events like this seemed to seep into the consciousness of rival clubs’ fans and gave them ammunition. We are often reminded with the chant ‘your ground’s too big for you’, which is true, especially if we yo-yo between League One and the Championship. A decent crowd of 17k-18k in the Premier League or a big cup-tie still invited mockery as the focus was on the 8k empty seats. The same attendance at QPR and it was bouncing, and 12k at Bournemouth never seemed to raise eyebrows.
I was glad Bolton packed out the away end, spent money in the ground and made a din. I hope lots of other opponents do the same. If they get bigger support from a bigger population its no big deal or achievement. If they have won more honours than us it is because they had 100 years start. Also the notion that they are an historically well supported club is a myth. The near 5k away fans they brought to Wigan was their average home attendance for most of the 1980s, which makes their air of superiority misplaced. It’s quality, not quantity, that makes us massive. The biggest small club in the world. The aforementioned sleeping giants can vie for the title of smallest big club in the world.
It comes to something when the most disappointing aspect of the opening month of the season was a draw against Wolves Under-21s in the Pizza Cup and a subsequent penalty shoot-out defeat. There’s no point spending time worrying about Tuesday night. The real business of the evening came off the pitch, and as promised Talal Al Hammad and the Phoenix 21 Limited group delivered a squad ready to compete for a return to the Championship. Three signings, including the returning Curtis Tilt, surely give us one of the strongest squads in League One. In every single position, there are now two or more players fighting for every position. These aren’t reserve players, or youth players, they are senor players. Players who would walk straight into most other sides. The new owners declared at the onset of the takeover that they would be judged not on words, but actions. And so far, despite it being such early days, they are absolutely living up to that motto. The results keep on coming, as an admittedly below-par Latics got one over Portsmouth on Saturday and became the first side to take all three points from them this season. The sign of a good side is one that can still pick up points, even when not at their best. It’s such a shame Fleetwood has been postponed as momentum is a great thing, not to mention many beers on the Fylde Coast, which is also a great thing. Still, a Tuesday night taking in the illuminations and a trip to Fleetwood for the ‘Tics doesn’t have that bad a ring to it either. So as we take a break this weekend and instead look ahead to Doncaster, we can look back on an opening month of the season that surpassed all expectations. Many people suggested a mid-table finish with a play-off push would be the limit of our expectations this season. I think with the squad assembled now that’s the bare minimum. There’s Premier League experience throughout the side, add in a load of Championship know-how and some bright young stars from League One, and the squad is looking as strong as you could expect.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. We’ve made a great start, but now we need to keep that up across a whole season. If anyone can manage that, I’m sure it’s Leam and the rest of the management team. We’ve been so lucky, a year ago we were fighting our very existence now we’re fighting for a very different prize indeed. It could have been so different if any number of parties had had their way.
Good grief, there’s not half been some whinging and belly aching from rival League One clubs’ managers, supporters and even one club’s owner regarding the activity of Wigan Athletic over the past few weeks in the transfer market. 'Globetrotters', 'buying the league', 'ruining football' etc, etc, etc. Where were all these concerned individuals a year ago when the club was getting pillaged? Didn’t hear any 'you can’t allow Kieffer Moore, Cedric Kipre, Jamal Lowe, Sam Morsy, Joe Williams, Antonee Robinson, Joffy Gelhardt, Nathan Byrne, Jenson Weir, Alfie Devine, David Marshall, go for that paltry amount'. Where were all these concerned individuals a year ago when we got told we couldn’t sign any players on contracts over £1,500 per week and our squad was at its limit due to the kids having played in Mickey Mouse Cups sometime in the previous two seasons. This cost some of our kids a future in football, but where were they then with their indignation? They didn’t care back then because the situation we were in made us favourites for relegation. Yes, we got an occasional condescending pat on the head, but that was quickly followed by a moan about not being able to have a bottle of wine at a game that we had no licence to allow consumption of alcohol at. We finished last season with six senior players contracted to the club. We now have a squad of 24, including four players who we negotiated with and persuaded to stay after their deals ran out, three teenagers and three loan signings - one of which was with us for the majority of last season. We’ve paid money for just three players and managed to show a profit on the transfer budget via ‘add-ons’ and the Kyle Joseph fee. We have rattled a few because we have got up off our backsides and stood tall. We have rebuilt, we have brought in quality by selling the club to the players, the dream of where we want to go and where we can go. The new lads believe, they want to be part of that journey, just like the fans do. To be honest, I’m pleased all these rivals are rattled, that they think we’re 'ruining football by building the new Globetrotters’. I’m pleased because it is confirming what I suspected - we are genuine title contenders, we have the squad to challenge the best of the rest, we’ve gone from a team that scraped survival by the skin of its teeth, to one that has an opportunity to take this division by storm. It’s good to be up off our backsides, to be standing tall and to be smiling.
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