12th Man: Latics fans have their say
I may well have drank Sangria, albeit not in the park.
Talk about a season that slowly gained momentum until it turned into an absolutely deafening crescendo.
A crescendo consisting mainly of deliriously happy Latics fans singing “Will Grigg’s on Fire” in the pubs of Blackpool and Wigan until the early hours.
For an hour or so we were nervy at Bloomfield Road and if we’re honest, they could have been two or even three goals up if their diminutive twin forwards took their chances.
Yet the cloak of nervousness was cast aside and chucked straight into the sea in no uncertain terms the second that Chris McCann manoeuvred on the edge of the box to produce some deft skill and a sublime finish.
Let the party and opening of floodgates commence!
A Blackpool team who had all seemingly been playing above themselves, no doubt playing for contracts elsewhere, were always likely to wilt when the first goal went in.
A stark contrast to the Latics team who threw off any shackles of doubt and turned on the style, just like they had done against Swindon, Shrewsbury and Southend in recent weeks to blow the opposition away.
The stand was bouncing, the noise was deafening and nobody wanted to leave as the squad, manager, owner(s) and fans enjoyed a wonderful and well-earned post-match celebration together.
I often consider that we are a little bit blessed because as Latics fans we have had more good times in the last 20 years than many clubs’ fans will encounter in a lifetime.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s Premier League or Northern Premier League, when you invest your support in a team and there’s a terrific bond between fans and players, then there is no better feeling in the world and Saturday was as good as it gets.
Winning the League One Championship after the despondency of last year in such terrific style at Blackpool will live long in the memory and once again, we have a football team in Wigan for everyone to be immensely proud of.
Whether everyone in Wigan chooses to or not is another matter - however, not only is it looking like quite a lean season for those who follow the big clubs, no matter how closely you follow them, there will never be the same connection as this group of players has with Wigan Athletic fans, as anyone who has the misfortune to follow Max Power on Twitter will confirm.
As for Sunday, well Barnsley are certainly up for it and are bringing thousands of fans on free coaches as a win will secure them a play-off place, whereas most of our squad appear to have been on the lash for most of the week.
So I suppose we can forgive them if they don’t steam roller Barnsley like they have done to so many other teams recently, however 90 points has a lovely ring to it!
You’ve chortled and sobbed uncontrollably at the two-minute video highlights package, wearing out your index finger by clicking that replay button 1932 times.
But now it’s time to grab your tissues and prepare to weep all over again as we relive those moments you might easily have missed.
It’s the Alternative Match Highlights: Blackpool Beamback Edition!
A specially-rented 20ft television screen being wheeled into the DW’s back entrance atop a creaky transit van complete with cheery cigarette-chomping driver.
The 1,000-person scramble to DW’s exclusive padded seating area.
Under normal circumstances it’s reserved for VIPs, but on this momentous day it was open for the delighted masses.
Beamback attendees booing loudly when the video feed was replaced by an (admittedly very attractive) test card just 120 seconds before kick-off.
Fans at Bloomfield Road amusing themselves by bouncing incredibly over-inflated beach balls off each other’s heads.
Love at first sight for Sam Morsy, who just couldn’t help giving those Blackpool attackers a big hug.
It was certainly unrequited, however, as the Tangerine victims didn’t appreciate the sentiment… and neither did Gary Caldwell, who replaced Morsy with Yanic Wildschut soon after.
It seems love will not only tear you apart, but get you substituted as well.
Beambackers staying to watch the live feed until the very moment it was switched off again during post-match festivities.
And booing loudly once more when it did.
Caldwell deliberately spraying David Sharpe with half a bottle of champagne.
He never should have told that radio interviewer he wanted to keep his best suit dry.
Certain players’ exuberant post-match celebrations on the Promenade, which have already ensured a hungover 1-1 draw at the DW this weekend.
But that’ll be enough as long as Latics escape a 36-point deduction for that one fan caught peeing off the North Pier by a passing policeman.
Even though I have done it on a few occasions this season, I never really like highlighting individuals in what has been an exceptional team effort this season.
And when I say team effort, I mean everyone involved with the club: The owner, the chairman, the board of directors, the staff, the playing squad and, last but not least, the fans.
It’s the teamwork what has helped us achieve promotion to the Championship, as well as inevitably lifting the League One trophy at home to Barnsley this Sunday.
The teamwork was again there to see during the 4-0 win at Blackpool, especially in the second half.
However, having said that, I do want to pick out the performance of one player who turned that game on it’s head.
That player is Chris McCann, who has been a real unsung hero over the course of the campaign.
He may not have as much flair as Yanic Wildschut, the touch of Michael Jacobs or the goal-scoring prowess of Will Grigg, but he does have his very own qualities.
Versatility is one of them.
The man is a central midfielder by trade, but he has deputised at left-back in a back four and left wing-back in a back five this term.
Don’t get me wrong, he has filled in the defence extremely well, but in my opinion he is much more threatening in an attacking midfield role because he never takes a backward step.
The 29-year old isn’t blessed with pace but he times his runs beyond the striker to perfection.
He also has a powerful driving run to his name and a sweet left foot too.
You only have to look back to the game at Blackpool. When Caldwell moved him into midfield, the Tangerines’ defence couldn’t cope.
He pressed well in midfield, scored the opening goal and played a part in the other three claiming two direct assists.
He’s a brilliant player at this level and for me his experience will be key for us in the Championship next year.
The Latics promotion party has continued all week and there will be more celebrating on Sunday when they are presented with the League One trophy.
David Sharpe, Dave Whelan, Jonathan Jackson, Gary Caldwell, the coaching staff and players should all be congratulated for producing such an exceptional season to remember. Latics have stormed back to the Championship, losing only once in the last 24 games and with a vastly superior goal difference over their rivals.
Leicester City’s Claudio Ranieri should win the manager of the year in the Premier League but Gary Caldwell is surely the manager of the year in the Football League.
Many thought it was a risky appointment when Caldwell took over last April.
In his first appointment, the youngest manager in the league was tasked with getting Latics promoted and at the first time of asking.
It would have been too tall an order for many managers but Caldwell has delivered in spades. He has been steadfast in his football beliefs and stuck to his principles when things weren’t going so well.
Caldwell has built a team, which thrives on possession, builds from the back and plays the ball on the ground. He always prepares very well and researches the opposition, but the main priority has always been to get his own players performing at their best.
The manager has always said they would take one game at a time and yet there was always a long-term strategy to get Latics promoted.
It was a brave decision to clear out most of last season’s team and it could so easily have backfired.
But the recruitment of players has been very impressive with a mix of young and experienced professionals. There were some expected successes in captain Craig Morgan, goal scorer Will Grigg and creative midfielder Michael Jacobs. But also some players who could have been seen as a risk have made a massive impact, in particular, player of the season David Perkins and runner-up Max Power signed from relegated clubs Blackpool and Tranmere.
Caldwell added greater quality as the season went on with the recruitment of winger Yanic Wildschut, striker Ryan Colclough and midfielder Sam Morsy.
The manager also made great use of the loan system by bringing in Everton striker Conor McAleny and the experienced defender Stephen Warnock from Derby County.
The planning for this season started last April when Caldwell was first appointed and the board and manager are already looking ahead to next season in the Championship. Latics will want to maintain the momentum from promotion and try to make a big impression next season.
They have the nucleus of a very good team but they will need to add more quality in key positions if they are to be challenging near the top. I’m expecting an experienced keeper as back up for Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Another centre back will be required to provide defensive cover for Craig Morgan, Jason Pearce and Donervon Daniels.
Plus they are likely to add another striker to share the goal scoring responsibility with Will Grigg.
But whatever the signings the fans will be expecting more great things next season as Latics look to emulate Leicester’s incredible rise from League One since 2009.
I have had some fantastic away days following the Latics, Wembley, Bruges and far too many more to mention, but Saturday’s trip to Blackpool was right up there with the best of them.
A superb following from the Latics supporters, a great display from the lads, well the second half, and what an atmosphere, top class stuff.
It was an honour to be at Bloomfield Road, the East Stand was quite literally bouncing, Campione ringing out from the fans and the ’Will Grigg is on Fire’ song had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck, it was electric.
At the start of the campaign David Sharpe said there was only one goal and that was promotion, we have achieved that in style and we will be crowned Champions of League One on Sunday. Just how we have coped with such a turnover during the summer and managed to produce a squad that are so together is undeniably down to Gary Caldwell and his backroom staff and full credit to our achievements must go to them.
This week the player of the season award was announced, David Perkins picked up the accolade and it is fully deserved, I have no doubt that he won by a landslide too, but there were also many other worthy candidates that in any other given year would have picked up the award themselves such as been the standard this season.
Will Grigg with his 27 goals, Max Power, Yanic, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Michael Jacobs, Craig Morgan, Jason Pearce, Chris McCann all very much deserving of recognition, and lately Stephen Warnock, what an acquisition he has been, but you can only have one POTS and Perks certainly does fit the bill.
My combination of the season though would have to go to Craig Morgan and Jason Pearce, through injury and suspension the two centre backs have only played together 20 times this campaign, in those 20 games, all in the league, we have won 13, conceded just 14 goals and lost none, a fantastic rock for the team to play in front of.
Sunday will see our final game of the season, we will be crowned Champions of the third tier of English football, this will be the second time that this has happened, ironically enough back in May 2003 when we received the trophy in our final game Barnsley were the visitors and they will be there again on Sunday.
Barnsley though need points and although we will be in party mood they are chasing a play-off spot that they can only guarantee with a victory, there will be 4,500 Tykes in the away end so we should be in for another cracking atmosphere.
The weather forecast is for a bright and sunny day, so fitting that after the gloomy season in 2014/15 that we are also looking to a bright sunny future.
Up the tics!