The 12th Man: Reading between the lines...
A Â£20 train fare, the only complication being that the return trip involved getting the overnight sleeper to Carlisle.
Then first train of the day to Wigan, arriving at 07:43 after which I quickly went home, got changed and went to college. We lost 3-1.
It’s hardly been plain sailing between the two of us ever since.
Anyone there for the second leg of the 2001 play offs will confirm it was one of the worst nights ever watching Latics.
Yet they were also the team we beat on the glorious day we made it to the promised land in 2005.
Like ourselves, Reading got the new ground, the large scale investment, the flirtation and eventual romance with the Premier League.
We are alike in many ways, yet now the two clubs seem so different.
To be fair, Reading have never achieved the highs we have.
You won’t find too many smaller clubs that have.
Yet their “lows” in the modern era have been much more moderate since they got relegated with us in 2013.
Floating around the Championship before installing Jaap Stam this season who has got them up there challenging for promotion playing decent stuff.
I’m sure they’ve had their managerial ups and downs but they look set up to succeed at the very least at Championship level for a number of years, without ever being an established Premier League club.
Sadly, you can’t really look forward and say the same of Wigan Athletic.
There has been quite rightly been anger from the fans over the millions of pounds of parachute payments frittered away.
Massive mistakes have been made, and that’s coming from me who tends to also see parachute payments as a millstone around our neck, a distress payment with which to offload big earners rather than a financial advantage.
You can’t build your future on temporary debt relief though and Reading are also in their final years of parachute payments.
They are however, a smart club with 17,500 fans, a highly regarded manager, a great reputation as a family club and are situated in a growing, affluent Home Counties large town.
Can you say the same of us?
Skint and managerless and readying ourselves for another summer of turmoil and player upheaval?
Disappointing attendances in spite of cheap as chips season ticket prices which clubs like Bradford and Huddersfield sold double of at a similar price. Hemmed in by the Manchester and Liverpool clubs affecting our catchment area.
And for every new fan we attract, someone older walks away because we’re losing every week.
OK so this is perhaps not the speech we need before a big game.
Some of the above has been of our own making, other issues are a potent reminder of everything we have achieved against the odds.
Relegation isn’t a pleasant experience but it’s only happened so often recently because we had the audacity to climb four divisions in the first place.
What goes up must come down as the old saying goes. We’re still not out of it.
Yet, if and when the worst happens, it’s perhaps worth remembering the good times rather than getting angry over the mess we’re currently in.
Because we’ve had good times and then some.
And still they can’t see us off.
Like the proverbial that wouldn’t flush Wigan Athletic are still a Championship side.
But in reality it means little as we will surely be heading back to League One.
From seemingly the start of the season, Latics have had chances to capitalise on results around us and start to climb up the table. But we haven’t taken them.
Our inability to string any more than two wins together will probably see us relegated this weekend. The amazing thing is that we still haven’t been relegated yet.
Cardiff presented our last realistic chance of getting out of it, the chance to put some pressure on those sides around us and try to take it to the last two weeks. We didn’t concede any silly goals this time but sadly we lost our creative spark again.
If a game sums up a season, Cardiff is that game - dominating early on, if we got one goal you would have felt we could go on to get more.
Sadly the goal never came, Neil Warnock - never one to miss a chance to stick the boot in - said that it felt as though ‘Wigan were already relegated’.
Sadly he’s not far wrong.
So to have a chance of taking it to the last game we need to beat play-off chasing Reading and hope both Birmimgham and Blackburn lose. Not happening.
Good old ‘Arry Redknapp’s inability to win his first game at Birmingham just managed to prolong the pain.
So as we’ve all written this season off, it’s with that that thoughts turn to next season.
League One shouldn’t hold any fear for Wigan Athletic. We’ve done it before and we can do it again.
But we can’t be hampered by the wrong managerial appointment again. David Sharpe and the Whelan family need to take their time and decide on the right man and crucially give him time to get things right.
A club that was for so long in the Premier League and a picture of stability looks like it can’t decide what it wants to be anymore.
We need to get some sort of identity back and some sort of stability if we ever want to return to the Championship. Let alone the Premier League.
Uwe Rosler was on Channel 5’s Football League coverage on Saturday and said that instability had killed us.
He isn’t wrong, he himself was a victim of that instability but has done wonders at a much smaller club up the M55.
He still seems to lead the names linked with the post.
If there is any truth in that rumour a lot will depend on how Fleetwood fare on Sunday in their final game of the season and if the expected play-off campaign proves successful.
If it is Uwe, Gary Caldwell or anyone else who has been linked in recent weeks I just hope next season proves a lot more fruitful than this campaign has.
A season that promised so much has been one of the most disappointing in recent memory.
Last Saturday didn’t go the way that we all wanted, or expected, but the goalless draw against a stubborn, but ineffectual Cardiff City really did sum up our season.
We weren’t troubled in the slightest by an attack that appeared to be on the beach, but huff and puff as we may, even throwing Big Dan Burn up front, we couldn’t create one clear cut chance in 90 minutes, making this the 21st game this season where we have failed to score.
A must win game with just one shot on target speaks volumes, we are going down due to a lack of quality in the final third.
Granted we have been unlucky with injuries, both Grigg and Bogle missing for large chunks, Powell sidelined for much of the season too, but the lack of goals, in my opinion, hasn’t been down to poor strikers but lack of creativity from those in the team that should be producing the chances for our finishers to finish.
Whoever comes in to take over the team at the end of this season will have a job on their hands to shake some shoulders and rattle a few heads to get us firing again.
We need some positivity in our build up play, we need pace moving forward and we need to be aggressive high up the pitch.
Those ingredients have been missing all season and the stat of Championship lowest scorers reflects this.
Those making the trip down to Reading on Saturday tell me of a planned relegation party, they intend to enjoy the day no matter what and I say “good on them”, we could actually beat Reading and still see our fate confirmed if Birmingham get a point or Blackburn a win, so why not enjoy a day out in the Berkshire sunshine?
Up the Tics!
Latics look like making a quick return to the third tier of English football yet there is still a slim chance that they could survive.
They will need to win both their games against play-off contenders Reading and Leeds United plus Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers will need to lose both of their games. Unlikely to say the least, but crazier things have happened.
Latics can take inspiration from another Latics – Oldham Athletic in 1993. In the inaugural Premier League season, Oldham produced an incredible three game sequence to avoid relegation. When Crystal Palace won on the penultimate Saturday, they were so nearly safe.
With an eight-point gap and an inferior goal difference, Oldham needed snookers.
First, they won at Aston Villa to hand the title to Manchester United and keep their own race alive.
Then they beat Liverpool and coupled with Palace’s goalless draw at Manchester City, it went to the last day. Oldham had to win and the Eagles had to lose, as well as suffer a swing in the goal difference.
Amazingly Oldham beat Southampton 4-3 at Boundary Park, while Palace were on the end of a 3-0 loss at Arsenal.
Wigan have been involved in many great escapes in the past, but perhaps one of the most contentious was when they and West Ham survived on the final day of the 2006/07 season. West Ham looked doomed to relegation with four games remaining but in Carlos Tevez, they had a striker who made all the difference to their fortunes.
Tevez was the catalyst to the Hammers winning each of their last four games to avoid the drop, most spectacularly with the winner at Champions Manchester United on the final day of the season.
However, that was only half the story. Tevez had been signed from a third-party owner along with compatriot Javier Mascherano, and thus his registration was not valid.
West Ham somehow escaped with a £5.5 million fine for fielding an ineligible player, but no points deduction.
Latics had gone into the final game without a win in 11 games and looking likely to be relegated from the top division.
But their nail-biting 2-1 victory at relegation rivals Sheffield United was enough to keep them up.
This in turn meant that Sheffield United were relegated.
The Blades would later be awarded £30 million in compensation by West Ham, but they have never returned to the Premier League since that fateful May afternoon.
One of the most memorable final day moments was when Carlisle United were facing the prospect of dropping out of the Football League in 1999.
Drawing 1-1 at home to mid-table Plymouth, they were going down and Scarborough were staying up.
As the game went into added time, goalkeeper Jimmy Glass was sent up for a corner in an act of pure desperation.
What happened next is the stuff of legend.
The ball bounced around the box before Glass pounced to fire into the net and spark incredible scenes to keep Carlisle up.
Amazingly, Glass never played another game for the club but his name lives on in the annals of football’s most famous moments.
Latics’ fans can only hope and pray for a similarly exciting end to the season.
Graham Barrow must set out his stall to win at Reading tomorrow and hope that the other results go his way, so that it goes to the final game against Leeds United and maybe another dramatic finale.
The Fat Lady has been warming her vocal chords for a few months, but now, she’s looking like she’s ready to launch her first song in the Wigan area at the weekend.
Wigan are very lucky to still be in the Championship with a tiny bit of hope to survive, and should be thankful to Aston Villa for at least making our stay in the second tier a little longer.
I can’t help but think, and it’s really bugging me, that we didn’t go for it against Cardiff. Cardiff were there for the taking, we wouldn’t have noticed any difference if they would have fielded 11 cardboard cutouts, as they simply had nothing to play for. I feel the two extra points we could have gained really could have really cranked up the pressure and nerves for the teams above us, however it wasn’t to be.
The lack of attacking intent was a shame to see, which was predictable due to our line up, as only two players were of an attacking nature.
That looks to be that, and the metaphorical believe bus has been towed away in the eyes of many.
The players to be fair are still trying and have belief of survival, and on the basis of effort we can’t simply fault the team as it would be unfair on them.
League One has some great memories from last season, however it would be ignorant to expect exactly the same, especially considering we no longer have the influence of parachute payments.
We’ve got to be sensible with recruitment and managerial appointments, as I still believe we have a promotion push within us.
A slight off topic, Graham Barrow has been under fire of late, mainly because he’s been an easy target for fans due to being at the club during our failures of relegation.
Barrow deserves more respect from the fans of the club, and unless you actually go behind-the scenes and know what he does, you aren’t in a position to comment.
He’s a former club captain and wouldn’t still be in the role for so many years if he wasn’t up for it.
Just look at his former colleagues’ views of him and they speak for themselves on how influential Barrow is behind-the scenes.
I feel Barrow deserves to be involved within in the club in some form next season.
Looking ahead to Saturday, we’ve got our final away game against Reading, who have had a great season, and are the team I’ve been most impressed by that I’ve seen at the DW so I’m not too optimistic.
Survival is very unlikely looking at the probability of the results needed, but stranger things have happened.
I’m not saying we will survive, or we will go down, but I’m saying it’s not worth throwing the towel in just yet until it’s mathematically impossible.
Whatever happens over the weekend, I’m looking forward to next season, as I support the club, not the league we may find ourselves in. Up the Tics
Jonny Pigeon: A Biography
Since Saturday’s game against Cardiff, my inbox has been inundated with requests for information regarding Wigan Athletic’s newest signing, the mysterious ‘Jonny Pigeon’.
This wily wingman starred late in the second half, crashing a Matthew Connolly pass into the safety of an advertising hoarding before making good his celebrated escape. This caused the Cardiff defender to clutch his cranium in disbelief for at least 60 seconds of a game that otherwise offered approximately 60 seconds of excitement.
Uncovering Master Pigeon’s precise statistics has proven difficult, but after a long and probing phone call to the surprisingly knowledgeable editor of British Homing World, I have obtained further details about our airborne amigo.His real name is David Peck ‘Em, and he was formerly employed by Alex Ferguson to perform post-match interviews with the BBC when Warren Joyce was unavailable.
The pigeon was brought to Wigan Athletic by Gary Caldwell, who initially intended for him to carry messages to players during crucial League One matches. But following a general upgrade of the DW facilities, this function was actually performed by paper aeroplanes and fluorescent sticky notes attached to players’ foreheads.
Following Joyce’s appointment, ‘Jonny’ was dispatched to the Macron Stadium to secretly remove grass seed from the playing surface. However, he unexpectedly returned to the DW in March 2017 after accidentally falling asleep on the 540 from Bolton bus station.
Since that time, he has taken up residence in a remote corner of the South Stand where no human has thought to check for ten years. The seats there are perfectly preserved in their original plastic wrap, 100% free of gravy stains or chewing gum.
Under strict orders from Graham Barrow, our flappy friend acts as the real 12th man, obstructing opposition strikers for the sum of one bag of sawdust a week – above the average wage for this particular role in this particular league. Some even say he writes for this very newspaper column under the pseudonym ‘San Farrimondo’.
More than that I cannot reveal, for the end-of-season termination of my contract draws near, and I must still investigate the case of Wigan Athletic’s 54 missing penalties at the DW Stadium this campaign. Now get out of my office before the bailiffs arrive.