COMMENT: Wigan Athletic - The greatest of 'Great Escapes'? Completed it mate
‘Great Escape’ - (Cliche): Overused in footballing circles, usually to laud any club that wins a couple of games in the run-in to stay clear of the relegation zone.
Only in the case of Wigan Athletic 2020/21 – both on AND off the field – it doesn’t even really scratch the surface.
The history books will show Latics secured their safety with a game to spare, thanks to the two sides immediately below them losing their penultimate fixtures.
Given Sunday’s season-ending clash sees already-relegated Swindon arrive at the DW Stadium, there’s every chance that buffer may even extend to seven points by the final reckoning.
To all intents and purposes, a comfortable safety. What, indeed, was all the fuss about?
What the history books won’t show, of course, is the jaw-dropping series of events that preceded the finishing kick down the home straight, which would have broken many (most?) other clubs and communities.
This is Wigan, though. This is Latics. It’s never dull here. And anybody wrongs one of us – as Stanley Choi and Au Yeung Wai Kay did so criminally last summer – you wrong the lot of us.
Which is what paved the way for the most incredible show of strength and unity that we’ll be telling our kids, grandkids and great grandkids about.
To first of all complete last season. Then pay the outstanding wages. Then pay the creditors. Then deal with the most unfair of relegations. Then selling off pretty much every saleable asset – in the midst of a global pandemic when no-one had any money.
And then looking ahead to a new season.
Without a team. Without a kit sponsor. Without a manager. Without a prayer, according to everyone outside the borough.
But with one thing still intact. A club (just). One with hope, one with belief, and one with a fanbase who were determined it wouldn’t die on their watch.
More than £850,000 raised in a matter of weeks, most of which coming from within a modest, working-class town.
Whose people may not have much – but who have consistently proved over the years that, what they do have, they’ll always give to others in more need.
The criteria for recruitment at the start of the season appeared to be owning a pair of boots and being in Leam Richardson’s little black contacts book.
But that in itself engineered a backs-to-the-wall fighting spirit in the group that would underpin the whole campaign.
Fast-forward the couple of months under John Sheridan – who didn’t so much as put out any fires, but start a few fresh ones himself – and it’s all about Leam Richardson.
Who could easily have followed Paul Cook out of the door last summer, his head held high, not to blame for any of the carnage unfolding around him.
Who could easily have taken one of the several job opportunities put in front of him – by Championship and Premier League clubs – and gone with our very best wishes.
But he chose to stay. And, along with Gregor Rioch, help ‘bring a little bit of sanity and continuity to the place’.
And it’s hard to overstate just how much those familiar faces brought to a football club on life-support.
They sold a vision of hope to the legion of frees, loans and out-of-favour players just looking to play football.
They provided continued support and encouragement to the young, hungry, talented players who were fast-tracked into the fold – in some cases a couple of years early – because needs must.
And boosted by a successful takeover by Phoenix 2021 Limited, they give hope that the club that wouldn’t die WILL never die.
The rebuild won’t be overnight, it might not see a Premier League return.
But we have hope, we have dreams, we have belief, and we have our club back.
And for that, we will be eternally grateful.
Up the 'Tics.
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