Big Interview: Brenda Spencer - part one

Brenda Spencer
Brenda Spencer

AS Brenda Spencer sits in the Chairman’s Lounge looking out onto the DW Stadium pitch, her mind begins to take a trip back in time.

For almost a quarter of a century, she played a huge part in one of the greatest football fairytales of all time.

She may not be as well known around the world as some football officials but Brenda holds a proud record as being the only chief executive to hold her position in every single division in the English leagues.

She started her Wigan Athletic journey in October 1986 when she walked into Springfield Park as an accountant, ending it in August 2010 at Stamford Bridge as the chief executive of a Premier League club.

It’s fair to say the difference between the club at both those points is somewhat vast.

“It was very different,” she recalls. “Bill Kenyon was the chairman then and the owner and he had about six companies and I’d come on board as his group accountant so I was looking after those, of which Wigan Athletic was one.

“Then he sold us to a consortium in London which was the Stephen Gage and Nick Patel era.

“A few years after I’d joined I became the secretary and I remember Bryan Hamilton being here at the time and he said to me, the regulations are like your bible and you should read it through and take it all in, which I did bit by bit.”

It was a huge learning curve for Brenda but a time of her life which she’ll never forget.

There were ups and downs in her early years at Springfield Park with the club struggling to make ends meet year on year.

“It was hard work at first, we had no money and used to shovel snow off the pitch in the winter and beg and borrow in the summer,” she said.

“Every season we would finish and I’d just think ‘how are we going to get through the summer?’”

In 1995, Wigan Athletic football club changed forever.

Local businessman and retired footballer Dave Whelan took over and vowed to get the club into the Premier League within 10 years.

Everyone laughed. Nobody believed him both inside and outside of Springfield Park, but Brenda, 67, had a feeling that there were exciting times on the horizon.

Times were tough at first with Whelan struggling to accept the differences between the business world and football. But eventually, with time and the help of Brenda and many others at Wigan, it all came together.

“I thought that he might bring his own people in and I’d be out of a job but he didn’t,” revealed Brenda. “He made me chief executive so I was the secretary and chief executive.

“He couldn’t spend a lot of time at the club because he had JJB and he said he wanted us to carry on doing what we’re doing and to look after the pennies.

“The first 12 months were very difficult under Dave because he had got his own company and if he wanted to change something he could change it.

“It was difficult because we had rules and regulations in the football league and you’d say to him ‘no you can’t do that’ and he’d ask ‘what do you mean?’

“I would literally just have to say: ‘well it’s the rules.’ So it was very hard for the first year to get through to Dave that if you want to be part of the football league, you have to adhere to the rules and regulations.

“It took about 12 months and then he realised that you have to play along with what you sign up for but he did say we were going to be successful.

“I remember him saying that in 10 years we would be in the Premier League and it was 10 years exactly. That was unbelievable.”


Read part two of Brenda’s big interview in next week’s Wigan Observer which documents the Premier League years.