The 12th Man: Our panel of Wigan Athletic experts draw a line under an amazing season

Paul Cook at Doncaster
Paul Cook at Doncaster
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It’s hard to succinctly put the choice words together to summarise my emotions following the events of last weekend.

Ultimately, when attempting to select from all the erudite phrases bouncing around my fatigued cranium, I keep returning to the words of one Dora the Explorer: WE DID IT!!!

We did it in style as well.

Yes, the title was only secured on the last day of the season but that just sent excitement levels through the roof, and full credit to Blackburn Rovers for pushing us all the way in what was quite a vitriolic rivalry at times.

Yes, I’ll give them credit now.

I’ve even decided to archive my hatchet job on them, retrieving all the snidey quotes they’ve said about us during the season.

We’re dignified like that in the winner’s enclosure you see.

There’s not enough space here to credit all the individuals involved, but that’s fine as it has been one huge, phenomenal team effort.

Cookie deserves huge credit for that of course - building harmony and team spirit in the dressing room is the perfect antidote to all the bad stuff knocking around football and without going all corporate speak on you, he is a great ‘people person’.

Where next then? The Championship it would seem.

With new owners arriving on a jet plane. Of whom we know little about so we are left to speculate.

Comments put out there seem to suggest that they’re either billionaires about to turn us into the next Man City or a bunch of cowboys.

All we can ask (hope) is that there is continuity on and off the field.

If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.

We are in rude health as a football club at the minute, with a squad keen to prove itself and in my opinion, more than capable of at least getting to mid-table in the Championship, with one or two quality additions.

We have staff behind them who genuinely care, both on the playing and non-playing side.

Yet all that is to come.

For the time being, let us all bask in the glory of a great season and another great weekend.

Doncaster was perfect, just like with the title if we had won easily it perhaps wouldn’t have been the same.

To have just one moment which typified our season - a sublime through ball from Powell to a man who simply doesn’t miss and an away end that simply erupted in celebration, whilst singing THAT song!

The party in the park was also a great success, and a great initiative by the club who really are in touch with the community.

To top it all off, comes the fantastic news that Paul Cook has been signed up for another four years.

It will be tougher next year, we might have to rely on a siege mentality a little more rather than brute attacking power.

It may be more about containment at times rather than the steam roller approach, but who better to lead us into it?

For now, let us savour the glory of being champions and return after the break with the same positive outlook and togetherness that has served us well this year.

Martin Tarbuck

That is what being a football fan is all about.

Last Saturday was a fantastic day to be a Wigan Athletic fan.

Yes promotion was the most important target for the season, but don’t try and tell me that the title doesn’t matter.

I’ll openly admit that I desperately wanted to win the league, and judging by the amazing scenes at Doncaster, it turns out that so did the rest of our fans, and the players.

Blackburn only had a slight chance of finishing above us, but with them winning, it was always a little nervy at nil-all.

We have said all season that Latics have enough quality to win some games when not playing especially well.

I think Saturday was a prime example of this.

While we looked solid at the back, we did not play brilliantly, but a sensational through ball from Nick Powell, followed by a very tidy finish from Will Grigg, didn’t so much spark the sense of relief, it engulfed the whole of Latics world is flames of pure elation.

Obviously the weather had helped the feel good factor amongst the fans.

So too had the pre-match refreshments in many cases.

But the real joy amongst players and fans alike was great to see and be a part of.

A great end to what has been a great season.

Our record this year is more than impressive.

With most wins, (joint) fewest losses, most goals scored and fewest conceded, it is impossible to argue that we haven’t deserved to win the league.

And bearing in mind that that last three times we’ve played at this level, we have finished top, Wigan have a pretty good claim that we own what is now called League One.

Now that the official awards have been given out, it seems pointless to go through my top five players.

However in a sign of how tough the competition has been this year, Nathan Byrne, winner of both the players’ and fans’ player of the season awards, was only fifth on my list!

I had Dan Burn in top spot again. In a year when most players could have a claim to the title, I felt that Superman deserved it simply because of his consistency across the whole of the season.

Sam Morsy and Christian Walton didn’t even feature in my top five!

They can consider themselves unlucky to miss out, but to be perfectly honest, they won’t care one bit what I think!

The other man who deserves huge credit is Paul Cook.

Despite having played for Latics twice, he came to the club in the summer without many fans knowing too much about him.

From the moment he walked onto the pitch before the MK Dons game and applauded the travelling fans, he became so much more popular, and had a far better relationship with the fans, than the previous permanent manager of the club.

His honest assessment of performances, his down to earth nature, his sense of humour, and amazing ever-changing voice have further endeared him to the supporters.

In terms of goal of the season I would choose Gavin Massey’s goal at Fleetwood.

That first touch was insane, and he did all the rest of the work fantastically well.

A wonderful individual goal.

My top five moments of the season would be as follows:

5) Gary Roberts’ miss against MK Dons – perhaps unfair to bring it up again, but still very funny.

4) The club record 7-0 win at Oxford.

3) The incredible 1-0 win over Manchester City.

2) Clinching the league title at Doncaster on Saturday and the aftermath of it.

1) David Perkins’ goal at Blackpool – something that none of us ever thought we’d see.

It is one of those moments that those who were there will never forget and one that those of us who weren’t there, makes us really wish we had been!

With the season over, planning for next season will begin in earnest.

The first, and possibly most important part of this process, has already been completed.

That is the new contract that Paul Cook has signed. However we start next season, and recent history tells us that there is no guarantee that next year will be successful, I hope that the club sticks with Paul.

He, and his team, deserve long-term backing for their efforts and success this season.

This is especially important with then takeover taking a step forward this week.

There are more questions than answers about our potential new owners.

Takeovers are usually followed by a change in team management. Hopefully there will be some continuity in the boardroom at Latics, as some stability on and off the field are required after recent years.

Stuart Glover

What a season, what a club!

It’s hard to find enough superlatives to sum up Latics’ brilliant season.

Nearly everything about it has been so special. Right from the close season everything has been perfection.

When chairman David Sharpe was looking for a new manager he could so easily have made a wrong choice with plenty of other options available but after doing his research and interviewing Paul Cook he got the best man for the job.

Cook and his coaching team almost immediately re-invigorated the club.

The manager may have inherited some good players but he also had to root out the poor performers and bring in some bargain free transfers.

Latics rarely have a good start and it was the first time they’d won their first three games since Paul Jewell’s team conquered the Second Division in 2002/03.

Cook’s banter and plain speaking endeared him to the fans and the players responded with improved performances on the pitch.

Latics moved to the top of the League One table at the end of November with a convincing victory at Rotherham and they would probably have stayed there all season if it wasn’t for the extra games in the FA Cup.

But what a glorious FA Cup campaign it was.

Latics may have struggled to overcome AFC Fylde and Crawley Town in the early rounds but they went on to take the scalps of three Premier League clubs AFC Bournemouth, West Ham United and to top it all Premier League champions Manchester City.

Given the current discrepancy in resources and the level of the two teams at the time of the game, it is surely the greatest FA Cup shock of all time.

The result will have given hope to other smaller clubs that they can defy the odds and achieve something amazing. It was a night of superlatives and those who experienced it will never forget it for the rest of their lives.

Latics narrowly lost out to Southampton in the quarter-finals and they could then resume their pursuit of the League One title with games in-hand.

Blackburn Rovers manager Tony Mowbray thought it would be too much for Latics but Cook and his players had the belief and determination that they would do it.

Rovers and Shrewsbury Town pushed Latics to an incredible 98-point title winning campaign, breaking club records with the most goals scored, most clean sheets, best goal difference and the record number of away wins in a season.

It was a gloriously sunny day in Doncaster as Latics were crowned champions of League One.

The atmosphere and celebrations at the Keepmoat stadium were something to behold and must rank as one of the best ever away days.

It was the culmination of a fantastic season and with news that Cook had signed a new four-year contract the feel good vibe continued.

Cook was an in demand manager after such a successful season, but after being rewarded with a contract until 2022, he has shown his long-term commitment to the club.

The positivity and togetherness generated by Cook has been infectious and with him in charge the future looks very bright.

The protracted sale of Latics moved a step closer this week when the Whelan family agreed to sell their major stake in the club and is now dependent upon approval by the EFL and Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Although the International Entertainment Corporation are something of an unknown quantity, it appears there might be a role for David Sharpe and the cash injection should help Latics to make a big impact in the Championship next season.

Ian Aspinall

It had to be didn’t it?

It was written in the stars after the draw with Wimbledon. We just had to seal it in Doncaster, in front of the most boisterous away following for many a year.

There was no way we were coming back to Lancashire without that title.

Well of course that’s all in hindsight there was a chance however slim that chance was that Blackburn could have pipped us to the title.

But ask anyone in the away end at the Keepmoat on Saturday would tell you there was no way that would happen.

The atmosphere on Saturday was nothing short of astounding.

Once again the most unfairly criticised set of supporters in the Football League were stood up and counted.

Nearly four and a half thousand of them headed over to South Yorkshire and created a fantastic atmosphere.

The game itself was a cagey affair, Doncaster were well within the game up to the hour mark without ever really threatening.

A point would have been enough, which probably hampered Latics build-up play somewhat.

It’s difficult to go all guns blazing for the win when you know a point is enough.

It was a familiar link-up that led to the goal.

Nick Powell back in the side and back to his best threaded a fantastic ball through to Will Grigg and as he held off the defender there was nowhere else that ball was headed than the back of the net.

The scenes after that goal will go down in Latics folklore, the outpouring of emotion the way Will Grigg ran towards the Latics fans, the sheer ecstasy and outpouring of joy as he dived in to the crowd.

The way every single man on the pitch ran to the Latics supporters, including Christian Walton and celebrated with the crowd.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything like that.

As enjoyable as our last League One journey was in 2015/16 I think this last season has surpassed it.

Lads who have loyally stuck with the club to right the wrongs of last season, have been joined by some excellent editions to the squad in the likes of Gary Roberts, Alex Bruce, Christian Walton, James Vaughan and Callum Elder.

These players to a man have bought in to the ethos of Wigan Athletic and indeed the ethos of Paul Cook and his team.

There was many a raised eyebrow when Paul Cook cancelled the pre-arranged high altitude training camp last summer in favour of a week in Spain which was widely seen as a knees up for the squad.

I’m not sure many will be questioning Cook’s methods anymore.

He has completely revolutionised this club and lifted a club on the floor to unbelievable heights.

A word of congratulations should also go to David Sharpe and Jonathan Jackson.

I think they’ll be the first to admit mistakes were made last season.

The sacking of Gary Caldwell and subsequent hiring of Warren Joyce was a disaster.

But they’ve made good on their promise of returning the club to the Championship.

To do it in some style with a fantastic cup run to boot has more than made up for the horror of last season.

On the whole it’s been nothing but upward momentum since David Sharpe took over from his Grandad.

He and the board have made Wigan Athletic more accessible, more enjoyable and more connected to the community than they have been for a long time. o it’s with trepidation that I greet the announcement that the Whelan family have agreed to sell all of their shares to the IEC consortium.

It has of course been coming and we knew that the Whelan family couldn’t sustain Wigan Athletic for ever but I do hope David Sharpe and Jonathan Jackson manage to stay part of any new setup as unlikely as that is.

They’re Wiganers who have managed to make watching Wigan Athletic affordable, accessible and most of all enjoyable once again.

The announcement of the Whelan family agreeing to sell their shares to IEC also coincided with the announcement of a new contract for Paul Cook and his management team, this gives me some hope that the takeover won’t be as disruptive as it could be.

Paul Cook is no mug and indeed explains his departure at Portsmouth was due to the change in ownership, so there was always a worry he could follow suit at Wigan.

The fact he has signed a long term contract of four years at least on the face of it tells me he’s been given re-assurances as he wouldn’t stick around otherwise.

Although I didn’t attend on Sunday the party in the park looked absolutely fantastic and was a great collaboration between Latics and Wigan Council.

To have access to all of the Wigan Athletic squad in such a relaxing and enjoyable manner like that must be unique and just adds to the feeling around this club.

What many people cite as weaknesses form our strength.

We’re a small family club and that connection between officials, supporters and players is there for all to see. Long may it continue as that unique appeal helps us be the club we are.

Next season will be here before we know it and it certainly won’t be anything like this season.

The chances are we will lose more games than we win but if we can carry this feeling and this momentum in to next season, we’ve a chance of establishing ourselves as a Championship club once again.

Sean Livesey

It’s been something of an odd year, so far.

We’ve had one of the best seasons ever, from both an on field perspective and from that of watching fans.

But we’ve also had the spectre of a takeover hanging over us for months.

A takeover which, until last week, was looking increasingly unlikely.

We shouldn’t, though, allow that uncertainty to overshadow an amazing season of Latics football. At least not yet. Almost 100 points, tons of goals scored, very few goals conceded, and a team of players which looks so in sync with one another that they could just go on winning forever.

And all with a manager who only knows how to win, and who has just signed a four-year contract.

When was the last time we saw such a long contract given to any manager at Latics?

The last few weeks of the season have actually been amongst the most enjoyable of any I’ve had in 40 years of watching Latics.

The Walk4Joseph from Euxton to Fleetwood, followed by barmy scenes when we knew Shrewsbury couldn’t catch us.

And then the Donny trip last Sunday. The game wasn’t a classic, but what better way to bring the league title home than a sublime pass from Nick Powell and a quality finish from Will Grigg?

The scenes when the ball went in were incredible, with even Christian Walton making it all the way to the away end of the ground to join in the goal celebrations!

Goodness knows we’ve had some ups and downs , even in the last five years, but days like Doncaster remind us that there’s more to football than the Premier League.

As a club, we embraced League One without any sense of injustice or embarrassment, and it showed.

From the best chairman in the EFL, on down, this has been our year, and it will be fondly remembered for years. But, just for a second, I’m going to return to the takeover.

I’ve had my concerns about it since day one.

For those proclaiming –and celebrating - us as being owned by billionaires, I hope you’re right.

To me, there still seems something not right about the whole thing.

If I’m wrong, I’ll happily acknowledge the fact.

If I’m not, well who knows what position we’ll be in by this time next year?

For now, though, we can enjoy the sunshine in every sense. Up the Tics!

Paul Middleton