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The 12th Man: Wigan Athletic fans have their say

Paul Cook
Paul Cook

It may be an international week - but our panel of Latics experts have still got plenty to get their teeth into, in the aftermath of the 4-0 drubbing at Preston as well the takeover by IEC nearing a conclusion...

STUART GLOVER: Well that might have been my fault! Last week I predicted an easy win for Latics in the derby. Obviously predictions can be wildly out, but I think I am quite safe in my prediction this week, which is that the word “rubbish” will appear in this week’s 12th Man. A lot. This week we got to see a long document issued by the company who have been trying to buy the club for around a year. While this is clearly a very important development, I am going to ignore the takeover this week because, even though there was lots of interesting information in the document, it was mainly information about the current Latics set-up. There is, still, very little clarity on what life will be like in the post-Whelan era. This is very unsettling for us fans, but we should spare a thought for the staff at the club and stadium, many of whom will be wondering about their continued employment prospects. Instead I am going to focus, rather depressingly, on last Saturday. I have been trying to remember when such a highly-anticipated game resulted in such a let-down. We should forget the rights and wrongs of the various refereeing decisions that were made, though I am not sure either set of fans were happy with the Mr Probert’s performance. The more important issue, and the less controversial point, is that our performance was simply not good enough. This is exactly the sort of game that is often referred to as a ‘Lancashire hotpot’. Yet Latics’ performance was pretty much stone cold. In the old days, such a derby would have been hard-fought, combative and meaty. Yet this hotpot was far too much veg and not nearly enough meat. It wasn’t even topped off with lovely crispy potato! It was too sloppy, while we would all have preferred something to get our teeth into. We were second to every ball. Our passing was incredibly wasteful and there was just no urgency in our play. It was interesting to see Latics were not caught offside at all during the game, however that might be because we didn’t really get far enough forward for that to be a danger. Though it was genuinely interesting to see both side managed only three shots on target during the entire game. However, while Latics didn’t really look like scoring with any of their three, the hosts very productively managed to score four goals from theirs! The other stat of note was the one showing apparently our shooting accuracy was higher than theirs. From this, I confidently conclude these stats don’t really tell us much! A lot of attention was given to the fact Nick Powell was replaced by Dan Burn just before half-time. While this looks like a very negative switch, the change in formation allowed the full-backs to push further forward. It is also notable that Reece James (the sequel) was our only attacking threat for most of the game. And that that was after this change was made – so it did seem to make some positive impact. With the international break, it is another week before the West Brom game. I hope that time flies by. I also hope we’re all planning to get to the game. Because we wouldn’t want to risk missing another performance like that!

PAUL MIDDLETON: There have been two major events in the Latics world this week. We’ll gloss over the 4-0 drubbing at Deepdale as a glitch that will get ironed out, despite the doomsayers on social media who want Paul Cook sacked for not having won the league by the middle of October. The other, infinitely more monumental news was the takeover of Latics is in the last stage, as opposed to being on its last legs, which has seemed the case for what feels like forever. The issuing of a 126-page document, by buyers IEC seems to indicate the buyout has now been submitted to both the Hong Kong stock exchange and the EFL for approval. This means we are probably four-to-six weeks away from the deal being finalised. But – and it’s a big ‘but’ – you had to read a bit deeper to see what else might happen come mid-November. The first stand-out section is who is going to do what when the changes are made. Joe Royle and his son, Darren, will be appointed to the board of the new company. It looks, in fact, as though it was Darren who initially went to Hong Kong to broker the deal. To me, they seem like an odd choice. Neither had any involvement with WAFC before the takeover deal surfaced, but someone obviously wanted them in place. Given there appears to be no place for David Sharpe or any of the Whelan family on the new board, it’s unlikely the appointment of Royle Snr and Jnr was anything to do with Dave Whelan. Chief executive Jonathan Jackson will remain in his role, as will Paul Cook. Such things aren’t always a given, after any takeover, so it is good to see some sort of continuity. The close links between the club and fans over the last few years has had a lot to do with JJ, and the relationship will, hopefully, continue. But the *real* news starts on page 29 of the document. IEC recognise the need for a strong squad, able to compete in the Championship and, in time, the Premier League. However, they also make it known there will be a player trading plan in place. In short they are clear that, in order to buy players, some may need to be sold. Latics being a selling club is nothing new but, for those who thought we’d suddenly have access to billions of $HK, this news will be a shock. It seems the ongoing policy will be to develop players through the academy. The document also says players will be sold to fund improvements, if necessary. So, all in all, in 126 pages, it doesn’t really feel like we’ll be a whole lot better off as a club. But, it must be said, the club is currently losing nearly half a million pounds a month, and that clearly isn’t sustainable. IEC have plans to use the stadium for music or sporting events in the off-season. The thing is, they also see the Warriors as valuable tenants, so I’m really not sure when that off-season will be. Despite the document, the future is still shrouded in mystery, so we’ll just have to sit tight and see. In other news, there will be no trains from Manchester to Wigan after this weekend’s Grand Final, Warriors fans will need to make alternative arrangements. Given it means a trip outside the boundaries of Lower Ince, we think a couple of taxis should be enough.

SEAN LIVESEY: After possibly the longest takeover saga in history, light is at the end of the tunnel for Wigan Athletic and the club’s ownership structure. Rumours first emerged last October that the club could possibly be heading for a takeover, with numerous Far Eastern groups linked to taking control of the club. After Garry Cook had been appointed as a director to explore the possibilities of a sale, it was only a matter of time. It seems it’s been going on forever now and, with various missed deadlines and very little leaking to the press, Latics fans could be forgiven for wondering if anything was indeed going to happen. Clarity finally came in the form of a 126 page circular released by IEC this week. In it there were finally some flesh to the bones, with details of the make-up of ‘some’ of the new members of the board and IEC’s plans to generate revenue. Ratification of the deal was made by the EFL in the summer and, with IEC recommending the deal goes ahead, we are now seemingly only waiting for their shareholders to agree the deal. So we are coming in to the final few weeks of the Whelan family’s ownership of Laticsa. After 23 years in charge, the club has grown and developed beyond all recognition from the one Dave Whelan took over in 1995. Football itself has changed beyond all recognition, too, and where Whelan was once a very rich man, in football terms his finances can’t compete with the rest of the Championship let alone the money swirling around the Premier League. After 23 years, most of which followed an upward trajectory, it’s going to be a sad day when our owner isn’t the local man done good, and we become another club with an unknown ownership structure and all of the worries that go with it. The one thing Whelan represented is stability, and his departure as chairman opened the way for David Sharpe – an impressive young man who has brought the club closer to its supporters and really impressed with his attitude to both the club and the people who follow it. Of course it hasn’t always been plain sailing under the Whelan family, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. He achieved what he set out to achieve when he took over the club in 1995 – and then some. From the Premier League to the FA Cup to Europe to numerous honours and league titles. They can all be traced back to Whelan, and he deserves the gratitude of Wiganers the world over. Back to our prospective new owners, and interesting information was confirmed with some members of our new board of directors revealed. As had been mooted in the press, Joe Royle and his son Darren would be joining as directors, with Jonathan Jackson also retaining his position as chief executive. Less surprisingly the circular also mentioned Paul Cook would be remaining as manager – which I’m sure we can all agree is good news. The Royle connection to the deal is a bit more left-field, but anyone who sits in the West Stand will know father and son have been regular fixtures at Latics games over the last year. Joe Royle may have once been a Latics foe, but one with a multitude of experience and respect in football in the North West, while his son is a football analyst and agent with connections to Everton. It may be foolish, but their presence on the board makes me feel a little more confident. I’m not sure the Royle family would want their reputation tainted by a dodgy deal. IEC also laid out their plans for the development of the football club in Tuesday’s circular, and there were some interesting ideas. Sharpey’s chippy would become somewhere for fans to meet before the match, while hospitality areas would be invested in to raise further revenue. On the pitch, the club would be looking to invest in the academy to ensure it reached level two status and to follow a model similar to that of Southampton and Brentford. Which again on the face of it seems a wise move. But as with everything in the takeover, we won’t be able to fully judge until the deal is completed, and we meet the new owners and see how they actually plan to put their ideas in to place. It’s going to be a nervous time full of change, but possibly an exciting one too. All I ask is the club is kept solvent, and that the supporters are paid respect...and hopefully the same respect will be paid to the new owners from the fans.

KIERAN MAKIN: Usually fans bemoan international breaks that disrupt the early stages of a season, but this one couldn’t have come at a better time for Latics. It’s been an excellent start to the season since we returned to the Championship, and I won’t entertain another negative comment about Paul Cook. Obviously, we were brought back down to earth swiftly at Deepdale on Saturday by our neighbours Preston North End, which is why I think the international break has arrived appropriately, as it will give us some time to regroup after a shell-shocking 4-0 defeat. However, I do maintain the result will be a ‘one-off’. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong on the day (Nick Powell leaving the pitch injured, Dan Burn giving away a penalty on his return, Darron Gibson’s red card etc), but sometimes you just have days like that in football. How you respond is what matters. Our next league outing is a very tough game against high-flying West Brom – the good news is we’re at home. I firmly believe we can give anyone in this division a competitive match at the DW Stadium. We need to maintain our home form if we are to hold our own and, ultimately, remain in the Championship this campaign. Having said that, I do recognise our away form does need to improve or else we will put pressure on ourselves to perform in our home games. For me, that would impact our chances of victory as it’s clear to see this team is at its best when the shackles are off. Admittedly, improving the results away from home is easier said than done, but I will never lose faith in Cook’s ability as a manager – something that sadly seems to be the agenda of some fans at the moment.

ANDY JACKSON: The pendulum swing of fans opinion is unavoidable in the modern game. And it’s more conspicuous than ever with a quick glance on social media. None more so than our beloved little Wigan Athletic. As Latics fans, we can’t have asked for more in terms of entertainment over the last few years and, despite finishing 23rd in both of our last two Championship adventures, even the gloomiest of our support have to admit we have started this year unquestionably well. Add to that we have a squad the fans can associate with – a squad of young British talent, passionate players who really seem to be enjoying their football under a manager at the helm we can all be proud of. Of course a defeat like the one against our local rivals stung. It will have stung the players too! But let’s not over-react. It was a bad day at the office. The players will hurt just as much and more as any of our fans. Forget the money back, how do you think Sam Morsy and Paul Cook, for example, will be enjoying the international break after that defeat? Let’s keep it in perspective. We look a very decent outfit. There’s no need to try and seek scapegoats in the squad. Instead, we should be getting behind the team and enjoying playing and playing well in what is a thoroughly enjoyable and competitive league. Max Power’s swansong words ring very true about our supporters – fantastic when we win but when we lose...ahem. But it is when we lose that we need to get behind the team and allow them to turn it around. That unity is the only way we can compete as a club with significantly lower budget and fan base than any of our Championship rivals. We have two very difficult games against the top three in this league – Sheffield United, West Brom and Leeds – coming up, and they sandwich a difficult away-day at Millwall’s intimidating Den. Let’s not pendulum swing into the blame game and that doom-and-gloom attitude. Let’s enjoy the season and show the support that surely will give the team a better chance of doing well this season. To paraphrase, we’re little Wigan, taking the mick. Let’s do this together!

JOE O’NEILL: Well my birthday wish of three points away to Preston didn’t come true. In fact the match from start to finish was abysmal from a Wigan perspective, and we’re now winless in three. You could actually put the result down to us having an off-day. It is the first time in a long time I have seen us be on the end of a thumping scoreline in that manner. During the aftermath, there was a lot of criticism thrown the way of Josh Windass. In my opinion, very harshly indeed, as he’s been asked to do a job as a winger. Notoriously a natural number 10, but we all know he’s not going to take the place of Nick Powell. Not blessed with blistering pace, but he is one of very few who wants get on the ball and make us tick. I also think he could be this year’s ‘scapegoat’ where people will have a pop at him when things aren’t going to plan. However, we’re still only 12 matches into the season. Sitting 12th in the league, two points away from the play-off places. It’s a superb start, on the back of promotion last term. Hopefully we can turn our recent blip around in the next set of fixtures after the international break.