When 2,500 Wiganers had a ball in Bruges

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THE magnificent Market of Bruges has seen its fair share of visitors over the years - but there won’t have been too many days comparable to the time 2,500 Wiganers landed for the afternoon.

Arriving by a mixture of air, land and sea, the blue and white army took over the Market Square - in the best possible spirit - and made it their own for a few hours.

Wiganers in Bruges

Wiganers in Bruges

The setting was unfamiliar, but so many of the faces were recognisable - everywhere you turned there was a good chance you’d end up locking eyes with friends, family, colleagues or someone from Standish Cricket Club.

With the whiff of strong lager in the air, the visitors well and truly put their own stamp on ‘the Venice of the North’.

While doing their bit to support the local brewing industry, they provided free entertainment by singing their hearts out.

There can scarcely have been a more picturesque setting for an impromptu game of ‘keepy-uppy’, which started with a few Wigan fans but had soon involved its fair share of Belgians anxious to show their skills.

To be fair, ‘keepy-uppy’ was probably pushing it.

‘Boot it as high as you can and cheer when it lands’ would be more accurate.

But it more than passed the time, as the tourist hotspot became more and more packed as the clock ticked towards kick-off time.

Every now and then the game was put on hold for a stirring rendition from the Wigan Athletic back catalogue, including “You Are My Sunshine” and, of course, “FA Cup Champions, We Know What We Are”.

The locals going about their business looked utterly bemused.

Tourists from across the globe must have wondered why this aspect of Bruges culture hadn’t made it into their guide books.

Local bar owners and souvenir sellers went about their business with an even wider smile on their faces.

And all without a hint of trouble. Not that that was ever going to be an issue.

These Wigan fans weren’t here to cause a problem.

They were here to support their team and their town, and to be able to say one thing.

In the years to come, they were there when Wigan Athletic dipped their toes into European competition.