Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man
We asked our panel of Wigan Athletic fans a simple question: Who is your all-time Latics hero?
Legend: a person whose fame or notoriety makes him a source of exaggerated or romanticised tales or exploits.
They say you should never meet your heroes. I was 14 I think when Bobby Campbell signed for Latics. I even had a photo of me with him and I was wearing a shocking Ellgren kit we had. A few years ago the Supporters’ Club had a Past Players’ Dinner and all the players and most of the guests made their way across to Kudos nightclub when it finished. I of course offered to buy Bobby a drink. It was only when I saw that his chosen drink was the long forgotten alcopop Metz, that a little part of the aura about the man faded……. I’ll not give you the stats, this piece is about memories not goal per game ratios. I don’t even want to look at Wikipedia or Soccerbase and if any of this isn’t how it was then I make no apology. It’s fair to say that when Bobby joined us he was in the twilight of his career but what a player he was. A hard-living, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, indecipherable Ulsterman, it was no surprise that even in his prime he was never the sprightliest of footballers. It was often said he could head a ball as hard as most people could kick it. Indeed if he took penalties, he’d probably try and head one in. Nevertheless, what he lacked for pace, he made up for in speed of thought. I remember one home game against Brentford where Bobby Campbell had the ball on the edge of the box, poised to shoot and two Brentford players and the ‘keeper (Bobby Mimms) were all charging towards him to block the shot and Bobby just rolled it in the other corner cool as you like.
He forged a useful partnership with a young Paul Jewell up front at Latics in the late eighties in a great up and coming Latics team (soon to be dismantled, but nothing new there) who went all the way to an FA Cup quarter final, back when it meant something. It was the League Cup where Bobby stood out. A two-legged cup tie versus Bolton Wanderers, they of the Fourth Division, us of the Third. We go down 3-2 at home first leg, I used to have the video, with that horrible Bolton commentator on it – Dave Higson – who used to multi-orgasm his way through games ‘Oh John Thomas, what a great goal, what a super goal’. The second leg, Bolton scored another and we looked dead and buried only for Campbell to score a stunning second half hat-trick - two screamers bouncing in off the bar, Geoff Hurst style. You can imagine how well this went down with the friendly Burnden Park crowd and loveable Mr Higson: ‘What a pig of a referee, what a swine of a referee!’ as objects rained down on him at full time. Another great memory was away at Alty in the FA Cup, a few years before we got knocked out there. A packed away terrace going wild as Bobby scored a stunning diving header to win the game. We made MOTD that evening and he was almost parallel to the goal line when flinging himself at it, yet he still nearly broke the net.
He also played his part in the Mercantile Credit trophy at Wembley in 1987. This, you may recall, was a 16-team invitational tournament with eight clubs from Division One, Four from Division Two and two from each of the bottom two divisions and Wembley had been segregated into 16 “ends”. Different clubs reacted differently: the Liverpool and United sections were empty, their fans giving little credence to such a Mickey Mouse tournament. Palace, who had not had any success for a while brought thousands as did Leeds, at the height of their notoriety. Some clubs like Leeds had booked the whole weekend but then subsequently were knocked out by lunchtime on the first day, as were Newcastle. We’d got Sunderland first game and beat them on straight knockout penalties after drawing in normal time. The Newcastle fans in the next pen to us threw their scarves at us and at Bobby and mobbed him. And I’ve just got this wonderful image of his toothless grin looking up into the stands of Wembley to the adoring Geordies and Wiganers while some daft Geordie nearly throttles him while putting a black and white scarf around his neck. Bobby was also revered at Bradford City, I knew this already but on acquiring a copy of the best of the City Gent (Bradford’s long-running fanzine) it was clear that everyone who met the man had a Bobby Campbell tale. My favourite involved Bradford’s diminutive blonde permed winger Mark Ellis winding Bobby up on the coach home after an away trip, until the Irishman snapped and took his tie off and used it to “hang him” from the bog door, the noose growing ever tighter every time the coach went around a corner…… His career after Wigan, well who knows? Like many of our current crop his spell at the club was only a year and a half, but that was predominantly due to his age not cash gluttony. The rumour was that he was running a social club in Yorkshire, the proper occupation for an ex-footballer, sadly today’s footballer will have little need to consider putting a little away to get their own snug any more. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago. We’ve had some great number 9’s since then, most notably Graeme Jones, Nathan Ellington and Will Grigg, although the old fashioned centre forward seems to be a dying breed. Heskey? Don’t make me laugh, not fit to roll Bobby’s baccy.
Bobby Campbell: They don’t make them like that any more.
Writing a few words for 12th Man has never been so difficult. Usually the week before will have thrown up some controversy or a few talking points however this enforced gap in the season has given time for reflection. When asked to write about my all time Latics hero there was no hesitation in my mind. Sir Andrew of Liddell. No matter your age Latics have served up some brilliant players whether that be because of how they performed on the pitch, what they achieved as a team or how they conducted themselves off the pitch. A nod to Mr Boyce here who is rightly so Mr Wigan. My time watching Latics began around 94/95 season and what a time to start following Latics. Change was afoot, exciting players were being bought and we were scoring goals for fun. Was it the kit? The goals? The passion? I genuinely don’t know. What I do know is when he signed in 1998 he was part of a squad that was going places and not just to the shiny new JJB. Lidds came in for a, at the time, large six figure fee and having played in the Premier League was another sign of our intention as a club. He was creative and could score and who doesn’t love a goal scorer? The goals spoke for themselves. And I took great delight in trying to, unsuccessfully, recreate the turn and shoot on the edge of the box following a throw in on the Deanery all-weather pitch. Lids is very much a part of our house thanks to a wedding present I received from my wife. Hung at the top of the stairs proudly sits my home kit signed by Sir Andy after he was tracked down while working at Rotherham United. Happy to oblige my wife sent the kit over which Andy signed and returned. It’s managed to stay there and greet me every morning for the last nine years. My morning routine is like walking out the old tunnel at Anfield with my Latics shirt a substitute for the “This is Anfield” sign. Thanks to Andy for playing a part in the rise and for the 70 goals along the way.
We’ve been blessed through the years to have some fantastic players at both Springfield Park and the JJB/DW Stadium. Admittedly we’ve had some terrible ones as well but the less said about those the better in these times of maintaining positivity. Depending when you first started watching Latics you’ll no doubt have your own favourite player – if you began watching us as we climbed through the Football League to the Premier League it could well be Jimmy Bullard or Nathan Ellington. If you began watching us in those early Premier League days it may well be Paul Scahrner or Emmerson Boyce. Or if like me you started watching us in the early 90’s there could be one cultured Catalan midfielder who gets your vote. Think Jordi Gomez but without the luscious hair. Graham Barrow the former Wigan Athletic midfield enforcer and manager in 1995 was sent on a scouting mission to Catalonia. His orders involved watching three young Spanish players from the Spanish second division and one who was currently a Spain U-21 international, Barrow told the Independent at the time ”I’m usually involved in free transfers and bargains from non-League, yet at the end of June, there I was on a plane to Barcelona on a scouting mission.” After negotiations between Whelan, Barrow and the three Spanish youngsters they agreed to move to Wigan Athletic. Arriving in time for pre-season training in 1995, Isidrio Diaz a Valencia native had been playing alongside Roberto Martinez in Real Zaragoza’s B team and had also appeared for the same Catalan side as Roberto Martinez CF Balaguer, along with Jesus Seba another former Real Zaragoza player and Copa Del Rey winner with Villareal. Wigan Athletic and indeed the Wigan of 1995 was a very different place to now, how must it have felt for three Spanish youngsters to sign for third division Wigan Athletic in 1995? The players moved in to the club accommodation at the time which was a Victorian terrace on Poolstock Lane, a main through fare to Wigan town centre. The terrace had been the childhood home of Dave Whelan and after his mother had passed away the house was used for new players acclimatising to the way of life in Wigan. That terraced house was directly across my childhood home, one Friday afternoon in August removal vans pulled up outside the home and an excited father bounced through in to the living room saying, “You’ll never guess who’s moved in lad - the three amigos. After football training we’ll go and get your shirts signed.” The next day came and a shy eight year old boy crossed Poolstock Lane with his father holding his hand to get his football shirts signed. The joy and pride I felt of having The Three Amigos living across the road from me was unbridled. I crossed the road heading back home with a smile as big as the old 610 bus that used to pass by my front window. The Three Amigos were taken to Wiganers’ hearts. They were the first Spanish players to play in England, let alone Wigan, and the Wigan Athletic fans took them to their heart. Jesus Seba struggled to settle at the club and returned to Spain before the end of 1995 whilst Isidro Diaz stayed a little bit longer but left for the final time in 1998.
It was Roberto who stayed longest and probably the only one who truly ‘got us’, and the player who found settling at the club the easiest. He was a classy player, a central midfielder who had a goal in him. Watching him was like nothing that the crowds at Springfield Park had ever seen before. He lacked the pace to make it at the very top but his vision was what set him apart. Roberto impressed straight away in a league not known for it’s football quality and finished his first full season at Wigan Athletic as a division three winner and along with Diaz was named in the PFA team of the season. From a personal point of view Roberto couldn’t do enough for me and my Dad. After seeing me wearing a Real Madrid shirt that had been picked up on a family holiday he arranged for his mother to bring a Real Zaragoza shirt over for me. I wore that shirt with pride and told everyone that, “Roberto had bought this for me”. He would often drive both of us to Springfield Park and drive me home from games. One memorable journey took part ahead of the Junior Latics Christmas Party, with a Dad working away from home Roberto offered to drive me to Springfield Park as a favour for my Mum who wouldn’t be able to take me across town to Springfield Park. Roberto left the club for Motherwell in 2001, after falling out of favour under John Benson. Ironically they would be reunited for a time when Roberto returned as manager in 2009. Roberto’s managerial tenure has been well documented in these pages before and there’s no need for me to repeat it here, though in recent years his record is looked back on with more fondness than it was at the time and he will always be the only manager (so far) who has won a major trophy for Wigan Athletic. Quite the achievement for a Spanish lad who arrived on these shores as a member of the Three Amigos in 1995, not speaking a word of English.