Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man
Our panel of Wigan Athletic experts look back on the club's greatest ever day...and some timeless tales...
The day started well enough. At the time, the three of us had over 100 collective Latics-watching years in, and this was the one game none of us ever thought we’d see in our lifetime. We’d had a good run down to Gerard’s Cross, parked the car for free, and got our train tickets to Wembley. The train was packed with both Latics and City fans who had all had the same idea as us. After all, you can’t get in and out of Wembley at the best of times, let alone when there are 80,000 people all trying to go the same way after the game. We actually managed to get seats on the train, but the good start to our FA Cup experience came to a sharp halt about two stops down the line. Tony, the eldest and, we thought, most responsible of our trio suddenly announced he’d left the tickets in the car. We laughed and told him it was a good try, but his face didn’t change. He was visibly grey. It took another stop for him to convince us that the tickets were, indeed, still in the car. After much swearing, we got off the train at the next stop and checked the timetable. To our horror, there wasn’t a train that would get us back to Gerard’s Cross that would then give us time to get on a train back to Wembley in time for kick off. I glanced out of the station door, and there was a car dropping some people off. Almost dragging the other two lads behind me, we ran outside. The car was some sort of taxi, albeit a very unofficial looking one. I stuck my head in his passenger door and asked if he’d take us back to Gerard’s Cross station, if we made it worth his while. To his credit, he only asked us for 20 quid, but we’d have paid a lot more, if I’m honest. As we started driving off in a random car, with some random fella towards a destination we had no idea how to actually get to, we explained our predicament. Again, our “taxi” didn’t let us down. He drove as fast as he dared, and got us back to GC in record time. We gladly paid up, thanked him profusely, grabbed the tickets from the car and managed to get on a train with about 20 seconds to spare. We made it to Wembley, just, getting into the stadium about 10 minutes before kick off. The rest, of course, is history. Our history, the club’s history, the competition’s history. If we’d have missed it because an old man didn’t remember the only thing he had to remember all day, who knows what the consequences might have been? Tony is still responsible for getting all the tickets for games, but he now refuses to hang on to any of them. He insists on handing them over at the earliest opportunity, so we can never blame him if we arrive anywhere without one. We also never fail to remind him that we nearly missed it because of him. Despite everything, I can’t think of any other people I’d want to have that experience with. It’s unlikely we’ll ever have the chance again, especially after coming so close again the following year, so Tony has long been forgiven. But he doesn’t need to know that.
Cup Final started with a walk up to Hindley train station to get to Manchester then train to London. Now growing up as a child, Cup final day was special, the only domestic game of the year shown live and it was on both the BBC/ITV from early morning right through to the celebrations what a day. The walk to the station was weird. I had a quiet confidence because of the way we played against City away a couple of weeks earlier but dare not speak it, I also had this ‘kid before Christmas’ feeling I was going to watch my team, my town in a FA Cup Final.
A few cans with my mate Ste on the train down, then we met up in a pub a few tube stops down the line from Wembley, now I’d been telling myself I’d be on early to soak it all up but as normal just about made kick off. Was sat with my mate Rob who had took his family down has I was going in saw small replica FA Cups for sale I got two for his daughters(what they would have done with them if we’d lost I don’t know). The game was as good as we’d played all season but City only need a second to finish you off then it came the moment time stood still as Sir Ben’s header floated over Joe Hart, pandemonium ensued the perfect time to score with no time for City to come back we’d done it Wigan Athletic FA Cup Winners 2013.
11th May 2013 a date that doesn’t need any introduction. Forget the result, that day is one that we will simply never forget. We’d gone into so many games as the underdogs and nobody expected plucky Wigan to get anything. We had nothing to lose. For City they’d been there and done that and it was just another cup final. With the number of Latics fans in and around Wembley well in advance of kick off it was clear that we were going to enjoy that day, and that we did! Little did we know how close we would come to being able to defend the trophy the following season. Our pre-match routine mirrored the semi final, nothing to do with being superstitious, honest! We met with friends at Harrow, same parking spot, same pub, same food, same woolly jumper worn in every round to the final, same tube trip, and then Wembley Way. The atmosphere compared to the Millwall game was the polar opposite. Once in the ground it really hit home. We’d made it, an FA cup final! The banners, brass band, pyrotechnics and smiling faces all around. We were on the 3rd row directly behind where Sir Ben found the net and what a moment that was. The mobile phone battery took a beating that day but thankfully made it to the moment the trophy was lifted. Once the on the pitch celebrations were over we didn’t want to leave. The journey home went in a flash. We met gracious City fans at the services who were genuine in their congratulations. Once home the mobile was charged and a flood of messages and notifications filtered through. In the days after there are so many brilliant videos on Twitter and YouTube. Some of the complications which have been put together are worthy of an Oscar and bring it all back. It was how football should be, although I’ve not forgiven Shaun Goater and probably never will!
It’s hard to think we’re already seven years on from that day in May, so vivid are the memories from that day. If I listed every special moment from that day it could take a lifetime. We had travelled down from Manchester on the Friday afternoon and headed over to West London, during that time I had spent a lot of time working with Jason Roberts during his time as a pundit on 5 Live and on Match of The Day. Incidentally Jason was part of an event being hosted on the Friday evening at our hotel, I had a drink with him at the end of his event and he couldn’t hide his excitement. He had missed the semi-final but had got tickets for the final and was bringing his son with him to his first FA Cup Final. He was positive we would put in a performance, whereas the more pessimistic types like myself were convinced City would prevail. I spent the rest of the Friday night traipsing around the pubs of the West End with my old man who had been living in the capital for the last few years. We still couldn’t believe we would be heading to see our side in an FA Cup Final the next day. I was a bag of nerves on the morning of the final, after breakfast we headed over to meet friends who had travelled down early morning from Wigan and the rest of the afternoon is a bit of a blur. Though I do remember encountering a City fan from Standish of all places, he delighted in telling me how ‘you men’ will get battered today. He must have taken FA Cup predictions from the school of Noel Gallagher. Another of that strange phenomenon’s that we often encounter as Latics fan’s – I hoped to meet him again after the final. Alas he must have already been on his way back to Piccadilly at that point – oh wait I mean Wigan North Western. When we arrived on Wembley Way Ray Mathias was in situ with Radio Manchester as part of his media commitments which meant a trip down memory lane for me and my dad and all of our mates who remembered that fantastic final season at Springfield Park. Ray is one of only a handful of managers to manage Wigan Athletic at Wembley and it was great to see him involved at the final. Entering in to Wembley the nerves ramped up once again, Abide with Me went in the blink of an eye and then here it was. The pyrotechnics were first, then Dave Whelan, Roberto Martinez and Emmerson Boyce cradling Joseph Kendrick in his arms. We know what happened in the next 90 minutes but as that ball from Shaun Maloney hung in mid-air it felt like the whole world stopped until Watson’s header glanced over Joe Hart and in to the top corner. As the heavens opened and grown men cried, me included I think we knew life would never be quite the same again. After the match it must have been close to nine before we made it back towards central London. Too busy dancing in the rain along Wembley Way to care what time it was. There are so many individual stories from that day, so many experiences that will never be repeated. So many people were not there to witness it, so many who have lost their lives since that day. We can rest assured that we witnessed history in the making that day.