Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man

Emmerson BoyceEmmerson Boyce
Emmerson Boyce | jpimedia
We asked our panel of experts which person means 'Wigan Athletic' to them...player/manager/fan/friend/whoever...and we weren't disappointed...

Sean Livesey:

When trying to put into mind someone who means ‘Wigan Athletic’ it’s so difficult, with a club embedded in the community like ours, there are so many people who would be worthy of such accolades. There’s matchgoing friends who without them the experience wouldn’t be the same, there’s those faces whose names you may not know but exchange a knowing nod every Saturday afternoon. The pubs in Wigan that fill up on a Saturday afternoon and empty as quickly once 2.20pm comes along and all those that visit them. Maybe the many managers over the years who truly ‘got us’ – and not that many have. Graham Barrow, Paul Jewell, Ray Mathias, Roberto Martinez maybe Gary Caldwell or even Uwe Rosler but it isn’t an exhaustive list by any stretch. Perhaps even the chairman who revolutionised my club and in many ways saved it from a very uncertain future. Took us on the journey of our lives over a period of nearly 25 years where for the best part of two decades it was all on the up. But for this I decided to go for a player born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. Someone who at the time may have been considered an inconspicuous signing - as Wigan Athletic begin to prepare for their second season of Premier League football Paul Jewell took to refreshing a side that despite the heroics of the previous season had tired badly in the second half of the season. The likes of Andy Johnson and Scott Parker were all linked indeed an England centre forward did arrive for a then-record £5.5m in the form of Emile Heskey. Defensive reinforcements arrived in the form of Fitz Hall, a towering centre back from Crystal Palace with a towering price figure of £3.5m. He was followed later in the summer by Emmerson Boyce a right back for a fee in the region of just £1m. He would have a hard act to follow - Pascal Chimbonda had arrived in Wigan the previous summer and turned in countless exceptional performances before forcing his way into the PFA Premier League team of the year and the French World Cup squad. He also decided to hand in a transfer request moments after the end of the last game of the season – which you know was a bit poor. Boyce played a central role in that first season at Latics as the club went on to stay up again with the dramatic relegation decider at Bramall Lane. Mario Melchiot would arrive ahead of the next season, curtailing Boyce’s appearances at right back, but he would earn his place back in the side as a centre-back. This carried on under both Steve Bruce and Roberto Martinez until the January signing of Gary Caldwell would again see Boyce out of the side.

But the reason why Boyce so sums up Wigan Athletic is he never showed he was beat, indeed with his chances at centre-back curtailed and, with Melchiot leaving at the end of the 2010 season, Boyce again re-invented himself. This time as a marauding wing-back – at the age of 30 years old Boyce was given a new lease of life and a new position to make his own, after looking like his Wigan Athletic career could have ended he made his worth to the club clear for all to see. Boyce again was central to the Martinez era, as he had been for both Steve Bruce and Jewell before that. Be it the successful fights against relegation in 2010/11 or 2011/12, Boyce would become the first name on the team sheet each week. 2013 would bring a new accolade to Wigan’s inconspicuous arrival the chance to captain his club at Wembley, not once but twice as Latics successfully beat Millwall to reach their first ever major cup final. On cup final day, with the cameras of the world trained on Wembley, Emmerson cradled young Joseph Kendrick in his arms and captured the hearts of a nation. No matter how the match ended, that moment would last with me forever and, when I talk about ‘getting us’, Boycey truly did get us. We all know how that day went, and how Joseph truly did turn out to be Wigan’s lucky mascot. The following season saw Boycey stick with the Latics and, despite having to get used to a new way of playing under first Owen Coyle and then Rosler, showed his worth to both managers, so much so that he would be central to another FA Cup story. With a matchsaving tackle at Manchester City and very nearly captaining the Latics to a second consecutive FA Cup final. Throw in a first European campaign for the then 34-year-old, and despite it ending ultimately in defeat, it was another example of how important Boycey was to Latics. He would go on to make a further 27 appearances for the club in 2014/15 – a season that will sadly be remembered for all the wrong reasons. The expectation was that Boycey would go on to sign a contract extension to remain at the club in the upcoming League One campaign in 2015/16. Indeed one was offered, but not on acceptable terms according to the player, and it was a crying shame for it to end that way for both Latics and Emmerson after nine years of success. Boycey should have been part of that League One title-winning side in 2006, and he should have got his testimonial – the ironic thing being that our problems at right back that season meant he would have played a lot more than he may have realised. It’s all water under the bridge now, and after a final season playing at Blackpool, Boyce would return to Wigan to begin working with the Community Trust as an ambassador and coach. Some people just get your club and Boycey, like many players before him got us. Not bad for a right-back signed a decade earlier.

Caddy from the 5:

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‘Who and what says Wigan Athletic to you?’ My nan and Springfield Park,quite simple. She bought me a Tics top about 1981 for Christmas and that was it, I was a Tic for life and always will be. My nan was a Liverpool fan, never went a Tics game in her life but knew I liked Wigan, I took her to Anfield once watching ‘em in Europe, her one and only time she went. Seeing her face made it all worthwhile. See, in football, it doesn’t matter who you support, they’re your team, they mean everything to you and no one can tell you anything different. Being a pup on the popular side at the Tics was brilliant, I was always more interested in the away fans, and still am... “look how many they’ve brought” was always mentioned by the ‘bigger lads’, either ridiculed or a mumbled “fair play”. The ‘Wigan walk’ at half-time, moving to whichever half we were attacking was brilliant, all in unison, settling in ‘your spot’ everyone had their own spot, you knew who was round you, maybe not by name but a nod... and many of the lads from those days are still there, we all see them, most we still don’t know their name but there’s always a nod. I’m murder for years, they all blend into one at times. I do remember the ‘87 Cup run though, especially the Norwich game, a game they gave out an 8k attendance. There were more on that day than the Leeds quarter-final, I’m sure of it. When Paul Jewell scored what would be the winner it was amazing, I think you yoof call it “scenes” nowadays, carnage ensued. I remember being over the wall pitchside as Paul had the ball, shielding it at the corner flag, trying to waste time as a scrawny Tics fan was patting him on the back going mental, everyone was. I don’t think you’d get away with that now!

I love a pitch invasion and, as the ref blew that day, it seemed millions were on, diving on Bobby Campbell’s back was another highlight then taunting the Norwich fans - them's the rules on a pitch invasion! At the last game it was always customary to invade the pitch at full-time and applaud the manager/team who’d make their way up the Phoenix Stand and take the ovation. Well it was all lovely until we played Wolves, watching from below as Graham Barrow was throwing their fans about like rag dolls was a classic, they’d taken offence to the invasion and were mentioning it to Barrow, more fool them. I loved Springfield Park, as we all did, and I’ll leave you with this one great memory... Rob Holcroft had sorted us out the VIP ‘lounge’ Palm trees et al, many will know what I’m on about, anyway they did a “guess the gate” competition as usual, quick as a flash Brett Moore piped up: ”Guess ‘em? I’ll name ‘em!” Anyway, nice one nan and Springfield Park, both gone but never forgotten. Right I’m off for a 'Bow!

Statto:

Someone who lives and breaths Wigan Athletic is Kev Powell. He goes everywhere from first team to youth team, if there is a game on with fan access it’s 99.9 per cent he will be there and he’s a great lad to boot who likes a good drink and a chat. Cut him he will definitely bleed blue and white.

Paul Middleton:

Being a Latics fan sways between the joyous and the desperate, sometimes on a daily basis. Through it all, though, some people stay as committed to the Tics cause as they ever were. As for me, personally, I don’t do the aways in the numbers I used to, and occasionally miss the odd home game because there’s something else going on. As we go through life, it’s often true that life itself gets in the way. Mortgages, jobs, kids and bills to pay all mean there’s a chance that football is no longer the financial priority it once was. It means that finding just one person who you look at and know that they live and breathe Latics isn’t as easy as it might be. For me, though, there’s no competition for the prize. If I just call him Darren, a lot of people will know who I mean even without me mentioning his last name. He’s a lad who has been around at Latics for as long as I can remember. Home and away, he is never less than hugely enthusiastic about the team and the club. The reasons that anybody who has been around for any length of time knows Darren, are many. He looks a little unconventional, and with his bright hair he’s difficult to miss, even in a crowd. For years, he was known to everyone as “Jumping Jack’s Lad”, and rarely missed a game home or away. But lots of people attend a lot of games, and it isn’t just that which sets Darren apart for me. His enthusiasm for Latics seems never to fade, even in the most difficult circumstances. Once the whistle blows, he’s utterly committed to making sure he gives every ounce he can to supporting the team on the field. He’s up and down out of his seat every few seconds, it seems, and is as vocal as it’s possible to imagine.

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Darren attends games with his uncle, who had a heart attack earlier this season. Fearing the worst, I bumped into Darren at the next home game, and asked him how his uncle was. His reply that, ‘We might have to knock aways on the head for a few weeks’ almost made me laugh out loud. More so the fact that he meant every word. A life-threatening health scare wasn’t going to keep Darren and his uncle away from Latics for long and, true to his word, they were both attending home games in a few short weeks, and the aways started again just after. It’s not unusual, though, for people to be able to say, “Aye, I attend all the games home and away”, but they’re not on the same level as Darren. When we did the first “Joseph’s Goal” walk to Fleetwood a few years ago, we took collection buckets around the bar in the ground. Before we even got in the door, Darren came bounding over and put a handful of money in the bucket. When we sell the fanzine on the bridge, he’s the first to buy one every single time. It’s not just attending games which means Darren is “Latics”, it’s his entire commitment to the club, the team and his fellow fans. It’s easy to look at Darren and mock and, for years, many did just that. Like I said, he's a little unconventional. But, as time has passed, more and more people have recognised him for the great Latics fan that he is. He’s the epitome of a Ticsmon, with blue and white blood pumping through his veins at a thousand miles an hour. I have no idea if Darren will read this, and I hope he isn’t embarrassed by it if he does. The internet has spawned a million “Be like Bill” memes and the like. For the rest of us, when it comes to Latics, we should all be like Darren.

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