Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'How do we square the circle from learning the lessons of the past years and preaching sustainability, and then in the next breath demanding signings, or else WE’RE DOOMED I TELL YA!! '

Our panel of Wigan Athletic experts look ahead to the opening day of the Championship against Preston North End...and what the next nine months might hold...

Martin Tarbuck:

How are we all feeling? Are we all chilled out and ready to go for the new season? Are we basking in the glory of a title-winning soaked summer? Let’s just check that bastion of rational logic and common sense - the #wafc timeline on Twitter - and find out how the mood music is playing out. Oh dear!! Oh dear, indeed. Look, I got pelters earlier in the week following a contribution to another media-based publication where I mentioned a club up the road, who shall not be mentioned by name. However, as I’ve argued before, they are the club out of all clubs with the most similar recent history to our own, over the last 30 years, whether either of us likes it or not (they don't, and usually start harking back 80 years at this point). This is across so many layers: the benevolent owner funding a rise through the divisions, the new ground, the Premier League years, a European adventurement, then relegation, administration and a climb back from the abyss. So it does make sense on so many levels. A quick peek on their timeline, a very occasional one, I’m not OBSESSED as the banter merchants would have it, and they, well, the ones who can type the Queen’s English are optimistic for the new season. They are genuinely excited, they are happy. They finished ninth, we won the league and we've got moaning beggers everywhere. Is this just in anticipation that we aren’t going to win as many games? How do we square the circle from learning the lessons of the past years and preaching sustainability, and then in the next breath demanding signings, or else WE’RE DOOMED I TELL YA!! Can’t we just be happy in our own skin for a while and accept that finishing somewhere in the region of 18th to 20th will be a year-on-year improvement, and that we should be well enough equipped to do that? If not today, then by the time the window closes? And then if not, then in January, the owners will have a decision to make as to whether to stick or twist? I’m sure everyone reading says they are invested in this football club as a fan, but again, if we’ve learned anything these past few years, we’ve learnt that our investment barely pays the bills. If you feel differently, then you should have put your money where your mouth is, and given those helpful chaps (sic) at Begbies Traynor a call. I’m putting it as starkly as I can here: if you’re not happy with our transfer dealings, then maybe buy the club yourself. Even more starkly: there is absolutely nothing stopping the current owners doing what the last owners did, and pulling the plug at a moment’s notice. No amount of crying on the internet will change that. It will hopefully, should never happen but once you realise that, maybe it’s time to show some continual gratitude for what they HAVE done for this football club, and what they continue to do for it. Instead of insisting we spend money we don’t generate to pursue a hollow form of success because you, as a fan, cannot contemplate the prospect of losing a few football matches this season. We are back in the Championship. It looks like Leam is going to be relying primarily on the squad that got us there, but big deal. Do these players not deserve the opportunity to test themselves at a higher level? If you really care about the club, you care about the players, you care about the honours and the titles they have brought us. Then you acknowledge that you can’t win a title every year (there are clubs out there, of our size, whose fans haven’t seen one title in their lifetimes!!) Unfortunately, a by-product of gaining promotion, means you face bigger clubs and it’s probable we will lose more football matches. It’s how you react to losing that defines you, anyone can revel in a team winning. Trouble is, I know exactly how this season is going to go. The usual empty vessels are raring to flex their vocal chords. Many of those who spent much of last season moaning, criticising Leam and the players. And yes, they did this in a season where we won the league from a standing start. And now it’s payback: we’ve had weeks of squad dissection, and moans about lack of recruitment and just you wait till we lose an actual football match! It will be payback time in dividends from those who criticised Richardson et al. As soon as we lose one game, let alone a few, all that anger, held back through gritted teeth, will flow freely. It must be a terrible way to live, to only gain pleasure from claiming some kind of righteous victory over being the one to continually point out the limitations of our consistently over-performing football team, and gain perverse satisfaction when they eventually do fall short but it will happen, trust me. Something about broken clocks being right twice a day. Either way, I won’t be interacting, I will be laughing at them. Why? Because I’ve had a whale of a time watching Wigan Athletic for nearly 40 years now, and that will never change. Sure this season might not turn out to be as much fun as last season, but then who got into watching us for the glory anyway? Somehow after nearly losing our club, we are back as a Championship outfit, just two years later, isn’t that something to celebrate? We will win less games in the Championship, but should celebrate each one more than the last. We are defying the odds every time we take to the field and that needs to be celebrated too. We will only succeed this season if that unity between fans and players is retained this year, when the going gets tough. They need our support when they are struggling, as well as when they score a last-minute winner. The second bit is easy, it’s the first part that defines what supporting a team is about, isn’t it?

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Paul Middleton:

I was going to say that, finally, football is back. But it’s not finally, it’s too early. Football seasons should not be starting in July. They start mid-August and really get going in September. Right, now that’s out of the way, we need to talk about Latics and, more specifically, Latics fans. There is lots of noise and dissatisfaction about us making so few signings over the summer. I have mixed feelings personally. I think we have a core of players who are perfectly capable at Championship level, so we don’t need to bring in 20 new players. But I do think we need to strengthen in some positions. I think we need some creativity in midfield, for one. We have some very good players for that position, but none that will split open defences with a single pass. I don’t know if the usual suspects on social media think we should be buying a brand new team every year or what. Or where they think the money is coming from. None of us really know how rich our owner is but, regardless, he’s not just going to throw money at the club like it’s his personal plaything. It is, and I’m sure it’s what we all want it to be, a long-term project. I’m happy just sitting in the middle of the Championship for a few years, maybe winning as many as we lose. Promotion to the Premier League is a long way off, if that chance even really exists, but I’m okay with that. Anything above the relegation zone will do, with lower mid-table being a real possibility. Many pundits have us finishing below Rotherham and Sunderland, for reasons only they can tell you, seeing as how we finished above both of them last year, and have proven Championship quality players. I have no doubt we’ll hear calls for Leam Richardson’s head, should we start badly. It is the short-memory problem of football fans which leads to such nonsense, so pack it in, if that applies to you. Richardson deserves the chance to make something of this season, and I think he’s perfectly capable of doing so. Preston are up first, and it will be a real bonus to turn them over, as they definitely have Premier ambitions. So, a prediction: I reckon somewhere 12th to 16th is both realistic and achievable. Should we have a dalliance with the play-offs for a few weeks, that’s a huge bonus, but it’s not really important at this stage. This year's about balancing everything from the team performances to the club finances, let’s just be happy with that.

Statto:

The league season starting in July...never thought I'd see that. Pre season is over, and you can never read too much into it. More getting miles in the legs than results, but always better being on the right side of the scoreline. Not many new faces so far, the squad looks a bit thin, but I'm sure Talal, Mal and Leam are working hard on the right additions. It's no use signing players for the sake of it. I'd take lower mid-table now to consolidate and build on for the future. We start with a tough test against Preston, who had a decent back end of the season under Ryan Lowe, so come 5pm Saturday we will have a decent idea of the standard of football we'll be facing and how we will adapt to it. So 'Up The Tics' and stay safe.

Matt Auffrey:

Championship football is returning to Wigan. With the season starting on Saturday, the novelty of this proclamation has all but diminished, and the reality of the great challenge ahead has set into place. The auction for a 21st-place finish in the final league table is well underway. The current bid stands at one left hand. What’s the highest price that you would pay for guaranteed survival this season? The lack of new signings has caused a great deal of concern within our fanbase. Every flaw that last season’s team possessed has been accentuated and amplified during this summer's discussions. The fact we only took nine points from a possible 30 off the other top six sides in the division last season remains fresh in our memories. The sentiment persists that if we struggled to defeat Championship-calibre sides with last year’s team, we shouldn’t expect to beat them with a relatively unchanged squad this season. In spite of the everpresent doom and gloom, the lads managed to beat Sheffield Wednesday 4-1 at the DW last weekend. This same Wednesday team did the double over us last season and are the favourites of many to get promoted out of League One in 2023. The pre-season finale was not always easy viewing. Wednesday dominated possession for large portions of the match and more consistently created chances. Yet, the four goals on the scoresheet for Latics tell the tale of the match far better than any other statistic. Dare I say it was a 'Championship-calibre' performance? If Championship survival is the ultimate goal for this year’s team, then match results will matter more than anything else. This team proved last season that they are quite adept at pulling off positive results amidst adverse circumstances. We can only hope the intangibles that won them the League One title translate into success in the Championship. We only have a few tried-and-true Championship players in the squad so most of our team will likely enter this season with a chip on their shoulder. We will need to play with an edge for the duration of this season in order to counteract the various advantages our opponents will have over us. We will have to find new and creative ways to break the winless spells that have hampered our mid-season form during our previous campaigns in this division. For example, we have not won a Championship league match in the month of December since 2014. We have also had recent issues with dropping points from winning positions while in the second tier. Hopefully a new manager and playing squad will alleviate many of the same problems that have previously plagued us at this level. However, the slate is as clean as ever right now, and with over 4,000 Preston North End fans making their way to the DW for this weekend’s opener, we should expect nothing less than a roaring atmosphere. We are 16 months into our new ownership regime and our trajectory has only gone upwards since the takeover occurred. In the meantime, I, for one, will continue to be optimistic about all things Latics. An exciting season awaits us.

Emma Peters:

We’re back baby! How is it possible that the off-season has gone so quickly and so slowly at the same time? Wigan Athletic kick off their return to the Championship this Saturday with a home fixture against close rivals Preston North End. The troops return with a few noticeable differences, mainly the gaps left by loan men Kell Watts, Tom Bayliss and Glen Rea as well as Gavin Massey. Jordan Jones has opted to spend this campaign on loan at Kilmarnock, Luke Robinson will be hoping for some minutes under his belt with a season-long loan at Tranmere, while Adam Long completed his permanent move to Doncaster last week. We all know the ‘Tics wouldn’t be the ‘Tics without a bit of a meltdown here and there, and there’s been plenty of it going around over the last few months. Despite the infamous tweets containing ‘Talal’s Pens’, with only one summer signing so far this transfer window - the addition of Ryan Nyambe from Blackburn - fans have been left wondering whether the current squad has what it takes to compete in the second tier of English football. It has been noted by the gaffer and several of the lads throughout pre-season that the vast majority of the current players are inexperienced, therefore unproven at this level, not including the likes of Max Power, Joe Bennett, James McClean ('Aha!') and a brief stint for Tom Pearce before being ruled out with an ankle injury during our last stint in the Championship. I’m sure everyone is very aware of this fact, but inexperienced doesn’t mean incapable. And I’ve no doubt at all the lads will come back this week raring to go and desperate to prove themselves in front of a home crowd. As Talal, Mal Brannigan and Leam Richardson have all said, there is work being done behind the scenes...trust the process! See you all on Saturday! Up the Tics!

Tony Moon:

“Reasons to be cheerful”, that was Ian Drury’s song;But lots of Tics fans struggled there, well, “cheerful” just sounds wrong!Reasons to be miserable seem much more on the ball;Why bother being cheerful when there’s lots of stuff to call?Selections, line-up, tactics too, they all came in for stick.And as for t’ style o’ football, “well, that hoofball’s takin’ t’ mick”.“Th’ owner’s skint, he’s no brass left, and Talal, he’s just a puppet”;So say th’ intelligentsia, aka the twitter muppets.T’ North End’s first up Sat’day, it’s the calm before the storm;Just imagine the kerfuffle if t’ performance is lukewarm.Nah, reasons to be hopeful is what most of us are after,A pint or two, a chat wi’ mates and a bit o’ good old laughter.And reasons to be optimistic, well that’d do just fine;But owt less than a 3 baht win, is bound to make some whine.So reasons to be cheerful are a step too far it’d seem;By heck, some miserable beggars come to watch this Latics team.

Sean Livesey:

So here we go, ready to do it all again? It feels like this season has come around quicker than any previously, and that's probably true. Thanks to the winter World Cup it means we'll be starting earlier than ever before and finishing later than ever before, with a near month long break in the middle of it all. So how's pre-season been? Well, despite the quiet state of play on the transfer front, the on-the-pitch content has been good. Wins over Bamber Bridge, Bolton, Oldham, Liverpool's youth team and Sheffield Wednesday, with a draw against Accrington Stanley thrown in for good measure. There's been a distinct lack of transfer activity this summer. In complete contrast to last summer with only Ryan Nyambe arriving from Blackburn on a one-year contract. Mix that in with wages being paid late twice due to technical issues, and some considerable stirring from the Daily Mail, and it's been an unsettling summer for many. That's led to many declaring that Talal and Mr Al Jasmi are already searching for a way out. The club's going to hell (League One) in a hand cart and they were never interested in us to begin with. I paraphrase, of course, but it's been a difficult summer, summers always are. In the age of constant sound bites and 24/7 transfer gossip it's difficult to keep a fan base happy when you're not feeding into that and, although I'm not predicting our imminent downfall, I too have been surprised about our lack of business so far. But we only have to look at previous seasons in the Championship to see when we've struggled most, is when we've made wholesale changes. Football is a very different place from twenty years ago when Paul Jewell kept together mostly the same side for three seasons and two promotions. The Championship is very different now, so we'll clearly need to make reinforcements this season. But it may well take till towards the end of the transfer window before those signings arrive, we'll know more once the Premier League sides agree their squads for the season and the trickle-down effect reaches the Championship. Ad let's not forget about players like Graeme Shinnie, Jamie McGrath and Charlie Wyke, who will be like new signings this season. It's going to be a difficult season and once again we'll in all probability have to get used to losing more than we win again but the fact is these players and the management have earned this crack at the Championship. Let's hope they all grab it with both hands.