Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'I haven’t looked forward to a new season as much in ages. I have no idea if we’ll be brilliant or rubbish but we’re safe and we’re stable...'

Our panel of experts draw a line under the most eventful campaign in Wigan Athletic's history - on and off the pitch - and dare to look ahead and dream about the future...

Friday, 14th May 2021, 11:23 am
The Latics fans show their appreciation to the players after last weekend's game against Swindon
The Latics fans show their appreciation to the players after last weekend's game against Swindon

Paul Middleton:

Even without Covid lurking round every corner, the past year would still have been dreadful for Latics and the fans. Corrupt owners, administrators looking to pick the bones of the club bare even before it was dead, and a first team squad made up largely of Shevington Under-11 players for half of the season, with the club managing to add a few older heads in January. But none of that matters now. Leam Richardson ably assisted by Gregor Rioch, has cobbled together a squad that managed to pull off what even we all thought was impossible. We only survived by one place and a couple of points, but who cares? Survive we did, and we owe every single person in the club a debt of thanks. Not just those there now, but also those whose jobs were sacrificed so we could afford to survive. Latics is a club like no other, and the past 12 months has made that very clear. Under our new pal Talal, I haven’t looked forward to a new season as much in ages. I have no idea if we’ll be brilliant or rubbish – another routine part of being a Latics fan – but we’re safe and we’re stable. The fact it could have all turned out so much worse now seems a bit like a distant memory. Hopefully, though, it will be a warning to everyone in football that clubs are now treated as little more than an asset by most owners. They really don’t care if the clubs they’ve invested in exist in five years or not, as long as they get their money back. We’re also coming out of Covid and will hopefully be back in the ground come August. Whatever happens on the pitch, that first home game with us all sitting back in our seats should just be a celebration of the fact we can even do as much as that. When talk turns to picking a player of the year, it’s an impossible task. They all deserve a medal, from the oldest to the youngest, so you’ll have to make your own minds up on that. So bring on new owners, bring on next season and bring on us winning the league with a million points. Or just winning more than we lose for now until things settle down, if that helps.

Caddy from the 5:

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'The hard work has already started,' said Leam Richardson after survival was assured last week and I think we’ll all agree. But first let’s draw a line under the hardest season ever in our history. No it won’t and shouldn’t ever be forgotten how close we came to losing our great club forever. But with the leeches from Bogbies back in their amply-feathered nest and Mr Al Jasmi and Talal at the helm of a hopefully steadied ship, it’s time to move on not look back. I believe we’ve only five players contracted for next season so a big recruitment drive is obviously going to happen. How much money we have is anyone’s call, but we do have the footings of a decent team (if they want to/are asked to sign up for at least next season). I’m not going to start calling out players who should/shouldn’t stay, that’s Leam’s job – let him get on with it. I will say thanks to everyone of them but we can’t afford to be sentimental, and if we want to do anything of note, better players are needed in most positions, that’s a simple fact. As for this season, the biggest award should go to Swindon Town for taking John Sheridan off our hands, because I’ve no doubt whatsoever we’d have been relegated by February with this man in charge – and him being appointed by Bogbies says it all. Paul Stanley can put out whatever he wants about how they saved the club, they did their highly rewarded job, they can pat each other on the backs with their wads of £50 notes, but HIM/THEY appointed this fella! Stick to ripping off clubs money-wise because you know nothing about running one.

Nobody should be put above anyone this season for awards, the whole club should get one. Talal got it right naming every person who’s contributed to where we are now on his ‘wall’ and thanked them all, even though we had fans moaning they’d not seen their name on the board despite what they’d donate. You were lads – you were under 'FANS'. Whether you put £1 in or £10,000 it makes no odds, WE ALL helped save the club in our own way the best we could. I went down to the ground last Sunday, along with hundreds of others, just to thank the players/staff etc for their hard work and show them we’re still here and we’re ready to party again next season. I really did have a problem with the players being told they couldn’t come out BEHIND BARRIERS and just take the applause for a few minutes – by heck they deserved it. I’d watched Derby players the day before drinking with fans outside, and Norwich, Bolton and Cambridge players doing similar. Our lads in the end having to hang over the stand a few at a time to hear us say thanks was disappointing – you messed that up Latics. A genuine thanks to the couple of Latics fans who were clearing up all the cans/bottles/rubbish after the fans moved on as well. It was great to see that, but pick your own rubbish up next time, eh? We’re not Bolton. While down there I saw lads/girls I’ve not seen for a year or more and everyone was buzzing for next season. It was worth the hangover Monday morning to see us all laughing and ripping each other apart as usual, the world is defo healing! I’ve pushed this all season but we MUST get off our backsides and back Talal, Leam and whoever puts our shirt on by going through them turnstiles home and away next season. We really have no excuse. The apathy myself and many others showed must be ridden of, we’ve been given another chance lads/girls, let’s embrace it, eh? Right, I’m off sprucing up the Strongbow bar in the West Stand and putting my own barrel on, I’ll see you all there next season, old faces and new. UP THE TICS!

Mike Goodman:

It’s hard to describe just what the past 10 months have been like. At times I’ve fallen out of love with football and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt that way with all that’s been happening around the world. What Leam Richardson, Gregor Rioch, the rest of the coaching team, the club staff, the numerous players who have come and gone this season and the new board of directors have achieved this season is one of, if not, the greatest achievements this club has seen. To maintain League One status with all the external factors that have affected the club is staggering, and everyone who has played a part deserves enormous praise. Regarding a vote for the player of the season, it’s extremely difficult to choose just one. I think of one player as a contender, then I think of another, and another, and another and it just goes on. It’s been a real, collective team effort. I do have one notable mention though – Jamie Jones. One of the few survivors from the 2019/2020 Championship team, Jamie’s come in for a little criticism part-way through the season, but when you don’t have a settled back four, it’s difficult for a goalkeeper to develop the relationships needed to deliver consistent performances. And as the team in the January-May period settled down, we’ve seen Jamie produce consistent performances, make some crucial saves and be a real team leader.

The club’s Academy players also deserve massive credit. They were thrown into the mix when they were maybe one or two seasons away from pushing for a first-team place, but they’ve all stepped up. Without them, I’m sure we’d be playing in League Two next season. There’s optimism going into the summer and it’s a huge time for the club. One thing Leam needs is time. Time to begin rebuilding the squad for the next two or three seasons, time to get additional backroom staff into the club, and as one infamous clip shared on Twitter several times stated, time to ‘let um gel’. It’s going to take time for all the new players coming into the club to settle down and get to know each other. It may be three or four months into the new season until we begin to see a settled squad where relationships begin to develop so, for me, next season is a transitional season. I can definitely see a similar tactical approach between Leam and Paul Cook, and I can’t wait to see who joins the club over the summer. Fingers crossed we’ll all get back into the stadium to support the team in person come August. I’ve missed it.

George Chilvers:

Well, here we are. Another season over, and what a ride it’s been. The agony of not knowing whether we would even have a club in May 2021, while having to watch from the sidelines as we were not allowed near the stadium was something I have never known before, and hopefully never will again. But we’ve made it, the phoenix has literally risen, and with a good cross-wind we’ll be taking our seats again soon on the always bumpy flight that is Latics, ready to cheer the boys on. At this time of the year it’s usual to name player of the season, but before I do that it would be remiss of me not to highlight some of the non-playing staff: Leam and Gregor of course. Without them we would be sunk without trace into League Two, possibly an unsellable item in the greater scheme of things. They kept hope alive that Wigan Athletic was still something worth owning, and of course our new owners and our refreshing chairman have raised the bar. Then there’s Latics legend Tommy Gore, along with Guy Clarke, Ash Houghton and Nick Taylor, who through the most trying of years have become the voices of Wigan Athletic both in match commentaries and online and via social media. They have kept us up to date, and for that we thank them. They have become part of our lives, and in a funny way I’ll miss listening to them next season when I’m sat in my seat in the East Stand.

But if we focus on player of the season, it’s a difficult one. So many youngsters with talent started the season bravely battling (and sometimes succeeding) against the odds, against experienced battle-hardened old pros in opposing teams, who knew all the tricks in the book. It was literally men against boys. And the joy of having Merrie, Perry and Jolley in the same team will take some beating. But many of those promising youngsters had to be sacrificed as league rules were applied strictly, ensuring a 16-year-old who may have played five minutes as a substitute counted as a member of the squad. Who would have thought that EFL rules would be weighted against us? And then a new influx in January – many of whom had not played for quite some time, so whose fitness levels were low. But huge credit to them: they all, every one, battled on, raised those levels, and forged a great team with a great spirit. So who is my player of the season? I’m going for Jamie Jones. He has been the subject of unfair criticism throughout the year from keyboard warriors, who themselves couldn’t catch a cold, but he has borne it all with dignity. He is a goalkeeper; he makes mistakes; it’s what goalkeepers do. All players make mistakes. If a striker misses, we go ‘ooh’. If a midfielder misplaces a pass, we ignore it. If a defender makes a mistake we analyse it to death. If a goalkeeper does it’s total condemnation. But Jamie’s mistakes have actually been few. And on the other hand he has made some absolutely brilliant saves that have kept us in games, that in the end has kept us up. He has been a long-term member of the squad, team captain, and all-round good egg. It’s captain Jamie for me as player of the season. And I fully expect him to be lifting that title trophy this time next year. Have a good summer everyone!

Matt Auffrey:

The good, the bad, and the ugly were well on display for our final match of the season against Swindon at the DW Stadium. Latics dominated for long stretches early on and were unfortunate to only lead by a 3-1 score after the first hour of play had passed. Referee Graham Salisbury had different plans for the last half hour of the match, as he assuredly wanted to finish his professional career with a bang. A (since overturned) red card to Curtis Tilt allowed an already-relegated Swindon side to find one final wind before the season concluded. Latics have only played with 10 men twice this season, and during both matches they conceded three unanswered goals to blow a two-goal lead and lose the match. Lucky for Latics, neither the loss to Chorley in November nor to Swindon last Saturday affected their position in the league table. If there was any takeaway from the Swindon match, it was a greater appreciation for the tremendous results the team had achieved over that prior month – dating back to our 4-1 win at Doncaster on April 10. Even with ‘nothing to play for’ regarding our league status, it was a joy to watch this group of players on the pitch together for one last kickabout. With only enough players under contract to field a basketball team for next season, there are few doubts that many of the players from this current squad may have donned the Wigan Athletic shirt for the last time of their careers. I’m happy for the fans, who were able to congregate outside the ground on Saturday and celebrate our triumphant survival. I’m happy for the players, who can finally rest and enter the off-season knowing their individual efforts collectively produced one of the most extraordinary team feats imaginable. I’m happy for our new owners, who took on a great amount of risk when they purchased Wigan Athletic. They have not only been rewarded with League One survival, but will likely recoup some healthy cash pay-outs from survival/promotion bonuses and future sell-on clauses this summer.

The events of this past season will be a topic of discussion for years to come within our fanbase. It could be very easy to dwell on the negatives alone – the players we lost, the staff we lost, the matches we lost – but as we enter a new era of Latics football, I believe a new perspective is needed. Administration asset-stripped our club to the bone. The pandemic forced us to play a whole season without the in-person support of one the league’s largest fanbases. Despite every misfortune and injustice we endured, the spirit of our club remained too strong to be broken and lifted Latics through some of its darkest times yet. Promotion back to the Championship will be tougher than it has ever been. Even if we experience the greatest off-season imaginable for player retention and new player recruitment, our goals for the start of next season will have to be tempered. If we have to acclimate a number of new players to the squad, we will have to do so in what is looking to be one of the most competitive assemblies of League One teams yet. It will be refreshing to enter an off-season where the expectation will be to build rather than demolish. The players we do have under contract for next season are young, dynamic, and possess the potential to elevate our club to heights well beyond lower mid-table League One football. It is an exciting time to be a Wigan Athletic football fan, once again. Another chapter in our club’s long and storied history has concluded. The ballpoint pen has been laid down to rest for a short while, but will be ready to write again, and strong as ever after a quick ink replenishment. It has been a privilege to share my weekly thoughts with our massive fan contingent from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. For the last time this season: ‘Believe… Sin Miedo… Without Fear… Together!’

Deb Chapman:

Season over and looking forward to next season already! Will we offer new contracts to some/all/or none of the players that have helped us keep that League One status? I’d like to think so, we’ll wait and see. I feel we have so much to look forward to, and more importantly (unlike last season) our fantastic club has been saved, and we can carry on with the ups and downs that go with supporting our club. I won’t be choosing a player of the year this season as they all deserve recognition for what has been a horrible time. Players have chipped in with goals/assists, made saves whether defending or in goal, its been a team effort. Onwards and and upwards. Up the ‘Tics.

Tony Moon:

There was a young manager called Leam,

Who built an incredible te-am,

Playing in front of no cheers,

And no beers and no tears,

That’ll wait, til we’re all back to see ‘em;

There was a young man called Talal,

Whose food tastes were really banal,

But his appetite’s a big ‘un,

Now he’s at little Wigan,

Cos he now loves his meat pies (halal);

A magnificent club called the Tics,

Were down and out, without any fix,

But the table doesn’t lie,

Cos this club didn’t die,

It’s risen from t’ flames, like a Phoenix;

Up the Phoenix Tics!

Sean Livesey:

The times are a changing. I’m not going to dwell on Sunday’s non-event. If it wasn’t for the most baffling refereeing decision you will ever see, Latics would have won Sunday’s match comfortably. Instead, a defensive collapse after Curtis Tilt’s dismissal led to Swindon taking the spoils. But we start next season in League One, Swindon will be in League Two. That’s why Sunday really doesn’t matter. So the most distressing season in our history is finally at an end and life is flowing back in to the stadium. It’s been heartening to see the club advertising once again for a number of the roles lost during administration. Administration was painful for supporters, but imagine all those people whose livelihoods relied on the club. Sadly, not all of them will get their jobs back, but hopefully a good number do. With everything crossed for a return to fans in grounds in a few months, the times are definitely changing, and hopefully a brighter future for Wigan Athletic is just around the corner. It’s going to be fascinating to see what kind of side we can build this summer and, in stark contrast to last season, hopefully we can retain most of our shining lights from this year rather than worrying about how small the transfer fee could be.

There’s a number of players that deserve new deals, most of those on short-term contracts definitely deserve new deals if they wish to stay with us, while completing permanent deals for loan signings such as Tilt and George Johnston should be top of Leam Richardson’s to-do list. After his stand-out performances in recent weeks, Will Keane is surely one player in with the shout of a new deal. I don’t think much was expected of Will when he arrived in late September. Despite his lofty pedigree as part of the Manchester United Academy and experience in both the Premier League and Championship, I doubt many would have thought Keane would have as good a season as he had. Throw into the mix a lengthy bout of Covid-19 that clearly hampered his performances at the start of the year, and it’s a wonder Keane still managed to finish as Wigan’s leading goalscorer. Matching his career total in one season, some players just fit in at Wigan. A certain Nick Powell esquire is one of those, and the similarities with Powell and Keane are there for everyone to see. Be that in their style of football, the injury record, or the fact both probably haven’t fulfilled their potential. Keane, like Powell, also had a taste of Wigan at a higher level when he joined us on loan back in 2013/14. Keane, like Powell before him, could well have found a home in Wigan. Let’s hope a new lengthy contract is incoming – it’s the least he deserves. So as I sign off for the final time this season the message is simple – we did it. Not just the lads on the pitch, not just the boys and girls off it working in the club. But all of us. We stood strong during the storm and have lived to tell the tale. I look forward to a more peaceful summer than the last. Roll on August.

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