Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'Talal seems to have his finger on what gets the fans on board, is saying all the right things, and with an experienced executive team it’s looking good...'

Our panel of Wigan Athletic experts are looking forward to the last game of the campaign - with no pressure and only a survival party to organise!

Friday, 7th May 2021, 3:44 pm
Latics secured their safety last weekend despite losing at Hull
Latics secured their safety last weekend despite losing at Hull

George Chilvers:

I really don’t know what the fuss is about. It was never in doubt was it? Well, OK, maybe just a bit. In fact – yayyyy! The roller coaster ride that is being a Latics fan goes on, and aren’t we thrill-seekers happy about that? Not that I wouldn’t mind a little go on one of those rides that just go round a round and you can safely just sit in the fire engine and ding the bell. Just once. Just one season. It doesn’t have to be the most death defying ride every single season. My grandson will be 10 in a couple of weeks. He’s had a season ticket since he was two. So far he’s seen relegation, champions, relegation, champions, survival, forced relegation and now miraculous survival. I try to explain that for many people football isn’t like that, but I don’t think he believes me. This season has of course been one that will be etched in the club’s annals for ever. At the worst time possible in a global pandemic we were plunged into desperate situation. I won’t rehearse the tale again – everyone reading this is well aware of the facts. There are so many people to recognise in this remarkable story, but above all has to be Leam Richardson, along with Gregor Rioch. They stayed with us through thick and thin, and like Batman and Robin kapow-ed all the baddies out of the way, and restored calm to Gotham Athletic. I don’t think we can ever thank them enough. If they ever have to buy a drink in Wigan again it will be a disgrace. The players who stayed or who came in deserve huge praise too.

Despite the sniping that still came from some on social media, they got it all together – and got the result. And let’s not forget the youngsters who played their part, and then had to be sacrificed for experience. Nor should we forget the biggest victims of this sorry saga – those good people who lost their jobs. The fans and the supporters club, whose donations at first made sure the club didn’t disappear from the league and the end of the 19/20 season, and then whose donations helped the negotiations along to find a new owner, played a huge part in bringing everyone together. There was a cushion there, that meant the first dodgy bid didn’t have to be accepted. And then of course there’s the winning bid and the new owners. All the signs are there for a bright future. Of course there will be things that people will disagree with. People still ask about Whelan’s warchest, so if we don’t sign Messi in August the moaners will be out. This is Wigan after all. But Talal seems to have his finger on what gets the fans on board, is saying all the right things, and with an experienced executive team it’s looking good. So for once on matchday I won’t be on the Big One. I’ll be watching the Tics sat down in my little fire engine, and dinging the bell loudly to herald the new dawn over the horizon. Roll on August.

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Brett Woosey:

“It’s alright now, baby it’s alright now!!!” sang Free, and it really does all feel absolutely superb at the moment on the Tics front. Safety achieved, totally against the odds, a chairman asking questions and interacting with fans on Twitter, club directors appearing on podcasts to outline their vision and priorities for the club, and a bunch of players who seem to love and appreciate being at the club. I don’t do many ‘12th man’ pieces, but the last one I did in February was as downbeat as I’ve ever felt as a fan. No owner, the lads on the pitch were struggling and staff at the club were still walking away. I think, as a club, each season we seem to epitomise why football is as popular as it is. Depressing lows, followed by euphoric highs, with a bit of nostalgia and a twinkle of excitement of what could be thrown in for good measure. Genuinely, I believe the achievement of staying up this season is the club’s best ever. It might not be the most significant or the highest profile but, in terms of sheer grit against the odds, its the best in my 34 years. Totally against the odds, the staff and players (and fans!) have been hammered from all sides, bad news followed bad news for months on end for what seemed like an eternity.

So, for Leam Richardson to continually galvanise a group of loans, free transfers, youth players and injury-plagued rejects to do what they have done will stick with me as much as all the promotions and FA Cup win. Onto Sunday, and as much as we’ll enjoy the day regardless, I hope we give Swindon a real spanking. Nothing against them, but it would be great if we sent a message to the rest of League One...that the perinnial League One winners want their trophy back next year! Hopefully around the ground will be a fantastic atmosphere. I know it may risk the wrath of the Covid police saying this, but I hope thousands turn up. If any set of players from our history deserve recognition from the fans, it’s the class of 2020/2021.

Matt Auffrey:

The full-time whistle sounded at the KCMO Stadium in East Yorkshire on a pleasant Saturday afternoon. A match featuring Wigan Athletic and Hull City was played. Goals were scored. One team was awarded three points at the conclusion of play. All of it didn’t matter. Wigan Athletic did not need a first half stoppage time penalty kick from David Unsworth, nor did they need a 78th minute header from Hugo Rodallega. They did not need Antolin Alcaraz to score from a corner in the 87th minute, nor did they need Ali Al-Habsi between the sticks to preserve a clean sheet. Latics did not produce their finest hour of football between two and three o’clock that afternoon. It did not matter in the slightest bit. When the full time whistle sounded that day, a squad full of 18 players along with their manager and his coaching staff transformed from heroes until legends. Wigan Athletic had accomplished one of their most extraordinary and difficult feats to date: securing League One survival after spending nearly a full season in administration. From the very beginning, the 20/21 season provided no shortage of challenges for Wigan Athletic. Our playing squad underwent a massive amount of turnover during the first five months of the season. The line between our academy and first team was nearly decimated as we had to play with seven or eight young players on the pitch together at times. We were forced to operate with one of the thinnest budgets imaginable and had the looming threat of liquidation hanging over our club for a frighteningly long chunk of the season. If you couple those issues with player injuries, COVID disruptions, and a hefty dose of bad luck over the course of many match days, there was every excuse out there for Wigan Athletic to succumb to the misfortunes of an unforgiving season.

Five years ago we (all but) won the League One title at Blackpool. Two years later, we were crowned League One champions at Doncaster on the final day of the season. Is it a coincidence that victories by Blackpool and Doncaster over our relegation rivals last Saturday gave us the final boost necessary to preserve our League One status? The unique events of this season have alienated us from many of our peers in League One. It was a welcomed change to have allies emerge from the shadows to ensure a successful end to our crusade for safety. Our final match of the season will feature two clubs whose seasons were shaped significantly by the managerial efforts of John Sheridan. Both sides struggled mightily under Sheridan’s tutelage. His parting gift to Wigan was a FA Cup loss to non-league Chorley FC in November. After 33 matches in charge, Sheridan resigned from Swindon three weeks ago after the team suffered five consecutive league losses. One side was fortunate enough to turn their season around after Sheridan’s departure; the other was relegated to League Two just two weeks ago. Sunday’s match will mark a 90-minute celebration for Wigan and a 90-minute farewell for Swindon. Many of the players who will feature for Latics are out of contract at the end of this season. There is now genuine hope that we will be able to re-sign many of those players and that we can build on the form that saw Latics take 13 points from six matches over the crucial month of April. When this season’s fixture list was released last August, there was widespread belief that our final match of the season, Swindon at home, would hold significant meaning. That still remains true to this day. For the first time in a long time, we are not going into a match with our focus on who is above or below us in the league table. Our focus is squarely directed forward towards a future that will only get brighter by the day.

Sean Livesey:

Safety with a game to spare, what was all the fuss about? Saturday was a bizarre day. The last year of following our football club has been bizarre, but Saturday was the most bizarre of the lot. With so much riding on the result, in normal times there would be a convoy of Latics fans leaving Lancashire to head over to Hull by plane, train and automobile. Well perhaps not plane. Instead it was that usual Saturday routine of filling the day with shopping and family visits before finding time to stick the laptop on. I’m unsure if it was the fact Rochdale had suffered such a sucker punch on Wednesday against Wimbledon, or if it was the fact Swindon always felt more of a decider, that I didn’t have the nerves I anticipated ahead of Saturday’s match. It helped that Rochdale and Northampton fell behind early on but, as Hull predictably went ahead, those nerves kicked in. God knows what it would have felt like if we were there.

Probably easier actually, as a wide range of liquid lubrication among fellow-minded Tics would have helped matters no end. Latics were very good value for a point at Hull, certainly going off the first-half showing. Hull are clearly a decent side, indeed the side we lost to both times this season wasn’t too different to the team we dismantled 8-0 just over a year ago. That shows what’s possible in League One if you can retain the bulk of your side and get off to a decent start. Nonetheless, we quickly found ourselves 2-1 behind and chasing the game. Still we were in the game and, if the referee had awarded one of two stonewall penalties in the first half, we could have gone in level. In the end, it didn’t matter. What an amazing turnaround in fortunes for Wigan Athletic. From staring into the abyss since July last season, we can genuinely look forward now. New owners who actually care about the club, League One status confirmed for another season with a game to spare, and a new permanent management team with a long-term goal in mind. At times last season I thought we may never see them again.

To know that when we do finally get back in to stadiums, it will be watching a League One club is beyond my wildest expectations. The scars of the last 12 months won’t go away, and there’ll be a special place reserved in hell for Au Yeung, Stanley Choi and those who assisted them in what they did to our club, our town and our people. But all of that is now in the past. It’s time for us to look forward. How exciting will it be next season? Let’s hope Covid is in retreat and we can have a season full of celebration. We’ve earned it. The last time we watched a League One Wigan Athletic side in the flesh was pretty good. I can’t wait to do it all over again. Roll on the away days.

Deb Chapman:

Wow, what a season, the highs and lows of supporting this fantastic football club. From not being sure if we’d still have a club, losses, wins, all keeping us on our toes, but through it all us the fans, players and backroom staff have all stayed positive. We’ve believed all the way and that belief was rewarded by the takeover from Mr Al Jasmi and our chairman Talal. Last weekend the team topped it off (with a little help from others!) with staying in League One. The future is bright, the future is Wigan Athletic. Looking forward to next season. Up the Tics!

Tony Moon:

Avoiding the drop, with the last game to spare;

What a group. What a squad. What a team;

The comeback of comebacks say same. To be fair;

We’ve done it before, twice wi’ Leam (points deductions don’t count )!

I hardly dared hope it’d end up like this,

I thought it’d go to t’ last match;

We’d have to beat Swindon to stay in League One,

(Oh hell, keep that privvy on t’ latch !)

Ripped apart at the seams, we’ve made three separate teams,;

One at t’ start, Sheridan’s, and then this.

Some were kids, some were owd, some came in out o’ t’ cowd,

Every one of em deserves a big kiss.

We were 7/1 on to go down, back in March,

That’s all but dead an’ buried to some;

But not to t’ Latics it’s not, nowhere near,

It’s incentive to beat th’ odds, here they come!

Game by game, point by point, the revival was on

Led by Gregor, and Frankie, and Leam;

Slowly but surely, we edged out o’ t’ drop zone,

Oh, what we wouldn’t give, just to see ‘em.

In April we’re hot, we win four games on t’ trot,

Then a draw wi’ revitalised Burton;

A trip o’er to Hull, and then Swindon at home,

My mouth’s drier than that Mrs Merton (RIP).

But no, it’s alreet, even though we got beat,

The other two couldn’t fare better;

And listenin’ at th’ end, to Guy an’ to Tommy,

My eyes just got wetter and wetter.

A late-season revival, another survival,

Our DNA that, it’s no fix;

Relief and belief and a damp handkerchief,

We’ve done it again, Up the ‘Tics!

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