Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'That is why you should turn up on Saturday and support that football club with all you’ve got...because you never know when it might be gone...if this week’s events don’t put that perspective at the front of your mind, then I can’t help you'
Just one normal week of Wigan Athletic. Is that too much to ask? It would seem so. Let me do the football bit first. I think we are on the slide a wee bit, both due to injuries piling up and that we are playing the top sides at the minute. We will do well to nullify Watford on Saturday, with their scarily quick and potent attacking resources. And yes, I’m not ignoring the fact we should have done better against strugglers such as Cardiff, Hull and Boro. We are sinking probably to a place where we expected to be as a newly-promoted team, and if I’m honest, we need one or two big results before the World Cup break with Blackpool and Coventry being perhaps the ones to target. I can kind of accept where we are but many can’t and have even gone so far as to be calling for the manager’s head. I don’t get involved too much in individual discussions on social media as it is such a drain on my time. Plus it is a drain on their own time, screaming into the void and getting angry about stuff they cannot really control. Moaning about football is a pastime, and Wiganers having a moan is also a pastime, so we’ve kind of got the perfect storm here. I understand it, but I’m not joining in and wasting time and effort arguing with folk these days. All I’ll say is that when the big problems go away, some people start finding little problems. When we’re bottom of League One - as we were a short period back, and we couldn’t even put players on the field, or pay them, or even knew whether we’d have a football team in a month’s time. Those are problems. Again, problems we, as fans can do very little about but enough to turn your stomach inside out. Within 12 months however, we were winning a League One title and still they moaned all the way through it. Apparently, Leam Richardson was lucky. He had a much bigger budget than the rest of the managers. Recruitment signed all the players for him. Oh and it was a particularly weak division that year. These set of circumstances were all equally the case when Paul Cook won League One in 2018 and Gary Caldwell won it in 2016, according to those who can give no credit to anyone. I bet there’s a few fans of clubs in League One who wish their club and managers had been as useless and lucky as ours have been! It has continued into this division, with every team formation, selection and tactical move under the microscope, and not in a good way. The owners have also come under criticism for not spending money. It’s as if we’ve learnt nothing whatsoever from the events subsequent to July 2020! Leam can’t win - if we do struggle in the bottom half, with our limited budget, then we need to get rid, because we’re going to get relegated! And if we dare to get a good result and climb towards the top half, there’s criticism too - why can’t we play like that every week?! We’re underperforming because he sets us up wrong, that’s why! We’ve got to accept some people, in football and in life are permanently unhappy. They only make themselves happy by being unhappy and spreading that unhappiness. Life’s too short for that in my opinion and moaning about the minutiae is completely and utterly pointless. I don’t care who is playing left back this week or why some of the new signings haven’t featured more. I do care that we will have a club to support in five, 10, even 50 years’ time. I don’t even care that much about results anymore. Of course, results matter, some more so than others but the off-the-field stuff matters a million times more in the grand scheme of things.
Wigan Athletic have given me hundreds of moments of unparalleled joy over the years, but in the last few days I felt that rare flip side again, worse than any individual result. The stomach-churning, sickening feeling last encountered multiple times from July 2020 through to March 2021. The thought that our football club might be gone. That, my friends, is the bigger picture, whether you choose to see it or not. That is why you should turn up on Saturday and support that football club - manager, backroom staff, players - with all you’ve got, because you never know when it might be gone. It sounds over-dramatic but it is true, and if this week’s events, hopefully a storm in a teacup, don’t put that perspective at the front of your mind, then I can’t help you. I’m not so naïve to imply that paying the wages late three times isn’t something to worry about, but at least the subsequent statement has eased some fears for now. Of course, the subsequent social chatter is of mobilising the fanbase to ensure this doesn’t happen again but, speaking personally, I’ve been down this road many times before with the intention of doing good. And what happens? People moan: they moan about what you’re trying to do - that you’re in it for yourself; how they’d do it differently (though doing the actual work as opposed to doing anything other than offering an opinion is unlikely) and everyone has their say, people disagree and nothing actually happens because all football fans see things differently and everyone believes their view is right. I’m happy running a fanzine (‘Mudhutter’, on sale this Saturday) but anything beyond it: been there, done that, got the t-shirt, got the battle scars. Even if there was some super-organised, consensus driven, politically unified fans movement (and politics would be another source of fall-out soon enough, guaranteed) then you need either a lot of fans or a lot of money, or ideally both, to truly make an impact. And this is why fans-run clubs do well outside the league structure and lower down the pyramid, because they’ve sunk so far that they can make a difference. Such as Bury, who are now a giant again, with a huge fanbase, but only because they are playing against a team who get 50 fans to watch them at home. Sadly, you need millions upon millions to run a football club at League level, way beyond most fans' individual and combined wealth. So here we are then. We are at the behest of a group of Bahrainis who undoubtedly saved us from oblivion; or Norman 'The Smurf' Smurthwaite, and possibly being tenants of our ground. We don’t know what their plans are for the future, and we can probably do very little to influence them. They might sell up at some point but then again, there are lots of football clubs looking for a rich owner. With the best will in the world, I don’t envisage Wigan Athletic being at the front of the queue. As Morgan Freeman once said in a little known film, you can either get living or get dying. Up the fully paid up Tics!
Caddy from the 5:
No midweek fixture this week gave Leam and the lads a week to get focused on the Watford game and bodies off the treatment table without any drama or side issues to distract them....hold the front page! This is Wigan, remember, there's no such thing as a quiet week and as our tinned-mushroom eating sports journalist always says...'just one normal week at this club is all I ask'. Well come Tuesday evening, the week got very interesting thanks to a dear friend of all at Wigan Athletic (said no-one ever). The story broke that the players had been paid late again, some were considering their futures, and the club was up for sale according to the famous 'club insider'. Now paying the players late for the third time this year is unacceptable in any business, and banking issues were blamed again.Is that true? I've no idea, but I've no reason to doubt our Bahraini overlords when they say that. In typical Wigan style, as the story broke and Twitter went into meltdown, Talal just posted that we'd given Leam a new three-year deal...but used an old stock photo to show us! Cue most outbursts 'he's not even in Bahrain','he's signing a blank piece of paper' and 'the calendar is wrong'. Perfect timing from Talal, it's as if he had the photo ready to go! The worst thing about this, and Twitter, is that fans become amateur sleuths and demand answers from the club THIS INSTANT...'I pay into the 'Believe' fund and I want to know what's happening with my money' was a common one. Lad, you pay £18 a month (by choice) and, as credible as that is, it doesn't give you the right to see all our finances. That's Mr Al Jasmi's business, not yours. Talal and all the directors have been nothing but up front with us all since the day the famous blue cap in the sunshine was posted, so let's show them a bit of respect for what they've done for us and not jump all over them because a national hack with a history of negative stories about us pipes up on a slow news week. Mal Brannigan did issue the statement we've all seen reassuring the fans that, in fact, we're not for sale and the Bahraini lads are as committed as ever. Max Power put the picture on of all the lads in a group showing they're all still together - as should we the fans be. We get enough stuff thrown at us from other clubs without turning on our own, so let's all move on to Watford at the weekend and concentrate on turning our form around, because that's what really matters. We're in a slump right now, and it's time to show some fighting spirit from the manager and the players and I'm sure (hope) they will. Right, I'm off collecting my cheque from Talal - I hope it doesn't bounce - and paying my Strongbow tab off in the George…
Oh hello, another normal few boring days in the life of Wigan Athletic! Late wages, club 'up for sale', Leam signs a new three-year contract. Mal has come out and poured cold water on the speculation, but having wages paid late three times in six months is not a good look for any business, especially a relatively new business. We can only take Mal at his word and hopefully that's the end of it. Now onto the football, and Middlesbrough was probably one of the worst performances under Leam. Going to the gamen I don't think anyone would have picked that team and formation, and the goal just before half-time led to a second-half collapse. At QPR, the formation looked right, the players looked right up for it and, apart from two sloppy set-piece goals, we went toe to toe with one of the form teams in the division. Keep that level of performance up and we'll do ok. Stay safe.
With all that has gone on recently in ‘Laticsland’, it’s hard to remember that this month actually started off on a positive note. We beat Rotherham 2-0 on October 1 and ascended to ninth in the table with a game in hand. Since that exhilarating away win, we’ve lost five of our last six matches. This past week was ‘supposed’ to provide a sense of calm and as it marked the first time we’ve not had a midweek match since September. Instead, it’s been plagued by problems brewing off the pitch that may directly affect the short and long term future of the club. Without going too deep into the exact issues that have made newswaves, or speculating about the repercussions that could come from those issues, my short response is that the club needs to do better. Being a professional footballer can be a privileged and lucrative job, but it is also very demanding, and our players should be spared the trouble and worry of dealing with late wage payments. The fact this has happened three times within a six month window is inexcusable and frankly, negligent. The incident crosses the threshold of ‘bare minimum obligations’ for the employer-employee relationship. I admire Mal Brannigan greatly, and would like to give him the full benefit of the doubt that he will never have to share an official update on this matter through the club ever again. I would like to believe our chairman and owner are as committed to Latics on this day as they were one-and-a-half years ago when they signed on to take over the club. I would like to think the plan communicated for Latics to be a thriving, sustainable club in this division and beyond is still in full effect. However, a degree of trust has been lost over the past several days and needs to be regained through concrete actions. Leam Richardson signing a three-year contract extension with the club is a great first step (albeit the way Talal initially delivered the news casted a shadow of doubt over the situation). Our owner has invested a vast amount of money into the club so far and it would be a shame if our progress was halted due to something so seemingly preventable. Shifting our attention to this weekend, Watford come to town having just beat Luton 4-0 at home. Their attacking options look frightening for a side like ours that has conceded eight goals over the past three matches. Latics will be missing several key contributors due to injuries and are very likely to put out a line-up that hasn’t started a match together yet. A loss could possibly see us fall into the relegation spots for the first time this season. Yet, I will remain optimistic. I will be optimistic about our ability to turn around our playing form before the World Cup break, our prospects of finishing this season in a favourable position in the final league table, and the upward trajectory of this club that shall continue beyond this season. It’s going to take a whole lot more than this past week’s events to have me give up on this club.
The recent slump in the form of Wigan Athletic, is concerning as equally as it is worrying. A few weeks ago, Latics reached the nosebleed territory of ninth place in the table, within touching distance of the play-off positions. Since then, five defeats in six games have seen Latics nosedive down the Championship to where they are only two places above the drop zone! If they go like this, Latics will be drawn into the quagmire of a relegation dogfight well before Christmas. So where (like many others are bound to be asking) is it going wrong? Latics began well enough with a solid and reassuring start to the season. But since then, it has gone pear-shaped as the wheels begin to come off the wagon. Okay, let's be honest and realistic, I never expected Latics to dominate this season, like they did in League One. They are up against stronger clubs, with more money, players with more experience and of better calibre, who have played in the higher divisions. I also expected there would be bad results over the course of the season, but what has happened over the last six games is alarming. However, I am not yet ready to press the panic button! Instead of being a fortress, the DW is becoming more like a haven of safe refuge, especially for struggling sides like lowly Middlesborough, who totally outplayed Latics for the entire game. One of Leam Richardson's strengths last season was his uncanny knack of substitutions. He knew who to bring off, who to replace them with and more importantly, when to make the changes. This season, Latics have to be at least two goals behind, with about 20 minutes to go before there are changes. The recent games against Cardiff and Middlesborough attest to this. Too little, too late! He has largely kept faith with the rump of the squad that won League One and served him well last season. But fast forward to this season and it is slowly becoming manifestly clear some of the players (though I can never fault their commitment or endeavour) are not quite up to Championship standard. For me, the problems lie with the defence. Too many goals are being shipped in from set-pieces. Surely this is an area that needs to be worked upon and improved? Another area I have an issue with is that the back four are vulnerable to pace. I have seen too many games where an opposing side runs at the Latics defence (whether it be on the flanks or the centre) and can carve open the defence with relative ease, especially getting behind the back four. Latics have yet to score more than two goals in any game this season. And since scoring goals was never going to be easy, they can ill-afford to be giving goals away with a lavish hand-like confetti. Such schoolboy errors are unforgivable, and will be mercilessly punished. This surely has to be down to the manager and coaching staff to sort this out on the training ground? This team has shown they can compete. The Blackburn game, which was by far Latics best game of this season (against a side currently second in the table) clearly showed they can compete and is a prime example of what they are capable of. But consistency is paramount and is what will bring successful results. Next up is at the DW is a tough game against Watford, who were relegated from the Premier League last season. No easy games in the Championship, as Latics seek to achieve a rarity these days, a home win on a Saturday. The last time Latics did this was a 4-1 win against Morecambe on March 19. It is time for Latics to pull their socks up and play the way we know they are capable of. So, let's get behind the team and cheer them on with an almighty hurrah and get those three priceless points.
Much better against QPR and I hope Leam realises that it's mainly down to more Championship level players being on the pitch...Kerr, Whatmough, Shinnie and Cousins were the stand-outs, also think McClean at LWB next to Shinnie looks much better. Feel like he trusts him more than Naylor to pass to, so keeps the ball better. A 352/532 (whichever way you want to write up) is the way forward in my opinion, and if Kerr and Whatmough can be kept fit, and added to with REG - who seemed perfectly fine at this level - then that is a back three to build on. Cousins and Shinnie in front of them and we have our spine for the rest of the season. I'll leave it with this, Leam is fully deserving of his new contract, I think in his time here he has achieved more than any outside of Martinez. He pulled off a miracle in keeping us up, but to back that up with instant promotion was unbelievable. Even Talal said he planned for us to gain Championship football within five years, and Leam did it in months. Add to that saving Wyke's life, the incredible signings of Whatmough, Kerr, Shinnie, Wyke etc, and the chance he's given to Thelo then, yeah, nobody deserves it more.
The 24-hour radio silence from the board after the recent national media article obviously put a lot of unrest into the fanbase. And as someone who supports the club as a season ticket holder and a fans fund founder, the lack of communication of late on the monetary front has been poor. During a cost of living crisis, people are handing their hard-earned cash to the board, and choosing where to contribute. If this money isn't being used for the option you choose upon signing up to the fans fund (for example, first team operations), this could cause far more unrest, and result in the club losing a fair bit of cash. People don't want to hear the money they're donating is being misused after previous occurrences, and I don't blame them, I'm actually one of them. The bank holiday 'pay-gate' was taken on the chin, but now people outside of the club's ownership are putting money in, more should be shared as we have a right to know.
We lost again, and we’re late paying t’ wages, we’re gone, we’re doomed say th’ internet sages. They knew it wouldn’t last wi’ these chaps from Bahrain, it was allus gonna end up in tears and more pain. The number of fortune tellers we have in Wigan, would fill a big hall, aye, a great stinking big un. Cos all of 'em knew just how it would turn out, how these chaps from abroad would go and leave us wi’ nowt. I s’pose you have to laugh, cos if you didn’t, you’d cry. To hear the 'I told you so's', weren’t they so wise. But it’s another non-story, with not much to see, though it gives 'em another chance to spout off with glee. And just wait till Sat’day, if again we should lose, they’ll be baying for blood, aye, and wailing their blues. Cos t'was ever thus, it’s just rinse and repeat...as the Tics' Twitterati have their feed of red meat!
How do you begin to describe the goings on of the last few days? With great difficulty I imagine. As always with these things, they break when you least want it to. I've been away with the kids for the last few days and, without a match until Saturday, thought it safe to turn off the phone for a few hours. Wrong. When I turned my phone back on on Tuesday evening, several missed calls, hundreds of WhatsApp messages and texts from Latics men and women young and old trying to find out what was happening. Once again the Daily Mail had done another version of 'that article'. It's not for me to criticise the writer of that particular article and the subsequent sequels to the original, but it's the third time we've seen that now. So let's deal in facts. The article said that the players (and staff) had not been paid. That was false, the employees were paid but once again late (I realise this is not a good look for the club). The players being paid was later confirmed by both Alan Nixon and the Wigan Post. The article went on to claim that the club was up for sale and actively being touted around third parties - this was also reported in the summer – and for a supposed price tag of £15m I imagine if anyone offered Mr Al Jasmi and the board that sort of money they would indeed sell the club. All we can go off is Mal Brannigan in his statement saying that the club is not up for sale, and indeed potential bidders have been politely turned away. Before I go on and look at the eventual resolution to this worrying tale, it's important to acknowledge that Wigners will forever feel jitters when it comes to ownership and financial matters. The ownership of 2018-20, and the eventual sale and entry in to administration will forever be a cursory tale of not taking everything you're told at face value. I recognise that many over the last few days will have felt that same sort of in the pit of your stomach feeling we experienced back in July 2020. I think the intentions of the Phoenix group, Mr Al Jasmi, Talal Al Hammed and Mal Brannigan are a world away from what Choi and Yeung had in mind for us. But I think - quite clearly – there has been mistakes with the payroll and quite possibly a re-drawing of the business map since the day we were saved. There's a lot of issues in the world post-Covid from the energy crisis, the cost of living crisis to raging inflation and interest rates world wide. Football clubs aren't immune to this, certainly not football clubs from provincial northern towns that struggle to muster 10k through the doors (as good as that is for a club like ours). So where do we stand now? Well, where we were at the start of the week. The club, if we are to believe everything Mal Brannigan has told us (and I've no real reason not to), is in robust health, certainly off the pitch. A new contract has been agreed with the manager that can only be a good thing, as it provides him and his staff with the confidence and support needed to then turn our form around without the worry of the axe falling at any moment. Quite clearly, this was announced to distract from the fall-out on Tuesday night, but it's well earned and well deserved in my eyes. Regardless of when it was agreed and how it was announced. On the pitch there's matters to work on, I enjoyed my afternoon in West London last weekend. If you can ever enjoy a defeat that is, but the performance was fantastic. We conceded two soft goals but, for large parts of the game, and certainly all of the second half, we were the better side. Josh Magennis's fantastic overhead scissor kick should have seen us draw level, but even before that we'd gone close on numerous occasions. After how poor we were against Middlesbrough it was an absolute relief to see us back towards something like our best. We're in a bad run of form, no doubt about that. Since the Hull game we've struggled but Saturday gave me the confidence that we'll be fine this year if we continue to play like that. It's been a bad week and I hate quoting the 'at least we've got a club' line, but it could have been far far worse than it is. There wasn't a line of multi-billionaires lining up to buy us in 2020...hell, there wasn't even a line of multi-millionaires. The days of Dave Whelan and unquestionable commitment have sadly passed us by. We'll never have that again but I believe (and I could well be incorrect here - all views are valid) our owners are well-meaning people with the best intentions for our club at heart. They said actions are louder than words and so far they've delivered for that they deserve the benefit of the doubt.