Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'We dealt with the despair and accepted it months ago. But now we’ve got renewed hope, it is all the more terrifying...'

Our panel of Latics experts bask in the glow of a successful takeover and the best league run for more than three years - and pray for League One safety to be confirmed this weekend...

Friday, 23rd April 2021, 1:38 pm
Updated Friday, 23rd April 2021, 1:42 pm
The Latics players celebrate a massive win at Shrewsbury in midweek

Martin Tarbuck:

I’ve been holding my tongue recently, specifically upon seeing comments online in recent games stating that Wigan Athletic have been lucky. Lucky? Us? LUCKY? You are joking, aren’t you?! May I remind you we were 13th in the Championship, when our owner tried to liquidate us. We were then relegated on the last day of the season due to a 12-point deduction. £30million of talent sold at a derisory fraction of the price. Then they came for our academy stars - and Premier League clubs, turning over hundreds of millions of pounds, at that - picked them off for peanuts, and now ignorantly proclaiming said players are 'one of their own'. All while the club that fortuitously got out of jail at our expense, who celebrated their 'Great Escape' in a gloating manner, are now sitting in the play-offs of a division they shouldn’t even be in. While we languish near the bottom of League One, through something that was never our fault. And you call us lucky? Tell that to the 75 decent staff who lost their jobs! And everyone else across a whole community, who suffered during nine months of administration, as a perfectly decent football club got ripped apart. Us? Wigan Athletic? Lucky?

Someone associated with the club must have run over a lorry full of black cats in June 2020, given the events that followed and the damage subsequently done. Even now, while nature is healing and, thanks to a fantastic job by the remaining backroom team, we have miraculously turned our season around, we still don’t seem to be getting the rub of the green. We have spent all season marooned in the bottom four, with the only consolation being that the other teams around us appear to be equally as hapless, thus meaning we don’t end up hopelessly adrift from safety. Then, oh look! What happens when we start winning a few games? What happens is that nearly all our relegation rivals suddenly metamorphosise into variants of the Brazil 1970 World Cup-winning team, walloping teams who are chasing promotion, and thus making our own attempts to pull clear of the mire a million times harder. Whereas a month ago, 45 points would have had anyone home and dry, it now looks like 50 points may not even be enough, as those around us suddenly can’t stop winning football matches. A complete reversal of the previous 40 games. It’s never easy, is it? So, we still have work to do and it still might go to the final day. It would be a miracle if this team does stay up, given everything it has faced. Yet it would also be a travesty if we went down, given the superb way everyone has responded. It is in our hands, but it is far from straightforward. I’m sure I'm not alone in admitting I spent most of the second half against Shrewsbury watching the game, while peering nervously through my fingers. Real heart attack stuff, compounded by the score flashes from elsewhere. As ever, it is the hope that kills you. We dealt with the despair and accepted it months ago. But now we’ve got renewed hope, it is all the more terrifying.

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Finally, I must offer my congratulations and thanks to Leam Richardson Throughout the past year, he has conducted himself with amazing class and dignity, in what must have been one of the most diabolical of situations for anyone in football to face. The fortitude and strength of character he has shown has quite rightly meant Phoenix 2021 have made their first big decision to give him the manager’s role on a permanent basis. I have no idea what impact this will have on the squad, but I dearly wish it will cause them to add even more grit and determination to push through and win the final few games as a tribute to 'their' manager. It is the least he, and indeed everyone else, deserves. Longer-term, Leam will no doubt face pressure of a different kind, no matter which division we are in. However, the pressure with which he has undoubtedly faced while running the club over the past year would be a stern test of anyone’s character. And the fact he has come through it, and he still has a smile on his face, is to his eternal credit. I wish him all the very best, and I can think of no better person to lead and deliver the five-year plan that has been laid out. Will he have the support and patience of our entire fanbase? I think we are best to live in hope there. This is Wigan, after all. But you certainly get my vote, Leam and no doubt thousands of others.

Paul Middleton:

After nine months of bitterness, cynicism and anger directed towards Hong Kong, Preston and Manchester, the last few weeks have brought a new lease of life to all of us. Even without winning the last four games, just having Begbies out and our man Talal in would have been enough. Add the two together, though, and it’s like some sort of resurrection - but with less cave and feet-washing action. I doubt there’s a Latics fan anywhere who isn’t delighted Leam Richardson has been given the manager's job full-time. What he and Gregor Rich have done to drag our club through everything that’s gone on since last July, and somehow still manage to come out ahead, is indeed a miracle of almost biblical proportions. Had John Sheridan still been stealing his wages from the club, we’d have been so far adrift at the bottom there’d be Sunday League teams higher up League One than us. Speaking of which, Swindon have learned a very hard lesson, but thank God they did. If they hadn’t taken Sheridan off our hands, it may even be the new owners would have had second thoughts. But for Rochdale hitting form at the wrong time, and Northampton also winning last weekend, we would have only needed a win this Saturday to guarantee staying up. Even so, a fifth consecutive win against Burton would need something unthinkable from the clubs below us in the next two weeks to deny us survival. In fact, if results go our way on Saturday, staying up could be guaranteed next Tuesday without us even kicking a ball. Let’s face it, nobody saw that one coming at Christmas. But that’s enough chicken counting for now. It’s finally good again, to be a Latics fan. The ups and downs of football life for us all is a rollercoaster at the best of times, and I can’t remember the last season we had when everything was just safe and cosy in terms of the season and the league position. Next season won’t be a cakewalk either, and we still need to prioritise consolidation. It isn’t easy to put a squad together overnight and, with the best will in the world, a lot of the current squad will be gone come August. But the future is bright...and very, very blue.

Caddy from the 5:

"And now you're gonna believe us, the blues are staying up" was ringing round the bedroom after the Shrewsbury game on Tuesday, albeit when my heartrate had dropped below 150bpm! Four straight wins have whipped the fans up into a frenzy about doing the impossible, and surely one more win from the last three matches will be enough to stay up (we hope). Since Mr Al Jasmi and the great Talal took over, the feel-good factor is in abundance again among the town's premier sporting club. The team is doing well, stability has been restored, and Leam getting the full-time gig for three years has topped off a great few weeks - and all of it deserved! And as I said before, the staying up bit will be the icing on the cake for us. Back to Leam, he's definitely deserved getting the gig for his efforts in the last 12 months. His dignity and obvious man-management skills have seen him come out from under Paul Cook's wing and stamp his own mark on the club. I really wish him all the best for us, and hope Gregor Rioch gets a new contract as well, which I'm sure he will. When the takeover was done, the Bahraini lads said they'd have to earn our trust, and that actions would speak louder than words. Well, early impressions are they're doing exactly that. Again, the feel-good factor is back, and I know I've said it before, but now it's our turn to show them we're in this with them by getting off our backsides and putting bums on seats next season. We nearly lost our great club because of clowns, there's no excuses from now on. I don't think I've been as excited for a season since we got into the Premiership as I am for next season (out the cups by Christmas, bottom of the league and managerless incoming then!), but it really does feel like we've got our club back. I can't wait for the next chapter in the Wigan Athletic story - and what a story! Jump on board, it's gonna be a great ride. Right I'm off blasting Erasure out at full pelt outside the Burton hotel all night with a few Strongbows, let's get it done on Saturday lads and then party all summer! UP THE MASSIVE TICS!

Matt Auffrey:

"Several laps remain in the foot race for League One survival and the pace is starting to pick up at the front of the pack. Wigan Athletic and AFC Wimbledon are going step-for-step with each other at a near sprint speed. Northampton and Rochdale are a few strides behind but are eager to gain ground on the leaders. The race is getting more exciting by the day, but it appears the crowd has turned its attention to a breaking news update from elsewhere. A new ‘European Super League’ has been announced. An absolute uproar has ensued. There are accusations of excessive greed and betrayal towards a self-identified group of ‘Big 6’ football clubs. Threats of serious disciplinary actions are being discussed - major fines, competition bans, and even threats of expulsion. The commotion is increasing at a rapid rate. But, wait! A crucial update has emerged. The proposed ‘Super League’ is collapsing. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.”

The past week saw Wigan Athletic continue their impressive run of victories as they defeated Crewe 2-0 and followed that with a gutsy 2-1 win at Shrewsbury. Latics scored goals in every way imaginable and relied upon captain Jamie Jones to make some of his most impressive saves of the season in order to keep our four-match winning streak intact. It is safe to say Latics have successfully ‘gelled’, but will they need to completely ‘solidify’ in order to avoid relegation? Rochdale, who sit in 22nd position with a game in hand, could still finish with as many as 54 points. A Latics victory over Burton tomorrow at the DW remains absolutely essential if we are to keep the upper hand on our relegation rivals below us. The ‘Super League’ announcement created a brief but intense whirlwind of chaos in the football world this week. For Latics fans, there was still no bigger news than the appointment of Leam Richardson as first-team manager. We have had many heroes step up to serve the club during this past year, and Leam has been nothing short of extraordinary as he has humbly rotated between the position of assistant boss and interim manager. Even putting our recent winning streak aside, the appointment could not have come a moment sooner. There is no reason why the club should have had any reservations about Leam, but the fact Leam chose to commit his future to Latics for the next several seasons is a great testament to the ongoing upward trajectory of the club. Perhaps we should send a ‘thank you’ card to Paul Cook for making a move to Ipswich look far less attractive than it may have looked several months ago. This past week has given Latics fans every reason to be incredibly proud. We have investment, leadership, and a squad full of players who have fought through the toughest season on record to keep Wigan Athletic moving forward. The ‘Big 6’ can have their billions, their midweek fixtures in Dubai, and their half-time concerts with international pop superstars. No breakaway league in the world could make our club any more ‘super’ than we are today.

George Chilvers:

In a week that football at the highest levels has realised owners don't care one jot about the fans, that football is just a profit-making machine for them, and traditions count for nothing, it is refreshing to mull over the fact we support the best little team in the world. The fact I am even able to write that is a miracle in itself, as just a month or two back we were resigned to the inevitable relegation, or even oblivion. But that was to ignore the Leam effect. He, as well as Gregor and the rest of the backroom team, have worked marvels, and survival in League One is now in our hands. It's still an uphill struggle as the teams around us also are making a fight of it, but we are in a good place. The reward of course, and the extra feel-good factor, is Leam being appointed permanent manager. Truly well deserved, and another indication that the owner and the board understand what we want is stability and steady progress. We don't aspire to the Super League to play alongside Saints and Rhinos (or have I got this wrong?)...steady progress first, and then we can dream later on. Four wins on the bounce is a massive achievement. Even if the worst happens, we know everyone has given their best and we are in a good position for next year. If we stay up, then our form hopefully will carry on. Well, provided the season starts in March. A farewell to Ashley Houghton, of course, has to be mentioned. He became the voice of Wigan Athletic, and he will be missed. But he is moving on to a new position, and we wish him all the very best. It is galling, however, to read fans of those six bleat how they shouldn't be penalised for the actions of rogue owners. There's little (well, actually no) sympathy on the banks of the Dougie for that argument. But the good guys have won over in the end, and we can all get used to ignoring them anyway. I haven't watched Match of the Day since we were in the Premier League, and even then often didn't bother because we were on so late. Finally, big game on Saturday against Burton. Let's keep the goals coming lads. Onwards and upwards!

Andy Carey:

There are not enough superlatives in the world which could be used when talking about the job Leam Richardson has done. Quite simply without him, and his threadbare team, I’m pretty certain we wouldn’t be going into the last three games with a real chance of preserving our League One status. Don’t get me wrong ,the damage which had occurred to the club over the last nine months is obvious to see. But Leam has led the club and helped us keep our identity. The news he has been installed as permanent manager is not only fully deserved, but also keeps some consistency going into next season. The new ownership has given us all some belief of better days. However, had Leam left and we started next season in League Two it would really be a case of starting all over again. Now I feel we have the momentum to see this season through to a positive conclusion, a settled management structure, and the possibility a number of this squad could be rewarded and be with us next season to grow. With season tickets on the horizon for next season, whatever league we’re in, let's support Leam and his team. And when we can get back in the ground, show our appreciation for what he has done for us. As devastating as the administration has been, I genuinely feel it's brought the club together more than ever and, with the right acquisitions in the playing squad, we all know what a force we can be when it's us against the world!

Tony Moon:

This is supposed to be pleasure, not torture!

My nerves are shredded, my nails are chewed, every other word I speak is rude;

I yell at the screen, aimed mainly at t’ ref, the bloke is blind, as well as deaf;

We look on top, but we’ve been here before, it only takes a mistake, and they score;

A Couple o’ goals cushion is comfy enough, but they get a goal back, and blimey, it’s tough;

I challenge for each header and kick every ball, I whoop with pure joy as Will plays that through ball;

What a ball, what a pass, what a beautiful thing, it’s as if Pavarotti has started to sing;

'Nessun Dorma', too reet! Do ya know what it means? “None will sleep”, no we won’t, cos we’re too full o’ beans!

But we’ve got to hang on, it’s not all our own way, the Shrews keep on gnawing to ruin our day

So step up Jamie Jones, and take all of our thanks, for that save, reminiscent of the great Gordon Banks;

That’s four on the trot, a fantastic achievement, at a time when the season could ha’ been like a bereavement;

It’s all in our hands, and how good does that feel? New owners, new players, new hope and new deal;

It’s not over yet, no it’s not done and dusted, the nerves have more games to get all frayed and crusted;

So tell me again, why we do this for pleasure, we do it for t’ Latics, the team we all treasure!

Sean Livesey:

'That’s So Wigan'. We often talk about things that are just ‘so Wigan’, things that don’t happen to other clubs. Like your owner putting you into administration after threatening to liquidate you a day after completing the takeover. All during a deadly pandemic. So Wigan. That trend of unique effects has continued as we became the form team in League One, four wonderful wins in a row for the first time since Leam Richardson and Paul Cook led Wigan Athletic in search of the 2017/18 League One title. Infuriatingly, other sides at the bottom of League One, who couldn’t buy a win over the last six months, have also decided now is the prime time for a revival of sorts. So Wigan indeed. That’s a slightly downbeat assessment of our current predicament, and it isn’t meant to read as such. Indeed, the positivity cup (did Roberto Martinez invent that phrase? If he didn’t he should have) for fans at the moment is overflowing. After defeat to Portsmouth on Easter Monday, I think many of us resigned ourselves to the possibility of having to start the great re-build in League Two. Leam, Gregor Rioch and these excellent players we have representing us had different ideas though. Four wins in a row, 12 points, and only three goals conceded with 10 scored is an excellent return. Many of us thought four wins would do it, now it could possibly need another win and maybe even a draw. With three matches left, we’re ahead of Northampton by four points and ahead of Rochdale by five points - but crucially Rochdale have a match in hand. The only way to guarantee our safety is to simply keep winning. Tuesday’s victory at Shrewsbury was probably the hardest fought win of the run, they weren’t for laying down and pressed right to the end. And if it wasn’t for Jamie Jones, we could have ended up conceding an equaliser in the 95th minute. Jones’ Gordon Banks-esque save from a header that seemed a certain goal ensured all three points travelled back up to Lancashire.

And if that wasn’t enough good news for us, Leam was named our permanent manager on Wednesday, a reward for his hard work over the season. Where he, his staff and players have stood up to be counted and ensured this club didn’t sink without a trace like many do when in administration. It’s also an appointment that actually shows some thought and nous, it offers much-needed continuity to the Cook era, and ensures everything that had been built up in the first team and academy over the last four years wouldn’t just be cast aside. It gets lost in the mire of Au Yeung, Choi and dodgy deals, but the football club was operating quite successfully before that seismic event threw our lives upside down. I thought the pull of Cook would be too much, and I’m not the only one thinking that, as there has been disbelief among many Ipswich fans that Richardson wouldn’t be going, especially with their struggles at the moment. It should also help to convince a lot of the current squad that their future lies here. The team spirit at the minute looks as strong as anything we’ve had before, and it really is credit to all the staff - from Leam down - that they’ve got a set of young lads, out-of-contract pros and short-term loans to compete as such a unit. I hope the likes of Darikwa, Keane, Dodoo and Johnston see the faith paid in Leam and decide their future lies here too. Imagine what this side could do over the course of a full season, with some added strength in depth. The job isn’t finished yet, but that target is coming into view now. If we can beat Burton on Saturday, we could be celebrating the greatest 'Great Escape' of all time. But it’s not done yet. Let’s give the lads every bit of encouragement we can to ensure we get over the line. One last mention this week should go to Ash Houghton, our communications director, who is leaving for pastures new after seven years here. You’ll struggle to find a bad word said about Ash and, like many staff over the last year, I imagine the administration hit him hard. Our media approach has gone up a number of levels since he arrived - be that in terms of the content produced or the fan engagement - and I’ll be sad to see him go.

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