Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'We’ve got to get over this obsession with money, success and instant gratification and look at the long term. Enjoy the journey and stop demanding we get to the destination...'

Our panel of Wigan Athletic experts run the rule over the opening-day draw against Preston, this weekend’s tough trip to Norwich...and the loan departure of January arrival Jamie McGrath...

By Paul Kendrick
Friday, 5th August 2022, 2:25 pm

Martin Tarbuck:

One down, 45 to go, and didn’t we do well! That’s not a question. We DID in fact do well. For a 0-0 bore draw, it was an intensely competitive game, where both sides enjoyed periods of attacking play and two defences and goalkeepers held firm to cancel each other out. You don’t know what sort of season PNE are going to have, but in recent times they have been a solid Championship team, and we proved on Saturday we could match them. The fighting spirit is strong within the team and they can also play a bit too. A few worrying injuries to contend with already, which suggests we will be dipping into the squad/transfer market sooner rather than later (see below). Let us hope this was just bad luck and that desire to over-commit isn’t going to result in broken bodies before we even get started. The loan out of Jamie McGrath has caused considerable consternation. I must admit, I do find it a bit odd the club has deemed that a young player full of supposed promise is surplus to requirements. But it will come as no surprise to regular readers that simple old me is quite happy to accept there is a valid reason behind it. Sometimes things don’t work out, maybe he has fitness issues, maybe he is homesick or maybe he isn’t all that? Whisper it quietly but maybe the Scottish leagues aren’t all that, thus enabling average players to look highly proficient? Before hordes of angry, pitchfork waving Caledonians descend on WN6 to seek me out, I can probably qualify this with some simple maths. There’s the player maths: back in the day, the Premier League was full of Scottish players (or Irish players) such as Dalglish, Hansen, Strachan, McClair or the original Paul McGrath. Nowadays, there’s barely any. The other way to look at it mathematically, is the size of the comparative leagues and the size of the comparative countries. There’s 42 clubs in the top four Scottish leagues, compared to 92 in the English leagues. There are five million people in Scotland, compared to 55 million in England, so assuming the same underlying level of skill, there are going to be 10 times more footballers and ten times better teams playing in 10 times better leagues in England (including Wales) than in Scotland. What this boils down to is the Scottish Premier League is four leagues in one and below that is mostly non-league in standard. The Irish leagues are even lower. Celtic and Rangers, I’ve no doubt, could survive in the English Premier League. Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibs could maybe survive in the Championship. The rest, including St Mirren, are cannon fodder. For all their illustrious pasts, Dundee and Dundee United are nowhere as big as Bristol City and Rovers, for example. Sure Jamie McGrath may well be their stand-out player, he might have great potential, like those two other Jimmy Macs we got from Hamilton. But given the amount of Scottish League players we have signed subsequently, who did the sum total of nothing down in England - looking at you here, FA Cup winner, Fraser Fyvie - I’m tempted to believe they were the exceptions to the rule. McGrath might be good enough for Celtic and Rangers, but even that proves nothing. As noted above, they are playing against the equivalent of lower division teams most weeks, and only need Premier League standard players when they have their brief forays in the Champions League. Regardless, he may come back in a year, a much more rounded player and may become an integral part of our returning Premier League squad (lol) or he may not. In the absence of facts, and no proof about the future, all we can do is make logic-based assumptions. With that in mind, let’s use an assumption to try and 'wargame' the club’s finances, as I frequently do. I sometimes present a doomsday scenario, with the hope it can shock some of the more extreme factions into a bit of realism. There is a simple concept to understand, which is the owners aren’t here to put a bottomless sum of money in. There isn’t a football club around whose owners would. Of course, some of them have deeper pockets than others, but why on earth would any owner commit every penny they have towards a football club, even if they had a hundred thousand billion pennies? We don’t know how much Mr Al Jasmi is willing to put into Wigan Athletic. But let’s assume a nominal figure of a cool £20m for the foreseeable future, excluding the £3m purchase price, after which they will look to sell (at a profit?). Now there are some fans, who upon learning this information, would still demand we go out and spend £10m this year and £10m next on transfers and wages. It might work out fine. We COULD get into the play-offs, with a bigger stronger squad. With that touch of quality sprinkled throughout the club we’re crying out for. We COULD maybe get into the Premier League and the financial rewards suddenly become phenomenal (as do the wages!). But then this is literally what nearly every other doomed club in the Championship has tried to do and ended up in financial difficulties. The second scenario is the owners have set up budgets where they will aim to break even, or make losses of up to £1m each year, which they will cover. That means minimal squad investment, a modest wage bill and yep, putting the prices up for the fans slightly each year. However, the flipside of these small gripes is our club is now funded for the next twenty years instead of the next two. So if you are like me and would like a football club to watch for the next 20 years (and beyond) - whether that be in the Championship, League One or League Two - and are less interested in big signings, who are coming here solely for the big wages, then surely this is the better option? We’ve got to get over this obsession with money, success and instant gratification and look at the long term. Enjoy the journey and stop demanding we get to the destination. We got there ridiculously quick last season, so this year will be about treading water in the higher league and giving opportunities to players who got us there and are being brought through. If we end up using James Carragher, Scott Smith, Thelo Aasgaard and Chris Sze in the league games this year, that will be a massive success in its own right. I’d rather see them wearing a Latics shirt than new players A, B, C and D N'Other. Let us show the world we have a different way of working and our Academy is our pride and joy. Obviously, I’m not going to turn my nose up at a few new signings or loanees to bolster the squad, but if we have to put our faith in our youngsters as back up in the light of all of the above, then so be it.

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The Latics fans enjoy last weekend's game against Preston

Paul Middleton:

If you’d have offered me a draw at five to three last Saturday, I’d have snatched your hand off. But by 5pm I was convinced we could have had much more. Other than the first 20 minutes when Preston came out quickly, we were the better team over all. But it’s a clean sheet and we’re on the board, so all is well. I expect nothing from the game at Norwich, if I’m honest, but that’s okay. Norwich aren’t the kind of team we need to take points off, really. They will beat most teams we’re in direct competition with, so we can forget about them for the most part. It’s games against those expected to finish from about 10th place downwards we need to focus on. That’s not to say we should surrender against the top teams, just that we shouldn’t worry if they beat us. I admire the club trying to improve facilities around the stadium, and the opening of Whelan’s looked like a great move. However, £5.45 for what is a quite terrible pint of Madri won’t win any friends. I get that these things need to be self-sustaining, but I’m not sure that’s the way to do it. Charge a reasonable price, and sell twice as much seems a much better approach. But then I build (and break) websites for a living, so what do I know? Speaking of the stadium, I’m still not quite sure how St Helens is packed out for Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, and Leigh Sports Village once put Elton John on, and we’re still not utilising the DW to that extent. I know there is a lot of competition for the gig goers’ cash, but the DW has everything it needs, including more car parking than is available at just about any main event venue I’ve ever been to. Fingers crossed something is happening on this, because it surely couldn’t fail to generate money. On a final note, it was odd to see the Latics staff apparently not understanding the new subs rules on Saturday. For those who don’t know, teams can now make five substitutions but in a maximum of three changes. So, when Thelo Aasgaard didn’t get on despite being changed and ready, that was it for him as we’d then had our three changes, even though we hadn’t used all five subs. I’m sure everyone has learned a lesson now, though.

Statto:

As the song goes: 'It's good to be back'. A solid performance against a team that was solid Championship top half and will expect to push higher this season. The highlight of the match was obviously the Ben Amos double save before half-time. You could say we didn't test their goalkeeper enough, but there were also some cracking blocks by the Preston defenders. Whelan's bar is a great addition to the ground. Yes, people will be put off by price and plastic pots, but for me it's much better than coping with trying to get through the bridge bottleneck and potential shenanigans with away fans on derby days. All in all, a good start and plenty to be positive about (yes I did say that). Stay safe.

Emma Peters:

Latics welcomed local rivals Preston to the DW on Saturday to kick off the 2022/23 season and were held to a goalless draw despite some 20 chances to open the bank. Both sides seemed to run on determination and a desire to win, but with neither team being able to put away any of their chances, the game ended in stalemate and a point apiece is probably a fair result on reflection. I have to bring it up right from the get-go, you’ll have a difficult task of finding a double save half as good as that produced by Ben Amos this week anywhere else all season. The soy sauce fanatic (see ‘Vegas shenanigans) came out of his net to deny both Troy Parrott and then Emil Riis in quick succession helping to keep the score line level going into half-time. For the first time, possibly ever, I’m going to give a small amount of praise to our officials this week. A collective groan could be heard around the north west when it was revealed Bobby Madley would take charge of our fixture, having made the step up to the Championship with us for this season. However, I actually think he and his sideline counterparts were relatively fair throughout the game. Excluding the little blip when he allowed play to continue while Jack Whatmough could be seen clearly struggling with a heavy knock midway through the first half, but instantly stopped the game a while later for an injury in the away camp. I never really hold much hope for EFL officials, but I haven’t much to grumble about, so I’m going to take it as a decent performance from them. Indeed Mr Madley made the quick decision to dismiss Ched Evans after only eight minutes on the field for a reckless challenge to the ribcage of Curtis Tilt that saw Tilty almost snapped in half, and simultaneously bring out some banging break dance moves, channelling his inner Booker-T with a nifty head spin. All jokes aside, thankfully Tilt did seem to be okay as he saw out the rest of the game out, which is more than can be said for Whatmough, who limped off inside the first 40 minutes. The fact he did leave the pitch on his feet and relatively unaided, rather than on a stretcher, is a slight positive which indicates a possible sprain (or similar) rather than a more sinister injury, suggesting we may be without him for a few weeks, rather than months, if at all. But with the ever-present lack of arrivals so far this transfer window, and now another blow to the squad depth with Jamie McGrath (I still don’t know how to pronounce his name) opting for a loan spell in the highlands with Dundee United, I must admit I am starting to get a bit concerned. We simply do not have the depth in our squad to allow for any more departures without replacements. I’ve still no doubt at all Talal & Co. are working hard behind the scenes to strengthen where it’s needed but, with less than a month remaining of this window, the old anxiety is starting to creep in. I’m keeping my fingers crossed Whatmough will be back fighting fit sooner rather than later, along with Gwion Edwards and Charlie Wyke, who could be seen doing backflips on a trampoline on Instagram this week. Only time will tell I suppose. Never boring, is it?

Matt Auffrey:

Our opening match of the season last Saturday left us with no shortage of talking points despite finishing in a goalless draw. We witnessed a first half injury substitution to our player of the season, a (double) save of the season candidate by our man of the match in goal, and a straight red card to our opponents that allowed us to make a late push for a winner against 10 men. While far from a flawless performance, earning a point against a well-established side in this division had plenty of merits. The Championship’s opening weekend set the tone for what could be a very competitive season ahead as only one of the league’s 12 matches was decided by more than one goal. That factoid bodes particularly well for our trip to East Anglia this weekend. Despite starting their season on a losing note at Cardiff, Norwich will be heavy favourites to win their 22/23 home opener. Nearly three-and-a-half years have passed since our last meeting on the pitch, and both clubs have almost identical aspirations as they did in the spring of 2019. Norwich are looking to 'yo-yo' their way back to a higher tier, while Latics have ditched the toy and are aiming to master the balance beam of Championship football. A positive result of any kind would go a long way towards helping us find our footing. One player who will not be given the chance to find their footing with our squad this season is Jamie McGrath. He has joined the growing list of outgoings for this summer transfer window and has created one more hole in the squad that will hopefully be filled with a better 'fit' by the end of this month. For a club desperate to regain stability, the slow and calculated approach to bringing in new players doesn’t come as a surprise. Championship stalwart Ryan Nyambe seemed all but set to join promotion-contending Middlesbrough last month, but opted to sign for Latics instead. If we can continue to attract players of his potential and pedigree at the right cost, I’m personally okay with waiting a few more weeks to get such deals over the line. While various barriers may have limited our recent transfer activity, I that no barriers prevent me from flying across the pond and making it to Wigan for my first official visit early next week. Give me your best pies, your best ales, and all things ‘proper Wigan culture' while I’m in town. You will not find a single person who is more excited to travel to Fleetwood for next Tuesday’s Carabao Cup match. Bristol City visiting the DW next Saturday may as well be the World Cup final to me. If you see a couple yanks aimlessly walking around Wigan town centre, give us a hello. We’re hoping to witness a couple of winning Latics performances and bring some positivity and cheer to the great people of Wigan.

Will Heyes:

After a successful pre-season series of friendlies, Latics began their new season in the Championship with a hard-fought goalless draw against a well-organised and tough Preston North End. No goals, but it was far from a boring goalless draw, as both sides showed commitment and no shortage of effort. However, both sides cancelled each other out. I think we can all agree Preston should have scored just before half-time, only for a brilliant double save from Ben Amos to keep Latics in the game. Latics huffed and puffed, but created very few real chances. Will Keane had a quiet game and never got a sight of goal, with Leam Richardson keeping faith with the players who served him well last season. I thought he might have given new signing Ryan Nyambe his debut, although his time will come. But this squad will need to be strengthened if Latics are to do well in the Championship. The lack of signings does appear to be of concern, and has not gone unnoticed. However, Richardson has shown himself to be shrewd in signing the players he needs and wants. He is also careful and cautious. During the Preston game, after the sending off, he sent on 'Supersub' Stephen Humphries to make something happen. I would have liked him to have sent Thelo Aasgaard on to add an extra pair of fresh legs, and have a real go in the last 10 minutes, to try and nick a late winner. A possible chance missed? On balance of play, a draw was probably a fair result, a hard-fought appetiser to start the season, although Latics will have raise their game on Saturday for the long trip to Norwich. It doesn't get any easier but, then again, there are no easy games in the Championship!

Alan Rogers:

Eight of us from the same family sit together in the West Stand. We've had the same block of seats since the stadium opened. Most of us were on holiday when the seats were first offered up for sale so my brother, Andrew Bowden, took all our Springfield Park season tickets, toured the new ground and plumped for our new seats. Everyone was thrilled with the seats and Andrew was a hero. Moving forward quite a few years, and we were all looking forward to the first game last week, and then the unthinkable happened. Andrew passed away suddenly and unexpectedly a few days before the season started. We debated about going to the game and although it was very hard, we went ahead and somehow we got through it. Now one thing about Andrew was, he hated intolerance, ignorance and bullies. Over the years he had many heated clashes with some 'fans' - both home and away - in regards to booing, racism and general ignorance. In recent years, he calmed down a bit and decided to use humour as a weapon. He would announce 'empty vessels make the most noise!' or 'you can talk to a mon with a wooden leg but you cornt talk to one with a wooden yed!' (Not very PC that one but he never claimed to be perfect!) And then we would chuckle to ourselves as his intended targets obviously didn't understand what he meant - thus proving his point! So Andrew wouldn't have been surprised, but he would have been annoyed, when the negative remarks and comments began after only a few minutes of the first game. What the hell have players like Tendayi Darikwa done to deserve so much negative criticism, so early in the season? Even Leam, the best manager we have had in many years, came under fire from certain sections. Andrew was a dual season ticket holder, for both the Latics and the Warriors. He understood the long-standing 'rivalry' issues but hated it. In his youth, he played rugby for Lancashire and was a member of Wigan Harriers. A true Wigan mon: If it came from Wigan he supported it. Except maybe rugby union...he said that you had to draw the line somewhere! He was taken too early at only 61, but he had a great life, travelling all over the world. But I truly believe one of the greatest days of his life was the FA Cup final win, when the extended family all attended together and he was so happy. I spoke to Andrew every day and we talked about everything under the sun, but I can guarantee one thing we discussed every day was football - and nearly always the Latics. So maybe when people attend their next home game, whoever they support, they can try to be a bit more positive. Andrew was convinced some people - especially in the West Stand - were determined to be miserable, whatever the result! We are still arranging the funeral, but Andrew will be carried into church by his Latics family and will be carried out by his Warrior friends. We will celebrate his life together and, although we will be sad, I'm sure we will try to have a smile as well.

Damian Spencer:

The dust has settled now from the opening weekend, and I'd say it was a strong start to the season. Ben Amos with a wonderful double save showing why Leam has kept faith with him, and Tom Naylor doing what Tom Naylor does best...covering every blade of grass and putting his body on the line for the cause. 0-0 might not have been the exciting outcome people had hoped for. However, it's a strong start to what looks like being a strong competition this season. Norwich away on Saturday and Sky Sports doing what they do best - messing the fans about. However, I am feeling rather positive about the game, as there's no pressure on us and it's just a free hit. When was the last time we had a league fixture like this, where we didn't need to worry about the outcome? Must be pre-admin, surely? The added benefit of us still being on a high from last season, and Norwich still on a low from their previous season, just makes it all the better for me. I love Leam as gaffer but he does seem to share some similarities with Paul Cook, mainly what looks like stubbornness. Not particularly a bad thing, as it got us promoted. However, I could probably have put money on when and which players would be subbed against Preston. And he didn't change from these substitutions, even with Preston down to 10 men, and with the new five-subs-on-three-occasions rule. I hoped we'd at least get the inclusion of our Norwegian prince, young Thelo, but that wasn't the case. This brings me on to another similarity with Cook - not using a young player the fans love and are desperate to see more of. It feels like Thelo is to Leam what Joffy was to Cook...a wonderful talent that wouldn't really get a proper chance.

Sam Seddon-Davies:

Another start to the season and another start to pessimistic takes on Twitter. It's in the nature of a football fan to never be completely happy with their club, but look how far we've come in the past year. We had two players in the team of the season, top scorer on the league, and we won the whole thing! We have a talented, cohesive squad that knows how to get things done. Despite the lack of new players being signed this summer window, it can't be forgotten we have great players already, so the question begs: where on the pitch do we need big improvements that would be solved by a transfer? The flurry of signings we had last year can't be a common thing, and the expectation we would be having something similar happen again is unrealistic. It was making up for lost time and lost people through the administration. On the other hand, having no new players while losing six is an odd decision by those in charge that you've got to think will change before the window closes. Yet, our opening match, with the same squad of players from League One, went pretty well regardless of what some had to say. As a newly-promoted team, going home with a point from a derby day against a side fighting for the play-offs is definitely a positive thing. 0-0 is not the dazzling first performance fans were looking for but, like always with Wigan, we must let time take us where we are meant to go, and believe that it will be reet in the end. For now, just have a pint in Whelan's and be happy with what we already have and the improvements we're getting elsewhere, because it is pretty decent.

Tony Moon:

Well, that weren’t bad, a fighting draw, we ought to be quite chuffed. Cos t’ North End were no better than us, even though they huffed and puffed. OK, they had the better chance, but then, up stands Big Ben. Every bit as good as Jussi’s, hats off sir, 10 from 10. Of course, some moaned, ‘baht many things, some fairly, some less so. They’d be better off on Sat’day afternoons doing a big shop at Tesco. Then of course, the biggest whinge, is all about recruiting. By ‘eck, they’ve had some fun this week, with a chance to stick the boot in. Conspiracy theories? They abound, but all with zero substance. One mon thinks we’re being sold, just cos of Talal’s absence. (Poor rhyme, but too good a theory to leave out!). The squad’s too weak, we need more players, we haven’t got a team. And all because of an interview that were given by Sir Leam. And then to go and top it all, we let another go. McGrath’s off back to Scotland without hardly troubling t’ show. Relegation’s all but certain, after t’ first match, that’s the rule. By heck lads, give 'em half a chance, let the kids get back to school! If we’ve not won t’ league by Christmas, then by all means, have a moan. And we know that one thing’s certain, aye, you won’t be on your own!

Sean Livesey:

I think any concerns about whether we could compete at this level were expelled on Saturday. A hard-fought local derby against those lads from up the M6 showed we can and will compete at this level. Unfortunately the injuries are piling up now, Jack Whatmough the latest to pick up a knock...file alongside Charlie Wyke and long-term absentee Jordan Cousins. It means an already stretched squad is just that little more fragile. There’ll clearly be reinforcements, the squad needs it, and with a month of the transfer window to go it isn’t time to panic yet. The club are clearly biding their time, when you think about it we’re arguably 12 months ahead of schedule in our return from the abyss. We may have joked about it, but did anyone really expect us to win the title last year? This season probably should have been us fine tuning in League One and going for the title push, after a successful previous year. As it was, we managed what would have been expected in two seasons, in one. Does that mean the transfer budget wasn’t as readily available this summer? Possibly. But equally since taking over, Phoenix 21 have spoken about us becoming a self-sufficient football club. The days of us bringing in whole new squads each summer are gone, and that’s probably for the best. It’s the old adage that Latics only started playing after the New Year. Who could forget 'Wigan time' when we were in the Premier League? That wasn’t because we couldn’t be bothered until February every year, but because every season in the Premier League we would lose most of our core group of players and have to start all over again. Bedding in players takes time. This year, because of last season’s incredible recruitment, we don’t need to do that. What we do need to do is fine tune what we have. I know that doesn’t play well with those online for who transfers equate to success. Sky Sports News created a monster with the clamour for signings on that transfer deadline, but very rarely do those signings turn into any sort of success story. Who in the last 10 years, of the many we've brought in like that, turned into successful signings? Less than 20 per cent, I’d wager. Sadly, Jamie McGrath who arrived from St Mirren with ringing endorsements, hasn’t managed to show the same sort of form for Latics, and so heads back to Scotland via way of Dundee United. I understand why people are getting edgy. The squad is arguably weaker than last season but, equally, these players that are here now know each other and know what is expected of them. Also they deserve their chance at proving themselves in the Championship. They earned that and more last season. Signings will come, but patience is the name of the game at the moment. If Preston was a tough match, Norwich will be even tougher, with more than 600 Wiganers travelling down for a match live on Sky. It’s a fantastic effort, and one that should be applauded...although no doubt some crowd nonce in their bedroom will come up with some witty retort such as: ‘Is that all you take away?’ But they’re not worth the screen space their serially terrible takes are written on.