Wigan Athletic: The duck, the towels, the cat and the howls - the inside story of 2021/22

Ahead of Wigan Athletic’s return to pre-season training on Thursday, Paul Kendrick looks back on some of the stand-out moments of the 2021-22 season, along with the best quotes from friends and foes...
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IT'S GOOD TO BE BACK: Sunderland (a): For the first time in almost 18 months, Latics fans could support their side from inside the ground. It was a completely different club, not to mention completely different team, but the first step back on the road to 'normality'. The result didn’t go Latics’ way...but they were at least on their way…

“Wigan is different to what I imagined – totally different. The first thing I noticed is how peaceful it is. If you want to just relax, switch off, go for a walk and nobody will bother you, this is a perfect place. It’s like a clearing in a forest, I liken it to Baden-Baden, I really like it." - Positive first impressions of Wigan from new chairman Talal Al Hammad

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Latics showed plenty of flare in beating Plymouth away last NovemberLatics showed plenty of flare in beating Plymouth away last November
Latics showed plenty of flare in beating Plymouth away last November
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“Yes I have tried a few pies since I have been here. I tried minced steak... I didn’t think that was nice. But the meat and potato...they were very nice. It’s all part of the Wigan culture... the local food, the experience, and I want to embrace it all." - Talal Al Hammad wastes no time getting stuck into the local cuisine

HOME COMFORTS: Rotherham (h): Latics' first game back at the DW Stadium saw Talal Al Hammad presented to the crowd before the game. The big man had been on a Pied Piper-esque tour of the town in the lead-up, eating pies, sampling mint balls and meeting what seemed like most of the fanbase. There was even a fairytale ending to the game, with Will Keane scoring a stoppage-time winner.

"I know Bolton were interested but having been here before as a Wigan player, there was never, ever any chance I was going to entertain that. I'll be completely honest, the only reason I entertained coming to League One was solely for Wigan." - James McClean knows exactly how to get the fans onside in his first interview back. And ruffle a few feathers...

“We were never interested in James McClean. It was his agent trying to get him to us and whether they’ve used us to try and get a better deal out of Wigan, I don’t know." - Bolton boss Ian Evatt becomes the first opposition fish into James McClean’s net…the first of many...

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GONE BUT NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN: Portsmouth (h): How the confusion following the death of a local duck named Keith led to a minute's applause at the DW and national headlines will forever live on in Wigan folklore.

FOUR-STAR SHOWING: Accrington (a): Latics really kick into gear for the first time, with Charlie Wyke scoring his first goals for the club in arguably the best performance of the campaign. It was also a great day off the field, with fans enjoying Accy's al fresco liquid refreshment facilities before and after the game.

"I expect us to be number one. I expect us to be first. I think we’re the best team in the league. People will say that’s arrogance, that’s overconfidence. But on performances, I believe we’re the best team in the league.” - Ian Evatt again, kicking off derby week with a boast that definitely would not come back to haunt him...

"Listen, leagues are won and lost in May, so wherever teams finish is where they deserve to. Come the end of the campaign, we’ll all have finished where we deserve to have finished." - Leam Richardson is content to let his team do the talking on the pitch

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DEMOLITION DERBY: Bolton (a): As it happened, we did indeed see the best team in League One, in all its glory, wiping the floor with their closest rivals. Will Keane, Callum Lang and - you guessed it, James McClean - underlined the gulf in quality, which led to the natives lobbing objects onto the field from the 'Crazy Corner' of the UniBol

COMEBACK KINGS: Fleetwood (a): It wasn't looking good for Latics as they were lucky only to trail 2-0 on the hour. But a remarkable comeback in the last half-hour, culminating in Curtis Tilt's dramatic winner, sparked absolute limbs in the away end...not for the last time during the campaign…

BALLS OF STEEL: Cambridge (a): Two goals in the last five minutes saw Latics again show their character by coming back to rescue a point. The effort was all the remarkable, when it transpired the players had witnessed team-mate Charlie Wyke suffer a cardiac arrest at Christopher Park the day before, when he was brought back from the dead

"I am told it was only the quick response of the gaffer to initiate the resuscitation process, and then the continuation from the doctor, that saved my life. I will be forever grateful that due to their actions — and those of my team-mates and other staff — I am here to talk about the experience." Charlie Wyke explains the debt of gratitude he owes to Leam Richardson and Dr Jonathan Tobin

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FOR CHARLIE: Plymouth (a): The players wore t-shirts before the game bearing the name of their stricken colleague, and Callum Lang's last-gasp winning goal underlined the incredible spirit in the camp that would underpin the campaign.

"Wigan brought half a dozen towels and they plopped them around the ground. Wigan have come into our dressing room because they haven’t got enough towels to shower now. We’ve just lent them a few towels to get a shower. That’s a joke by the way. I just think it’s borderline cheating." - Doncaster boss Gary McSheffrey introduces 'towelgate' into modern lexicon, wiping his eyes on one at the same time

"I have no idea what's gone on. They obviously had a problem with towels being spread out for both teams to use. They were there for both teams to use." - Leam Richardson, as ever, remains unruffled

ONLY IN WIGAN: Arsenal Under-21s (h): Where else would the visit of a Premier League Academy side, in a competition all-but boycotted by the majority of fans, with three stands closed, lead to long queues round the stadium and the kick-off being put back? What a club.

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"Joe, I don't know if you're aware, but you're the only player here to have featured in Wigan Athletic's final game in the Premier League in 2013...for Aston Villa!" - Radio Manchester reporter Paul Rowley renders post-match interviewee Joe Bennett speechless

GONE TO POTT: Stoke (a): After seeing social media pictures of the fortnightly press banquet at Stoke, hopes were sky-high when Latics were handed an FA Cup trip to the bet365 Stadium. The reaction of the travelling Wigan press corp to being handed a sandwich each in a brown paper bag was, thankfully, not recorded…

NAUGHTY TORTIE: Sheffield Wednesday (a): Literally the day after West Ham's Kurt Zouma sparked worldwide outrage for mistreating his cat, Latics defender Jason Kerr restored faith in footballers by picking up a stray tortoise-shelled moggie at Hillsborough and carrying it off the field. He even gave it a cheeky wave as he returned to the pitch. P-aaawww…

ANTI-CLIMAX: Sunderland (h): Boosted by free tickets for season ticket holders, Latics attracted their highest ever league crowd in League One of 20,136. The game, however, was less of a success. A goal down inside two minutes, three goals behind at the end, sadly not many of the newbies would have been given much reason to come back...

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"When Matt Butcher had two chances for Accrington, I almost said Wigan are playing more like Pat Butcher so far...but I didn't get a chance...it might not have been appropriate anyway with Dot Cotton dying yesterday..." - Paul Rowley, again, on the gag that got away

IS IT A BIRD? IS IT A PLANE? Burton (a): Quite how on-loan Newcastle defender Kell Watts managed to get back, in stoppage-time and somehow divert a goalbound Burton effort over the bar and behind remains a mystery to this day. 'Miraculous', admitted Leam Richardson after the game. And the point it saved would prove so crucial in the final reckoning

MAN FOR ALL SEASONS: Portsmouth (a): When Pompey granted Latics an extra few hundred tickets for a match that could see them clinch promotion, there was a catch. Which, amusingly for some (me), meant Latics head of communications Ashley Houghton doubling up as home ticket office temporary manager - complete with portable table outside the away end - to divi up the tickets for away fans on arrival. How we (I) laughed.

PARTY-TIME: Shrewsbury (a): It was typical Latics that, despite promotion looking guaranteed for the final month, five games without a win took it down to the final day. But that only made for another afternoon that will go down in club history, with a champions performance taming the Shrews...and kicking off a party that went on for weeks…

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"I think the chairman forgot he'd promised the lads a trip to Vegas. The lads didn't forget..." - Leam Richardson on the end of season title reward

"People in this league claim to be the best team in the league, but they're only opinions. Actions speak louder than words, we finished top, and that means we're the best team in the league. I'm probably adding fuel to the fire, but the proof is in the pudding, we're the ones with the trophy. That's just me rubbing it in, and I'm absolutely delighted to do that. People can talk, but we backed it up. Facts are facts, and here we are." - James McClean elects not to rub it in...much

"Call the cops, I'm off me chops" - Goalkeeper Ben Amos' twitter account became a 'must follow' during the aforementioned Vegas trip

THE LAST WORD: "He doesn’t know it but I rubbed my b***ocks on his pillow!" Max Power would live to regret handing a vengeant Ben Amos a shot of soya sauce in the Vegas pool, providing a delightful postscript of another fantas-Tic campaign...