A season of horrors, a decade of wonders

Wigan Athletic's managers during the 2014/15 season: Uwe Rosler, Malky Mackay and Gary Caldwell
Wigan Athletic's managers during the 2014/15 season: Uwe Rosler, Malky Mackay and Gary Caldwell

A SEASON involving Wigan Athletic is always eventful.

As it ends, there are usually plenty of positives and a fair few negatives to mull over before heading into the next one.

Emmerson Boyce and Marc-Antoine Fortune look dejected as Latics lose to Wolves

Emmerson Boyce and Marc-Antoine Fortune look dejected as Latics lose to Wolves

This one, though, has seen pretty much all of the latter. Relegation to League One should not have happened.

That’s not an arrogant statement, it’s one based on how much money has been ploughed into this squad to ensure that expectations were sky high as the campaign began.

No-one could have predicted the absolute horror show that would follow.

The Wigan Athletic that has finished the campaign is almost unrecognisable when put next to the one that started it, with a new manager (after another in between), a new chairman, a virtually new squad of players and an empty board, with the current directors set to leave their positions.

It all started with a terrible summer of recruitment under Uwe Rosler with barely any of the incoming players making any sort of impact at the DW Stadium.

After a rocky start, Latics looked to be heading in the right direction at the end of August with back-to-back home wins. Little did we know that they would be the last ones there for nine months.

Rosler left his position in November after a spineless performance during a 3-1 defeat at local rivals Bolton and what followed was perhaps the biggest mistake of the lot.

His replacement, Malky Mackay, had a decent track record in the Championship but with a number of allegations hanging over him regarding racist, sexist and homophobic text messages, the appointment was always going to attract negative publicity.

In hindsight, what Wigan needed was a manager to unite a squad of players that was so disjointed. What they got was a divisive one who, through little fault of his own at times, triggered a series of mistakes and gaffes that ultimately led to Dave Whelan leaving his position as chairman in March.

The 78-year-old, who has been the driving force behind Wigan Athletic for 20 years, made a number of unsavoury comments that saw him deservedly punished by the FA. He was banned from attending games for six weeks and on his return, he announced the end of his tenure saying he felt the time was right to move on. He was replaced as chairman by his grandson, David Sharpe.

All this was at a time that the team on the pitch was in total disarray; the last thing the club needed was things off it to start going horribly wrong.

Mackay failed to make an impact. In fact, he made the mess much worse with unattractive and ineffective football mixed with empty promises that things would improve.

To be fair to the Scot, he made some decent signings with the likes of Jermaine Pennant and defensive duo Jason Pearce and Harry Maguire impressing since their arrivals.

But he also made some strange ones, with three teenagers from Liverpool and Norwich who have failed to make a mark. While it’s clear Sheyi Ojo, Jerome Sinclair and Josh Murphy all have promise, were they really the correct additions to a side that was fighting for its life? And if it was youth he was looking for, what about the likes of Tim Chow and Jordan Flores who have shown great promise right under his nose at Christopher Park?

There was also still the problem of a goalscorer; something which has cost Wigan dear on many occasions.

Supporters gave Mackay little time to settle and calls for his head came early on, such was the intense scrutiny of his appointment. That was perhaps unfair, but he would have been naive to expect a smooth ride given the grey cloud that followed him.

Things did take a slight upturn as Latics picked up four away wins on the bounce through February and March but their abysmal home form continued, ultimately ending in Mackay’s departure on Easter Monday.

By then, Wigan were eight points adrift of safety with five games remaining and as club captain Gary Caldwell made the step up to management, the pressure came off a little with Sharpe saying it would be a “miracle” if the Scot kept the club up.

A renewed sense of optimism filled the DW Stadium though and after a draw at Fulham and a disappointing defeat at Millwall, Caldwell won his first home game in charge against Brighton, ending a baron run of 18 games there without a victory.

Latics were handed a lifeline as Rotherham were deducted three points for fielding an ineligible player but they blew their chance by losing to Wolves before their relegation was confirmed on Tuesday.

And that was that.

A season of horrors ended a game early with Wigan heading back down to League One a decade after they won promotion to the top flight.

The inquest into the demise started a while ago but it’s clear that there are plenty factors. Many argue that the first wrong decision came when Whelan appointed Owen Coyle over Steve McLaren. But, in truth, there is far more to it than that.

A catalogue of errors off the pitch have been combined with a number of players on it letting themselves, the club and the fans down on a huge scale. Few can hold their heads up high after a season of total under-achievement.

Earlier this month, the club released a video stating how it often “defied the odds”. As a friend of mine correctly pointed out, that’s something they’ve done this season too, with the bookies having Latics as favourites for promotion.

Reading this will certainly give you a sense of doom and gloom - and rightly so. But there are some positives. Well, more reassurances.

The club is still in the hands of people who care and there’s a manger in place who will fight tooth and nail for the cause and that is something that is very important.

The books are balanced and thanks to good forward planning and housekeeping, the finances are secure.

As supporters, we have to accept the rough with the smooth and it’s fair to say we’ve had more of the latter over the last 20 years and in particular the last decade.

Wigan Athletic stunned everyone by making it to the Premier League where they continued their proud record of beating every single opponent at least once, including giants such as Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, during eight wonderful years.

The highlight for all will be the staggering FA Cup win in 2013; a victory which gave all small clubs hope.

These are memories we can all cherish and while they may not affect what happens now, they can be used to rebuild the foundations and values which Wigan Athletic has always held dear.

Over the last few years, Latics have adopted the motto “Believe”, but what is equally - if not moreso - important now, is the saying that was etched on the club’s badge for many years.

We need to go forward together and Progress With Unity.