Phil Wilkinson column: 'It's time for me to go - thanks for the memories'

Please, take a seat. We need to talk...

Wednesday, 29th September 2021, 12:29 pm
Phil Wilkinson at the Nou Camp in 2019

After more than 20 years with this newspaper, I’m moving on.

This is my final day here. This is my final column.

I’ve had an incredible time. I’ve been fortunate to meet and interview many sports stars – from Bisping to Beckham, Wiggins to Wigan greats – and report from victorious dressing rooms at Wembley and Old Trafford and more.

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Phil in Sydney for the 2014 World Club Challenge

Trips to Sydney and Barcelona were obvious highlights, but I’ve also great memories of other less-exotic spots dotted along the M62 and beyond; in press boxes, you sit with people who are your competitors and yet there is a camaraderie, too, which I’ll miss.

I’ve met many wonderful people and made many friends, for which I’m grateful.

To thank everyone by name would be impossible; to colleagues, editors, press officers, thank you.

To the players, managers and coaches, thank you, too.

And thanks to those who have read our stories, and those who have got in touch over the years.

I remember one email in particular, a woman enquiring about possible work experience for her son. She wrote: “I’ve told him he needs to start at the bottom, and that’s why I’m writing to you...”

No offence taken!

Of course, no offence was intended – she, rightly, was advising her son to work his way up from a local newspaper.

But here’s the thing; working on sport in Wigan, it’s not felt like a normal local paper. I’ve been on courses with counterparts from titles at much bigger towns yet they have non-league and amateur rugby union on their back pages.

Here, while our grassroots scene is thriving, we’re also blessed with two great clubs and a list of athletes and coaches who make their mark.

I remember a time when Wasps RU had four coaches who were all ex-St John Fisher pupils. There are seven players in a netball team – for years, two in the England side were from Wigan.

Not long ago, we had the England RU team and the England RL team both captained by Wiganers. I could go on.

Athletics, UFC, you name it.

Our little crazy town punches well above its weight when it comes to sport. It’s what we do.

And never was that more evident than when Wigan Athletic won the FA Cup in 2013. I was there, a few years earlier, when Duke fired them into the top-flight. There, too, when Grigg stunned Man City.

Yet for all Latics’ achievements, none gave me more joy than seeing them get back on their feet after many miserable months in administration.

I’ve loved writing about all sports but the main part of my job has, obviously, been covering Wigan Warriors.

My first press conference was the arrival of Adrian Lam as a player in 2001. Fittingly, my last was his departure as coach.

In between, there have been 18 finals or World Club deciders, many more highlights, a few controversies, and a couple of teary goodbyes. I've also seen some wonderful players and I've named some of them here.

And during that time, the media landscape has changed radically.

But in an era when clicks are king, I’ve tried to stay loyal to the basic, journalistic principle of making sure a rumour was true before writing it.

Now, this is the part when I could use age as an excuse for my departure.

After all, Lam’s likely successor, Matty Peet, is younger than me; players Sam Halsall and Umyla Hanley are younger than my son.

But that wouldn’t be true, because there are plenty of older men and women doing fine jobs in similar roles, up and down the country.

I don’t know who will succeed me.

My colleague Paul Kendrick – an equally good friend and reporter, with equally questionable taste in music and food – will cover in the short term.

As for me, I’m excited to be moving on to a new challenge as journalism tutor at News Associates in Manchester.

I’ll have a part-time role with a national newspaper, too. I may even tackle another book at some stage, and I’ll be at the DW Stadium writing the occasional report as a freelance.

But, mainly, I’ll be there as a fan again.

It’s been a while since I’ve done that.

The Wigan club celebrates its 150-year anniversary in 2022; it’s been a privilege to document their history for 20 years of that run.

Take care.