Wigan Athletic: 44 Years As A Fan & On The Verge Of Cup History

Wigan Athletic are on the verge of creating football history by being the first team to play in all the domestic cup finals and a win over Millwall will ensure that happens.
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Wigan Athletic are on the verge of creating football history by being the first team to play in all the domestic cup finals and a win over Millwall will ensure that happens.

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I've been very lucky in the football team that I support. I started supporting my local team Wigan Athletic when they were a successful non-league outfit but never in my wildest dreams did I expect them to rise to the top division of English football and to be playing in major cup finals.

My first match at Springfield Park was during the 1969/70 season when Wigan Athletic and Macclesfield Town were vying for the Northern Premier League title. In the closest of title races the Silkmen eventually went on to win the title by the tightest of margins with a goal average of 1,756 compared to the Latics 1,750

Former Liverpool and England player Gordon Milne was appointed Player Manager in January 1970 and he set about transforming the team for the 1970/71 season.

During the close season Milne signed former Everton and England winger Derek Temple from PNE for a bargain £4,000. Best remembered as the player who scored the winning goal in the 1966 FA Cup final against Sheffield Wednesday, the signing of Temple was quite a coup for a non-league team. But it was striker Geoff Davies signed from Northwich Victoria who had a massive impact on Wigan's fortunes that season scoring an incredible 42 goals including seven hat tricks.

That season Wigan won the Northern Premier League title losing only two of their 42 matches. They also had an historic FA Cup run which began in the fourth qualifying round against Skelmersdale United. In the first round proper they overcame South Shields before defeating Peterborough United in the second round in front of 17,180 at Springfield Park. Wigan drew Manchester City in the third round at Maine Road. City were then the holders of the League Cup and European Cup Winners Cup and riding high in the first division. They had a famous forward line of Mike Summerbee, Colin Bell and Francis Lee. The crowd of 46,212 was City's highest crowd of the season.

Wigan gave their illustrious neighbours a major fright but City escaped with a 1-0 win after the Wigan goalkeeper Dennis Reeves split his boot from a goal kick and this allowed City to score. Latics gained numerous plaudits for their performance and most of the impartial observers agreed that they deserved a place in the Football League. However it was not to be at that time and they continued to be one of the best non-leagues sides of the period.

Gordon Milne left to become Coventry City manager in 1972. Les Rigby, who was also a PE teacher at Wigan Technical College, replaced him.

Rigby had to rebuild the side after Milne's departure but he was successful in helping the team to what was my first final at Wembley, the FA Trophy final against Scarborough in 1973. The crowd on the day was 24,000, but Wigan had the majority of the crowd with a fantastic following of 19,000.

Wigan lost the game 2-1 in extra time, but despite the disappointment I enjoyed the Wembley experience and got a sense of what a major cup final might be like.

It was twelve years before Wigan were in another final at Wembley and by then they were also a Football League side after being voted into the league at the expense of Southport in 1978.

The Football League Trophy or the Freight Rover Trophy as it was then known was for teams outside the top two divisions of English football. Wigan had qualified for the final by beating Mansfield Town in a closely fought penalty shoot out in the Northern Area Final.

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Their opponents Brentford had qualified easily beating Newport 6-0 in the Southern Area Final to reach Wembley.

Former top-level players managed both teams, Wigan by former Ipswich Town and Northern Ireland international Brian Hamilton and Brentford by former Arsenal and Scotland international Frank McLintock.

Although the ‘local’ teams' fans outnumbered Wigan’s, it was a memorable game in which the Latics were worthy 3-1 winners. Goals by Mike Newell, Tony Kelly and David Lowe ensured that the Trophy and additional bonus of a Freight Rover Van went to Springfield Park.

Wigan returned to the twin towers in the Football League Trophy then known as the Auto Windscreens Shield in 1999. A team from London once again outnumbered Latics fans when they faced Millwall. 45,000 Lions fans made the journey from the East End in a crowd of 55,349.

In a relatively dour encounter it looked as though the match was heading for extra time, but former Sutton United player Paul Rogers drove home from the edge of the box in the third minute of stoppage time to send the loyal band of Latics supporters into delirium.

Dave Whelan took over Wigan in 1995 and under his stewardship the club have had a miraculous rise through the divisions culminating in their promotion to the Premier League in 2005.

Wigan’s amazing progress was typified by their success in reaching the League Cup Final in 2006 against Manchester United. The Carling Cup Final as it was then called was held at the impressive Millennium Stadium in Cardiff as Wembley was being rebuilt at the time.

On the day Wigan had no luck. Goalkeeper Mike Pollitt pulled a hamstring in the opening exchanges and had to go off in the 14th minute. Latics never got to grips with the in-form Rooney and Ronaldo and United were comfortable 4-0 winners. Despite the defeat it was still a special occasion for Wigan to take part in a major final for the very first time.

Under manager Roberto Martinez Wigan have defied the odds and maintained their Premier League status and they now face an historic first ever FA Cup semi final against Millwall.

If they reach the FA Cup final they will have created a unique piece of football history; they will be the first team to ever get to the FA Trophy, Football League Trophy, League Cup and FA Cup finals.

Having supported my club at all the previous finals, if they get to the FA Cup final, I will be among a unique group of Wigan fans that have experienced first hand the full range of domestic football cup finals.