Wigan Athletic: No Fans, No Money, No History, No Worries

On the defence of Wigan in the face of serious Geordie abuse...
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On the defence of Wigan in the face of serious Geordie abuse...

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Wigan Athletic: No Fans, No Money, No History, No Worries

Some football clubs are huge, historic behemoths situated in big cities with legions of fans from within their confines and further afield. Other football clubs are small, provincial teams situated in small towns that may have only existed for 80 or so years spending most of that time in the lower divisions. This isn’t rocket science really but it appeared to be so last week for a large section of Newcastle fans and even their manager Alan Pardew.

For those unaware, Mr Pardew came out in the press on Monday and suggested that Wigan would be best served financially by giving Newcastle another 4,000 tickets, taking their allocation up to 9,500. They’d be doing us a favour, see, given we never sell the tickets anyway with an average of over 18,000. Despite the fact that 4,500 tickets is already 50% more than most clubs give as an allocation, Pardew advised Newcastle fans to treat it like a home game and to get in the ground ‘by hook or by crook’ – an incredibly arrogant statement for someone to make and perhaps only did make because it’s Wigan Athletic, a club that deserves to be patronised.

All week we have had to put up with a cacophony off drivel from fans from the North East “small club, rugby town, empty seats, no fans”. The Geordie invasion is coming to town, they’ll have more fans than us and drown us out with a wall of noise and have thousands in our end. Heard it all before, although not necessarily from Newcastle fans who seemed particularly vocal this year. Having a good season are we?

Indeed, they are, they’re having a terrific season and full credit must go to the aforementioned Pardew for taking the Magpies to the brink of a Top Four finish. However, in case you haven’t noticed, Saturday was also quite an important game for Wigan Athletic too. As it turned out, only a mere 800 tickets went unsold so quite where 4,000 extra Geordies were going to sit I don’t know. Due to segregation, capacity is probably nearer 23,000 than the official 25,000 these days but even so, thanks to some affordable ticket deals and an exciting culmination to the season, it was a decent home turnout and one we must aspire to pull in every other week. Were there some Newcastle fans in the home ends? Undoubtedly. Including the two lads who came pouring out of the West Stand close to half time mouthing off at anyone in their path after watching their team ship four first half goals. But as to how many in total? Who knows? The old benchmark of looking who jumps up when they score unfortunately (for Newcastle) could not be applied as a measure. The sea of smiling, bouncing happy faces every time Wigan Athletic scored a goal seems to suggest it wasn’t that many though.

After getting all manner of abuse on message boards and via Twitter all week off Geordies it was a particularly satisfying result and I’ve got to say some of the name calling and downright lies about Wigan Athletic has been amongst the worst I’ve ever seen. To return to my opening gambit, it’s just downright bullying – picking on a football club because it is smaller than another football club. I’m bloody proud of what my football club has achieved and just because we have a few empty seats does not mean we have no fans, there’s 15,000 of us now, we’ve grown organically over the years with a higher percentage of junior season ticket holders than any other club. And let’s not forget that in spite of all the progress we have made, we are still surrounded by more successful clubs – the North West’s Big Four in Manchester and Liverpool who have been cleaning up nearly every trophy going between them since television started beaming football directly into people’s homes and influencing their choice of team. It’s hard work getting people in Wigan to support Wigan unfortunately. The easiest way for a Wigan Athletic supporter to go from being a bad supporter to being a great supporter in the eyes of many people who slate us is for us to just go and support United or Liverpool instead like so many others do in our town but we choose to support the underdog, our home town team and what we’ve achieved in the last ten or so years really does defy belief.

I’m bloody proud of what my football club has achieved and just because we have a few empty seats does not mean we have no fans, there’s 15,000 of us now

To be honest, I get told to wind my neck in and rise above it often enough by some of my fanzine cohorts from other clubs whenever someone takes a pop at Wigan Athletic but I can’t help myself. It’s even worse when that dig is being directed at Wigan Athletic by someone who is from Wigan! A lot of rugby fans in the town like to justify their ‘it’s a rugby town’ mantra by actively supporting a football team from elsewhere, which is ironic in the extreme and I only wish more could be like a few of my mates who happily watch both sports. I think however in recent weeks we are starting to win people over both in Wigan and further afield with good performances on the field and good humour from the fans sticking by our team. We know we’re small in number but we have big hearts.

It seems that some fans of Newcastle United didn’t anticipate this and fully expected to steam roller Wigan with their great support and with a great run of form but unfortunately for them their team didn’t turn up on Saturday and subsequently, the continued insults about crowd sizes seem to have died down a little. Before I get even more abuse though, I should point out that it’s not all Newcastle fans, nearly every time we’ve played them home or away, I’ve had a few beers with some of the soundest lads around and they don’t particularly like some of their own fans either. And those who did travel to Wigan on Saturday deserve immense credit for staying to the end after their team suffered a 4-0 first half reversal.

And sometimes, the banter can be amusing. Given the clamour for tickets, one Wigan fan posted a number up on Twitter giving Newcastle fans a number to ring to pick up extra tickets for the Wigan game, and they were told to ask for a Mr C.Lyon. It only took one daft plank to ring it before they realised it was actually the number for Chester Zoo! They took it well! BANTER-TASTIC!! Oh how I hate that word, it has become a cloak of disguise for all that is wrong with the sporting world. People are fed clichés and agendas by Sky, by Talksport and the mainstream media and churn them out ad nauseum: Scousers steal things, Geordies take their shirts off and get their bellies out, Man United fans all come from London and oh yes: Wigan have no fans.

I can’t help arguing with people on the internet when they take a pop. Why should I and my football team be called a laughing stock just because we happen to come from a small town? It’s always the big city clubs who like to take a pop at us too, maybe because we’ve hung around in the top flight, keeping some sleeping giant’s rightly place away from them. You get your rewards on the basis of what you do on the pitch I’m afraid and Roberto Martinez’s team gets everything about what our football club is about now. They play with the same passion and understated class that pervades a lot of our support. Fans who know that our ground could do with being a little more compact but still turn up two hours before kick off to clap the players into the ground. Fans who raised £27,000 for a little girl who needed life saving cancer treatment a few months ago. Fans who keep the faith when all seems lost. Northern Soul runs through our blood, you’ll hear it in the pubs and you hear it on a matchday now, along with the latest adoption of The Monkees ‘I’m a Believer’. We might not have great support but we do have some great supporters.

Northern Soul runs through our blood, you’ll hear it in the pubs and you hear it on a matchday now, along with the latest adoption of The Monkees ‘I’m a Believer’

Personally, at the age of nearly 40 I’m settled down with a family and going to every game is no longer an option but for 6 seasons out of my 28 years, I missed just 4 games, I’ve spent a fortune watching my team on over 100 grounds; I’ve seen them top of the Premier League and bottom of Division Four coming out of Barnet’s Underhill after a 5-0 drubbing singing “92nd and we don’t care, doo dah”. But we did care and still do. That’s not to say I’m nothing special as a fan, I’m not, there are plenty Wigan Athletic fans much more dedicated than me, but no matter how dedicated they are, they do not deserve to be subject to constant ridicule because some other people in the town choose not to support Wigan Athletic and because our ground is slightly too big for us. So what if we only take a few hundred fans to Arsenal or Chelsea? It’s the same few hundred we were taking to Brentford or Leyton Orient a few years back (and it was much cheaper) Are we all supposed to become stockbrokers and find thousands of pounds to travel the country paying extortionate ticket prices because our team is in the Premier League? In case, you haven’t noticed, Wigan is hardly a prosperous town with high unemployment and strong reliance on the public sector to provide what low paid jobs there are available.

But ignorance is bliss where football fans are concerned and personally when I do end up bickering with them, I like to point them in the direction of the following table which puts the whole crowd debate into perspective. Essentially, it is a table showing what percentage of a town or city’s population turns out to watch it’s football team by taking their average attendance and deducting away fans. For London clubs, it takes the borough in which the team is situated and also divides populations up if there is more than one football club in the immediate area. When you put it this way, Wigan Athletic’s support isn’t so bad is it? Yet still the Internet whoppers persists “empty seats, no fans, rugby town” even though nearly 1 in 5 people turn out to watch the town’s football club every other week.

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You can read the full piece here: http://thisnorthernsoul.co.uk/2012/02/27/and-the-best-supported-team-in-the-barclays-premier-league-is/ or maybe give the author some abuse if you’re a disgruntled Villa fan. There are flaws and further debates in the approach but the bottom line is that Wigan’s support really isn’t that bad given the size of it’s catchment area. It’s just a shame so many cyber warriors cannot digest things like this statistical way of looking at it and that’s before you get into the history and geography of the team and the area in which it resides. A football team that was in the Lancashire Combination 50 years ago!

But back to business and although I must admit, I lost the faith; just the once mind you after a desperately poor home game against Swansea which put us firmly back in the mire after seemingly taking a turn for the better. The Monday after the game, Roberto Martinez invited the fans in for a chat against a backdrop of screaming message board tantrums. The meeting was civil, considered and open. Name me another Premier League Manager who would do that? The man is a class act and his nice guy image is backed up by his absolute sincerity when you meet him.

The contrasting fortunes of Wigan Athletic and Swansea have been interesting to follow this season. Whereas there is great debate around how much influence Martinez has had over the Swans’ current style of play, it seemed for most of the season that Swansea play the Martinez way better than he has ever managed to get Wigan Athletic playing it. Cue much gnashing of teeth in a small part of Lancashire.

Brendan Rogers has undoubtedly developed the style from Swansea’s Martinez days but he also benefitted from not having to start from scratch like Roberto did at Wigan in the post Steve Bruce fall out. Plus, Rogers inherited a top half side in the Championship, a team that had become used to winning games and therefore had more confidence. Confidence that has seen them pull off some pretty spectacular performances in the Premier League coupled with that first year momentum that many clubs experience when they first hit the heady heights of the top division.

Martinez inherited a side of perennial strugglers, tried to transform their game completely at the top level, with no margin of error and initially saw them get punished many, many times with one or two notable cricket scores thrown in. Yet still they have shown enough each year to find the right form at the right time to drag themselves out of the drop zone and the last few weeks in particular have witnessed some of the most stunning performances I have ever seen from a Wigan Athletic team with United, Arsenal, Liverpool and most recently Newcastle cast aside. They can’t all be having an off day can they? And let’s not forget the travesty against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge with two pathetically offside goals turning three points into nil.

They can’t all be having an off day can they? And let’s not forget the travesty against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge with two pathetically offside goals turning three points into nil

The 3-4-3 formation is now the talk of tactician’s everywhere and no doubt a few more teams will be adopting it next season but it is the personnel who are impressing as much as the set up. Since the introduction of Shaun Maloney to the side we finally have that link player up front. He’s at the hub of everything, coming deep, looking for the ball, great short passing and some brilliant finishing. Up front and Franco di Santo is scoring some great goals and has now crept up to six for the season and Victor Moses is starting to find his end product too. Jean Beausejour is a classy, languid player in the mould of Martinez himself. The previously monickered Calamity Caldwell is now Superman with an extra centre half alongside him and the Hamilton recruited Scots of James McCarthy and James McArthur are an industrious pair capable of matching up to any midfield in the country. Oh and I nearly forgot Ali Al Habsi – still one of the best ‘keepers in the Premier League but thankfully he’s had a little less to do this season.

Regardless of what happens now, Roberto Martinez will take a great deal of credit for producing a football outfit on a shoestring capable of outplaying some of the best teams in the country and giving Wigan Athletic fans some of the greatest memories in the club’s comparatively short history. There is still that sense of wanting to finish the job off though and safety may still not be guaranteed until the last game of the season. A trip to Blackburn, if it’s anything like the home fixture could see a game which is hairier than Richard Keys’ plughole with Blackburn definitely having to go for broke and Wigan still needing something to be safe. Wolves on the last day of the season you would hope to be the perfect fixture but having scored 4 goals away from Swansea on Saturday cannot be taken lightly.

There may be more twists and turns to come in the last few weeks of the season at the bottom and I know that some football fans think Wigan Athletic don’t deserve to be in the Premier League because of our crowds but if we can pull it off again it will represent another miracle of the story of the little club punching above it’s weight with the big boys.

Sin Miedo.

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