Wigan Athletic: Why There Is No Room For Fickle Fans At The DW Stadium

With Wigan Athletic languishing at the foot of the league and desperately low on confidence, the time has come for the small select fan base to step up and get behind the team in order to get them out of the relegation places and save their season.
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With Wigan Athletic languishing at the foot of the league and desperately low on confidence, the time has come for the small select fan base to step up and get behind the team in order to get them out of the relegation places and save their season.

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You know that old saying that the crowd can be a 12th Man? Well for Wigan Athletic home games it’s like playing with ten sometimes.

Do you want to know what the exact opposite is to those wonderful Bilbao and Napoli fans this week? I think I may have found it.

Welcome to the DW Stadium where the home fans grumble under their breath and away fans always have a party. That seems to be the message this season for nearly every set of away fans bar QPR against whom we mustered up our solitary home win. I doubt Villa fans were too happy the other week mind you, nor Chelsea fans before Christmas who only manage a draw. Nor Liverpool fans although at least our abode was the ideal setting for their staged defense of the tainted one.

But basically we’ve won one home game all season and that was in August. For all the stick we get about our crowds (and it’s not the crowds which are very good for a town of our size which cause the problem it’s the empty seats in our oversized ground), one win all season is hardly going to get the notoriously fickle Wigan public queuing in their droves.

For away fans we offer cheap tickets, a huge marquee under the stand where they can booze at will and an end where up to 4,600 of them can congregate and make a right racket. In the case of West Brom this weekend, they’re bringing 40 free coaches of fans and have sold out the away end bringing double what they mustered last year. I get the impression they are just the latest bunch of away fans to turn up at the DW and enjoy their afternoon.

I’ve started to hate home games and I’ve never been keen on the DW. Maybe that’s not true. I was there the day it was (un)officially opened in a friendly with Morecambe and sat there with a few thousand others open mouthed in disbelief. We had some great games, in the third tier v Burnley and Preston with crowds rising to 12-15k and in the Championship when the likes of Leeds and Ipswich came to town and there were 17,000 on and the place was rocking. Carling Cup games against Man City and Blackburn: a hostile, lairy atmosphere as Wiganers got behind their local side in vociferous manner. Nobody ever commented on the empty seats then – we were all amazed at how full it was!!

one win all season is hardly going to get the notoriously fickle Wigan public queuing in their droves.

And that first season in the Premier League – wow, the crowds we got. Half a dozen full houses, an average over 20,000 and that exact same sense of un-swaying belief about our club that has no doubt propelled the likes of Norwich and Swansea towards the upper echelons of the Premier League in their first year (back).

I remember ten or so years ago when the JJB first opened and me and a few mates were speculating: imagine if one day we’d get 15,000 on every week – that’d be unbelievable wouldn’t it? After all, just a few years earlier, we’d been close to dropping out of the entire league with gates a tenth of that and rumours of a move to Skem or Warrington due to perceived lack of interest in the town whilst the rugby club were off winning ten Challenge Cups in a row.

We never believed that one day we’d be playing in our seventh consecutive season in the Premier League in front of 18,000 crowds. You’d have been clubbed across the head and thrown in the back of white van Frank Bruno style for even suggesting it. It is a dream we never believed possible but sadly it has slowly turned into a nightmare that the locals are struggling to contend with.

Is it up to the fans to rouse the players or the players to rouse the fans? It’s an age-old question but it’s fair to say neither is really doing their job at the minute. When the Latics fans turn up away from home – and we do for a few select, affordable games a season – I’m sorry but you can shove £42 for Liverpool away up your pipe in my book, I’ve been and it’s not that special – we can be as good as it gets. A small, passionate crowd getting behind their boys but home games are a dreary, sterile affair only livened up by the away fans bouncing around the one full part of the ground.

That’s not to say that there are more away fans than home which seems to be the childish, un-factual retort of many an internet whopper, there will typically be up to 15,000 home fans rattling around the three home stands. It’s probably not going to impress a lot of people that, but as I always say you wouldn’t want them all to turn up at your house one day. Personally I think it’s a bl**dy good turnout for a town of 80,000 people, many of whose residents choose to follow other successful teams from elsewhere. Yet we get it in the neck from nearly every bunch of fans up and down the country. Big city clubs languishing in the Championship or resurgent in League One are the favourites.

Is it up to the fans to rouse the players or the players to rouse the fans? It’s an age-old question but it’s fair to say neither is really doing their job at the minute.

Some Charlton d*vvy was having a pop the other day as they had got a bigger crowd than Wigan in League One. This is the Charlton who were getting crowds of 70,000 plus before Wigan Athletic even existed! It takes a while to build support and history and our other chief tormentors appear to be the West Midlands clubs in our division. It’s almost as if they can’t go bullying the big North West and North East clubs so they have to pick on little old Wigan Athletic and call our “s**t support”. Some but not all Baggies fans appear to have taken this approach for today’s game.

I seem to spend half my life defending my football club against these whoppers who seem to misunderstand one of the basic concepts of football. Some clubs are huge global entities from big cities who pull in support from all over the country and world, others are small town, unfashionable clubs for whom success is deemed as somehow managing to get on the same pitch as the bigger boys. Yes, we’re small, there’s no shame in that – in fact there’s a sense of pride in that but there is so much inherent bullying that goes on in football now, even two bit comedians are putting the boot in on Wigan’s crowds. As I always say, come into one of our local pubs and start calling our support s**t – that’s not an invitation to violence by the way – it is a request to justify the rubbish you write about my football club in person rather than sat behind your keyboard. The bottom line is that WE are allowed to joke and pass comment about our support but if anyone else has a pop, then at least have the b*lls to research your geography and history.

The geography bit is simple. For a town like Wigan, probably one of the smallest ever to play in the Premier League apart from the similar sized Burnley, to get crowds of 18,000 is an achievement. It’s around 22% of the population turning out for home games. Compare this to say Villa who get around 3% of the population of Birmingham watching them. They are the biggest club in the West Midlands too, not hemmed in by three of the biggest clubs in the world in Manchester and Merseyside. And Everton. At this point some Wikipedia geek points out that there are 300,000 people in Wigan Borough, but Wigan Borough is an administrative borough, a borough of – and the clue is in the name here – Greater MANCHESTER. It incorporates towns such as Leigh, whom if you walked up to a Leyther and called them they are a Wiganer, you’d receive a punch to the face, and towns like Atherton and Tyldesley which are next door to Manchester, closer to Old Trafford than the DW Stadium and who are you going to support in that scenario: Poxy bottom of the league team who were in the non leagues up until the 1970’s or the 19 times League title winners?

I could go on all day and frequently do but the other retort we seem to get is “you’ve got no history”. I disagree. History does not equal trophies. History is what has gone before and the story of Wigan Athletic is as remarkable as any in world football. Born in 1932 after successive attempts to establish football in the town failed (I suspect the council were more rugby orientated even then). 36 failed attempts to gain entry to the Football League only to succeed in 1978, the year after Wimbledon got in and a year in which Wigan Athletic didn’t even win their respective league. Since then apart from relegation in 1992/93 it’s all been upward momentum, subsidised of course by Dave Whelan.

It’s key to acknowledge that we couldn’t do it without him but his money simply enabled us to compete with the top clubs in whatever division we were in, rather than be struggling at the bottom. Until now of course. The Wigan Athletic now report modest losses, have one of the lowest wage bills in the division and are forced to develop and sell our better players but even if we do succumb to the Championship this year, we still remain a pretty good blueprint as to how a small club can survive in the top flight without blowing the bank balance. Yes we have debts but we have only added £10m to them in the last 3 years, a trifling figure in modern football compared to some of the other eye popping amounts doing the rounds particularly at Villa the other week. If only we could fill our ground though…

Many stay away out of protest at Roberto Martinez. Some people do not like his football brand and won’t come to watch it. They’ll still sit in their local or at their computer and moan like f**k about it though.

It would be lovely, and if every football fan in Wigan took off their red United and Liverpool shirts and turned up at the DW on Saturday, we would have a full house. The football support in the town is there but it has chosen elsewhere, predominantly due to the late arrival of Wigan Athletic on the footballing stage. We can live with that, but then it isn’t fair for rival fans to pummel Wigan Athletic fans for it really is it? We do turn up, like we’ve always done, save for a couple of thousand who have now made the pub their abode for home games, most of our fans actually do attend the games, there’s just not enough of us to fill every seat in the DW.

The pubs thing has hit us hard. I know Niall Quinn was always ranting about it but at least they had the crowds in the first place. For every fan who doesn’t turn up, they leave an empty seat behind in Wigan. Many stay away out of protest at Roberto Martinez. Some people do not like his football brand and won’t come to watch it. They’ll still sit in their local or at their computer and moan like f**k about it though. This manifests itself at our home games as well – the first misplaced pass and sections of the crowd can’t wait to get on the team’s back. Any attempts to play it around at the back are met with jeers and shouts of ‘get it forward’ and the slow, patient approach to football doesn’t always go down well in certain more primitive quarters of this section of Lancashire.

You know that old saying that the crowd can be a 12th Man? Well for Wigan home games it’s like playing with ten sometimes. The contrast has been clear to see in the last two games: Home to Swansea, go 1-0 down, crowd gets on teams back, team goes 2-0 down. Away at Norwich, go 1-0 down, continue to play natural game under no pressure in front of a few hundred less demanding die hards, equalise, should have won.

I find it frustrating myself – and sometimes wish we’d go gung ho for the first twenty minutes, get 2-0 up and then we can do all the pretty flicks and passing that we want. The crowd will be cheering every move Bilbao style then! But home games are always like a desperate, dreary drama with no happy ending as we play ourselves into trouble rather than out of it. I’m still a Bob man through and through but a good chunk of our support would much prefer someone like Saturday’s opposing manager, Roy Hodgson – a master at firing up lower to mid table teams and getting the best out of them.

West Brom with the third best away record and Wigan Athletic with the worst home record in the league today does not augur well for anything other than 4,500 Baggies having a good knees up and concerted booing from the home fans as relegation is more or less formalised. But then again – look at the table – if we win we’re off the bottom and out of the bottom three. There is a massive prize at stake there if only they can gee themselves up. Some fans have hatched an Ultra style plan to meet and greet the players today at 1pm. But not to protest or heckle them as has been seen at Wolves or Blackburn recently but as a show of support. Somehow, a couple of hundred fans mobbing the players in the car park might have a greater impact than what 15,000 can achieve rattling around in a 25,000 seater stadium. Anything is worth a try.

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