Sunday, 14 July 2013

On the Rebound

Relegation from the Premier League. It’s a sentence that normally sees fans and players alike in   When it comes to Wigan Athletic supporters, we don’t really seem too bothered.  Okay, that’s not strictly true, it’s horrible to see the club you love bow out from the most-watched league in the world.  But after the cup parade 6 days later, 30,000 turning out to celebrate the success, the general mantra was ‘we’ll be back’. It was a time for celebration, not just winning the oldest and most prestigious competition in world football, but for 8 years of upsetting the odds and all the big boys along the way. 
floods of tears, worrying about the future of their club.

We’re actually coming down in an excellent financial position, having posted profits in the last couple of seasons, no longer in need of handouts from the chairman and there’s no real need to sell our players if we (and they) don’t want to. We’re in a great position to bounce back in a year or two, but for now, there isn’t anyone who isn’t looking forward to the new season. And even if we never get back up, we’ve always got the memories of winning the FA Cup and being in the top division for 8 years. If you said that we were going to do that after we went up in 2005, nobody would have believed you.

Undoubtedly, the FA Cup win saved our season. I honestly don’t know what would have happened if we had lost that too!  Before the final, we constantly heard THAT question - “Staying in the Premier League or win the FA Cup? After seeing the reactions of Arsenal fans after they sealed the 4th best team title (sponsored by Barclays) and our own demise from the league, I now know the answer. How can an extra £40 million buy moments like we experienced on May 11th? They can’t. I was with family and friends, some of whom were screaming, crying, hugging stewards and attempting to take shirts off in a fit of joy, but comically failing, when Ben Watson headed in that winner to seal the unlikeliest of wins for a club that is very much for its local community. It’s why we go to watch the football, it’s not about money, it’s about making memories, achieving things and experiencing them with your family, mates and fellow townsfolk. That’s what these modern football ‘fans’ don’t seem to understand, unfortunately.

People won’t remember Arsenal finishing 4th last season, but they’ll remember record-breaking Wigan Athletic - the first club to win the FA Cup and be relegated in the same season (I swear that some Latics fans are proud of that achievement!)  After the parade, and many drinks in a nightclub later, I was to witness an FA Cup winner dancing on top of the bar (whilst wearing a leg cast), with a wet floor cone on his head, throwing drink at the revellers below, who duly threw some back in between fits of laughter and chants about a (now-former) Latics striker who shares a name with the item that adorned the head of the said FA Cup winner.  That incident alone put my faith back in footballers and their attachment to a football club!

Fast-forward to the summer, which hasn’t been without its metaphorical rainy days. Roberto leaving was a blow and I must admit that I felt disappointed that he didn’t feel ‘equipped’ to get us back.  There were an handful of games last season that could have kept us up, I’m not one for blaming our demise solely on injuries and bad luck, but with the margins being as fine as they are and the mistakes that were made, he and the players can’t be absolved of any blame. Just like how they were responsible for that great cup win.  The least you expect is for them to want to give it another season to try and put it right? Maybe I’m being unfair, but that’s how it feels from this side of the pitch.  I honestly wish Roberto – and any departing player - all the best, we have to move on and accept that if these people want to ply their trade at the top level, to get on with their careers, then it’s best to let them go and start afresh. Maybe it’ll work out for the best for all concerned in the long-run?  Roberto achieved some great things off the field for us – establishing a decent wage structure, youth policy and he’s left a good squad for the new manager to build from. Well, until he signs them all, anyway! But we’ll always be thankful for the memories we shared. The manager was loved by most at the club, which is why it’s so hard to see him leave. Bloody hell, it’s like seeing your abusive (in an ‘inflicting comedy defending on your supporters-sense’) partner leave for somebody with a bigger bank account, someone who can give them what they need, albeit with a bigger credit limit.

Owen Coyle, eh? There’s a rebound shag if there ever was one. There was a bit of wailing and gnashing of cyber teeth when the former Bolton man was appointed.  Aside from the ‘rivalry’ with Bolton, his penchant for slipping in sponsored names and wearing shorts on the sidelines got his detractors backs up. But if they cared to look closely, then they’ll see that, apart from his last year or so at Bolton, he’s actually done quite well in his managerial career. What we’ve learnt so far is that he can talk a good game, just like Roberto. In fact, they’re that alike, that persuasive, I can just imagine them teaming up as a duo to rip off rich old ladies on a cruise ship. One, a swarve, Mediterranean-type who everyone fancies. The other, a gruff-looking but worldly-wise gentlemen, who’s just as adept with a table tennis bat than he is at going through handbags (maybe wearing a cravat too, I can just see him in one). I don’t think the fact that he got sacked at Bolton should count against him, as there are always circumstances that work against you sometimes and maybe that’s what Roberto meant when he claimed that he wasn’t ‘equipped’?  Perhaps him going to Everton was the right time for us, more so than himself? Maybe the club will benefit from fresh ideas from someone who knows the league? Time will tell. But there’s no doubt Owen has shown potential to be a good manager in the past, playing half-decent football, so I think he’s worth a go. As long as he stops us conceding ridiculous goals, then he’s made a good start anyway!

The signings he’s made so far seem to be hitting the mark too.  Stephen Crainey, Chris McCann and James Perch all have experience at this level.  Marc-Antoine Fortune has always looked like a dangerous attacking player every time I’ve seen him play against us, Scott Carson is a great signing at this level and despite people always pointing to a few high-profile mistakes, is still one of the better English goalkeepers out there. Thomas Rogne was highly-rated at Celtic before having some injury issues and Grant Holt has been scoring goals everywhere he’s been. In fact, I could put up an argument to say that our squad could be stronger by the end of the transfer window than it was when we went down! The likes of Ben Watson, James McArthur, Callum McManaman and Jordi Gomez should excel at this level and if by some minor miracle we can keep hold of Shaun Maloney and James McCarthy, we won’t be short of the hard work and quality needed to get back up. But as a club, we’re under no illusions that this is a difficult league with some great teams in it. With the Europa League to contend with as well, a top 6 finish will be a decent return. It’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks before the end of transfer window and I’m dearly hoping we can hang on to our players and bring in a few more to bolster the squad.

From a supporter point-of-view, what matters most is that we’re back in a proper footballing league again. We can compete and generally enjoy our football again, instead of shitting ourselves when a defender squares the ball, whilst waiting for the Benny Hill theme tune to play.  All those away trips to new and old grounds are already being planned. Games that won’t cost £60 for a restricted view and our support being called ‘shit’, despite it equating to 20% of the town’s population. Along the way, we’ll be meeting supporters who are truly passionate about their clubs and not just there for day trips. I can’t wait.

And we might actually win a game or two!

First published on Football League fansite 'We Are Going Up' on 14th July 2013