Thursday, 11 December 2014

How Much?

Christmas time, a period of giving, caring and goodwill to everybody. Well, not to certain 'people' of course - and some of those 'people' seem to be football supporters. Having already being pressured into spending on 'the best Christmas ever' by many a maker of a product, our local football clubs are joining in with the annual leeching of our money, by telling us 'we can't afford to miss the big match'. Sadly, the game which exploded in popularity on the backs of the Working Classes, a game which gave many people a break from the rigours of life, seems to have gone forever, as football, at most levels it seems, are chasing profit over giving everyone an opportunity to see their team play.

Wigan Athletic supporters are being charged £36 (in advance - £41 on the day!) for ONE ticket at Leeds Untied for a league game on Boxing Day. In comparison – ten years ago - they charged £19 for a ticket at Elland Road. It’s ridiculous, especially with it being the time of year it is, to expect people to pay that. Some Leeds supporters are pointing out that ‘they have to pay that every week’ (and season tickets cost £600!) so that’s okay then? Why should Leeds supporters be paying that every week? Why should paying £600 for a season of 2nd tier football, be okay? Nobody should be paying what equates to around a fifth of someone’s weekly wage just for a ticket for a football match. And it isn’t just Leeds of course – plenty of clubs in the league like to fleece away supporters. 

After the announcement of the prices of the Leeds tickets by Latics on their website, they revealed that four days later, at home against Sheffield Wednesday, they have used one of their Football League ‘Promotional Days’ to give home supporters the chance to see the team for a tenner. A great gesture from the club (if possibly a little mischievous!) but with the results on the pitch not being great, supporters not happy and the time of year, it’s fantastic that the club have understood and want as many people as possible to come to the game. Our last match in the Premier League saw us play Aston Villa and a group of their supporters praised the club for it's stance on charging sensible ticket prices. We've learnt the hard way - the second season in the Premier League cost us an average attendance of 20,000, due to it being £35 a ticket. The club learnt from their mistake and have sensibly kept prices as low as possible to try and build up our supporter base. That's how you run a business.

Traditionally, Boxing Day is one, if not THE, biggest away day for Latics supporters. The infamous fancy dress tradition in Wigan on that day, plays a big part in that. For some though this year – that won’t happen. Some Latics supporters are calling for a boycott of the Leeds game in protest of the ticket prices and have instead, set up a charity page for people to give to the local homeless charity, The Brick, rather than give Leeds their £36. The news has been met positively by most football supporters it seems, but after a quick look on Twitter, you’ll find those who’ll say ‘it’s only Wigan – they’ll only bring 200 fans anyway. What's the point?’ They must have dipped deep into the cliché bag for that one. Totally missing the point as usual - if most supporter groups in The Championship boycotted fixtures with high ticket prices, then clubs will have to look into it. It makes no difference if one club brings 500 and the other 5,000 - the point is that everyone does it. If nobody does anything about it, if nobody raises awareness, you just carry on paying your £40, then nothing will ever change. This is £40 by the way, that would feed a few people on Christmas Day.

I’m proud that my club sets realistic prices, but even an average £15/£20 ticket is sometimes too much for some local people to afford and this is why attendances aren’t as high as they probably should be (that and the state of the recent team performances anyway!) Because we’re a local club, firmly entrenched in the local community, a local community like so many others around the country that is struggling and without a high-earning middle-class fanbase ready to take the seats of those who can’t go to games, we get ridiculed for it. It’s something these supporters of big city clubs don’t seem to understand and some of them think paying £40 for a ticket is fine – because that is what they do. I pay £20 a game for a ticket for Wigan Athletic – and I think that’s enough.

Let’s look at the business way - Leeds currently attract an average of 23,000 in a stadium that holds 40,000 – if they halved the ticket prices, I’d imagine the ground will be full more often than not. Where is the business sense in not filling your seats to as nearer as capacity as possible? You get as twice as many as people in – you make the same on the gate as you would have done if you’d charged double PLUS you’ll be in profit once you do sell all those programmes, food, bets etc. But we're talking about football business here - it doesn't make any sense. Leeds have had a number of investors over the last ten years and are still millions upon millions in debt. The only thing that has changed is the ticket prices, which have more than doubled for a side that for the last decade, has been a mid-table Championship side at best. I think those Leeds (and other clubs') supporters ridiculing us, should be looking at their own club and the monetary vampires that exist there and join us in a boycott. It's the only way clubs will learn, by hitting them in the pocket. I could go on - the FA should be doing more (personally I think a rule should be introduced to make it compulsory that football supporter groups should own a percentage of their clubs in order to protect their club) but as we've evidenced with various incidents over the years, the FA don't seem to care about supporters. We need to do it ourselves.

It’s sad to say this, but it’s over. Football being a ‘working man’s game’ is just a fallacy nowadays. The big sharks will eat the little fish – the big clubs will eat the little clubs, the big high-earning supporters will eat the low-earning supporters and business and profits will eat football. Until all football supporters STAND TOGETHER, don’t turn up for games, then nothing will change. As long as we are sniping at one another and letting our clubs get away with it, football will be lost to us all.

Just have a think about it.

Useful links:

This Northern Soul - Just Say No
The Football Supporters Federation 'Twenty Is Plenty' campaign
Stand Fanzine 

UPDATE: As I was writing this, Wigan Athletic announced that the squad have chipped in to make the first 500 tickets sold half-price for anyone who purchases. A fantastic gesture from the club - one which they didn't have to (and really shouldn't) be making. Thank-you.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Wigan Athletic Is A Very Democratic Club – I Will Make The Final Decision

That’s probably one of my favourite quotes from Mr Whelan, a former footballer who has transformed the fortunes of his local club, which saw them rise through the Football League and win the FA Cup. That should be his legacy, but his 20 years of hard work has almost been undone in the space of 48 hours as he has somehow got the club – and himself – involved in a ‘race scandal’. I can’t believe it has taken until now for the national media and the general public to see that Dave Whelan isn’t the ‘loveable old boy who broke his leg in a FA Cup Final’, that they liked to portray when it suited their agendas. However, he isn't the 'hard-nosed businessman' as he's known as in Wigan - he’s now ‘a racist old man, who isn’t fit to run a football club’.  It’s an incredible fall from grace for the man who has done so much for Wigan Athletic and the town in general.

The appointment of Malky MacKay, who is currently under investigation by the Football Association for sending a number of texts that were deemed to be of a ‘racist, sexist and anti-semitic nature’ has caused a ruckus that saw the national media descend upon Wigan on Wednesday afternoon. Since then, Whelan has unwittingly whipped up further controversy by trying to wave away the investigation into MacKay and explaining his view on the content of those messages. All he has done is to throw petrol onto that fire and the flames around him have been screaming ‘racist’ and ‘anti-semitic’ as his, the club’s and even Wigan’s reputation is fast burning away into ashes.

I literally don’t know how to expand my view on the appointment of MacKay, because like everyone else, I don't know the full facts. We appointed him whilst he was under investigation, which was wrong. He shouldn't have been appointed at this moment in time, as good as a coach that he is. But from a football point-of-view, we had to make the move for a new coach now and that’s probably what Whelan’s thinking was. He feels that he's got the best available coach for very little money - but the cost that we'll have to pay, goes far beyond money it seems. All we can do as supporters is to support the players and wait for any action/charges before deciding on our stance. I think it’s unfair to abandon the club at the moment – especially with sponsors pulling out, without any evidence, and the players need all the support they can get.

Now, I don’t believe for a second that Dave Whelan is racist. He’s just old-fashioned, misguided and just hasn’t developed his ways to adapt to the modern world as he’s grown older. He has let the club and its supporters down, by doing what he usually does – whatever Mr Whelan wants. It’s US who has to put up with the embarrassment of our club and town being raked through the mud by everyone and anyone – and with the reaction to his appointment and resulting comments, just proves that it just isn’t worth it. We may be a success on the pitch under MacKay, but will it harm the club in the long term? Would parents want their kids to go to games? Would parents let their kids to sign for the club? Would some players turn down a move to the club? How would sponsors react? All of those questions must have been in his thinking and I cannot believe that he still went ahead and appointed a man that is still being investigated for something that sickens so many people.

Personally, I would like Dave Whelan to step aside as Chairman now, or at least change how the club is run. He’s been magnificent for the club and nothing that I can say will sum up the feelings that I’ve had watching Latics over the last 20 years, but I feel that he needs to consider his own position in order to protect the club. Not just for this incident and the ill will it has caused, but also for his recent record with managers and the current plight of the club, because I can only see us going backwards due to his single-minded decisions. I must be one of very few Wigan Athletic supporters who didn’t agree with the sacking of Uwe Rosler - no matter how bad our form was, I believed that his long-term plan for the club was sound and had faith that he would turn things around eventually. Dave Whelan has shown on many occasions that he wants success in an instant and his short-termism has set the club backwards - and now, due to his comments, the reputation of the club (which has been that of a family club where everyone is welcome) has been ruined with recent developments. I’m not saying that he should sell the club (because let’s face it – who would buy it?) but to step aside as chairman or bring someone else in, like a director of football. Do something different, because whatever he’s doing, just isn’t working.

As much as I’m frustrated and upset at Dave Whelan, I believe that he had good intentions, despite them being presented poorly. I believe that the media (and to some extent, the football anti-racism group, Kick it Out) have been extremely unfair in their attempts to whip up a race-hate story when there isn’t one. MacKay ISN’T being investigated for racial abuse - he’s being investigated for some, admittedly ignorant, comments sent on a company phone. You don’t have to be a paid-up member of the National Front to make jokes about other races – it’s just an ignorant lack of understanding in that the jokes cause offence. His comments were out-of-order and in extremely bad taste, yes, but to say, or to strongly imply, that he is a racist (i.e. that he openly abuses and excludes people due to their racial background) without any evidence, is wrong. Kick it Out have also said that they believe that Whelan is unfit to run a football club, in an industry that allows convicted rapists and fraudsters to own clubs. It’s laughable and smacks of an organisation that is desperate to try and get their name back into the good books of a media who have slammed them in recent years for not doing enough when actual racism reared its ugly head. It’s interesting to note that during my research for this post, those journalists tarring Whelan and MacKay, giving the vague suggestion to readers that they may like to indulge in racism, are still upstanding for John Terry, who was found guilty by the FA for actual racial abuse. But even despite the evidence, he’s not a racist and is a family man, apparently. 

I’m not defending Whelan and MacKay (as you’ve already read – I’m not exactly keen myself at them being at the club) I just think it’s as ignorant to write the pair of them off as raving racists, as it is to send a few poor-taste ‘jokes’. Kick It Out may say that it’s symptomatic of people’s thinking, that they think it's okay to make jokes of that nature, I get that. But when you lack that education, that understanding of what people feel, why are people surprised when things like this happen? I’m not making excuses – a multi-millionaire businessman and a football manager should know better about this subject than the average person on the street – but education is the only way attitudes are going to change and (actual) racial abuse will stop. It was interesting to note then, that MacKay was more-or-less ridiculed by the media for saying at the press conference that he was going to ‘diversity classes’.

If he manages to weather this storm, Dave Whelan should stay away from the media from now on. He’s always been too accommodating to them and they’ve took advantage of that by portraying him as the caricature he has become (the whole tiresome ‘I broke my leg’ cracks – which Latics supporters have been saying for 15 years anyway – is another example of the media leading him up the steps and into a laughing stock). The problem is we don’t have anyone at the club who is able to tell him no and I fear he will be made into a more ridiculous caricature than he already is. He seems to believe that he can outwit the media and use them to produce positive results – in fact I believe there’s an element of that in his thinking with this situation, trying to take the pressure off his new manager. But Dave – you’re wrong. I do not trust your judgement anymore. You may not care what people think of you, but everyone else connected to the club is paying for it and it’s sending the club backwards.

Wigan Athletic isn’t a very democratic club – as Mr Whelan and Mr Whelan alone makes the final decision.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

International Class?

I think it’s fair to say that the recent International break has been very interesting. Not for England, mind, but the other British nations have been doing quite well and have set themselves up for great campaigns. England on the other hand, if you believe the media, have been playing some Under 8’s teams and only beat them 5-0 and 1-0. The teams in question are San Marino and Estonia, two nations with a population smaller than the vast majority of British cities. Many a journalist and pundit has been questioning, should these teams even be allowed to play? Should they be put in a pre-qualification group first? England shouldn’t be playing ‘the likes of’ San Marino.
 
I want to be all negative about the idea, dismiss it as arrogance, but I’ll admit that I can’t decide whether or not the idea of a pre-qualification group would be a good or bad thing for football in these countries. I'm on the fence. I can see the argument that it will give those ‘smaller’ nations a greater opportunity of playing attacking football and getting a result, but on the other hand, let’s just say that San Marino do win a couple of games and progress to the ‘proper’ qualifying stage, with no recent experience of playing the top sides, they are more than likely to receive another heavy beating anyway. So what’s the point? 

I’ll admit that the two games weren’t great to watch, but that’s the luck of the draw. England’s group isn’t the most taxing (which is probably a good thing, because the quality in our play isn’t good enough at the moment) and we’ll probably breeze through, winning all of our matches. Saying that, is playing San Marino and Estonia good for where England want to be? Is it a good enough test? At the moment, I’ll probably say, yes it is. We need to learn how to playing attacking football with a squad that is very young and inexperienced and I think, especially travelling away, a less-taxing international football game would quietly slip them into a confident style of play. Eventually. Hopefully. On their day, Estonia are a dangerous side and similarly in this group, Lithuania are also capable of springing a surprise. But where does that leave San Marino? All they seem to do is pack men behind the ball and try to keep the score down. What’s the point? Is it worth it to potentially see our millionaire darlings to pick up an injury in a match that you could play League Two players in and still win handsomely? I think we sometimes forget what football SHOULD be about, it was about representing your local area, your workplace, your school in a game of football. It didn’t matter how rich or poor you were, where you were from or who you knew - you were all equal on a football pitch. It then got more organised, national teams were formed, players got better. You may not be able to play for your hometown or workplace anymore, but you could still play for your country. You could still be proud to represent the people who made you what you are, in an environment of fun and fair play. And even though they aren’t very good at football, I think it’s worth remembering that these smaller nations have more pride than the England players do at representing their country, their people and themselves, even when they get battered every match, I can guarantee that. That’s ‘the point’ in San Marino. 

I think it’s interesting to learn that Iceland, with a population LESS than Wigan Borough, beat Holland during the week and are looking good to qualify for Euro 2016. England beat them 6-1 in a friendly prior to Euro 2004 and the Icelandic team were seen as on a par with ‘the likes of’ (how I despise that term) a smaller country with no footballing hope, like a Estonia or taking it further afield, perennial struggles, Malta, by the general football media. So what’s changed? Investment in coaches and facilities in a country where outdoor sports like football is extremely difficult to play all year round, has seen a production line of players that are just starting to come to the fore. Iceland, coincidentally, is a pretty well-off country and is able to afford these facilities and offer youngsters organised football. For smaller countries, who don’t have the ability to trade huge amounts of goods, so are therefore relatively poor, the ‘likes of’ Estonia (whose population is over 4 times the size of Iceland’s) and Malta (twice as many people as Iceland) struggle to offer people the same facilities that the people enjoy in Iceland. There’s also the fact that many of these smaller countries are relatively recently-formed or independent (Estonia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991) so are already behind many countries with organised governments, let alone their football.

Personally, I think UEFA, who want to continue the message of football is for everybody, need to step in and work with governments to try and start investing and offering people proper facilities and organisation in these countries. It’s the only way that their football will get better, just cutting them off from the so-called bigger boys, patting them on the head, and abandoning them in another class, probably won’t teach them anything. It may not help countries with tiny populations like San Marino and Gibraltar (who have lost all of their qualifying games heavily so far) to improve massively, but it'll at least give their people the opportunity to improve. And I think not giving out opportunities to everyone, no matter who they are, is one of the worst things about the world.

I think I've decided which side of the fence I'm sitting on!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Keep The Faith - Keep Uwe

When clubs’ are in trouble, with rumours that their manager is about to be sacked, I always think back to Latics’ early times at the JJB Stadium. The first two seasons saw us managed by no less than 4 different managers, with many over-paid and over-the-hill players just content with picking up their wage. In the third season, Paul Jewell arrived. Like a Scouse Cowboy, in a fancy tracksuit and a intolerance of lazy players. Jewell was a former Latics centre-forward with a reputation of playing quick, attacking football as a manager. It didn’t go well. For the majority of the first 6 months, we were crap. We even spent a week at the foot of the table and were knocked out of the FA Cup by non-league Canvey Island, as we had two players sent off for basically, losing their discipline. Things boiled over after a 5-1 defeat to Wrexham in the LDV Vans trophy when a player (allegedly) told Jewell “Don’t know why you’re so pissed off, we’ll be here longer than you”. It summed up the club at the time – we were like a lottery winner that didn’t know what to do with all our money and just threw it at everything and anyone to look good. We didn’t build anything. That defeat was the turning point. Jewell didn’t go, Whelan had a go at the players, many of them left and the manager was able to replace them with young and hungry players. 12 months later, we won the league with 100 points.

The point with this tale is thus; is it right to keep changing the manager when things don’t go according to plan? Should more than just results be taken into account?
 
Now, I truly believe that Uwe Rosler is the man to take Wigan Athletic back into the Premier League. You may call it blind optimism, but I prefer to call it ‘realism’; a man who can tactically out-think Manuel Pellegrini with a Championship team, a man who picked-up a beguiled squad who went within the width of a post to making it to a play-off final, should be worth more than 6 months-worth of inconsistent performances. He needs a proper opportunity to mould his own squad.

Yes, we are struggling at the moment, but a large part of that is because we’ve had a huge turnover of the squad and it takes time, months, to see the best of them. You may say that it’s him who is signing the players – well yes of course, because of the way we are ran, we have to constantly rebuild the squad and this summer was no different. Constantly sacking people and bringing in someone else, with different plans and ideas, would only leave us with an expensively-assembled, hotchpotch of an house that will be blown over by any passing storm. Well, a storm that’s decent at knocking around a football. What we want is a strong squad, built by the same person with the same footballing philosophy and attitude running all the way through it. No matter how decent at football a storm is, it’ll struggle to knock that house down. The problem is, something like that takes patience and time, something which I fear, the world (never mind Wiganers!) doesn’t possess these days.

Why wasn’t Owen Coyle given the same opportunity and time? I honestly can’t give you a definitive answer. Rumours of dressing room unrest and fallouts with the board suggest the true nature of Coyle’s exit. Even the man himself has recently admitted that he shouldn’t have taken the job, because he didn’t feel a connection with Whelan in the interview. I think that’s one thing we all forget about football sometimes - it’s a job. Yes it’s ridiculously highly-paid, but it’s a job like any other. How many have you been in a workplace where you didn’t feel comfortable or didn’t agree with how things are run? The only difference is that we can't get sacked with a heavy pay-off. If you believe that not giving Coyle a proper chance wasn’t fair, or a mistake, then why should we be repeating that same mistake with Rosler?

My belief in Uwe comes from his interviews. To be honest, I don’t think we’ve been that terrible on the pitch. We’ve been inconsistent - if we were terrible in every game, I’d say fair enough, but we haven’t. One of the first things he said when he took the job was his long-term plan for the club, a plan that involves re-building the team with young players, improving them and getting them to grow together as a team. Sound familiar? It’s along the lines of what Paul Jewell said when he took the job in 2001 (he also said something about ‘weeding out the culture that had developed at the club’) THIS is why Rosler needs to stay. If we keep changing the manager every 12 months, then we’ll achieve nothing. The squad will break up and it’ll be a constant waltzer ride that won’t stop, with Dave Whelan screaming ‘do you want to go faster’ from the booth to keep us interested. No Dave, the ride is a bit rubbish and we as supporters, (as well as ‘we’ as a club) can’t really afford it anyway.

The biggest criticism of the manager remains that he ‘doesn’t know his best team’. Again – we’ve had a huge turnover in players, of course he doesn’t know his best team! The team changes from game-to-game and I think that’s a strength: clearly he thinks that each and every player can suit a different role in any tactic he wishes to employ against different opponents each week. Take Marc-Antoine Fortune for example. He won’t get you 15 goals a season, so why is he in the team? Especially when you consider we’ve spent a few million on two strikers in the summer? Fortune is a prime example of a ‘defensive forward’ (don’t laugh – there is such a thing!) he’s a player who is physically able to hold the play up, bring other players into play and close down the opposition. Goalscoring remains his secondary job, as daft as that may sound. Now I’m not writing this to explain Rosler’s tactics, or disagree with anyone who disagrees with Rosler, I’m just giving an example as to why he makes so many changes. He’s tried to play Oriol Riera and Andy Delort upfront, but at the moment, we lack confidence and lack any real understanding in the team (due to all the new players), so Fortune playing upfront on his own, away from home, makes sense to me. Hopefully we’ll start seeing the best of the new players as they adapt to a new country and a new league in the coming months and we won’t need a ‘defensive forward’ to keep the ball away from the opposition!

We may not go up this season and for me, that isn’t really important. What IS important, is that we have a competitive team, debt-free and with a manager at the helm who truly cares about the club and his profession, always striving to improve. And that’s what Uwe does. If things don’t improve in the next few weeks, then we will have to start asking questions, but I fimly believe that getting rid of him would send us backwards. I believe we’ve already seen an upturn though – two battling draws against 2 of the top teams in this league so far this season, hopefully indicates that we’re getting better. We’ve got a nice break now – and not many excuses left not to start picking up wins.

Remember - it took Jewell 2 full seasons to get us out of the Second Division. 2 years later we were kicking off the Premier League season at home to Champions Chelsea. Just think about it.

Keep faith and support the club!

Friday, 30 May 2014

Wigan Athletic - From Russia To Yeovil In Two Days

Welcome to the unpredictable world of Wigan Athletic - a season which saw us play in the Community Shield, Europa League, the Semi-Finals of the FA Cup and The Championship Play-offs, is finally at an end. Along the way we beat Premier League champions, Manchester City, away and we were also totally outplayed and well-beaten 3-0 at Doncaster Rovers. Despite the madness of playing in Yeovil barely 2 days since playing away in Tatarstan (Russia), some ridiculous defending and less scoring than in a run-down brothel, I wouldn’t swap it for anything.

After battling through 62 games this season, the players simply couldn’t give any more. We’ve had a season of ups and downs – being cruelly knocked out of the Europa League, FA Cup and now the Championship Playoffs. But in between those events, we’ve collected more wonderful memories that some clubs’ supporters have never experienced. My personal highlight was beating Man City in the FA Cup (again!) and then wondering what might have been if we’d have had a couple of decent penalty-takers on the pitch against Arsenal. I would easily swap a FA Cup win for a place in the Premier League (again!) 

The problem we’ve had this season, apart from appointing the wrong manager last summer, was that of rotating the squad properly. Injuries, coupled with signing a couple of ‘bad eggs’ put paid to any momentum we needed to collect to give it a real go in the league. Personally, I would have selected two completely different sides for league and cups, but there’s a reason why I’m writing this rubbish and Owen Coyle is shopping for some holiday shorts. Much like the previous 12 months in the Premier League (when the ridiculousness of our season was summed up in a week which saw us win the FA Cup just a matter of days after gifting a Swansea reserve side 3 goals) injuries cost us. I’m not using it as the only excuse, as we had the time and the funds to bring in replacements, but the amount of injuries and the resulting turnover of players didn’t help the squad to settle down and that’s why our season was as patchy as Frankeinstein’s Monsters’ body. 

Shaun Maloney being out for most of the season was a blow, the experience and leadership (but not the lunges) of Gary Caldwell was missed at times and the defensive qualities of Ivan Ramis, who has been struggling to be fit all season, belongs in the Premier League. Having Ben Watson and Chris McCann out for the last few months was probably the main reason our hopes of promotion ended though. The pair of them featured heavily in the team winning 8 games in a row and they were both coming into form at just the right time before they were injured. We had to bring in loan signings such as Ryan Tunnicliffe, Josh McEarhen and Jack Collison and none of them managed to replace the workrate and ability of Watson and McCann. At times, it seemed like James McArthur was doing the work of two men in the midfield and I was genuinely worried that he’d injure himself. Which he eventually did - his season came to an end early on in the away leg against QPR, with the team leading and looking comfortable, with McArthur being the only midfielder who was capable of keeping hold of the ball. Sadly, we couldn’t hold on to the ball - or our lead (or extend it when we had the chance!) - so we’ve got another season in The Football League on our hands.

The summer brings many things, mostly people who look uncomfortable in shorts and a t-shirt but in football terms - it’s the transfer window, or silly season if you will.  Between now and the end of August it’s going to be wall-to-wall rumours on television, radio, the internet and in the papers. I’m not worried about losing many players, even though Jordi Gomez has already signed for Sunderland after his contract expired and it seems like Jean Beausejour won’t be renewing either. Two great players at this level, but I feel that we’ll be able to find sufficient replacements – the pair of them would have been on high wages and I also suspect that Ivan Ramis is likely to be moved on too, for exactly the same reason. Don’t be surprised if he ends up at Everton.  

In an ideal world, I’d love to keep them at the club, but with the cut in parachute payments kicking in, it’s very difficult to offer them better contracts. I think it’s admirable that the club, which is ran at a profit these days, doesn’t stretch beyond its means. With a new training ground and academy coming in the next year or two, it’s more important than ever that the club keeps a clean balance sheet. Being in the Premier League will undoubtedly speed along that progression, but why risk taking a bumpy road at high speed in a rush to get there, instead of taking it slowly and avoiding a crash? I’d rather cruise along and enjoy the ride. We can watch our journey progress, we can have a laugh and we can wave sarcastically at people who hurl abuse at us for having an ‘unfashionable’ vehicle, as we pass their old and clapped-out ‘classic’ on the side of the road.

Other than that, barring any ridiculous bids for any players under contract, Uwe Rosler should retain the bulk of the squad and with some astute, younger signings this summer, I can see us challenging for a place in the top 6 again. The main position we need to strengthen is undoubtedly upfront. Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune just haven’t been the answer and there’s an argument to say that if we’d have gone out and bought a ‘proper striker’ (not a 32 year-old on a THREE YEAR CONTRACT, who’s more interested in greyhounds than playing football) then we’d have been in with a shout of challenging amongst the top 4 (which would leave us, at the very least, with a more ‘favourable’ tie in the play-offs).

Our strength lies in midfield, but with Gomez leaving, we need a new creative influence in there. Shaun Maloney should be back fully-fit and hopefully we can get a full season out of Callum McManaman, who has also been disrupted by the odd injury. Being in no way biased at all, I strongly believe that the pair of them, along with a decent striker, would be as good a front three as there is in The Championship.  After a difficult season of squad rotation, I just hope we can put together a close-knit squad in the manner of Leicester and Burnley. It was no surprise to read recently that they were the two sides who used the least amount of players last season.

From a supporter point-of-view, I think most Wiganers are fairly happy to be staying in The Championship. Obviously we all want success for the club and losing in the play-offs was a set-back, but supporting the club hasn’t been this good since 2005, save for a couple of days in May 2013. There seemed to be an element of boredom being in the Premier League, travelling to the same grounds and getting ripped off and cheated out of a point or three. Believe me, The Premier League isn’t the be-all and end-all for football supporters.  At least in The Championship, we’re guaranteed six new trips a year and the chances of actually winning a game are pretty decent.

We all watch football because we love it, we support our clubs and want them to win, we want them to be successful. For me, The Championship represents that more than The Premier League. Yes, I would like the club to be in the top division as soon as possible because that represents success, but to say that the Premier League, a division where 15 of the 20 clubs have no realistic chance of winning it, is the ‘best league in the world’ is laughable. What I’ve learnt during our first season back, is that The Football League, its clubs, supporters and the unpredictability of each game, sums up football for me and I’m more than content that we’ve got another season of it to come.

First published on Football League fansite 'We Are Going Up' on 30th May 2014

Monday, 20 January 2014

Uwe’s Revolution

I had a slightly different article in mind before Saturday’s disappointing 3-0 defeat at Doncaster, but  
one game doesn’t make a season, as Uwe Rosler continues his attempts at rescuing ours. From what we’ve seen since he was appointed, how we performed in the Doncaster game wasn’t typical of a Uwe team. We seemed sluggish, poor defensively and devoid of any creativity. Yes we can make excuses - we still have 3 centre-backs out injured, we’ve played a lot of games already and Grant Holt wasn’t there to offer any encouragement from the bench (and to eat most of the biscuits) but excuses don’t put points on the board. Plus Doncaster were by far the better team and one of my bugbears is not seeing the winning team given any credit, so fair play to them. Let’s put the defeat down as an inevitable slip - as fans, I think we shouldn’t have got over-confident at beating Bournemouth 3-0 last week and similarly we shouldn’t get too downhearted by a defeat at Doncaster - it’s just one game in a season of many. Prior to that, we had gone 8 unbeaten and if we want to get in that top 6, we must get back to stringing those results together as soon as possible and use this game as a lesson.
 
Prior to the weekend, things have looked great. Uwe came in and installed his straight-talking, no-nonsense pressing style of play and the players responded. We’re scoring goals now, something that Owen Coyle couldn’t get us to do, and we’re actually setting up with a game plan in mind. The recent win at Derby saw us change the way we play in order to ‘do something different’ and surprise the opposition. The last time we saw a team surprised with a debilitate game plan was when Derby hit us with high-tempo and 3 goals in the first half at the DW a month beforehand. We’re no longer setting up and playing the same tactics week-in week-out, which was one part of Coyle’s downfall. The main question Wigan fans have been asking though is: What if Uwe was appointed in the summer, would we be in the same position? With the desire and professionalism shown from the players since his appointment (apart from Saturday!), I’d say not.

I genuinely believe the players, the majority of whom have come from the Premier League, have found it difficult to adapt to The Championship. There’s been many a moaning about a refereeing performance, as we’ve seen other sides getting away with challenges that would be worth a yellow in the Premier League, and it’s just got me thinking that perhaps the players we have, lack that Championship knowhow and struggle to control games. We were a team in the Premier league who had to absorb pressure and hit teams on the counter attack, in this division, we have to attack and take the game to the opposition. Maybe that’s the problem? Maybe it’ll take a new squad a couple of years to adapt to that role? You’ve seen the qualities of Leicester, who have been knocking around the top 6 for the last few years, but are now leading the way. Cardiff, another team who spent a couple of years just missing out, finally got promotion last year. What we need is stability, under a competent regime, one that can get the team playing good football; and after barely 10 games, Uwe already looks like the man who can provide it.

We’ve already done some business in the transfer window, the biscuit stealer has gone to Aston Villa for the season and this release in wages has seen us bring in young defender, Ty Browning on loan from Everton and Nicky Maynard from Cardiff. Browning is a promising defender, but Maynard is the experienced Championship one. Hopefully he can be the fit Nicky Maynard that was scoring the odd goal at Bristol City, rather than the injured one at West Ham and Cardiff. Speaking of the transfer window - I’ve been thinking back to the summer and to be fair to Owen Coyle, he brought in some decent players, Leon Barnett and Nick Powell have been superb. Then there’s the others. Even though I was happy at the time to sign such a revered Football League goalscorer like Grant Holt, I was mystified as to why he was offered a 3-year contract. He’s 32, doesn’t have the best fitness record and presumably on a massive wage. It’s not the Wigan way of doing things (not since Paul Jewell started the strategy of signing ‘up and coming’ players and getting rid of the expensive ‘has-beens’ that we collected during the early part of Dave Whelan’s reign at the club) Maybe that’s another reason why Coyle left? Perhaps he persuaded the club to go for Holt and said that the deal was worth it? 2 goals, one deflected off his thigh, the other a penalty, suggest different. Whatever the reasons, the new manager has only been left with the option of pursuing loan deals, in order to keep the club’s profits intact, which makes a mockery of people’s arguments that ex-Premier League sides spend parachute payments like Holty does on greyhounds. Unlike his predecessor though, you get the feeling that Uwe relies on his own judgement (rather than on ‘contacts’), knows the Football League and what we need to progress, so it should be interesting to see where we are after the January Window.

Reaching the playoffs is the target and up until the weekend, I was confident of doing that. I’m more cautious now, but we have 21 games left, so still plenty of points to play for.  I AM confident though that Uwe is the man to lead the charge again next year. Unless he falls out with everyone and signs players that are less fit than me, on huge contracts.

First published on Football League fansite 'We Are Going Up' on  20th January 2014