Friday, 29 January 2016

Smashing The (Transfer) Window

We want to smash it” said recently-installed Latics chairman David Sharpe at a fans forum event in the summer. His enthusiasm has since been misread by many as ‘arrogance’ – what he actually said was ‘we WANT to smash the division and get 100 pointsnotwe WILL smash the division and get 100 points’. That’s an important difference. Personally, that's exactly what I wanted to hear after a terrible season full of changes and poor performances. Currently, we’re in 4th place in League One, just 5 points off an automatic promotion place, with 18 games to go. We’ve not exactly smashed anything yet, but we’ve certainly shown signs of doing so, with our swashbuckling style of football led by our young officers on the good ship Wigan Athletic, which by the way, was sinking without trace 12 months ago.

We underlined our ambitions yesterdays by announcing the signings of Sam Morsy and Ryan Colclough from fellow League One clubs Chesterfield and Crewe. Both are highly-rated, both are under 25 and both reportedly converted by clubs in The Championship – the exact profile of player the club should be signing. We are rebuilding the squad with mostly young, hungry players who are on their way up – not players who are on their way down. It’s an exciting time to be a Latics supporter, as evidenced by the away followings this season, which have dwarfed that of our followings in the Premier League. The price of tickets, the shorter distances, new grounds to visit and of course, the competitiveness of the games have all contributed to those followings; the supporters are enjoying their days out, which is what supporting a club should ultimately be about. The transfer policy of the club this season has made it that extra exciting!

Signing these players has mostly been made possible by the fact the club are receiving parachute payments from the Premier League, which has riled some fellow League One supporters. Let’s get this right here – the gulf in television money between the Premier League and the rest isn’t the fault of Wigan Athletic; we earned those parachute payments by staying in that league for 8 years. The payments (which are spread over a four-year period) are designed to make up for the shortfall in television money following relegation from the Premier League to pay the wages of players acquired whilst you were there. Latics have been intelligent about this – we’ve traded and cashed in on two separate squads since relegation (even sacrificing a second relegation), meaning that in reality, we’ve got a wage budget of a Championship club, playing in League One, rather than a Premier League budget, which we couldn't afford to pay with the parachute payments anyway. This foresight has given the club extra room in the transfer market and freed up funds to bring in the two players mentioned, as well as Yanic Wildschut and Reece Wabara this transfer window alone. Young, exciting players who could help the club to The Championship and beyond, or be an asset for the club to trade on in the future. It’s great business, from a forward-thinking club and I’m very proud of them for being so.

Meanwhile, down Horwich way, Bolton Wanderers have ran out of money in their final year of parachute payments, as they occupy bottom spot in The Championship and are looking likely to be in League One next season. I don’t know enough about their finances to make an in-depth comment, I just don’t understand how the club have lost all of that money (over £100m) when they too, have had a turnover of their squad in the last 4 years. They are an example of how having parachute payments DOESN’T mean an unfair playing field for the rest (in fact, if you look closely, those with parachute payments rarely win promotion back to the Premier League from The Championship). It makes me think how fortunate I am being a Wigan Athletic supporter (despite Bolton being a league higher – the long term is more important than the short term) which in itself is a fallacy, thinking myself ‘lucky’ for supporting a club who is able to responsibly run its finances. There’s a lot of myth about money in football and people do tend to look at short term success and equate it with throwing money at it in order to garner a short-term fix when a sit down and think, then eventually investing in the right areas is the right way to go to sustain success in the long term.

Port Vale are next up at the DW Stadium tomorrow, with new signings Morsy (a former Vale player) and Colclough (grew up around the corner from Vale Park) expected to feature and hopefully contribute to 3 points in our bid to reach those automatic promotion places. And you know what? I’m more excited at the prospect than a match against a Man Utd or an Arsenal.

Let’s smash it!

Monday, 18 January 2016

Jeff Stelling Isn't A Football Supporter

As part of my ongoing book series, chronicling the 92 clubs of the English professional leagues* I found myself at the West Brom vs. Bristol City FA Cup tie on the 9th January, which finished 2-2 with a last minute equaliser for the home side. A great cup tie, something that would made a good watch for any neutral. Before the start of the match however, I was browsing Twitter and those who I follow were moaning about Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday presenter Jeff Stelling. It wasn’t long before I found out that Stelling had made a derogatory remark about Wigan supporters for saying that they preferred the FA Cup win in 2013 to a place in the Premier League. “Their next away game is at Crewe” sings ringleader Stelling, as his panel of monkeys guffawed at the remark, pointing out our fall from grace; not playing the Premier League's big guns each week.

Firstly – we’ve got to look at the bigger picture here. Stelling is very much a cheerleader for Sky television. A company who is constantly telling us that the Premier League (which they extensively cover) is the ‘best league in the world’. The FA Cup, which isn’t covered by Sky, is shunned away and only covered by Sky as an afterthought – so it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Stelling’s agenda is to make the Premier League look more attractive than it actually is. They’re basically a magazine airbrushing an old, knackered model whose only positive is that they've got a few bob to spend on trying to garner a good reputation.

The thing is though Jeff, the Premier League isn’t the best league in the world. And going to Crewe – is a far better away trip for Wigan Athletic in every aspect than one to a Manchester United or an Arsenal. If you were a proper football supporter, then you’ll understand that. Your remit is to promote your employer's product to people who don't go to football matches, not to tell us how supporting a club who finishes 17th in the league is better than supporting a club who have won a trophy. The oldest trophy in association football. The cost is a huge factor - a ticket for Manchester United and Arsenal will cost £50+ for Crewe – it's £20. We aren't treated like cattle to be milked when we turn up to a town or city with our money; these places actually try to make your day enjoyable for your money. Just to underline what I'm saying, just days after tickets for the match went on sale we’ve sold our allocation and at the time of writing, have received even more tickets, which will mean we’ll be taking 2,000+ to Crewe – something which happened on rare occasions in the Premier League. It’s great when you go to the grounds of the country's biggest clubs for the first time, I’ll admit, but once the novelty has worn off and you have to go back, time and time again, you see it for the extortionate scam that following football can truly be. It’s interesting if you take into account that Stelling professes to support League Two’s Hartlepool United – but if he indeed does hold the attitude we’ve discussed, I doubt that he truly is a supporter.

At the West Brom match and with his side 2-1 down and seemingly on their way out of the competition to Championship opposition, a bloke near me (and I make no apology for the language, as it’s exactly what he said) - imagine this in a black country accent, like Noddy Holder or summat - bellows “47 years of age and I’ve never seen us in a bastard cup final...useless wankers” – I wonder what his opinion will be on sacrificing an FA Cup win for relegation? Will he take a year or two in the Championship for an FA Cup win? Course he would. The fact we got relegated from the Premier League had very little to do with the FA Cup (we had rotated our side even for the 6th Round at Everton) but more to do with injuries and making mistakes against a Swansea reserve side in a crucial league match a few days before the cup final. Our relegation from The Championship had nothing to do with the FA Cup either – more to do with bad decisions in hiring players and staff. But Sky, in the face of real competition from the likes of BT Sport, are more desperate than ever to push their products, so any decent opinion from their employees is muffled as the 'Premier League is the best league in the world' jingle is played over and over again, like an annoying ice cream van. With Stelling as the vendor. Don't fall into the trap of believing these people know about football - they're just on to push a dishonest agenda.

I suppose we’re lucky as Latics supporters to be in the strongest position we've been for quite a while now (ridiculous as that sounds seeing as we’re currently 5th in League One) because apart from having more local away trips at decent prices, we have a squad of young, hungry players who care about the club, want to help it to succeed and are ran and managed by young, hungry people who are Wigan Athletic Supporters. And yes – I do include Scotsman Gary Caldwell in that. Why WOULDN’T anyone with a passing interest in Wigan Athletic not be attracted by that? This is something we rarely had in the Premier League, many supporters even didn’t bother going because of the affordably and even perceived bias from the powers-that-be towards the bigger clubs, but we feel the club is ours again, we feel more attached, in what is a more competitive league. We even have two Wiganers in the squad for goodness sake! Yes, of course I want my club to be back in the Premier League again, as it constitutes long-term success and the financial implications alone would secure the future of the club for years to come, but it isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the be-all-and-end-all for clubs and supporters.

But you don’t get it, do you Jeff? Because you’re not a football supporter.

*See, even I have an agenda. But at least I’m honest about it. Buy my book, it’s great.