Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Don't Blame It On the Warriors...

As tempting as it might be to point the blame at them, it isn’t the fault of the Wigan Warriors that the pitch at the DW Stadium turned into a mudbath on Friday night and is, at time of writing on Tuesday morning, being replaced. Neither, may I add, is it the fault of the Latics’ U18’s who played out a rather thrilling encounter against Manchester City at the stadium last week, which gave only 2 days recovery for the pitch in preparation for Friday. No, there is only ONE thing to blame for this issue and if you haven’t worked it out yet, you’ve got another 30 seconds of reading this gubbins before you find out.

The Warriors’ 12-6 win over Catalan Dragons live on SKY became known by a wider internet audience as ‘Mudbathgate’. Or maybe just by me. Since then, the story has been the talk of Twitter, Facebook and the queue for the deli counter at Asda. There’s many a silly argument and wildly untrue accusations about key people behind the stadium going on and it makes amusing reading, as these Wigan internet titans go head-to-head, spouting their barely-literate abuse. But you know what? I can’t be arsed with these arguments, they are simply irrelevant; a good portion of Latics supporters might be of the Stone Island variety and fond of waving pyrotechnics, yes a good portion of the Rugby support might be from out-of-town and profess to hate 'soccer' when they 'support' another football team, but it really doesn’t matter. This is OUR stadium – both clubs lease the ground from one of the Whelan family’s various companies, so ultimately it is they, not the clubs, who should be responsible for the upkeep of the ground. So stop throwing those metaphorical pies, eh?

The stadium, built on a former rubbish tip and located as it is on a flood plain (as well as under a water table) has always been prone to rain water. In recent years, the ground staff have done a decent job with the pitch, especially in the winter months but this year, the rainfall has just kept on coming. Don't get me wrong, the pitch hasn't been brilliant in prior weeks by any means, but was certainly still playable up until after the youth game on Tuesday night, which was followed by continuous rain until Friday and the Warriors game. Just to underline this issue - there is a river, a canal and a water tank (that drains the water from the pitch) near the stadium – and they collectively couldn’t drain the rainwater from the immediate area fast enough. For me, it’s the speed of the deterioration that has been surprising, as the pitch was fine a few weeks ago, even after the Boxing Day game against Sheffield United was postponed due to flooding. Our next home game after that was on the 7th January against Gillingham and the pitch looked fine, but it continued to pour down.  9 days later against Chesterfield saw snow fritter down as Max Power drove the ball in from 30 yards to set us on the way to another vital win. It was the hailstone storm in the middle of the Port Vale match that took the piss for me and started the rapid deterioration of the pitch, which I’d imagine was difficult to run on in the end. So that’s all varieties of water right there - and it’s been coming down for 2 months. We’re only missing acid rain – and that’s a top trumps card nobody wants to have.

Away from Mudbathgate, people have noticed that the Warriors have pencilled in a home game against Hull KR on the SAME DAY as Latics’ home game against Rochdale. There are rumours already afoot that David Sharpe is willing to move the Easter Monday game to a 12pm kick-off, allowing the Warriors to kick-off their game at 8pm.  Whether this is a workable solution, remains to be seen but if there’s no-one to blame, aside from the weather* for Mudbathgate, then this issue can be wholly blamed on the Super League for arranging this match without offering any consultation. For one, the football fixture list was out nearly FOUR MONTHS before they decided to give Warriors a home date that was already booked. Secondly – isn’t Rugby League supposed to be a summer game? Why on earth are they playing in FEBRUARY? Wouldn’t a March/April start time not be better suited to their ‘product’? Aside from making marketing sense (which the Super League rarely does) it’ll give chance for those multi-purpose stadiums to get their pitches in better condition, as hopefully, the weather will have improved by the Spring. I must be missing something, to me it makes common sense to not start your summer game in the last knockings of Winter, but I’m a Wiganer on the internet, common sense isn’t our forte it seems.

Hopefully both clubs can sort out this mess, because anything less will be a detriment to the both of us and that's something we all can at least agree on.

*likely to be caused by global warming of course – so it’s all our faults!

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Wigan Athletic vs. Man City: In The FA (Youth) Cup

Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester City has always thrown up an interesting game; the FA Cup 3rd round in 1971, the play-offs in 1999, the 4-3 on Boxing Day 2005 and of course, the FA Cup final in 2013. This trend continued on a cold February night in 2016 – this time in the 5th round of the FA Youth Cup. This was the first time that Latics had been at this stage of the competition and a tie against a club with probably the most ambitious youth set-up in the world, was always going to be difficult. Latics lost 3-1, but only after extra-time (which turned out to be extra-extra time) and overall was a good nights entertainment on a cold Tuesday, well worth the five pound entrance fee.

Making my way into the West Stand just before kick-off, I notice the centre of the stand is fairly packed, so elect to take a seat just off-centre. Being the polite gentleman I am, I make sure not to sit in the way of two men on the row behind me. It turns out these chaps were City supporters (there were quite the number there) and they seemed to be regulars at City's youth games. A few minutes into the match though, I regret sitting there because all they did was moan! Moan, moan, moan, moan. Moaned at anything; their team, our team, the weather, the pitch, the fact there’s gaps in between the stand that let the wind in. No wonder City squads of the past are known for regularly messing things up if they have to deal with this type of negativity every week. Then again, I can’t talk being a Latics supporter!

To be fair to City though, it was great to see so many of their supporters interested in their youth team (on a night when the first team were in Premier League action at Sunderland), in an era when it’s becoming increasingly expensive to watch first team games, I can see the bigger clubs having quite the crowds at youth/development squad games, something which I hope clubs promote further; playing in front of bigger crowds will only help these young players to experience what it might be like playing in a first team environment. And the endless moaning makes the scenario even more realistic. Currently, the Latics youth games are played in the midweek, in the mornings, which is never going to attract any sort of crowd.

City, with their team made up of foreign, as well as locally-based players, dominated the ball but Latics counter-attacked well; the full-backs (Baxendale and Lingard) in particular were impressive and the defending was disciplined for the most part. Latics took the lead early in the second half when Callum Lang flicked the ball over a City defender, making his way into the box and squeezing the ball under Daniel Grimshaw in the City goal, which drew a huge cheer from the majority of the 650 crowd, who had been increasingly drawn into this game through its intense nature. City equalised through a Will Patching free-kick before that intense nature boiled over, as both sides got into quite the scuffle when City give away a free-kick in the last minute on the right touchline. Once things had calmed down, the free-kick was beautifully taken by Lingard and Thomas Powell managed to get his head to the ball...with Ben Watson-esq headlines ready to be written...and it hit the goalkeeper. So unlucky.

Extra time it was and I couldn’t help but feel that the chance had gone. Despite some great last-ditch defending, Latics looked knackered throughout extra-time and in the 5th minute of added time in extra-time (!!!) City broke through the Latics backline which led to goalkeeper, Kelland Absalom, bringing down Lukas Nmecha for a penalty. Nmecha made it 2-1 from the spot and despite having a number of clear-cut chances in the second period (their decision-making wasn’t very good as they constantly elected to pass rather than shoot) it was only in the last minute of extra time that City wrapped it up, albeit with a finely-worked goal through Issac Buckley.

The young Latics team can take great credit from how they performed on the night, especially against Manchester City, who currently lead the top tier – Latics are in the third tier, as we strive to improve our facilities, which will enable us to move up the youth leagues. Latics are currently top of the Football League Youth Alliance (North-West) and are still in the Lancashire FA Cup, so hopefully some silverware will be on its way to the youth lads very soon!