Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Top marks to the Class of 2016

Has everyone's hangover cleared up? Heads are a little better and there's a spring in everyone's step again?

No, not the hangover from an aptly-timed bank holiday (or was it an aptly-timed promotion?), but the hangover from this time last year. When we all, quite frankly, couldn't believe what was going on in front of us. 

Our beloved Wigan had dropped down to the third tier of English football for the first time in twelve years and it's fair to say the club was shell-shocked at a season that started badly and progressively got worse.

I haven't blogged at all this season, but a quick glance back at my most recent posts (from the second half of 2014/15), and I'd probably say it's because I'd become so accustomed to writing negative comments that I'd forgotten what it was like to appreciate attractive and successful football.

One element my last few blogs did have however, was optimism. From May 8, 2015 I predicted the following:

"Caldwell has promised us the Wigan way of football and promotion; and I fully expect him to deliver."

Pretty spot-on assessment. That's until the next sentence, that is...

"The Twittersphere has been full of banter about Mckay and Holt banging them in in League One, but this is completely what I expect to happen."

You can't win them all, and that's why Gary Caldwell led us to promotion rather than a group of fans making plans on Twitter.

Caldwell always played the Martinez way; played the ball out from the back and liked the ball to feet. So it's been no surprise to see him adopt the same style as manager.

I'm currently on a quest to speak to every member of the FA Cup final starting XI (plus a few more important individuals from our greatest success story) to form a book about that famous day in May 2013. The players I have already spoken to were Caldwell's team-mates, and some remain his close friends, but none of them have been surprised to see Wigan's current style (and subsequent success).

The Class of 2013 have all also been quick to admit they are glad to be watching Caldwell's journey from afar. Not because they prefer life away from Wigan (don't worry - not a bad word has been spoken!), but because they wanted to see Caldwell get his chance without his mates being around to cramp his style. He's their mate, not gaffer. 

But to this group, he's very much the man in charge and he built this squad we see before us. 

Not only have Wigan gained plaudits for the way they moved in the right direction in the League One table, but our promotion celebrations have gone viral. Perhaps the Class of 2016 are making up for the FA Cup winners having pizza and soft drinks on the coach back from Wembley?

This side's legacy may be one of a few things: the discovery of a true goalscorer in Will Grigg (arguably for the first time since Nathan Ellington); the best song about a player possibly ever; the return of Wigan's famous end-of-season upturn; or more likely, the best individual celebrations since Stuart Pearce at Euro 1996 (Max Power wins this award for his consistency over the season - from the Tigger bounce, to getting fans to pour lager over him in Revs).

Whatever we remember most about this season, we can have another summer of optimism. And not because we'll be going into a league as heavy favourites and a pledge of 100 points (we nearly did it), but because we've had our faith in football restored. I just hope the summer is long enough for me to make it through a day without humming 'Will Grigg's on fire...'

Friday, 8 May 2015

Cameron and Caldwell: The Similarities are Endless

Today social media is over-ridden with people airing their views on the General Election and how the country will be led under the Tories for another term of office. I'm not one to air my political allegiances on these forums for a number of reasons, but one opinion that caught my eye and I agree with is this: the country has voted and we all must go ahead with holding our Government to account for the pledges that they made in their manifesto.

Now, one area that I do like to voice my opinion on is sport, and more specifically my football team. And so this leads me to draw comparison between politics and sport. Gary Caldwell has been appointed as our leader, and as Wigan fans we must now hold him to account for the promises he has made us. His appointment may not have been a democratic process, but I'd like to think Latics fans probably would have put a cross in the box for Caldwell had they been presented with the option. If only we'd had that possibility back in November (I digress...).

I have been a bit quiet on the blog front of late because of personal and work commitments. I'll also admit to being in a massive sulk about our relegation. I moved house on the day our drop to League One was confirmed and in some respects I saw this as apt that a new era started for myself and my football team.

My season review wouldn't make for pretty reading and I'm a big believer in the theory that dwelling on what has gone wrong does no good for looking to the future. As such, I won't be passing my judgement on where it all went wrong, who should be held accountable and why we're about to see an inevitable drop in the number of Wigan season ticket holders.

Instead we should look to our new leader and how his term of office can be as lengthy as Mr Cameron.

Wigan's retained list should make for interesting reading, although I don't expect it to be a long document, either. This season has been a juxtaposition of loans, short-term deals, high-profile exits and debuts for youngsters. But onwards and upwards.

I was at Brentford last weekend when Billy Mckay and Tim Chow both started and I'd like to think this will be a thing of the future. My work colleagues often ask me what has gone wrong at Wigan and also why they they haven't heard much about Mckay. "Has he not taken to the Championship? Has the step-up to England been too much for him?" No, is my answer. He hasn't had chance, but now I hope we have a manager who will give him and countless others an opportunity.

Caldwell has promised us the Wigan way of football and promotion; and I fully expect him to deliver. The Twittersphere has been full of banter about Mckay and Holt banging them in in League One, but this is completely what I expect to happen.

This is also a crucial time for the Wigan PR strategy to shine. We've had a season to forget on and off the pitch and the wheels have been set in motion to remind the public that we're a down to earth club with family values. Some of the stunts to give out season tickets and promote the club may be received as a tad cringeworthy, but they're all important tools to get us back to where we were pre-Mackaygate.

I write this with a prosecco in hand by the pool in Greece (the heart bleeds, I know) with a degree of relief that the season is over. I didn't book this holiday until my realism kicked in and it dawned on me that we wouldn't be in the play-offs, but I have optimism that I'll do the same next year: this time knowing we'll be going up automatically.

A little like the Tories today, the general public have never thought that Wigan have had enough to get over the line, but time and time again the public have backed them and they've defied the odds. Today the Queen has invited David Cameron to form a Government. This time next year David Sharpe will be inviting Gary Caldwell to form his Championship squad. Mark my words.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Dirty Den

In every relegation battle there are nights that you know have been the ones that got away as soon as they happen. 

When our eight year stay in the Premier League came to an end in 2013 I had that feeling after losing at home to Swansea. Even now I have flashbacks to a ball whipped across the face of goal that James McArthur couldn't quite get on the end of which would have essentially wrapped up a win. And so even though I witnessed our final nail in the coffin at Arsenal, I knew our time was up before then.

Tonight at Millwall doesn't feel quite as bad; mostly because I'll always associate our failings this season with the Mackay era, but it certainly was a big opportunity missed.

With the news that Rotherham are facing a three-point deduction we had the chance to make a fight of this again. And that we did. Except when Gary Caldwell asked to see some fight from his players I don't think he could foresee them taking it quite so literally.

A friend text me at half-time asking how the game was going. My reply was this: "it's got 0-0 and two red cards written all over it." Turns out I gave too much credit to the Wigan defence and underestimated how much a scrappy game can make players' blood boil.

As a rugby fan as well as a football fan, I was a little embarrassed to witness some of the handbags on show at the Den. Ben Flower returns for Wigan Warriors on Thursday after his ban for his Grand Final red card, and he would be ashamed of some of the pushes that warranted jeers from the stands. Martyn Waghorn and Jason Pearce may have paid the price for their aggression tonight with red cards, but I don't think Shaun Wane will be tapping them up for a run out in Super League once the football season is done.

We were outdone by Millwall at the basics. Someone got on the end of a decent cross; Marc Antoine Fortune couldn't do the same for us. They hit us on the break and sealed the game; we tried to break away but had nobody there to finish any chances off.

And so is the story of this mad season. If only we'd had a striker. If only we could win at home. If only we'd had a bit of luck. Well, the potential Rotherham saga was a bit of luck, but we couldn't capitalise.

Don't let this be seen as a reverse of faith in Gary Caldwell - I still think he's the right man for the job. But we all must now accept he's the right man to bring us back up again.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Caldwell is Superman (maybe)

"Caldwell is Superman, Caldwell is Superman, Caldwell is Superman, Caldwell is Superman."

Us Wigan fans have always been a little flattering towards players with chants, and even though this can be added to a long list of ambitious songs, the sentiment was there tonight - in Caldwell we trust.

It was new era, same near-miss but heads were held high leaving Craven Cottage. Well, relatively speaking anyway. We haven't had much to be proud of recently.

Fans never stopped singing and although there were the ever-familiar groans at the missed passes, wayward shots and failure to spot whoever in space, the apathy was absent tonight. And it certainly wasn't missed.

At one point during the first half I overheard someone say "we're playing with width, I can't f**king believe it!" It's a sad indictment of what's being going on at our club this season; that classy football we once loved seems like a distant memory to tell the grandkids about.

It was the passion that I loved witnessing most. Jermaine Pennant and Gaetan Bong ran to the other end of the pitch to celebrate Pennant's equaliser, just to share it with the Wigan fans. There is a real sense that this group want to play for Caldwell; a stark contrast to the Mackay era.

Caldwell didn't get everything right of course. Not only did we fail to win, his selection of Marc Antoine Fortune wasn't overly popular. So much so that the ironic cheers for his substitution and replacement by Martyn Waghorn were almost as loud as those for the two Wigan goals.

Whilst I don't feel like the believer I have been in previous relegation battles, if this does end (inevitably) in League One football we can all be optimistic that Caldwell could well be Superman. Bring on the League One and JPT Trophy double.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

He's One of Our Own

Anyone familiar with that scene in the Wizard of Oz with the song 'Ding Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead?' That's kind of how I imagine King Street in Wigan looked on Monday night after Malky Mackay was sacked.

Fast forward a couple of days and it might look a bit more like Dorothy and co skipping down the yellow brick road, full of optimism and excitement as Wigan fans start to look forward to what Oz will be like with Gary Caldwell in charge.

The Mackay era was a write-off to say the least. His appointment was the catalyst for a series of disastrous events at Wigan Athletic which ultimately resulted in Chairman Dave Whelan standing down. His sacking by new Chairman David Sharpe may have come on the same day that we effectively came to terms with relegation, but it was also celebrated as the time that the people running the club listened to the fans; enough was enough.

And that's enough about Mackay. He came, we lost, we suffered. But now the fans must back a new manager in a way that we haven't been able to do since Roberto Martinez took over in 2009. For Caldwell is one of our own.

In the news conference for Caldwell's appointment Sharpe described the former Club Captain as "one of us" and whilst I don't think Latics fans will be replicating the Spurs chant for Harry Kane (or perhaps I have just inspired Caldwell's first song as manager...), fans must surely be pleased that Sharpe has turned to someone from within to take the club forward.

And that's what it's about now. Looking ahead and going forward. Sharpe also said it would be a "miracle" if we stayed up this season and not even those with the strongest rose-tinted spectacles could disagree with him. This is a long-term appointment and we have to start thinking about a promotion-winning season in 2015/16.

Caldwell is here to pick up the mess that Malky left and if he acts on his proposed philosophy then I for one will be happy to see him stay at Wigan for the foreseeable. He has promised to bring back stylish football to the DW, but isn't naive with it. The quote that caught my eye most this morning was this: "I'm not silly enough to think playing nice football every week and losing is a good thing." And thank God for that.

So for now let's give it a good go, Wigan Athletic-style. I'll be at Fulham and Millwall and whilst I'm not expecting that miracle Sharpe referred to, I'll be backing Caldwell and co to see what they can offer. 

Next season isn't going to be glamorous, but should things to go to plan, what a pleasure it will be to see some flowing football, players that care and maybe even some victories. Now isn't that worth following the yellow brick road for...

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Thank you, Uncle Dave

This was always going to be an emotional day. We knew it would come eventually and all Wigan fans should use it as an opportunity to say thank you to the club's single greatest legend of all: Dave Whelan.

So from today Whelan is no longer our leader. He hands over the reigns to his 23 year-old grandson David Sharpe and whilst it is a huge step for someone so young, we should be grateful the club remains in the Whelan family.

In an interview with Jim White on Sky Sports News HQ today, Whelan laid out why the time has come for him to step down. And I for one found it a little emotional.

Whelan says he's started forgetting the players' names and it's the first time he's felt like that. Hearing an admission like that made me feel like I was listening to my Grandad concede he was getting old. And for David Sharpe that is literally what it was.

Whelan also admitted he would have said things a little differently in that infamous interview with David Conn in the Guardian. The six-week ban and fine for his racist comments have clearly hit him, and his pride, hard.

It seems an unfair ending to Whelan's fairytale that he steps down with his beloved Wigan Athletic nine points from safety in the Championship, appearing to slide closer to the third-tier with every game. Whelan has never been a quitter and it saddens me that it does look like jumping ship at a time when the club is going through one of its most difficult periods. 

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but how he must wonder now what it would have been like to step down after the FA Cup win and finish a hero?

Likewise if he hadn't have sacked Uwe Rosler and didn't have to defend Malky Mackay's appointment; would we be blundering along in mid-table complaining about not going for promotion? Blissfullyunaware of what it's like to be celebrating wins at Blackpool like it's the cup final? How many more years of Uncle Dave as Chairman would we have had then?

No matter what the circumstances of his departure, we cannot lose sight of the rags to riches tale that Whelan has given this club. The FA Cup win of 2013 will go down as his finest hour but we musn't forget what else Whelan has done for Wigan Athletic. 

The stadium we play in wouldn't be there without him. And who would have ever thought we would have seen Wigan in the Premier League for eight seasons? Proving the doubters wrong is what Wigan are all about.

And now it's down to Sharpe to ensure his Grandad's legacy continues. In his first interview with SSN Sharpe was obviously a little nervous, but came across well and clearly knew how to respond to the questions of 'that' incident with Whelan before Christmas. Sharpe insists he's from a different generation and knows what is right and wrong.

Right now Wigan fans need him to know what's right and wrong when it comes to managerial appointments and transfers. He'll make some mistakes, as did his Grandad. But if he makes up for the errors in the same way his Grandad did then I'll be a happy girl.

But for now it's a big thank you to Uncle Dave for the memories. Enjoy even more trips to Barbados because you've earned them.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Call off the campaign

Football is bloody cruel sometimes. How can something you love so deeply, hurt so much? I think tonight I finally accepted defeat.

I excitedly blogged on Tuesday night about how those three points at Reading were the turning point. We could start the 'believe' campaigns once more and there was evidence that the classic Latics grit and determination had returned.

But in that blog I also rolled out the old cliche 'you're only as good as your last game.' Well Wigan weren't even as good as their warm-up once the first Charlton goal had gone in.

It's been an all too familiar tale this season so see our goal scorers crumble when prevented with opportunities. It's all very well starting brightly but what good does that do if you can't convert what you're working hard for?

The optimist here has become the realist. When your defenders look like they're marking each other and your usually reliable goalkeeper has slower reactions than Simon Haworth getting back onside (remember those days?), you start to accept that relegation is inevitable.

I write this with such frustration and a very heavy heart. It's a family trait to allow sporting results to dictate the household mood, so this could be a bleak few days in this part of London. I guess it's preparation for what could turn out to be an even bleaker next 14 games.