by Mike Forrest
When a fan of a Premier League team looks at his or her team’s fixture list, an anticipative, bloodthirsty lick of the lips emerges when they see that their next fixture is against Wigan Athletic. Wigan Athletic; the one club in the Premier League that fans of every opposing club think will be an easy 3 points, home or away.
“Whipping Boys” is an idiom that has been attributed to Wigan in recent seasons and whilst the two previous seasons have brought lowly successive 16th place finishes, it is none the less a disrespectful tag. It is true that they have struggled in recent seasons, as well as this current season, but people have been all too ready to dismiss the club as nothing more than championship fodder. However lest we forget that Wigan have been an important part of the “best league in the world” for the last 7 seasons and with a bit of luck will make it 8 next season.
However whilst their problems on the pitch are not terminal and are fixable, it is problems off the pitch where things are flat-lining. Another unimaginative criticism thrown at Wigan is that they have fair-weather supporters. Wrong. Wigan have great support but suffer from a small fan base. Their stadium is quite frankly just way too big for them. This off the field problem translates onto the pitch as by playing in such a big stadium relative to their fan base, it is hard to build the metaphorical “fortress” at the JJB meaning that away teams don’t play with any degree of fear there.
As a by product of being a small club they don’t have the clout to be media chums, instead often being the target for column filling ridicule. Thus, you’ll often see criticisms chucked at them saying they don’t deserve a place in the Premier League because of their size and in their place clubs with “history” and a great fanbase such as Leeds, Nottingham Forest etc should be put. How ridiculous, it’s the equivalent of saying that a man whom is not as well endowed as another should be treated with less respect.
It’s true that Roberto Martinez garners a lot of plaudits but to me it often smacks of backhanded, patronising, condescending compliments. People will praise Martinez so then they can feel better about criticising Wigan. And yes Martinez does deserve praise for keeping Wigan in the Premier League on a shoestring transfer budget compared to their supposed bigger rivals and for trying to implement attractive, passing football into Wigan’s game. He deserves the praise because he has earned it, not because it was influenced by someone’s conscience.
Just as easy as it is to criticise Wigan is equally as easy to praise them and give them the benefit of the doubt, yet none ever seem to avail of this fact. It is hard to forget that Wigan have always possessed very good players such as Leighton Baines, Antonio Valencia and Wilson Palacios. However because they sold these players without much chagrin, people use their lack of ability to keep their star players as a stick to beat them with.
However Wigan are realistic. They know they will never be world beaters, much like 90% of the clubs in the world and thus have correctly adopted the transfer strategy of buying young players with potential and selling them on at a massive profit. People praise Udinese for this strategy yet sniff their nose at Wigan – hypocrisy reigns supreme.
At the risk of using an already tired cliché, the Latics’ time in the top flight has certainly been a rollercoaster ride. From their debut season which consisted of finishing a brilliant 10th and a league cup final to being involved in some of the league’s most exciting relegation battles, Wigan, although regarded as being dull as a town have been nothing but exciting in the Premiership in one form or another.
If I were to describe the club in a word? Character. From the affable Paul Jewell, to funny personalities such as Jimmy Bullard and Lee McCulloch to temperamental and eccentric but engrossing characters in Henri Camara and Paul Scharner, Wigan always have “something” about them. And this “something” has sustained them as a Premier League team and hopefully this character again preserves their status for another year.