2 o’clock on a Saturday. Wigan fans, with phones in hand, eagerly await team news for their upcoming ‘6 pointer’ clash against fellow relegation battlers Burton Albion. The squad is announced and leaves people scrating their head at the inclusion of one player; Callum Connolly.
“Who the hell is that?” People will have thought. “Did we sign someone? The club haven’t announced anything have they?” That they hadn’t, the news of signing Connolly came with his surprise inclusion on the team sheet. At 2 o’clock he was unknown to Wigan fans, little did they know that just two hours later they would be chanting his name…
19 year old Connolly had signed from Merseyside outfit Everton just two days before but the club never announced the acquisition of the full-back and kept it classified from the supporters. I managed to meet Callum and asked him if he had signed in the last 24 hours as I was as clueless as everyone else, he gave me this comment:
“Nah mate signed on Thursday but the club kept it secret!”
The Latics captured the loan signing of the youngster to fill the void at right back that has been vacant for a while. No longer would Warren Joyce have to spin a wheel to see which centre mid would play at te right side of defence today, finally the likes of Max Power and David Perkins were free to play in their preferred positions.
I kept my eye on the young full-back as the game started and it was apparent he was in his element. He was making runs and keeping play moving and fast paced when he gained possession, something that may have been overlooked by some fans. Connolly made sure he wasn’t to be overlooked himself though by leaping to beat the Burton Albion centre half for the ball, although the centre half put up very little resistance, and managed to head home the opening goal of the game and his first ever professional club goal. You could see how much it meant to the scouser as he ecstatically ran past the visiting Latics faithful who ruptured in a roar of euphoria as the ball floated over the Burton keeper. Chants ensued for a player that was unknown just a couple hours before.
Callum wasn’t done though, he popped up later on at the 64th minute mark to head home another goal and cap off a dream debut for the teenager, as well as capping off a perfect day for Wigan Athletic and keeping them firmly in the Championship relegation dogfight with an important 2-0 victory. Connolly’s heroics have helped Wigan claw back ground on the other teams fighting to survive and left us only 3 points from safety.
Callum Connolly started his career at parent club Everton back in 2006 as a young and aspiring footballer. He later signed a contract with the senior teamin 2015 and impressively made his Premier League debut earlier last year as a substitute for Seamus Coleman in a 1-1 draw with Southampton, much to the delight of Everton fans who rate him so highly. He had a loan spell at Barnsley last season but he only managed to make 3 appearances for the then League One side before returning to Everton.
Wigan manager Warren Joyce had this to say: “He’s a player I’ve known about for a long time. Obviously when you are looking at the make-up of players and looking at their attributes and qualities, we are not a big side and it’s important in this league that you have got full-backs that can head the ball as well.
“Every credit to the kid today, enthusiasm and bravery gets us the points.”
Callum was beaming with joy as he exited the Pirelli Stadium, a ground I doubt he will ever forget, and he seemed even happier when I informed him that Everton’s Director of Football and club legend; Joe Royle, was in attendance to be a spectator in the debutant’s phenomenal performance. He couldn’t believe his luck!
Many people will say that Callum Connolly is destined for big things after seeing that performance. Maybe they’re right, but at the moment he’ll be integral to the Latics’ chances of staying in the second tier on English football and could be the difference between whether we’ll be playing Norwich or Port Vale next season. We’ll have to wait and see.
By Harry Robinson