EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Roberto Martinez – Wigan’s Folk Hero On The FA Cup: “You Could Feel The Old Springfield Park Character Shining Through at Wembley”

“Maloney takes… AND IT’S IN! IT’S BEN WATSON! IT’S BEN WATSON FOR WIGAN ATHLETIC! THEY’VE SURELY WON THE FA CUP! FOR DAVE WHELAN, FOR ROBERTO MARTINEZ! YOU JUST CANNOT WRITE SCRIPTS LIKE THIS!” – Martin Tyler, 11th May 2013

That day. An exalted day in the history of Wigan Athletic. Just the mention is enough to make the hairs on your arms stand proudly. The commentary that resounds with any Wigan supporter and music to any Latics fan’s ears – music orchestrated by the maestro that is Roberto Martinez. With conductor’s baton in hand, “Bobby” led Little Wigan to our first major trophy in the club’s history and immortalised the fairytale story of the Tics into the archives of English footballing history by hoisting the FA Cup high above his head in jubilation, a feat no one thought was possible.

Are those hairs on your arms standing up yet?

Besides that momentous day, Roberto Martinez was a club legend in his own right at Wigan Athletic. Brought to Springfield Park on a free transfer from Balaguer by Dave Whelan in Whelan’s first year as owner, Roberto arrived as apart of the Three Amigos; the trio of Spanish signings of Martinez, Jesús Seba and Isidro Díaz, and quickly became a renowned and habitual first team player in a blue and white strip. For six successful seasons, Roberto’s inclusion in the side was customary and led him to make 181 total appearances for the Latics, scoring 23 goals in the process and claiming the Third Division title and the Auto Windscreens Shield before departing and moving from club to club until his rather extensive stay at Swansea City – not quite as extensive as his stay at Wigan though, may I add.

3amigos
The Three Amigos reunited at the Joseph’s Goal charity match: Martinez with Isidro Díaz (left) and Jesús Seba (right).

Following his retirement in 2007 he became manager of the aforementioned Swansea and led them to the the League One title before returning to Wigan in 2009 and secured three rather miraculous escapes from the dreaded relegation zone. Alas, four seasons of Premier League survival were not meant to be for the Latics and, just three days after hoisting the famous trophy, Wigan were relegated to the Championship and Martinez vacated the DW Stadium for the managerial role at Everton – a variegated tenure in terms of success and something Roberto wasn’t keen to talk about during such a celebratory event in which the interview took place.

Now Martinez is leading the ship of the Belgian National Team’s golden era, but still is humble enough to find time to return to his footballing home and play in the Joseph’s Goal charity match. Roberto also kindly agreed to answer some questions from AllOutAttack post match:

“So Roberto, first of all how does it feel to be back in Wigan playing in front of all the Latics fans?”

“Well it was good! A very competitive game, I think. You know when you’re playing against the Arjan De Zeeuw Masters they love to play around the ball. It was a really, really good game and with the four goals already I’m sure [the spectators] will have really good moments, good memories and worth the money.”

“You’ve been here in both a player capacity and a managerial capacity, what are your fondest moments from both tenures?”

“Well I think every emotion that we share, we look back knowing that we were a family club and we always had that motto of belief and high dreams. We had 8 seasons in the Premier League, achieving the FA Cup, we beat the best teams in the land and we had great, great memories. In football, as it happens in life, you have to face adversity and always do it in the typical Wigan Athletic fashion and that’s what football is: a real lesson for life and we will carry on doing that I’m sure.”

Seeing Roberto in a blue and white strip with the ball at his feet once again – albeit with slightly less hair – allows the Wigan fans who were lucky to witness that era in the club’s history to reminisce of the fond memories that he created. Mental souvenirs of his precision passing and talismanic performances of someone who was seemingly playing at a division below his quality. Highlights spring to mind of his screamers against Wrexham and York City, goals that presented the footballing aura that Roberto had.

roberto-martinez-wigan
A young Roberto Martinez playing for Wigan in 1995.

However, above all of Martinez’ moments as a player, the most adulation goes to the FA Cup triumph of 2013. The euphoric conquest of English giants Manchester City goes above any goal in England’s third tier, no matter how artful the goal was!

“When we interviewed Paul Scharner he told us that you were the one who hyped up the team and gave them belief going into the FA Cup Final. What are your thoughts on him saying that?”

“No. When you play a team like Manchester City it doesn’t matter. If you want to single out one thing as impossible: the 90 minute goal, the effort, the crowd that we had in Wembley – you could feel the old Springfield Park character shining through at Wembley. It was an incredible performance and I think we deserved the victory that day.

It was an incredible game, we played against the champions of England at that time and on the best pitch in Wembley. The Wiganers were on our side and there was an electric atmosphere; those are the memories that you work really hard for and, for many reasons, that’s a memory that will always stay with me.

That beloved underdog victory still stands today as a testament that nothing is impossible. A team that was residing at the quaint ground of Springfield Park and playing in England’s fourth tier just eighteen years previous had gone on to make a meteoric rise to the Premier League and lift the oldest and most prestigious domestic trophy in world football – and Roberto Martinez played vital roles in both epochs of Wigan’s history.

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Roberto parading the FA Cup at Wembley.

Martinez brought Wigan supporters an  implausible, yet completely authentic, day of jubilation and, even at the cost of Premier League status, celebrations wouldn’t be halted for anything. Roberto seems to agree that, even with the hardships that followed relegation, it was worth it:

“Finally, there’s an ever-present debate in Wigan. Would you have given up the FA Cup to stay in the Premier League?”

“No! I think when you look back, writing the club’s name on that famous trophy is a one off situation. The name is there and will never be forgotten and can inspire many clubs. And if you look at the Premier League, we got 36 points we were unfortunate to get relegated but the truth is that the Premier League is one of the most competitive leagues in world football and you have to cope with relegation and fight to get promoted again.”

martinez 2
Being able to interview Roberto Martinez at the age of 16 is a surreal moment, something you don’t forget very soon.

Such a portentous occasion in the club’s history is priceless in the eyes of Latics fans and is worth a lot more than an extra season in the Premier League, and Roberto agrees. He evolved with the club, from his goal on his debut against Gillingham in August 1995 to managing in the Premier League in 2013, and ultimately marshalled Wigan to the greatest day in our history. Time may be continuous and imperceptible, and the status of the club may be ever-changing, but one thing remains the same:

The name ‘Wigan Athletic’ is etched onto the prestigious catalogue of FA Cup winners, courtesy of Roberto Martinez.

Harry Robinson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobboHarry

Watch the AllOutAttack documentary of the Joseph’s Goal charity match here.

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