As a life-long supporter of my local club, I muse over the fortunes and upsets of Wigan Athletic.
Founded in 1932, Wigan Athletic has been on a roller coaster journey since being promoted to the Premier League in 2005, there were then eight successful seasons in the top-flight, three heart-breaking relegations, an FA Cup trophy and an unimaginably Europa League group stage experience- an ‘impossible’ achievement for such a small club.
Back in 2005, Wigan defied the odds in the Championship with a surprising second place finish. The dream of reaching the best league in world football- the Premier League, came true for all Latics fans.
Managed by Paul Jewell, it was a season to remember, as the blue and whites finished in tenth place and also reached the League Cup final for the first time against Manchester United in Cardiff but came runners up in a 4-0 loss.
Contrastingly, a year later, it was a nervy and frightening end to the season with three points being a must in order to survive against Sheffield United on the final day. However, a David Unsworth penalty saved the club to secure a third season in the ‘Promised Land’ and sent Wigan fans into delight.
In the 2009/10 campaign, the Latics famously beat three of the “Big four” with former player and Spanish member of the famous “three amigos”, Roberto Martinez as Wigan boss. Home wins over Liverpool (1-0), Chelsea (3-1) and Arsenal (3-2) recorded what was arguably the best season in the top flight.
The following year provided even more drama, as Wigan had to win against West Ham and Stoke City in their final two games otherwise relegation would have been a certainty. Again, little Wigan went against the bookies and relegated the Hammers in the process of an unforgettable 90th minute 3-2 winner by Charles N’Zogbia. The final day at the Britannia Stadium capped off a whirlwind end to a nail biting season, with all-time highest Wigan Premier League goal scorer Hugo Rodallega heading his side to safety in the dying minutes.
The 2011/12 season was full of dramatic moments too, as Wigan gained a 1-0 scalp over 11-time Premier League Champions at the time, Manchester United. A Shaun Maloney screamer, ultimately was the most memorable highlight of the campaign. Also, likewise, to the previous year, the Latics drowned their relegation rivals, this time Blackburn Rovers, as a 0-1 win at Ewood Park sent them down to the Championship.
However, 2013 will be known as the year where the Latics rose and then fell simultaneously, as the unthinkable happened; reaching the FA Cup Final for the first time in their history. A Ben Watson injury time winner against Manchester City made the impossible be indeed possible!
But just three days later, Wigan were relegated to the Championship after a dismal league season.
Owen Coyle then took charge and was quickly replaced by Uwe Rosler after a Community Shield defeat to Manchester United and a poor start to the Championship campaign. Rosler took charge of the historic European games. This once in a lifetime experience was over for the Latics in the group stage, as they were beaten by Maribor.
A second FA Cup semi-final in the space of two years and a play-off spot then followed, but the season ended in heartache, as Wigan lost to Arsenal on penalties in the cup and fell short to Queens Park Rangers in a two-leg semi-final.
The 2014/15 started off badly, as Rosler was sacked and replaced by Malky Mackay who was under FA investigation. Wigan owner Dave Whelan resigned and his grandson, David Sharpe, took over, with limited experience at the age of 24. After endless defeats and just three home wins all season, the Latics were unexpectedly and miserably relegated to League One, with new manager and former skipper, Gary Caldwell, taking over.
During the summer of 2015, Caldwell and Sharpe recruited well, after the majority of players left and the squad from the FA Cup final was almost inexistent with only Caldwell and goalkeeping coach Mike Pollitt the only two remaining. The transformation quickly began with high profile and experienced names, including goal machine Will Grigg and Finnish keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen coming in.
The season got off to a slow start for Wigan, however, at the ‘crunch time’ stage in April, the Latics were unbeaten in 20 league games and seemed to be on the rise again. Sitting nicely in 1st place and four points off Burton Albion, just three wins were needed with five games to go.
During this time, arguably one of the most famous football songs of all time, “Will Grigg’s on fire” took to the heart of not only Wigan fans but world football fans too. It was a season to capture for the Irishman who netted 25 goals and became the league’s top scorer.
With Grigg’s goals, Wigan completed the season by getting promoted back to the Championship at the first attempt. They subsequently became the champions of League One after a 4-0 victory against Blackpool at Bloomfield Road.
Going into the 2016/17 campaign, the club had optimism of what could be achieved, however, it was ten steps forward and ultimately ten steps back, as dark clouds started to appear over the DW stadium once again. After a dreadful start to the season, David Sharpe took action and sacked Gary Caldwell in October 2016.
His successor, former Manchester United Reserve Coach, Warren Joyce, looked to galvanise the team, but it wasn’t to be, as he won just six out of the 24 games he took charge of. Interim boss Graham Barrow held the fort but their fate had already been settled with the club being relegated back to League One.
To the present and there is now some light rejuvenated at the end of the tunnel for Latics, as former player Paul Cook has recently been appointed as manager. A new-look backroom staff and so far, being able to keep their notably best players including Sam Morsy and Nick Powell, there is renewed believe around the club that they could be on the rise again.
The 2017/18 season gets started on Saturday with Wigan visiting MK Dons but the question on every Latics fans’ lips is, “What will we be in for this season?”