People mock “little” Wigan Athletic, but the size of our club is our biggest asset. From the dark old non-league days the club has always been right at the very heart of the community and has always been in touch with its roots. The club regularly demonstrates how in touch it is with the local community, but lately there have been several outstanding examples of this.
I’ll begin with the manager. Last summer he had the opportunity to join Aston Villa, a far bigger club than Wigan with far greater potential. He chose to turn down that opportunity out of loyalty for the club. I can’t think of another high profile example of loyalty from a manager as this and it all stems from the support he’s had from the club and it’s fantastic supporters since Dave Whelan first brought him to the country as a 22 year-old in 1995.
Not only is he loyal, he’s as honest and open with supporters as you could wish to see. While many of our relegation rivals have been protesting at length against managers, chairmen and owners (Blackburn and Wolves being the obvious examples) our manager actually REQUESTS to meet with supporters and allow them to ask him any question about the current state of affairs and his plans for the club.
“Bobby”, as he’s affectionately known, meets regularly with editors and contributors to the various Wigan fanzines and fan sites. Recently he chose to ask for an open fans forum with any supporter who wished to attend. It was scheduled shortly after a poor 2-0 home defeat to Swansea. There was no real animosity at the forum, no one calling for the manager or chairman to step down, just an honest, open debate to reassure all concerned that what was going on was for the good of the club.
The fans of our great club take some stick, mainly for their numbers, or the supposed lack of. That’s a whole other issue and the reasons we, as a club, average “only” 18,000 are too great to go into, but I personally feel that for a town of 82,000 people to get so many through the doors each week (having struggled to get 2,000 through the doors before the turn of the century) is a stunning achievement.
Although we can’t boast the numbers that other clubs can, our fans are as good as ANY other. What we lack in numbers we make up for in spirit, passion and togetherness like nothing you will see anywhere else. When the fans are called upon they always show their class, and there have been numerous examples of that in the last twelve months.
While others are protesting about the so-called wrongdoings at their respective clubs, Wigan fans are turning up in numbers 3 hours before kick off to greet the players and wish them luck for the game ahead. It’s gone on for the past few home games and it will continue for the rest of the season.
In February last year local four year-old girl Emma Hoolin was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare, aggressive cancer affecting children under 5. The fans decided to do a fundraising collection prior to the home game with Bolton Wanderers. The collection raised approximately £10,000 on a day where 17,000 were in attendance. It was a staggering figure, but it didn’t stop there.
When Wigan travelled to Bolton in February the fans decided to do another fundraiser, this time by walking to the Reebok Stadium for the game, raising over £17,000 for the appeal. Not only did fans turn up in numbers to support the event and raise vital funds, so too did various club officials (including the chief executive!) and former players such as Neil Rimmer. And Rimmer, along with latics legend Matt Jackson, cycled 250 miles to Carrow Road for the recent away fixture at Norwich for the same cause.
This is all on the back of the Anthony Ramsdale appeal, which was created after latics fan Anthony Ramsdale was left severely disabled after a near-fatal motor accident in 2007. Latics fans clubbed together funds to buy a specially designed chair for Anthony and have since gone on to raise additional funds for other important equipment for Anthony.
The organisation “Latics United” was created to help raise funds for the cause. And the recently-formed latics-themed band “The Empty Seats” have been donating all profits from the sale of their CD’s to the appeal and there have also been soul nights and other similar fundraising events put on by the fans.
The move of Charles N’Zogbia to Aston Villa in the summer would have seen fans of other clubs slating the player for moving for money reasons or showing a lack of loyalty. Not from these quarters. There were countless messages on Twitter from Villa fans stating how Wigan fans had shown “a touch of class” in showing no animosity and wishing the player well in his move to the midlands. He was recently applauded when he came on as a sub for Villa at the DW Stadium.
Personally I feel the unity within the club was summed up most of all last week. Following the tragic death of lifelong latics fan Tommy Berry, it was quite remarkable to see Roberto Martinez, skipper Gary Caldwell and several other club players and officials attend the funeral to pay their respects to a fan who lived and breathed the club for nearly six decades. I can’t think of another club in English football where this would ever happen.
In the current fight against relegation teams down at the bottom, such as Wolves and Blackburn, seem to has pressed the self-destruct button at a time when it matters most. The very fact that everyone at Wigan is so united in battle and fighting for the same cause is a big reason why the club have picked up three wins from the last four games.
I feel I could go on with further examples as this is just a snippet of the great work that goes on between the club and its brilliant fans, but the article would be never-ending. It fills me with pride to see all of the above taking place at this fantastic club. I can’t imagine being a fan of any other club and I certainly can’t imagine there’s another club which displays links with its supporters on these scales.
Wigan have a new club crest since Premier League promotion but I feel the moto from the previous crest sums the club up perfectly, “progress with unity”
Wigan Athletic, the smallest club in the Premier League, but with the biggest heart.