Wigan Athletic F.C.
Wigan Athletic Football Club is a professional football team based in Wigan, Greater Manchester, England.
In 2003, Wigan were promoted to the Football League Championship for the first time, and in 2005 came second in the Coca Cola Championship to gain promotion to the Premiership. This season they have stunned the whole of English football with a historic League Cup final place for the first time and have remained in the top half of the Premiership for the duration of the 2005-06 season.
Life in the local leagues
Wigan Athletic were formed in 1932 following the demise of Wigan Borough the previous year. Wigan Athletic was the fifth attempt to stabilise a football club in the town following the demise of Wigan County, Wigan United, Wigan Town, A.F.C. Town, and the aforementioned Wigan Borough. Springfield Park, the former home of Wigan Borough, was purchased for £2,850 and the club was elected to the Cheshire League.
In the early history of Wigan Athletic, their most notable exploits came in the FA Cup. In the 1934/35 season, Wigan beat Carlisle United 6-1 in the first round, setting a cup record for the biggest victory by a non-league club over a league club, a record which still stands today.
In 1945 Wigan were elected to a different league, the Lancashire Combination, and in 1950 came close to election to the Football League, narrowly losing out to Scunthorpe United on a vote. In the 1953/54 season, Wigan played an FA Cup match against Hereford United in front of a crowd of 27,526, a Wigan Athletic record and also a record for a match between two non-league teams at a non-league ground.
Early league years
In the 1970s Wigan were founder members of the Northern Premier League. After 34 failed election attempts, including one controversial but headline-making application in 1972 to join the Scottish League Second Division, Wigan were elected to the Football League as Northern League champions in 1978 in place of Southport, who had finished next to bottom of the Fourth Division. In the club's first season of League football, Wigan finished sixth, and gained their first promotion two years later, prompting a ten year spell in the third tier of English football. The club won its first silverware as a League club in 1985, winning the Freight Rover Trophy.
Wigan were relegated from the new Division Two in 1993, and a year later finished 19th - fourth from bottom - in Division Three to complete their worst-ever league season. The following season, 1994-95, brought a secure mid-table finish.
Rising through the league
In 1995, local millionaire David Whelan purchased the club, which was then playing in the Third Division, and stated his ambition to take the club to the Premiership, a statement which was widely ridiculed at the time.
The first step towards Whelan's dream came true in 1997 when they won the Division Three title under the management of John Deehan. Deehan's successor Ray Mathias took Wigan to the Division Two playoffs in 1999, losing 2-1 on aggregate to Manchester City after an extremely dubious goal. This ulimately cost Mathias his job as he fell victim to Whelan's relentless drive for Premiership football. His replacement John Benson led the squad he inherited from Mathias to a commanding position at the top of Division Two in his first six months, including the demolition of local rivals Preston 4-1 away, only to collapse in the second half of the season and once again fail in the play-offs. This was largely attributed to the dropping of leading goalscorer Stuart Barlow who was responsible for much of the sides' early success, which coupled with a series of poor quality signings of aging, highly paid players and a run of poor performances led to strong disapproval of the management among fans, with 'Benson out' chants common at games. The season ended on a depressing note with Wigan losing 3-2 to Gillingham in extra time at the last ever Division Two play-off final to be played at the old Wembley stadium.
Benson then moved 'upstairs' to the new post of Director of Football, where he continued to attract criticism for his perceived negative influence on the team's performance under new manager Bruce Rioch, along with leading goalscorer Simon Haworth. Haworth was widely ridiculed for his mistakes and unwillingness to contribute to the team in stark contrast to his predecessor Stuart Barlow who had been allowed to leave on a free transfer to the fury of fans. Rioch was hampered by severe injury problems and after a difficult and often unimpressive first half of the season left the club in February of 2001. He was temporarily replaced by club stalwart Colin Greenall, before the surprise appointment of Steve Bruce in the closing games of the season. His arrival brought renewed vigour to Wigan performances, with the club ultimately falling foul once again of the play-offs, this time with Reading. Following this blow, Bruce left for Crystal Palace after repeatedly pledging his future to Wigan, leaving behind a club both grateful for his help in getting so close to promotion and also angry and bitter at his betrayal. It came as no great surprise to many Wigan fans when he did the same thing again to Palace, choosing to desert to rivals Birmingham.
In 2001, former player Paul Jewell took over as manager, and after a mixed first season, won the Division Two championship in 2002-03. Wigan finished seventh in the 2003-04 Division One campaign - just one place short of the promotion playoffs.
In the following season the Latics earned promotion to the Premiership by finishing second in the Coca-Cola Championship, behind Sunderland. May 8, 2005 is now regarded by most fans as the biggest day in the history of Wigan Athletic. On the final day of the 2004-05 Coca-Cola Football League Championship campaign, the Latics beat Reading 3-1 at home to secure runners-up spot in the final table and a place in the Premiership for 2005-06.
Wigan in the Premiership
Wigan's first game in the top flight was a dream come true — a home match against English Champions Chelsea. A game in which they came close to a dream start in the league, but to no avail, falling foul to a 92nd minute winner by Hernan Crespo. After the goal, the normally somewhat controversial and unsportsmanlike Jose Mourinho went as far as to commiserate Paul Jewell on his poor fortune and in his post match interview claimed that Chelsea did not deserve to win.
Wigan are only the fifth English team in the last 20 years to win promotion to the top division for the first time. The most successful debut by any of these teams was that of Wimbledon, who achieved a sixth-place finish in 1987.
Wigan's meteoric rise continued on 24 January 2006, when the Lancashire outfit secured their first ever place in a major cup final. Wigan lost on the night to Arsenal 2-1 after extra time but Jason Roberts' last minute strike secured an away goals victory following their 1-0 first leg semi final victory at the JJB Stadium previously. However, Wigan were defeated 4-0 by a Wayne Rooney-inspired Manchester United on February 26, 2006 at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
During the 2005/06 season, Wigan Athletic have also managed to complete double league wins over Sunderland, Manchester City and Aston Villa. Notably, Wigan Athletic have taken most league points away from home, and have the most victories from away games outside the top three clubs. Wigan have failed in their bid for European Football and opted not to take part in the Intertoto Cup, yet have retained a top ten finish in the Premiership. Also, Wigan right-back Pascal Chimbonda was included in the PFA Team of the Season 2005-2006 and was included in France's World Cup 2006 squad. However, this was overshadowed by his transfer request minutes after the last game of the season.
Wigan Athletic's stadium is the 25,138 capacity JJB Stadium, part of the Robin Park complex in Wigan. It has been the club's home since the 1999/2000 season. The stadium, which is shared with the Wigan Warriors rugby league team, cost £30 million to construct. Previously, home games were played at Springfield Park, the former home of Wigan Borough.
The record attendance at the JJB Stadium for Wigan Athletic is 25,023 for a match against Liverpool F.C. on February 11, 2006.
The stadium was opened on August 4, 1999, having cost £30m to construct. It is a modern all-seater stadium with a capacity of 25,000. The stadium's inauguration was marked with a friendly between Wigan Athletic and Manchester United, who were then reigning European Champions, with Sir Alex Ferguson officially opening the stadium. The first competitive football match there took place on August 7 1999, with Wigan Athletic facing Scunthorpe United in a Division 2 match. Simon Haworth scored twice, including the first competitive goal at the new stadium, as Athletic triumphed 3-0. Wigan Athletic had spent the previous 102 years playing at Springfield Park. Wigan Warriors played their first game at the stadium on September 19, 1999 against Castleford Tigers.
On March 7, 2005 Greater Manchester police announced that they would stop policing Wigan Athletic matches at the stadium from April 2. This move would almost certainly have resulted in the stadium's safety certificate being revoked, effectively forcing the team to play behind closed doors. The move was part of an ongoing dispute between the police force and David Whelan surrounding £300,000 in unpaid policing costs. The police's decision would not have affected Wigan Warriors, whose games are stewarded instead of policed. The situation was temporarily resolved on March 8 with both sides reaching an agreement that would allow Athletic to play at the ground until the end of the season. Four months later, Wigan, facing the prospect of playing their home games in the FA Premier League in an empty stadium, grudgingly paid the money they owed to the police. However, the club are now appealing against the payments in court.
Traditions at Wigan Athletic
Wigan Athletic's mascots are JJ (Jay-Jay) and B (Bea) who make regular appearances at home fixtures. The two mascots are intentionally named to create JJB, the clubs main sponsor. The former mascot of Wigan Athletic was almost identical to the more recent JJ but was named 'Springy' in reference to the home of the club at the time, Springfield Park.
The most popular football chant used by supporters has been "You Are My Sunshine," but recent additions are the Frankie Valli classic "Let's Hang On!" which was representative of the club's record of 1-0 small goal leads, especially in the 2003-04 season.
Controversy, Criticism and the Media
Wigan Athletic's rise to the Premiership has been well-documented by the English media, who at times have speculated and criticized the club about relatively low attendances for home matches. This was widely-publicised and compounded by the League Cup Semi-Final game against Arsenal, where the match attendance was 12,181 (48 percent of ground capacity.) The club's management argued that this attendance was due to the fact that not only was the match on a cold, rainy, weekday evening, but was also televised and deep amongst the backlog of games created by reduction by a week of the football season.
Of course, these reasons exclude the traditional rebuttal that the proximity of Blackburn, Bolton, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton have an impact on the crowds at the comparatively 'newer' team, coupled with the fact that Wigan had previously been primarily a rugby league town.
The criticisms are generally unfounded and exaggerative, as Wigan Athletic's average home match attendance has never been within the bottom three of the lowest attended Premiership clubs. Fulham, Portsmouth and Blackburn all have lower 'absolute' average attendances. Wigan Athletic are higher still than Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Sunderland if counted as a stadium 'percentage-filled'.
In April 2006 of the 2005/06 season a New York based production company spent a month filming behind the scenes at the club. The fly-on-the-wall style documentary will provide a narrative of the unique Wigan story.
Famous Former Players
Squad changes during 2006/07 season
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