Friday 31 May 2019

Wigan Athletic Legends vs. Manchester United Legends - Joseph's Goal Charity Game 2019

Saturday 25th May 2019
Wigan Athletic Legends vs. Manchester United Legends

So that opening blog post designed to encourage Watford supporters went well! Even despite the 6-0 defeat (which in fairness, there was little they could have done about it – Man City were that good), it was heartening to see the supporters still get behind their team, waving flags even after Raheem Sterling bagged the sixth.

Technically, this is the opening blog post – at least for my groundhopping. To link in my recollection of Wigan Athletic’s FA Cup win in 2013, outlined in said blog post, I’m off to Ashton Town today to watch the annual Joseph’s Goal charity game.

Joseph’s Goal, named after local boy Joseph Kendrick, seeks to fund research into NKH (Nonketotic Hyperglycinemia), a rare, genetic disorder that affects 1 child in every 60,000. It is caused by an excess of glycine on the brain that affects development almost as soon as a child is born – and sadly, many children do not survive for very long. In fact, there are approximately 15 children alive in the UK with NKH, and only around 500 worldwide. Given just five days to live, Joseph celebrated his 10th birthday earlier this month – confounding all expectations.

The charity is operated by Joseph’s mum, Emma and dad, Paul. Paul is the Latics journalist with local newspapers The Wigan Post and Wigan Observer – hence the link to the club. Whilst raising money for research is the obvious aim, what I feel the charity has also achieved, is to bring people together, strengthening the ‘community feel’ that the vast majority of football clubs were founded upon (but many have seemingly sadly forgotten). From those in the boardroom at the club, the players, the supporters – even the wider football community have got involved with Joseph’s Goal, simply because the lad offers inspiration, something we all can connect with and take forward in our own lives. 

There are numerous charity events every year – from bike rides to black tie-balls, comedy nights to getting the ‘Will Grigg’s on Fire’ song in the top 10 of the iTunes chart. Recently, 75 Latics supporters walked from the club’s training ground in Euxton all the way to Leeds United’s Elland Road, raising more than £35,000 for 58 miles of ambling. One lunatic even did it backwards, after making a promise via a Twitter post that he would ‘if Wigan beat Aston Villa by three goals’ at home on the same day. It finished 3-0 to Wigan, of course! Everyone’s efforts were rewarded with a 2-1 win, though – the club’s first away victory for 7 months!

Joe’s cause was first given a national (nay, international) boost for the first time in 2013 when he was the mascot for the FA Cup Final. The plan was for Wigan captain, Emmerson Boyce, to push Joe on in his chair; instead, he elected to carry him, creating a beautiful moment of humanity and getting the ‘Joseph’s Goal’ message on Joe’s shirt seen by the millions of people watching. Later, explaining why he did it, Emmerson simply said that ‘he’s one of us’ – he just wanted to get the message out about the charity, thinking about the cause instead of himself, before the biggest game of his professional career. Boycey later elaborated that Joe typified ‘the fight to be there’ – although nobody really expected Wigan Athletic to be in an FA Cup Final, it pales somewhat against what people achieve in everyday life. I’m in no doubt that Joe inspired that team to go on and BELIEVE and win that cup for us all (well, us Wigan supporters!) against all of the odds.

Today’s match, the fifth annual event, sees a Latics Legends XI take on a Manchester United XI. The first match was supposed to be against a Latics Development Squad – sadly this was called off due to a torrential downpour. The game was later rearranged with the Legends taking on a Hollyoaks XI – apparently, the lads off the popular Channel 4 soap regularly play charity games and very quickly got together. Latics won 10-0, with a record crowd of 2,225 packed into Ashton Town’s Edge Green Street ground, raising £7,500. 

The next two years saw the Legends take on a ‘Dutch Masters’ team, featuring former Latics stars Arjan de Zeeuw, Denny Landzaat and Jorge Smeets, whilst last year saw a repeat of the 2013 FA Cup Final, against Manchester City Legends. I’ve enjoyed every single game and being in my mid-thirties now, the players who turn out for Latics Legends are ones that I remember cheering on (NOT booing) from my years as a member of Junior Latics/JJ’s Clubs (used to be £2 to get in at one point!), so the occasion is always a personal treat.

Located just a 20-minute bus ride away for me, Ashton-in-Makerfield is 5-and-a-half miles away from Wigan town centre and is home to two football clubs – Town, who are in the North West Counties Division One North and Ashton Athletic, who are in the Premier Division of the NWC. I’m going to be joined today by my mate ‘Big Chris’ – it’s a rather deceptive name as he isn’t particularly gigantic, at least this side of Christmas (and I’ve shared a shower at the gym with him too, so it can’t be that either). 

On photography duty for today, Big Chris joined me for the second Dutch Legends game in 2017 and we had a right laugh, watching former international footballers such as Michael Mols, Sander Westerveld, Jan Kromkamp and Glenn Helder kick a ball about, all whilst supping cans sold from a car boot. Even Angelos Charisteas – the striker who scored the winning goal for Greece in the Euro 2004 final turned out for The Masters (he used to play for Ajax, hence the – tenuous – link!)

So, even though we're looking forward to seeing what this game against Man United has in store, we’re perhaps slightly more looking forward to having a laugh and going on the piss in Ashton afterwards. If the quality of this report isn’t any good from here on in, you know why.

The #10 bus from Wigan drops us off just a short walk from Edge Green Street (press the bell after you pass ‘Ashton Carpets’, overwise you'll end up lost). On approach to the ground, we’re met with the sight of Bryan Robson, getting his kitbag from the boot of his car. The (bona fide) United Legend is the main attraction for the game today – skippering a United side that has ‘surprisingly’ been difficult to put together; aside from Robson, Quinton Fortune is the next most appearance-maker for United in today’s team.

Picking up a programme on entry, in it, Mark Hayes (Ashton Town chairman), explained how difficult it was putting together the side – he received polite declines from the likes of Andrei Kanchelskis, Edwin Van Der Sar and even Dimitar Berbatov. What also doesn’t help is that United are hosting their own Legends game at Old Trafford tomorrow; a 1999 Champions League ‘replay’, against Bayern Munich.

Having followed his efforts on Twitter over the last few months, Mark has worked incredibly hard to put the sides together – thankfully, the Latics team he’s put together is top class; with Arjan de Zeeuw, Paul Scharner and recently-appointed Luton Town manager, Graeme Jones joining Emmerson Boyce in a team that would probably do still well in the National League. North. Okay, maybe the North West Counties – they are in their 40’s, after all. I’m fully expecting Latics to give this United side a good hiding, anyway.

We made sure to arrive with the best part of an hour to spare – not only does this help us to get the cans in from the clubhouse early but it also allows us to take up a great spot on halfway. With a capacity of just over 2000, the ‘Scott Rees and Co. Stadium’ (as its currently known) is by no means ‘tight’ as one might expect from a football ground encased behind a residential street; there’s plenty of room around the majority of the pitch for you to walk around, find your perfect spot, even to park your car. Why anyone would want to park their car here though, I’ve no idea. The match against the Hollyoaks XI saw a wayward shot smash into one of the cars behind the goal! There’s a mismatch of covered seating at each side of the pitch; two structures located behind us where we’re stood, on halfway.

Joe leads the two sides out to enthusiastic applause, as they line-up in front of one of the goals to have their picture taken. Once the match starts, and as expected, Latics dominate – the left side (where we’re stood) sees the majority of the action early on, as Kevin Sharp linked well with Isidro (‘Izzy’) Diaz (one of the famed Three Amigos) and Jones. Barely ten minutes had gone when this triumvirate was broken up, as Jones was substituted – later, I would learn that he had a flight to catch in a few hours but had turned up to play for the charity, nonetheless. This and the man must be busy as it is, what with him taking the Luton job. What a guy!

Despite being 62 years of age, Robson still looks great on the ball – he’s dropping deep, picking up the ball and constantly looking for Fortune, who playing as a No10, is United’s main attacking threat early on. A photographer is doing the rounds and takes up a position near us, ‘Some of these Lads could do with a bit of Photoshopping, eh? Look at those bellies!’, he says to Big Chris and I. We both move closer to the barrier so he can’t see what we’re packing. 

Latics take the lead with roughly 5 minutes to go before half-time, as de Zeeuw rises highest to power home a typical de Zeeuw header. It suddenly dawned on me that it has been 20 YEARS since the Dutchman first signed for Latics – he was a childhood favourite of mine, so it’s quite disheartening to realise that my childhood was two decades ago now! Just before half-time, it really should be 2-0, as Jason Jarrett strides forwards from midfield, urged to shoot by those around us – he does, and the ball comes crashing back off the bar.

Arjan de Zeeuw puts Latics Legends ahead.
Half-time allows me to have a look around and gauge the make-up of the crowd – which is very much the definition of ‘family friendly’ (along with adults supping cans). It’s interesting to note that some of these kids were NOT EVEN BORN when Boyce and Scharner helped Wigan to victory in an FA Cup Final. I mean it was six years ago now but for us, it seems like yesterday – where has the time gone? You can imagine their parents telling them all about it, as well as about the other players playing here today – creating more enjoyment for them and perhaps helping to grow a little bit more attachment for their hometown club?

Whilst, in the absence of Jones, Don Page has been providing a much-needed focal point upfront, he would later go off (then come back on later), and in his absence, Latics struggled to make in-roads on the United goal for the majorty of the second half. Sensing an opportunity, United bring on Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, who has been a great supporter of Joesph’s Goal throughout the years. Unlike his party (political joke alert), he was ‘playing through the centre’, so he spent the majority of his appearance in de Zeeuw’s back pocket. The pressure on a fading Latics backline was a constant though, and it was left to another ringer, David Dempsey (Ashton Town manager), to grab the equaliser from inside the penalty area.

The game grows increasingly tense, as both sides look for a winner. That tension is relaxed slightly as Wigan-born left-back, a member of the EFL Trophy winning side in 1985, Barry Knowles is introduced – to the biggest cheer of the day so far (GO ON BARRY is probably the only printable 'cheer' I can write!) At 60, he’s the elder statesmen in this side, so it’s probably for the best that he was placed in an ‘advanced midfield role’, with Darren Sheridan filling in at left-back in the absence of Sharp. Sorry, Barry.

Despite the introduction of Latics’ secret weapon, the match finished 1-1 and so it went to penalties – the first few expertly tucked away. The cheers grew louder as Barry stepped up; I was concerned as he ambled up to the ball, but he hit it right in the corner, leaving the United goalie with no chance and the loudest cheer of the day (beating the early one) was aired. This clearly affected United, as the next taker missed – his shot spinning wide. It was left to Pascal Chimbonda, a man who once handed a transfer request to Wigan manager Paul Jewell after the last-ever game at Highbury, a man who had just finished his career at Ashton Town, to give Latics Legends the win. The member of France’s World Cup runners-up squad of 2006 (a place earned through playing for Latics, by the way, Pascal) sauntered up and smacked the ball nonchalantly into the left corner. All is forgiven, Pascal!

Barry Knowles slots home his penalty
With Pascal’s arms aloft, a pitch invasion begins with excited fans seeking selfies and autographs with their favourite players. As we head to the bus stop, I ponder whether a game like this would be the same if it were held at a ‘professional’ ground, such as Wigan's own DW Stadium. With vast seating capacity and cover, being located a mile from Wigan town centre and with plentiful car parking around (and virtually no risk of ball damage), it would obviously draw more supporters – and more players. Then again, I think back to the pitch invasion, the kids playing about on the pitch (before the game, at half-time and again, after the game) and just the crowd-player interaction and atmosphere in general – it wouldn’t be the same, so long may this game take place at Ashton Town!

We’re waiting at the stop with a few folks, none more conspicuous than a group of United fans from Hong Kong (they had a 'Hong Kong Reds' flag) – proving that no matter the occasion, United’s global reach will follow. We alight a mile away in Ashton town centre, have some tea in the Wetherspoons and go on a mini pub crawl, ending up at the fantastic Twisted Vine Ale House. A micropub that offers ‘seven changing hand pumps, six keg taps, three real ciders, craft cans and bottles, gins, wines and spirits’, this is a home-from-home for ‘beer ponces’ like us (plus it’s right near the bus stop home too, so it’s a natural ending point)! Whether it’s age or me seeking hipster points, I’ve become quite fond of stout – so a helping of ‘Stout Detectives’, from the American 4T’s brewery, rounded off a fine day. After the gammon and chips in the Wetherspoons (very Brexit, apparently) I couldn’t quite bring myself to plump for one of the delicious-looking pork pies on the bar, though. Ashton has two football clubs, of course, so I’m sure I’ll be back.

Wigan Athletic Legends 1
(de Zeeuw)

Manchester United Legends 1

Wigan Athletic Legends win 5-3 on pens

Attendance: 2,000 (approx.)

Entry: £10

Programme: £2

Match photos by Big Chris.

You can find out more about Joseph’s Goal and donate at


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