Sunday 26 July 2020

Football: Together In Adversity

It’s been a couple of days now since Wigan Athletic were relegated* from The Championship – despite 1 defeat in 15 games, collecting 18 points in 9 games after the Coronavirus lockdown, sealing a 13th–place finish. After being put into administration for unfathomable reasons, the club was deducted 12 points, dropping them into the relegation zone after the final whistle sounded at the end of the 46th and final game of the season.

An appeal* against the removal of the 12 points is in the works, but it’s the immediate future of the club that’s the biggest concern at the moment – everyone is for sale at rock-bottom prices, including many of the talented U18 team that I’ve covered this season on this blog. It’s sickening to think about the progress we have made is about to be flushed away; our future ‘assets’ being sold for peanuts just so the club can keep going until a buyer is found.

It can be easy to get angry and appropriate blame – but there is nothing I can do but hope justice is done. In the meantime, instead of dwelling on the negatives, here’s why I’m feeling proud of the club at the moment: 

The Players and Staff. It can be easy today, what with the vast amounts of money players receive (even in The Championship), to criticise them. Every mistake, bad shot or poor cross is set upon and labelled as an example of them being ‘overpaid’, ‘not worth the money’ or simply ‘not bothered’. Their commitment is questioned when a run of results doesn’t go the way as expected – they ‘don’t care’ about the club and ‘can’t wait’ to leave.

By this episode alone, I can say all that is bollocks. To a man, the players at Wigan Athletic have strived to get the club out of a mess that wasn’t anyone’s making but the owners in Hong Kong. Already on reduced wages thanks to the Coronavirus, the players accepted an 80% pay-cut for their June payment, apparently with no dissension. They went on to record 2 wins and 3 draws after that – including the amazing spectacle that saw them beat Hull City 8-0, with 7 goals coming in the first-half. I hadn’t seen anything like that before – and I’ve played amateur football!

We came up agonisingly short in the end, but it’s no disgrace. These players will be remembered for their commitment and willingness to keep the club in The Championship, despite many of them being set to leave/sold on. People like captain, Sam Morsy, who leads the club on and off the pitch; putting out positive messages to supporters, even calling at a young supporter’s house, unannounced, to give him his shirt. Manager, Paul Cook, creating a positive environment around the club when times were hard (especially earlier in the season when we couldn’t buy a win!), taking it upon himself to ring up staff who had been made redundant. Then there’s staff like Jonathan Jackson, the chief executive who himself was made redundant, but has still been going into the club, working tirelessly to help out the administrators.

These people may earn more money than we do, but the vast majority of professional footballers come from the same backgrounds as many of us – they understand what these clubs mean to supporters. Many club owners obviously do not. 

The Supporters. In a similar manner as players, it can be easy for people to throw their arms up and flounce off when things are hard. It’s a well-worn clichĂ©, but supporting a club the size of Wigan Athletic is like a family (indeed, there are probably families out there much larger than our fan base!) – Yeah, we may argue with one another most of the time but when there’s a crisis to deal with, everyone comes together.

From positive messages to the club and players online, donating money to the crowdfunding page, thinking about ways to raise even more money; selling their memorabilia, throwing garage sales, creating t-shirts, mugs, art prints, keyrings, etc, to spending days investigating the shady characters that have put the club in administration – Wigan Athletic supporters have been relentless in trying to do everything to save their club. They haven’t turned on the staff or each other during all this – all they’ve asked is ‘how can we help?

It isn’t just Latics supporters though, as people from other clubs have been a big help in trying to spread information about what’s happened, pressuring the EFL, even donating money themselves. Nothing I can say will be enough to thank them – they know that unstable owners are a plague on the game in England and it has happened too many times and it needs to end. 

Journalists and Politicians. I never thought I’d be writing this (what with these two groups often battling one another), but the media and local politicians have worked brilliantly together; quick to listen to what was happening at Wigan Athletic. The administration was initially reported as solely being a result of Coronavirus, but as it became apparent there was more to it (a club with no external creditors being put into administration is odd, to the say the least); they rallied around and got information out there, seeking answers.

Wigan MP, Lisa Nandy and the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, have been a great help in liaising with the EFL and communicating with supporters, the Shadow Cabinet Leader, Kier Starmer and Shadow Sports Minister, Jo Stevens, also got involved in bringing it to the attention of the government. Media figures such as Colin Murray used his platform on Radio Five Live and the EFL highlights show on Quest to draw attention to it too – then there are the numerous commentators, bloggers, vloggers, podcasters, experts in various fields many of them, who also helped.

All these people have recognised that football clubs are a crucial part of the local community – they don’t just provide us with something to watch and shout at every other week, but their presence allows local people to find work, pubs, shops and restaurants to make money, kids somewhere safe to play football (and dream about playing for their team) – football clubs like ours are a vital part of people's lives. They’re more than a business.

I think it’s this aspect that has struck a chord with people outside of the club – just like Bury, Wigan Athletic aren’t a brand to shopped about around the world; they are community club that welcomes anyone with open arms. What happened to Bury should never happen again, what happened to us should never happen again and what is currently happening to Charlton (uncertainty over their own ownership) should not be happening. It could easily be YOUR club next – so when will things change?

A great place to start would be the government petition set up by the Wigan Athletic Supporters Club – calling for a review into how the EFL’s ‘owners and directors test', it is the best way to push for change. It needs 100,000 signatures to be put up for debate, so if you would like to offer your support, you can find it here.

At the start of this Coronavirus pandemic, I was reminded of a quote by the Starbucks chairman, Howard Schultz. Responsible for saving the coffee company from going bust and turning them around to become the corporate multinational giant they are today, the overriding sentence from his book, Onward: How Starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul, was “In times of adversity and change, we really discover who we are and what we’re made of."

I thought about that while hearing about all the panic buying going on; how it would make us look in the annals of history? I think it’s an apt quote for what’s going on with Latics right now too; there’s a lot of work ahead to save the club but whatever happens, everyone can hold their heads up and say we did all we could. Which is more than what I can say about the body that runs our leagues – but we’ll leave that for another time!


Post a Comment