Result: Wigan Athletic 0-2 Southampton (FA Cup Quarter-Final)
Venue: DW Stadium (Sunday 18th March 2018, 1.30pm)
Having previously planned to visit Derby County’s Pride Park on this day (a lucky escape there), it just so happened that Wigan managed that huge upset at home to runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City and so took a place in the FA Cup’s quarter-finals. After a lengthy spell of finger crossing, the game was confirmed for the Sunday afternoon and so, after roping in Dan once again, it was off to West Lancashire.
Arriving at just after 11am, we headed straight into the first pub of the day, Harry’s Bar, which is located in the fairly grand-looking building which previously housed the Clarence Hotel. Cheap pints in at £2.20 it’s here that I skip forwards to the game, having no reason to want to remember the next 40 minutes or so. Fortunately, having a game scheduled for this day made there be something a little more positive thing to look back on. The doorman in here also remembered us in saying goodnight about five hours later, so best behaviour here!
Having walked over to the ground, we headed into our designated East Stand location and headed straight for the food bar whereupon I got a Steak Pie in, whilst Dan opted for Chicken Balti. These were very good for around £3 too, not that it wasn’t to be expected considering where we were! From there, and with the time standing at five minutes to kick-off, we swiftly headed up to our seats just about on half-way, with the large, vocal following from the South coast located to our right. This was my second visit, my previous one being a few years back when Wigan welcomed Russian outfit Rubin Kazan to Lancashire in the Europa League which was, of course, being played in on account of their success in this very competition following that famed last-gasp Ben Watson winner at Wembley which, again of course, was at the expense of Man City. It was also the second straight round I’d watched the Saints in too, having seen them triumph at the Hawthorns over West Brom the previous month.
The DW (or JJB still to some) is a pleasant enough ground, especially when there’s a more substantial crowd in as there was today. Having said that, all the stands are fairly similar, so there isn’t much to get excited about in that respect, but you do get a good view from side-on at least though I can’t offer an insight from behind the goals. Anyway, the home of Athletic since their 1999 departure from their traditional Springfield Park home, the DW’s four stands are all single tiered affairs with the Main (West) Stand housing the dressing rooms, tunnel etc. Behind us, up on the back wall of the East Stand, is a sizable score-board but, other than that, there isn’t much else of note to speak of, other than the fact it stands right alongside the former home of North West Counties outfit Wigan Robin Park….Robin Park. The ground also occasionally hosts Latics’ reserve games, though these are few and far between and looks likely to become more of a rugby league ground in the future (from rumours anyway).
The players were out on the field and we were soon all set to go but, before we get there, here’s the story of the Latics of Wigan Athletic F.C….
Wigan Athletic Football Club was founded in 1932 upon the winding up of Wigan Borough the year before. The club was the fifth attempt to create a town side, following the failures of Borough, County, United and Town. They immediately bought and moved into Borough’s former home, Springfield Park, and despite having their initial application turned down, were accepted into the Cheshire County League for 1932-’33 upon the resignation of Manchester Central. The club also made an attempt to be elected to the Football League but, perhaps unsurprisingly, they failed to gain any support.
They won their first honour in 1934 by becoming Cheshire County League champions and defended it the following season while also entering the FA Cup for the first time and defeated Carlisle United 6-1 in the first round, recording the biggest win by a non-league side over a league outfit. A third consecutive title followed in 1936 whilst they also lifted that year’s Lancashire Junior Cup.
After WWII, Wigan changed from red-and-white shirts with black shorts to their now more familiar blue-and-white strip. However, the change of colours proved an unlucky one and after struggling for a side, the club finished bottom of the Cheshire County League in 1947 and subsequently failed to gain re-election, being replaced by Winsford United. The club duly joined the Lancashire Combination and won the league in their first season there. 1950 saw Wigan narrowly miss out on becoming a Football League side, losing out to Scunthorpe United and Shrewsbury Town and so continued on in the Combination, winning it on a further three occasions (1951, ’53, ’54). 1953-’54 saw Wigan play an FA Cup tie against Hereford United in front of 27,526 fans which became a record for both the club at the time and for a match between two non-league sides at a non-league ground. They duly progressed and drew Newcastle United of the First Division in the next round where they held their top-flight hosts to a 2-2 draw at St. James’ Park but would go on to lose out in the replay by 3-2.
1961 saw Wigan return to the Cheshire County League and won their first title since returning in 1965, the club’s record scorer Harry Lyon netting 66 times on the way. 1966-’67 saw a highly successful year, with Athletic lifting four trophies: the Lancashire Floodlit Cup, Liverpool Non-League Senior Cup, Northern Floodlit League Cup and the Northern Floodlit League whilst also ending as runners-up in the Cheshire County League. The end of the following season saw Wigan depart the league and become a founder member of the Northern Premier League which they would go on to win in 1971 & again in 1975. During their NPL tenure, the club also won three NPL Shields (1973, ’74 & ’76) and a NPL League Challenge Cup in 1972.
That latter year had seen Wigan make a controversial attempt to join the Scottish Second Division but this was turned down along with a total of 34 failed election attempts to join the Football League but finally, in 1978, Wigan were elected to the League after finishing as NPL runners-up behind Boston United but as the Pilgrims’ ground didn’t make the grade, Wigan were put forward instead and took the place of bottom-finishing Southport on a re-vote.
Their first season as a league club ended with a 6th placed finish in Division 4 and were promoted to Division 3 in 1982 under Larry Lloyd. Their first season there was a struggle and Lloyd was soon ousted with Bobby Charlton – a club director at the time – taking the reigns for a short while. 1985 saw the Latics lift their first silverware as a League club, winning the Football League Trophy. 1986 saw the club achieve a fourth placed finish and this would stand as their highest league finish right through until 2003, with the club finishing a single point outside the promotion places in the final pre-play-off season, with manager Bryan Hamilton departing for Leicester City.
His assistant Ray Matthias stepped up and equalled his predecessor’s fourth-placed finish and thus Wigan took a spot in the play-offs. They would lose in the semi-final to eventual winners, Swindon Town. After a flirt with relegation in 1988-’89, Matthias was out and Hamilton returned to the club. However, the club continued to struggle and suffered their first relegation in 1993 to the current Division 3. Further struggles would follow with managers coming and going at regular intervals. With the “Three Amigos” of Roberto Martínez, Isidro Díaz and Jesús Seba attracted to the club after Dave Whelan’s purchase, things began to look brighter and 1996 saw the club finish just two points off a play-off place. 1997 saw Wigan promoted in strange circumstances as they finished below Fulham but, due to a temporary rule which saw goals scored take precedence over goal difference, they therefore finished above the Cottagers and took the title, thus returning to Division 2.
1999 saw Latics lift the Football League Trophy for a second time, beating Millwall at Wembley and reached the play-off final that same year but lost out to Manchester City at the semi-final stage. They repeated the trick the following campaign, but this time reached the final. However, they again experienced disappointment, losing out to Gillingham after extra time in the final Division 2 play-off game at the old Wembley.
The continued managerial upheavals continued until Steve Bruce joined the club as manager in a surprise announcement in 2001 for the final few games of the season. He guided Wigan to the play-offs once more but again they fell at that stage, with Bruce departing for Crystal Palace and being replaced by former forward Paul Jewell. His first campaign was questionable, a mid-table finish being combined with an FA Cup upset exit to Canvey Island. His second, however, was far better – Wigan reaching the quarter-finals of the League Cup (beating Premiership sides West Brom, Man City and Fulham en route) and won the Division 2 title with over 100 points and were then to play in the second tier for the first time in their history. After losing their first Division One game, the Latics went on a 17-game unbeaten run to sit top in November of 2003. A weak end to the season saw them fall away to 7th but 2005 saw them finish as runners-up and take a place in the Premiership for the 2005-’06 season.
Their first Premiership game ended in an injury-time defeat to Chelsea, with Hernan Crespo netting late on but another good run saw the Latics confound all expectations to sit 2nd. The club also reached their first major cup final, the League Cup Final, after defeating Arsenal in the semi-finals, but lost out to Manchester United and eventually finished 10th in the league, with Pascal Chimbonda making France’s World Cup squad. However, many of the side would depart in the summer and only a final day win kept their Premiership status intact in 2007 with Jewell resigning and assistant Chris Hutchings taking his place. 2008 saw Emile Heskey become Wigan’s first ever England representative, but Hutchings didn’t last long, being replaced by the returning Steve Bruce in November.
2009 saw Roberto Martinez take over from Sunderland-bound Bruce and return to the club he’d served as a player. A couple of late-in-the-day survivals followed before 2013 saw both heartbreak and triumph. Wigan reached the FA Cup Final and beat Manchester City via a late Ben Watson winner which also gave the club a spot in the Europa League for the next season. However, they went on to be relegated by the end of the season which saw Martinez leave for Everton and Owen Coyle come in. They lost in the Community Shield to start of the season with Coyle being quickly replaced by Uwe Rösler. By December, Wigan were out of the Europa League though did reach the FA Cup semi-final, losing to QPR.
2014-’15 saw a poor start with Rösler relieved of his duties and Malky Mackay installed, whilst Dave Whelan resigned as chairman, handing over to his grandson. Things didn’t improve, Mackay was sacked in April with Wigan in danger of the drop, with Gary Caldwell now taking the reigns. The club weren’t able to recover and suffered the drop, only to bounce back immediately the following season. However, their return to the Championship last season was unsuccessful, with Caldwell, replacement Warren Joyce and interim boss Graham Barrow all leaving en route to eventual relegation back to League One. The club appointed Paul Cook for this season and he’s guided them to the promotion spots in the league and the quarter-finals of the Cup today.
The game got underway and it was the hosts who largely dominated the opening stages. Gavin Massey fired over early on, before Southampton responded with Guido Carrillo testing the skills of home stopper Christian Walton. That was largely as good as it got for the visitors and their fans weren’t too impressed with their display. They were almost in even less of a good mood when Nathan Byrne’s effort deflected across goal and bobbled inches wide of the far upright.
This was followed by, in my opinion second-best named current footballer after Nortei Nortey, Max Power (who I’d previously seen captaining a young Tranmere side a few years ago), forcing Saints keeper Alex McCarthy into action before Will Grigg spurned two decent positions which showed his legendary “fire” may not have been in rage mode today. The half came to a close with the game being a very watchable one without chances being regularly turned into attempts. Wigan’s final decision was lacking, whilst Southampton looked a team devoid of confidence, which is understandable to a point.
The most questionable thing was the “ooh ah” chant from the home fans when a corner was about to be taken. It didn’t appear to achieve much and both Dan and I were none the wiser. Anyway, that was half-time and the sides headed out of a chilly early afternoon still locked together at nil-nil. Our half-time was spent doing very little, as is the norm up in the stands of the higher-tiered sides, before the teams thankfully returned to the field to hopefully serve up something to keep us warm.
They certainly gave it their best. The game continued where it had left off, being a free-flowing game (full credit to Michael Oliver for helping that along) and a pretty end-to-end one too. Both sides were going for it, with Massey again going close early in a half for Wigan, but it was a defensive error that almost brought the opener when the otherwise impressive Byrne almost blotted his copybook by playing an awful attempted back-pass straight to Southampton forward Manolo Gabbiadini but, after encroaching towards goal, he could only tamely hit Walton’s outstretched leg when one-on-one with the Latics goalkeeper. A very poor miss by a striker of his pedigree, but full credit to Walton for staying as big as possible.
However this reprieve would only be a short one. From a Dusan Tadic corner, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg saw his powerful header well tipped over by Walton only for the resultant second Tadic kick to find the same man and the unmarked Dane calmly slotted the ball home from six yards or so for his first goal for Southampton. One-nil the Saints and their fans were in jubilant mood now.
This seemed to give Southampton more impetus and the Premier League side began to put their stamp on the game. On 73 minutes they should have had it all wrapped up when sub Nathan Redmond snaked his way into the area and was upended by the tall frame of Dan Burn. Michael Oliver had no hesitation in pointing to the spot (though Dan and a guy behind us disagreed with mine and the ref’s opinion) but, regardless, up stepped Gabbiadini once again. But the Italian was again to be denied by Walton – diving away to his right to palm the spot-kick behind and to safety. Top stuff from him!
As we entered stoppage time, Wigan began to truly chase the game as was their obvious want to do. Nick Powell and Noel Hunt were brought onto the pitch as the Latics looked to grab an equaliser and send the tie to extra-time (not that we’d have known and probably would have left thinking that was that) but it was to be Southampton who’d cement their place in the semi-finals as the unlikely figure of Cédric Soares – or just Cédric to his friends – received the ball from a failed Wigan set-piece, strode forward down the left and placed his shot across Walton and into the far bottom corner before wheeling away to also celebrate his first goal for the Saints and sending the away fans wild again as they knew they were off to Wembley. It was the end of Wigan’s fine cup-run, but there was no disgrace in that, having seen off AFC Bournemouth, West Ham and Man City en route to this point. Full-Time arrived shortly afterwards.
Dan headed off for a bus back into Wigan whilst I opted to walk back to the first pub in the attempts to drown my sorrows from earlier. It was a good job I did as, not only did I beat him back, he ended up needing a taxi and finally arrived some 40 minutes after I had. Crazy. By this point we were in the George (of course we were, there’s a Great George Street too, as Wigan clearly knows) where a Carlsberg was milked over for £2.30 prior to Dan eventually arriving to his now approaching tepid Fosters. Shortly after his arrival, it all began kicking off in the road outside, much to the amusement of the punters within the George.
From there it was onwards to the pub over the road, The Berkeley, (everything had long quietened down) where a pint of Amstel was had at around the £3 mark, probably a touch less. A Southampton fan was getting regular heads-up about possible trouble due to him wearing colours, but there seemed little to no threat since the spot of trouble had cleared earlier. We watched the end of the Chelsea-Leicester clash in here (well, we thought we did as we didn’t know about extra-time remember) before continuing a few doors away to Wigan’s Spoon’s offering and the second Moon Under Water of the weekend. A pint of Punk IPA was enjoyed whilst Dan had Carling (I know) prior to him having to leave for something called “work on a Monday”. I don’t have that issue currently….aren’t three day weekends great?!
After here, I headed off towards the bus station and an interesting looking place by the name of the Tap & Barrel which is located down a traditional-like pathway. It was a nice place in here too, with a pint of Blue Moon in here setting me back around £3 which is damn cheap for that stuff. By now I wasn’t feeling at my best and so decided to restrict myself to a couple of weaker ones which I could take my time over, due to the time I had to my train back. After leaving here, I had a stop-off in the nearby Anvil for a Coors prior to returning back to Wallgate and the Raven for a final Carlsberg before returning to the station having become swiftly the worse for wear after the emotion of the day. It hadn’t been easy and I haven’t really wanted to write about this one.
The journey back was fine and easy and so ends the day in Wigan. With a couple of places I’d planned to stop in left unvisited, I’m looking forward to a trip back for another club some time soon. The DW is a tidy, decent ground and the game was decent enough too. The programme (£3) was a decent read and the drinks in the town were on the cheap side too which is always welcome. So there we have it, I’m not hanging around on this one and Southend is next up….
Value For Money: 7