Wednesday, September 19, 2007

History of Wigan Athletic F.C.

Life in the local leagues
Wigan Athletic F.C. was 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 and the aforementioned Wigan Borough. Springfield Park, the former home of Wigan Borough, was purchased by the club and were elected to the Cheshire County League.

In the early history of Wigan Athletic, the 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. In 1961, the club moved back to the Cheshire County League.

Early league years
In 1968, 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 in 1978 in place of Southport, who had finished next to bottom of the Fourth Division. Boston United were the Northern Premier League Champions in 1978 but their ground and facilities were deemed unsuitable for the Football League, therefore Wigan, as runners-up were put forward for election. 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.They were beaten in the Northern Final the following season by Bolton Wanderers.

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 (fourth tier), 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 neighbours Manchester City after an extremely dubious goal. This ultimately 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 North End 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 side's early success, which coupled with a series of poor quality signings of ageing, and reputedly highly paid players and a run of poor performances led to strong disapproval of the management among fans. 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, under new manager Bruce Rioch. 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 with a points total of 100. Wigan finished seventh in the 2003-04 Division One campaign - a last minute goal by West Ham's Brian Deane in the final game of the season saw Latics drop out of the play off picture in favour of eventual play off winners Crystal Palace.

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 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. At the final whistle the stadium exploded with cheers and the Status Quo song Rockin' All Over the World was played over the PA system.

Wigan in the Barclays Premier League
Wigan's preparations for their first season in the top-flight included the signings of Henri Camara, Damien Francis, Ryan Taylor, Josip Skoko, Michael Pollitt, Stephane Henchoz, David Connolly and the return of former captain, Arjan De Zeeuw, to the club. Inevitably, he took up his former role as captain. They also brought in the then unknown Pascal Chimbonda from Bastia for a mere £500,000. Unfortunately, during the summer, star striker Nathan Ellington, whose goals had propelled the club into the Premiership, was in the midst of serious contract negotiations. Despite the club's eagerness to hold onto his services, his overly high demands seemingly were not met. This, along with his well-known striking prowess alerted other clubs. Eventually, West Bromwich Albion triggered the get-out clause in his contract and was sold for a fee of £3,000,001.

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 Hernán Crespo. After the goal, José 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 fourth 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. Millwall debuted at 10th place in 1989 before going down the following year, while Swindon Town and Barnsley were both relegated after just one season among the elite).

By November, Wigan had surpassed even their own expectations, and sat 2nd in the Premiership, after wins against Everton, Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Fulham and Portsmouth.

Wigan's meteoric rise continued on 24 January 2006, when the club 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 in extra time 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 Wayne Rooney-inspired neighbours Manchester United on February 26, 2006 at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

During the 2005-06 season, Wigan Athletic also managed to complete double league wins over Sunderland, neighbours Manchester City and Aston Villa. Notably, Wigan Athletic took the most league points away from home, and had the most away victories outside the top three clubs. Wigan failed in their bid for European football and opted not to take part in the UEFA Intertoto Cup, yet retained a top ten finish in the Premiership. They brought in Paul Scharner in January to strengthen the side, and he quickly became a fan favourite with his heroic performances. Also, Wigan right-back Pascal Chimbonda was included in the PFA Team of the Season 2005-06 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. He was subsequently sold to Tottenham Hotspur for £5.5 million on August 31, 2006.

During the close season, Wigan sold experienced players such as Jimmy Bullard (to Fulham), Graham Kavanagh (to Sunderland) and Jason Roberts (to Blackburn Rovers), and let Damien Francis and David Connolly leave after a season of disappointing performances and an injury-plauged season respectively. Stephane Henchoz also left after his year-long contract expired. In turn, Wigan brought in Emile Heskey, Denny Landzaat, Chris Kirkland, Antonio Valencia, Kevin Kilbane, David Cotterill, Fitz Hall and Emmerson Boyce.

After a slow start to the 2006-07 season, Wigan's fortunes picked up with four successive victories against Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers, Fulham and Charlton Athletic. However, the club's form dipped dramatically with eight consecutive losses beginning with a close 1-0 defeat at home to Arsenal on December 13. The lengthy injury to Henri Camara, along with fellow absentee Paul Scharner further hampered their winter period.

Finally, their slump ended with a 1-0 home victory against Portsmouth, on February 3. This tied in with their January transfer window signings of Caleb Folan, Julius Aghahowa and David Unsworth to help to stabilise the club's Premiership status. On March 4, 2007, Wigan stood 15th in the Premiership and were in a more comfortable position than in previous weeks, moving eight points clear of Charlton Athletic after key victories over Newcastle United & Manchester City. The club finally seemed to be moving away from the relegation mire at the right time with inspired performances from new front man Caleb Folan and stand-in goalkeeper John Filan. Nevertheless, Wigan remained in serious danger of relegation after defeats at the hands of Charlton Athletic, Bolton Wanderers and perhaps more pivotally at home against West Ham United. Coupled with the resurgence of rival strugglers Fulham and Sheffield United, Wigan went into the last game of the season needing to beat Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

On May 13, the final day of the 2006-07 season, a 10 man Wigan team battled and beat their Sheffield opponents 2-1 and thus guaranteeing Premiership status for another year and in doing so relegated Sheffield United to the Championship. After a dominant, fast paced and confident opening, Paul Scharner rifled home Kevin Kilbane's low cross of 14 minutes to put the Latics 1-0 up. However, a recurrence of Arjan De Zeeuw's calf injury forced him off after 30 minutes, and a re-shaped Wigan were pegged back on 38 minutes through a Jon Stead header. Yet Wigan forced their way back in front in first half injury time. Phil Jagielka handled the ball inside the area while defending a free-kick, and former Blades defender David Unsworth belted home the resulting penalty. McCulloch was sent off in the 74th minute for his second booking which put Wigan under immense pressure. However, Wigan held on for one of the biggest wins in the club's history. On May 14, 2007 Paul Jewell resigned as the manager; his assistant Chris Hutchings was appointed as the new manager later that day.

Hutchings wasted no time in bringing in experienced, well-known players, such as former Newcastle footballers Titus Bramble and Antoine Sibierski, former Rennes player Mario Melchiot, Preston North End keeper Carlo Nash, the much sought after Jason Koumas, Fulham's Michael Brown, while Andreas Granqvist signed on permanently and Antonio Valencia extended his loan for another season. This poured water over Paul Jewell's argument that such players would not consider Wigan.[citation needed]. However, to allow more players into the squad, some players had to leave. This included Arjan De Zeeuw, who joined Coventry City, Matt Jackson, who signed for Watford, David Unsworth (released), John Filan (released) and former favourite, Lee McCulloch, who finally sealed his dream move to Rangers. Another fan favourite, Leighton Baines, who had already turned down a move to newly promoted Sunderland, rejected a new contract at the club, and eventually signed for his boyhood team Everton. Melchiot was installed as the new club captain following the wholesale changes.

For the 2007/08 season, Wigan's home shirt returned to blue and white stripes, having been blue with white sleeves in 2006/07. The away shirt became white with a black trim, incorporating black shorts and black socks. They also introduced a third kit; dark blue with a royal blue trim.

Final changes to the squad took place before the Transfer Deadline. This saw Wigan sign much travelled striker Marcus Bent on loan and winger Rachid Bouaouzan for £300,000. At the same time, Henri Camara left to go on loan to West Ham United, while Caleb Folan signed for Hull City for £1 million. Cameroonian left-back Salomon Olembé was brought in as a free agent on September 4.

The season began with a spirited, yet disappointing 2-1 defeat away at Everton, but this was followed by consecutive home victories: 1-0 against Middlesbrough and 3-0 against Sunderland. This led to Wigan topping the Premier League for the first time in their history. Wigan's start had seen their new signings gel quickly, with Andreas Granqvist and Titus Bramble forming a sold partnership in the defence, captain Mario Melchiot leading by example, Jason Koumas adding a new creative dimension to the midfield and Antoine Sibierski scoring in each of the first 3 games. Wigan drew 1-1 away at West Ham before losing 1-0 away at Newcastle in their next game. Wanting to emulate their successful Football League Cup run from 2006, Chris Hutchings aimed to win the trophy this time around, only to see Wigan fail at the first hurdle, losing 1-0 at home to Hull City.

Wigan's improved start to the season saw Emile Heskey recalled to the England Squad for the first time since 2005.

Sadly Emile Heskey, immediately after his England call-up, broke his foot in his next game for his club, September 15, 2007, without touching the ball. He was out injured for 6 weeks.

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