No, Ned Brown*, younger member of the father-son partnership behind the Wigan Athletic fan site Los Three Amigos, is not talking about Lee Cattermole. Nor is he referring to Steve Bruce. As a lifelong Wigan supporter and also near-lifelong exile, he has respect for what both did for his club. You’ll need to read on to have the headline explained. Sunderland supporters, as buoyed by a decent League Cup win as the Latics were by theirs, are desperately hoping for a Premier League victory at last – and certainly not for a replica of the game last season that sent the guillotine blade slicing through the air towards Bruce’s neck. Ned predicts our fifth draw …
Salut! Sunderland: Each August, the “experts” confidently predict Wigan will be relegated and you then tear up the script. What is the secret of your survival, near thing as is can be?
The biggest secret about our club is that despite the constant bashing we get for small crowds, we have excellent support. (Most of) our fans truly support the team and get behind them, instead of booing or calling for the manager’s head. Even when times get tough — in fact, especially when times get tough. The town of Wigan only has roughy 60,000 people, so an average crowd just below 20,000 is quite remarkable. The distance between fans and owner, and every layer in between, is far smaller than most premier league clubs — and as such, there is a real connection. From a recruitment standpoint, Dave Whelan has always tried to bring in people who have that real connection and love for the club. Martinez is the best example, but it goes all the way down to the youth team coaches. It’s a tight-knit club.
Roberto deserves great credit for keeping us in the league over the last three years, but greater credit for the behind-the-scenes work and investment that will enable us to stay in the top two leagues for the long-term. Had we been relegated in the Jewell, Hutchings or Bruce eras, there was nothing in place to prevent us dropping down to the third or fourth division. No youth team, no depth in the squad. In his three years, Roberto has done just enough to keep us up, while investing money in our academy, training facilities, squad players. If players like Moses, Rodallega and Diame had left two years ago, we’d be in serious trouble. Roberto’s long-term planning has ensured we are deep enough to be prepared for such departures. The recent League Cup wins (4-1 wins away at Forest and West Ham) are manifestations of his success in this regard. There are youngsters coming through, but real squad depth, and no indispensable stars.
Do you have fond or bitter memories of the Bruce era?
Mostly fond. He rescued us when things looked very grim. The style of play was never a delight, but he got the best out of certain players and brought in some quality. His Cattermole-Palacios axis in the centre of midfield was fearsome but surprisingly cultured, and he earned the club good money with the sales of Valencia and Palacios. There was never much of a long-term plan, and you got the sense that if things went wrong (as they were starting to do in his last season at the club) he wouldn’t be too sure how to turn things around. But he did a decent job and advanced the club. He also established our relationship with Honduras through the recruitment of Palacios and Figueroa, and later Hendry Thomas who never actually played under him but was his buy. Martinez is set to continue that relationship as he is looking at Roger Espinoza, who impressed at the Olympics. I know several Wigan supporters followed Honduras at the World Cup in South Africa, while Hondurans watch Wigan back in their country. Probably Bruce’s most unexpected and bizarre contribution to our football club!
And where realistically can Martinez or indeed any other manager take Wigan Athletic?
In the next few years, mid-table security. I’d say we’re on our way there. We tend to get difficult opening fixtures — but I suspect we’ll end up in lower mid-table this year, avoiding much of the drama of last season. But every year under Martinez we will get a bit better. His vision is starting to materialize and there are plenty of promising young players to come through if we lose one or two big names again in January or next summer. If he were to spend another five years at the club, there’s no telling how much he could do for us. Crowds grow every year, our youth system is modelled after the Spanish which has brought them so much success — and dozens of world class talented little attacking midfielders! But holding on to him is going to get harder every year…
Tell us the brief history of Los Three Amigos.
My father is a Wiganer, born and bred. His father went to the Latics very league first match. I have very fond memories of going to Springfield Park with the two of them in my childhood. Work and life has taken my dad and I to opposite corners of the globe (myself to Boston, my father to Jakarta) but neither of us misses a second of Latics action from afar, and we try to get back as often for pilgrimages to the DW. We started the blog/site because we’d get into these long debates and mostly agree, but take very different routes to the same conclusion. I’m a trained writer and know my modern day Latics inside out, while my dad has a unique and very thoughtful, historical, and global, perspective on Wigan as a club and town. We also spent a decade in Latin America and welcomed the arrival of players like Hugo Rodallega and Maynor Figueroa, and occasionally write in Spanish for the Latin American who follow Wigan.
We have superb relations with your fellow Wigan supporter Bernard Ramsdale. Do Wigan fans generally, and indeed Wigan Athletic FC, recognise what a great ambassador he is?
Though neither my father nor I have never properly met Bernard, everything we’ve read and heard about him as an ambassador for the club, and as a person, make us proud to have him among the support. We’ve followed This Northern Soul (and Ye Olde Tree & Crown) for years and really appreciate his thoughtful writing.
Who are the players who will again keep you up and where are you still weak?
Ali Al-Habsi and James McCarthy stand out at the moment — each leaders in their own way. Moses’ departure has left us a little weak in the dribbling department, though there are high hopes for Ryo Miyaichi, on loan from Arsenal (his style should suit ours better than Bolton’s last season!), and Callum McManaman who came through our youth system and had a big impact in both the win at West Ham earlier this week, and the Fulham loss, off the bench, last weekend.
Is there any player in Martin O’Neill’s squad you’d welcome with open arms?
Several! We’d never be able to afford him, but Adam Johnson would suit us nicely. Same goes for Sessegnon — the kind of versatile attacking all-rounder that we could use in a variety of positions. If Cattermole could replicate the form he showed for us when he was here before, he’d do well in our current system.
Any thoughts on Sunderland, the club and city and fans, and on any past games between us that stick out in the memory?
Our matches against Sunderland tend to be quite unpredictable. For some reason, the one that comes to mind is the 2010 fixture at the DW. Bruce and Cattermole (and Bramble too, maybe?) were making their returns to the DW since jumping ship. Cattermole got sent off. Things were going quite nicely, until Jordan Henderson — some time before the hype got hold of him — whipped in a lovely cross and Asamoah Gyan put it past Al-Habsi. Gyan’s long gone, and Henderson hasn’t done anything like that little piece of skill he used to beat his man for that cross, since. The summer he went to Liverpool many of us were relieved because James McCarthy was another rumoured target. It would have been too early for Jimmy Mac, though watch out for him, he will absolutely become an elite player in the next few years. Was it too early for Hendo? Is he good enough to still make it?
What will be this season’s top four in order and who is going down?
Man United, Man City, Arsenal, Chelsea
Southampton, Norwich, Reading
If our clubs do not feature in either group, where will they finish?
I think Sunderland are starting to look a bit like Martin O’Neill’s Villa side, with a solid organized core, a few tricky match winners, and a (semi) proven, currently-in-scary-form, goalscorer. I’d say 8th? As for Wigan, I think we’ll end up around the 13th mark, hovering just above the relegation zone but not quite ready for mid-table comfort.
Are diving and other forms of cheating – feigning injury to try to get opponents booked or sent off, shirt-pulling, timewasting etc – ever going to be stamped out?
Doubt it. It’s a global league — you’d have a hard time convincing most Latin American federations to adopt harsh punishment for it as they consider it part of the game. Given Danny Wellbeck’s flop the other week, so does he. I don’t like it personally, and there is a lot less of it in the Premier League than others, but I can’t see it going away. Having said that, my suggestion if they did want to stamp it out is to use video evidence and hand out retroactive suspensions after the fact.
And did the spirit of the Olympics make you blase about the resumption of football, or couldn’t you wait?
Couldn’t wait! Loved the Olympic spirit and purity, but every good show needs villains. There is a bit of everything in the Premier League. We see both sides of the game at Wigan — mercenaries using the club as a stepping stone, and fully committed athletes who are a joy to watch and who wear the shirt with pride. The story of our club’s meteoric rise and success, of overcoming the odds, is a true underdog story in the Olympic spirit. Long may it continue.
Club versus country. Which matters most and why?
Both. These players have earned the right to play for their countries, the highest honour, but are paid by their clubs. Football’s governing bodies need to make changes in order for these top-level athletes to be able to participate in both, in peak condition, without sacrifice. There are too many games in club football at the moment, simple as that.
Will Los Three Amigos be represented at the SAFC v WAFC game and what will be the score?
Unfortunately not, although we are hoping to recruit Latics fans to don the sombreros and ‘taches in our absence! I will be watching from Boston, my father from the other side of the world in Jakarta. It’ll be 10 am my time, 10 pm his. Score: 1-1.
Ned Brown on Ned Brown:
Interview: Colin Randall