After the excitement and exhilaration of beating the title favourites, a different kind of game altogether awaits Sunderland tomorrow night. Wigan away comes close on the heels of Wigan at home, which finally did for Steve Bruce in the sense that whatever was in the Sunderland owner’s mind by then, he could hardly have fired him if he’d led us to a 5-0 victory.
Rob Speakman*, a moderator at the Latics site This Northern Soul and a man with a Reg Vardy Sunderland top, is one of those unforgiving Wigan supporters who take pleasure in Bruce’s downfall …
Salut! Sunderland: Wigan must be the Chumbawamba (not the slapdash spelling that graced the headline until a few minutes ago) of the Premier, always getting knocked down, only to get up again. the season before last, you are mauled at Spurs, then beat us. Can you keep doing it when so many forecast relegation?
If you’d asked me a few weeks ago, I’d have said no chance. Couldn’t even see where our next point was coming from, but in true Chumbawamba style , we’ve found some form from somewhere. If we can play at the level we played against Chelsea last Saturday, I’m sure we’ll survive. It’ll be a close call again, but I like to think we can just about manage it.
Coverage of our game at the Stadium of Light, when you snatched victory in the dying minutes, dwelt on what it meant for Steve Bruce. How did you Wigan supporters see that victory?
It was massive for us; if we’d lost I don’t think we’d have come out of our dip at all, but the win was a confidence booster and we’ve pushed on and improved from there.
It was all the sweeter that it was probably what got Brucey the sack.
And were you surprised that Bruce was ultimately judged a failure at Sunderland?
Not in the slightest. Given how much he spent on (no disrespect to your squad) mediocre players, and looking like relegation candidates in November, it was inevitable. A club with the fanbase and history that you guys have should expect to at absolute minimum be in mid-table obscurity having invested that much money.
To be honest, I was surprised when he was appointed. I couldn’t ever really see a Geordie working his way into the hearts and minds of the Sunderland faithful.
Sadly for you, as when he left us, he left a legacy of average players on big wages and long contracts. It took us a long time to be rid of some of them, and I think the scale of his failure for you probably isn’t fully clear yet.
At least Sunderland are a bigger, richer club than us so you can probably better afford to carry the deadwood he’ll have left you with.
What about Martinez? Safe virtually whatever happens or just as vulnerable to results as Bruce was?
I think he’s safe come what may. He seems to have an almost father & son relationship with the chairman, based on the fact that he’s a legend on the pitch, and he’s a genuinely lovely bloke, who showed massive loyalty to us by sticking with us when Villa came calling in summer.
He’s been prudent in transfer dealings and reduced our wage bill dramatically, which, frustrating as it is to lose top players and not be in the hunt for big name replacements, was necessary for us to remain financially viable. With our small crowds, small sponsorship, and not much marketing presence abroad, cost cutting was a necessary evil which Martinez has adopted and made the best of in the circumstances.
Bernard Ramsdale is a great friend of Salut! Sunderland’s without, so far, having met any of those involved. How would you assess his contributions to the body of Wigan support?
To be honest, I’ve never met Bernard. I’m relatively new to the TNS board, and since my son was born, match days aren’t the all day social that they used to be.
Saying that, from what I know of Bernard from the board, and his contributions off the board, he’s the kind of fan every club needs. Totally committed to the cause and very giving of his time to anything the club or fans need.
Simply by the fact that he’s a friend of Salut! and other clubs’ boards, he’s clearly made a positive representation of our club in wider circles, which I think is really important as well.
I asked him this before the last game and will ask you now: if the worst came to the worst, could you see Wigan bouncing straight back or condemned to a long or even indefinite period out of the top flight and how would levels of support stand up?
I don’t think we’d lose a lot of our players, as few (if any) of them are household names, and so I think we’d still have a strong core squad. With wise investment of parachute money to fill a few gaps, I like to think we could bounce back. Martinez’s record in the Championship is very good from his time at Swansea, so that’s another plus for us.
As with all clubs, we’d see a drop in turnout if we went down, but I don’t think it’d be as big as many people fear. It’s not as though we attract oodles of glory seekers anyway…
Is there a perpetual stand-off between football and Rugby League in Wigan or do plenty of fans catch a bit of each?
There are some who follow both, but we’re largely polarised. I for one would love nothing more than to see the egg chasers booted out of our stadium and have to go cap in hand to Leigh… I’m dreaming, but it’s a very pleasant dream…
Any stand-out memories – good, bad, funny – of past games, home and away, between Wigan and SAFC? Were you at the famous mudslide game at your old ground?
At the tender age of 29 (only just hanging on, mind) I’m a bit young to remember the mudslide. It was late eighties if I know my trivia right, but as I’d have been about 6 at the time, it’s the stuff of YouTube rather than memory for me.
Football aside, I have very good memories of Sunderland games though. It’s always good banter with your lot, and the right sort… Done with tongue firmly in cheek.
There are a few clubs who seem to demand a huge police presence and cause trouble every time (your black and white neighbours spring to mind) but it’s a great atmosphere with Sunderland, great to grab a beer and banter afterwards.
We’ve got a decent record on the pitch against you in recent years (or as decent as our record gets!) so it’s a game I look forward to, with us at least being in with a decent shout.
And what are our thoughts on Sunderland: club, fans, area?
I went to uni in Durham, so I know the area pretty well, and have a few mates up there. Had some cracking nights out in Sunderland, but I couldn’t publish what went on on a few of them…
When I was up there, I went to a few of your games; I shouldn’t admit it but I do own a Sunderland shirt (the “Reg Vardy” one, which I bought for a quid ‘cos it was two seasons out of date) that I wore to the games. I use it for painting and working on my car now… Sorry!
As I said to the previous question, fans are top notch, dead passionate, but in the main don’t take yourselves too seriously and end up kicking off. Definitely one of the best sets of visitors we get, along with Chelsea and Arsenal (IMHO) – but they normally stuff us on the pitch so you’re better on balance.
What are your highs and lows as a supporter?
High: 2006/2007 season, final game against Sheffield United. Winner stayed up, loser went down. David Unsworth scored the penalty that kept us up. He’s a local lad (from Chorley, originally) which made it pretty special. That and the fact he was about 4 stone overweight…
Low: cos I’m a wee whippersnapper (I keep telling myself that) I don’t have a lot of memories of the darkest days in non-league and lower divisions. I think my darkest moment was the 2006 Carling Cup final. We beat Arsenal 1-0 at our place, and in the dying seconds of the away leg, Jason Roberts pulled a goal back to make it 2-1, and we went through to the final on away goals. The hysteria going to Cardiff was massive and having done Arsenal to get there, we were confident it was our time to win our first major(ish) trophy. Man U absolutely battered us 4-0 in the final though, and it was the worst feeling having been on such a high before the game.
In context, the best I’ve seen is Martinez. Even at his best, he probably wouldn’t have cut it in the PL, but at the time and in the leagues we were in, he was like our very own Latics’ version of Pele.
Probably the best player overall is Heskey; never scored hatfulls but his overall influence on our game was immense.
I’d like to have seen Harry Lyon; another club legend from long before I was a even twinkle in my old man’s eye.
Jason Koumas (pictured above) )should never have got near our beloved blue and white. Lazy to the point that he couldn’t even bring himself to run half the time, was one of our record signings, and biggest earners. A total disgrace to football, not just Wigan Athletic: I wouldn’t buy him time; useless waste of oxygen.
Who will finish top four, in order, and who, hand on heart, is for the drop?
1. Man City (just too strong a squad)
2. Chelsea (they’ll pull it out of the bag)
3. Man United (weaker this season)
4. Spurs (on the up)
If you kept either or both of our clubs out of (each!) list, where will we finish up?
Wigan: 16th / 17th
Sunderland: 9th / 10th (MON has more than enough time to turn things round – top manager)
The Barton Question, which used to be the Eduardo Question and may be about to become the Osman Question: that’s feigning injury and diving covered (plus falling-over-and-claiming in Osman’s case) but what form of cheating most irks you and how would you deal with it?
I’m going to be pragmatic here; as much as I don’t like cheating, when the stakes are as high as they are in the PL, if you can get away with it, then why not? The opposition would cheat you given half a chance…
What irks me most is inconsistent refereeing. As a small club, we usually get the s**** end of the stick against the bigger boys. Stuff our lads often get booked for often isn’t even penalised when an Arsenal or Chelsea player do the same.
If the same rules were applied fairly across the board, and every time someone cheated it was punished (either during the game or afterwards by a panel reviewing video) it’d likely stop pretty quickly.
What is your honest view of all the money sloshing around a few clubs in football? Ruining the game or you only wish Wigan could get their hands on some?
I think some of it is sour grapes. From one point of view, I’d love a billionaire sheikh (with a sense of humour, obviously) to buy little Wigan the European Cup.
On the other hand, when he gets bored and leaves us with dozens of long contracts worth more than our overall turnover, that’s the end of the club, RIP.
Football’s always been a big money business but it does seem the case that in the last few years it’s becoming a billionaire’s p****** competition rather than a truly competitive sport.
The likes of Wigan and dare I say even traditionally a biggish club like Sunderland are now being left behind to feed on scraps.
WIll you be at our game? What will be the score?
I’ll be there; wouldn’t miss it!
Predicting Wigan results is like roulette; no real consistency makes it pretty difficult, but if we play at our best, I think we could nick it 2-1. MON is a different animal to Potato Head Bruce though, and he may have a few tricks up his sleeve, so I wouldn’t be too disappointed with a draw.
Rob Speakman on Rob Speakman: I post on This Northern Soul as “The Pon”; the name’s a bit of an in joke with my missus, and not that funny to anyone else but it works for me. I’m a sales/design engineer for a firefighting company, which is nowhere near as interesting as it may sound. I’m married with a little boy, Alexander, who’s 13 months old. Since I work all week an hour’s drive from home, I don’t see much of my boy in the week, so match days are largely just to and from the game these days… But I wouldn’t stop coming altogether for the world, I just don’t do the all day pub-match-pub event all that often any more, and away days are few and far between, which I do miss. Really looking forward to Alexander being old enough to be dragged along. Probably kicking and screaming.
Been supporting the Latics for 14 years or so, but only got a season ticket when I got back from uni eight years ago. Since then, I’ve only missed one home game.
Only been posting on forums for a year or so, but I’ve pretty much made my home TNS; I read a couple of others but only post on TNS. Cracking site largely because there’s a bit of maturity: don’t always all agree but there’s no sign of the childish slanging that goes on on other forums. I also like the fact that the admins aren’t just web techies, but real fans who involve themselves in the posts and also contribute loads of their time to the club offline. It’s a fans’ site run by real fans.
Interview: Colin Randall