Who are you? We’re Wigan

Bernard Ramsdale. What a wonderful name for a passionate fan of Wigan Athletic. You get the impression that if he had been born something else, he would have changed the original name by deed poll. And Bernard, one of the mainstays of the independent Latics site Ye Olde Tree and Crown, seems a great character with a terrific fund of memories (including the anecdote, added as a comment to Pete Sixsmith’s latest Soapbox, about the SAFC fan who risked death for another pre-match pint. Not to mention the famed mudslide by our fans at Wigan’s pre-JJB home, Springfield Park. He has a soft spot for Sunderland, our Bernard*, sees both clubs holding down mid-table positions this season and advances a robust argument in favour of Wigan as a football, not Rugby League town…..and if you get a buzz from the words that follow, visit his excellent site for more

This weekend sees Wigan Athletic and Sunderland taking to the field in a relatively new fixture. The clubs have met only 11 times, but since Latics have only been in the Football League for 30 years this is hardly surprising.

What is surprising is the fact that little Wigan are now competing at the same level as Sunderland. We first met in Oct 1987 and both clubs were firmly ensconced in the old Third Division. Sunderland, managed by Lawrie McMenemy, were a big fish in a very small pond in those days and it was no surprise that Sunderland ran out easy 4-1 winners at Roker Park. The return fixture that season, played on 12th March 1988, saw Sunderland make their one and only trip to Springfield Park and the game ended in a 2-2 draw with your
super sub, Eric Gates, running all over the pitch and falling over should any Latics player get within a yard of him.

In fairness to the great man, he was playing at a level that was way below him, but he still made Cristiano Ronaldo seem like a thoroughly good sport!

Mind you, Gates wasn’t doing as much diving as the brilliant Sunderland supporters on the away end mud slide. In never to be forgotten scenes the away fans were executing some beautiful double somersaults and formation diving down the sodden Springfield Park slope. One guy in particular went down in Latics folklore as Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards mark two, by diving full length and landing in a gut clinching, stomach churning bellyflop.

Just one month later both clubs met at Wembley. This was made possible as both teams went on good winning runs that ensured a place at the Mercantile Credit Football Festival. The tournament was held to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Football League. Entry into it depended on a team’s performance for a set number of games during the season and both clubs went along as the Third Division representatives. We met on April 16 1988 in a game of just 20 minutes which ended in a goalless draw. Latics took the honours
courtesy of a 2-1 penalty shoot out. However, we failed to win through to the following days semi finals due to a shoot out loss to Sheffield Wednesday.

It was Dec 2003 when we next locked horns by which time we were competing in the Championship. We played each other four times over the next two seasons with the results being three draws and a Sunderland victory.

These were the days when Latics, led by Paul Jewell, were in the middle of their amazing rise up the Football League ladder, whilst Sunderland boss, Mick McCarthy, was clearly managing at the level he is best at. By the end of season 2004/05 both clubs had fought out an intriguing battle for the Championship title with Sunderland edging Latics into second place in the final reckoning.

However, the last game that we played at Championship level was at the JJB Stadium in April 2004 and the Mackems won by the only goal scored in the third minute by Marcus Stewart who was a mile offside in the build up. This was galling enough to the Latics faithful, but the result more or less also guaranteed Sunderland the league title.

Results in the lower leagues saw Sunderland having the upper hand, in fact Latics failed to win any of the six games that were played. Games played in the top flight though have, in the main, gone in Latics favour with the Blues winning three league games and losing just one.

Season 2005/06 saw Latics in the Premier League for the first time in their history and the games against Sunderland saw the Wiganers in the ascendancy.

As stated earlier McCarthy was seriously out of his depth in the top flight and us having beaten Sunderland 1-0 at the JJB Stadium in August 2005, by the time the return fixture came around on March 11 2006, Sunderland were already destined for relegation and had axed McCarthy, hoping for a change of fortunes.

Latics rolled up at the Stadium of Light and once again won 1-0 to ensure a losing start to the caretaker managership of Kevin Ball. That season saw Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City all relegated, whilst Latics, everyone’s favourites for the drop, finished in tenth spot and went on to reach the Carling Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium.

There was a season long gap before another meeting between our sides, by which time the Roy Keane revolution had started. and the game, played at the JJB Stadium, on Aug 18 2007 resulted in a very convincing 3-0 win for the Blues. Keane, who had performed a minor miracle the previous season after rectifying Niall Quinn’s balls up, was clearly not a very happy chappy!

A very easy 3-0 win in the FA Cup at the Stadium of Light was even less pleasing to him as Latics romped to victory using their reserves, but by the time the return fixture arrived in February of this year he had made his mark on the Sunderland team and Latics escaped with just a 2-0 beating which could have been a lot more.

The Latics managed to finish one place above Sunderland last season and both clubs do seem to have come a long way with regards to making a mark in the Premier League. Hopefully both teams can now go on from strength to strength.


And now for your questions…..

1 Something must have gone right at Wigan? Great club and tradition but that’s Rugby League. Explain the town’s football phenomenon.

If you call a “great club and tradition” watching a club go to Wembley every season for a 10-year spell to compete for a tin pot trophy that nobody has heard of, then you are sadly mistaken. During that “period of unprecedented success” the “NoNecks” were the ONLY professional club playing the game. In football terms it was like Manchester United (Wigan RL) versus Billingham Symphonia (every other RL club) every single time a league game was played. In short, the club couldn’t fail to be successful. It is no coincidence that since the Super League was formed, and all RL clubs start on an even playing field, the ‘Klumps’, have won virtually nothing in the last 15 years. If you also call a ‘great club and tradition’ a team playing in a league where the winners get nothing, and there is no promotion or relegation, again you are sadly mistaken. Add the fact that our average league attendance is many thousands more than theirs and I struggle to comprehend where you are coming from! Wigan is now a football town. That in itself explains the phenomenal success of Wigan Athletic. The townsfolk are being converted from watching a backward thinking regional sport to watching their own professional association football team playing, and in many cases matching and beating, teams that they could once only have dreamed of playing not too many years ago.


What do you feel about your support level? Is the lure of the Merseyside clubs a big issue?

It all depends on how people define the word “support”. Most people on the outside looking in would presume that our support is weak. However, given the fact that this club wasn’t in the league 30 years ago, and previous to that were playing at non league level since 1932, the support that the club now receives is very impressive. The club has had to contend with at least four generations of people either watching the minority sport that is rugby league, or defect to other more famous clubs that lie within a thirty mile circumference of the JJB Stadium. Clubs like Liverpool, Everton, Manchester City, Manchester United, Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, and at one stage even Preston North End. Given that scenario, and the fact that Latics’ average attendance has risen to over 20,000 from less than 1,300 just twelve years ago, I would say that my assumption that our support is fantastic stands up to scrutiny from anyone. Including clueless half wits like Rodney Marsh!


How will our two clubs fare this season?

I think that Sunderland, like Wigan, can quite easily compete among the middle order of the Premier League. By that, I mean that both clubs can forget about looking behind them at the relegation trap door and instead plan for a sustained attempt at breaking into the top 10. Hand on heart, I can see Sunderland finishing in a higher position than Wigan, but there will only be a few places in it. Sticking my neck out, I would guess that Sunderland can finish as high as 10th, with Latics placed handily in 12th place.


Have you been to the Stadium of Light? If so what did you make of it? What do you think of Sunderland itself? Or if not, had you ever been to Roker Park?

I have been to the Stadium of Light just once and that was in our first season in the top flight. The ground is very impressive and can be quite intimidating to clubs like Wigan. Thankfully, on that day the ground had only 30,000 people in it and it wasn’t quite as “scary” as it could have been. It helped that Henri Camara scored a superb match winning goal with just eight minutes of the game gone. Myself and indeed the team, only visited Roker Park once (Oct 1987) and in front of a crowd of around 14,000 the legend that is Paul Jewell scored a consolation goal in a horrendous 4-1 defeat. It wasn’t the result that was horrendous though, it was the fact that our central defender, Alex Cribley, injured his ankle when tackling Gary Owers to prevent a Sunderland goal after just seven minutes of the game had elapsed. The injury was so severe that it ended his career.
Sunderland reminds me a lot of Wigan; it strikes me as very much a working class place, as is Wigan. On the few occasions that I have been in the company of Sunderland supporters I have found them more or less at my level, ie no airs and graces and ready for a bit of drinking and banter! Mind you their stories of their amazingly loyal 100,000 fellow fans were quoted from tales they’d heard from the Brothers Grimm, in that it is a fairy tale. Funnily enough there is another team in Wigan that has also heard the same tales. Both Mackems and Klumps have heard them so often that they actually believe them!


What about the signings each club has made?

We have been relatively quiet on the incoming front, but it looks as though Steve Bruce has pulled off a master stroke with the loan signing of Amr Zaki from El Zamalek. According to FIFA stats he is the best striker in the world and whilst some people may scoff, citing that it is probably easy to score goals in Egyptian football, just glance at the ‘Top Scorers’ section of this season’s fledgling Premier League, and who exactly is joint top of it?

Bruce has also signed Olivier Kapo and Daniel de Ridder from his old club, Birmingham City and by the time you are reading this Bruce may have added Ghana’s goalkeeper, Richard Kingson, to the squad on a freebie. Lee Cattermole is also looking like a useful addition following his surprise move from Middlesbrough.
As for Sunderland, it is quite obvious that Roy Keane means business this season, but the sheer numbers that he has brought in could mean that the team may need a bit of time to gel. The signing of George McCartney and Anton Ferdinand from the Scammers may be crucial and I can think of only one reason that the Upton Park outfit would sell them and that’s to help pay a club record fine for the Carlos Tevez affair two seasons ago. It seems like the FA tribunal are set to rule in Sheffield United’s favour, and for the good of football, I hope the rumour is true.
I feel that David Healy is a striker who has failed to live up to his full potential, whilst Latics themselves were in the running for Djibril Cisse, who will be an amazing asset should he steer clear of injury. Steed Malbranque is always solid and dependable, but I dislike El Hadj Diouff, not because of his connection with our local rivals, but for his horrible, inexcusable actions of spitting at two of his football peers over recent seasons. Pascal Chimbonda can blow hot and cold. When he’s hot he is nothing short of awesome, but he can be as cold as a polar bear’s arse, and he will act like an even bigger arse when he doesn’t get his own way!
As for Nick Colgan, I haven’t a clue what he is capable of as I have never seen him and I also haven’t seen enough of Teemu Tainio either. Knowing my luck both players will probably play starring roles in a Mackem’s victory on Saturday!


Do you regard anyone as we regard Newcastle? Or are you more grown-up about such things?

Yes, the Horwich Nomads, otherwise known as Bolton Wanderers who play at the Shitblock in the tiny, backward hamlet of Horwich/Lostock. We also dislike the Lodgers/Cuckoo’s/FatClub/NoNecks/Klumps that are the local minority sports club! Yourselves and Newcastle United have a mutual appreciation society compared to our bitter hatred of these clubs!

And to further disprove your theory of the local rugby club being the biggest club in town, could you please explain why the Klumps have been told to ‘do one’ with regards to their minority sports game that was scheduled for the day before our Premier League clash? Cuckoos that they are, they have been ordered to play their game at another minority sports ground, leaving the pitch, which they do tend to ruin, in perfect condition for our respective teams!


Memories of players and/or management linked to both clubs? Chimbonda would be the name on most people’s lips, but there are others

Pascal Chimbonda, like you say is the obvious one, the way he disrespected the Wigan Athletic team and the supporters will never be forgiven. Wigan Athletic rescued Pascal from a race hate hell in France and when he arrived in Wigan he didn’t even own a decent pair of football boots. Over the season, our first in the Premier League he became a crowd favourite and then, after the last game of the season (the last ever game played at Highbury), he handed manager, Paul Jewell, a letter asking for a transfer before the team had even got changed!

He felt that he was too big for the club that saved his career and decided he wanted to move to Tottenham. Latics made him hang on until transfer deadline day 2006 before accepting an offer of six million pounds offer from Spurs. At around this time the Tottenham fans were warned about Pascal’s ‘dark side’, and sure enough, he also disrespected them.

And remember, forewarned is forearmed.

Peter Beagrie, David Connolly, Terry Cooke, Alan Crompton, Wayne Entwistle, David Hamilton, Joe Hinnigan, Graham Kavanagh, Alan Kennedy, Kevin Kilbane, Jamie Lawrence, Chris Makin, Andy Marriott, Ian Patterson, and Mike Pollitt have also represented both clubs during Latics thirty year spell as a member of the Football League,
I don’t really have a tale to tell about any of them really, except to let you know that Jamie Lawrence’s book, ‘From Prison to the Premiership‘ is a really good read, check it out!


Club vs country. Who wins for you?

It has got to be my club. I even find it hard to support England when our players are playing for them. Don’t laugh, Latics have had players playing for England you know!


Who will win? Score? Will you be there. If not how will you keep tabs on the game?

Let me think, errrrrrrrrr, 1-0 to Wigan! The scorers will more than likely be Amr Zaki or Henri Camara (again!)! What do you mean, will I be there? Does the Pope wear a pointed hat?

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* Bernard Ramsdale on Bernard Ramsdale: myself and a few more hardy souls/mugs run a totally independent Wigan Athletic fan site called Ye Olde Tree And Crown and have done for the past 10 years or so. Not for us the syndicated football site rubbish that is plaguing the internet at the moment! I’m a lifelong Latics fan and have been there through thick and thin, mainly wafer thin, over the past forty years!

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6 thoughts on “Who are you? We’re Wigan”

  1. Hey, Jack. I’m in charge of pessimism around here. I worry about every game and still cannot be sure where goals will come from at a sufficient rate….let’s hope we’re both wrong

  2. Bernard’s piece is another reminder of how much lovely writing there is on the fringes of football — Sing When You’re Winning, for instance, or Harry Pearson, or Alan Adamthwaite’s memoir of Bishop Auckland’s golden amateur days. And, of course, Pete Sixsmith.

  3. Pete, do you by any chance wear dark spectacles and walk around with a white stick and a big dog? !!
    However, I sincerely wish you all the best of luck for the rest of the season, after Saturday!

  4. My prediction is 0-3. That is, it will be a comfortable win for Sunderland with El Hadj Diouff getting off the mark. Likely Wigan will finish about middle of the bottom half of the table this season and about the same as the Magpies.

  5. Great stuff, Bernard. Apologies for the Bolton jibe, but it got you worked up and that can’t be a bad thing.
    I remember the Alex Cribley injury – one of the worst I have ever seen. We had got rid of McEnemy by then and Dennis Smith (great guy, good manager)was in charge.
    Looking forward to Saturday and I think we will get revenge for the last two miserable defeats – and Marcus Stewart was never offside!!!!

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