Every club has their ups and downs and Wigan are a club that know how to adjust to new challenges.
When Dave Whelan bought Wigan in 1995 the club were in England’s 4th tier. When he took over he announced that he would take the Tics all the way up to the Premier League, and that’s exactly what he did!
First Wigan were promoted to Division 2 in 1997 before reaching the Championship six years later. It only took another two seasons for the boss to fulfil his promise and reach the Premier League to the surprise of many. It was the first time Wigan reached the top tier in the club’s history.
Their first season in the Premier League was a memorable one. After going on a great run under Paul Jewell the Tics were 2nd in the league in November. They also matched their league form with a cup run, reaching the final of the league Cup after beating Arsenal. They lost in the final to Man Utd and ended up finishing 10th in the league, but it was an amazing season for the Premier League newcomers and their highest ever position.
One of the reasons I joined Wigan was because I wanted to be part of a club with amount of passion and determination that they possessed.
From day one when I arrived and met Mr Whelan he made it clear what his objectives were and that he wanted me to make sure his team would stay in the Premier League. That’s pressure of course but isn’t that what football at the highest level is all about?
I had three great years doing whatever it took to stay in the league by keeping the team together, which is never an easy thing because you have to be creative. You have to know how you can keep so many players happy with the same thing during team building. But one thing I made sure on the day of the game was that I wanted to win whatever it took. We maybe didn’t always agree but who cares because after the win there were smiles all over the place.
Wigan spent eight seasons in the Premier League and in the final term reached the FA Cup final for the first time. For the first time in their history. In the final Wigan beat Man City 1–0 going on to win the club’s first ever major trophy and qualify for the Europa League. They were relegated from the Premier League that season but Dave Whelan had taken his beloved Wigan from the 4th tier to European football in just 16 years.
It had been a beautiful journey and it was time for Mr Whelan to hand the chairman role to his equally passionate grandson David Sharpe. Some tough times followed with the Tics falling down to League One before immediately returning to the Championship. It shows the heart and character that this club has and everyone involved knows what it takes to fight back.
It’s been hard finding the Wigan games on TV but I made sure I could see the game against Reading and they didn’t perform like a team that should be relegated. Football can be really cruel sometimes and I hope next season the negatives will turn into positivity and the mighty tics are back shining with happy faces in the stadium cheering the boys on.
What a difference a month makes.
After three successive defeats before the International break, which included a 5-0 thrashing to Brighton, Norwich were under pressure to turn things around. But it was two more defeats that followed for Alex Neil’s side, who have dropped down to 8th in the Championship after their 5th straight loss.
It’s the perfect example of how fast things can change in one of the most competitive league’s in the world. Teams find themselves on hot runs of win after win, followed by spells where they can’t muster a single point for weeks.
It’s one of the reasons why the league is so entertaining. The teams at the bottom can beat the teams at the top on any given week and one good run over 4 or 5 weeks can be the difference between sitting in the relegation spots and fighting for the playoff places.
Just look at Aston Villa. They won just one of their opening 12 games and were in the bottom three until Steve Bruce took over 6 weeks ago. They have since earned 15 points and are now just 4 points outside of the promotion places. After their struggles at the start of the season it looked like promotion straight back to the Premier League was a pipedream, but now it’s beginning to look like they really could go up.
Huddersfield are another team that have had two very different spells of form. They started off with 7 wins from their opening 10 games, topping the league and proving themselves to be genuine promotion contenders. They’ve since slumped to 6th after earning just 4 points from their last 7 games.
Wigan handed Huddersfield their latest defeat last night, the first time the Latics have ever won a league game at Huddersfield. Wigan are still third from bottom but only on goal difference. If they can come up with the goods and begin a good run of form they could be in the top half of the table in no time.
When I met the chairman over the summer I could feel the passion and focus he possessed – to get Wigan back to the top. Hopefully the change of coach will start working because the Wigan fans would love to see some success again, that’s why so many turned up to celebrate the moment Mr Dave Whelan’s great statue got revealed at the DW stadium.
Up the tics!
Can Leicester Do It Again?
Leicester City will face a tough task in the Premier League this season. After writing the most unlikely story on the Premier League’s history under Claudio Ranieri, they now have two big challenges to overcome.
Firstly they will have to adjust to playing Champions League football. Leicester won the title with no distractions last season, while their main rivals had to cope with mid-week European games against the continent’s toughest opposition. Ranieri enjoyed making few changes to his starting XI, but balancing domestic and European football this year will call for depth, and the Tinkerman might be back. It could be tough for Leicester as the players have little European experience and quite a small squad.
And we all know that the big four are going to come back stronger. They were embarrassed by Leicester last season and will do everything to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Manchester United in particular have been spending big in the transfer market, and Mourinho, Conte and Pep will be looking to grab the title in their first seasons at their new clubs.
It will be interesting to see how Leicester cope.
Will Grigg Still Be On Fire?
It will also be interesting to see how Wigan’s star striker copes with life in the championship. Will Grigg scored 25 goals in league 1 last season to help the Latics win promotion, and despite not getting a game, he became one of the most talked about players at Euro 2016. There will no doubt be more eyes watching the Northern Irish talisman, and that pressure plus better opposition could provide a challenge.
If he starts of sharp and grabs a few early goals I’m sure Championship defences will be terrified.
Defying the odds is what AFC Wimbledon are all about. After winning the league 2 playoff final last season, they earnt their 6th promotion in 13 seasons. The club was founded by fans just days after the original Wimbledon was moved from south London to Milton Keynes to avoid bankruptcy.
Since being founded the club have had a fairytale, and with so much money in the game today it’s refreshing to see a club owned and run by fans, for the fans.
AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons have met each other before in cup competitions, but 16/17 will be the first time they meet in the same league. Wimbledon will have a chance to finish above the club they dislike the most, and I’m sure the players, fans and staff will be very motivated to do it.
When you play for a club like Wigan Athletic they make you feel like you’re part of the club forever. That’s why I always keep track of how they’re doing.
I’ll never forget the day I signed. I arrived at the JJB stadium and was speaking to Chris Hutchings, who was the Wigan trainer at the time. Not five minutes later I was introduced to the chairman Mr Whelan. He was very energetic, and immediately exclaimed: “sign for my club and I’ll make sure you won’t regret it!”
Now I look back and feel honoured to have captained the side on a number of occasions thanks to Mr Whelan. People often forget how special that is for any foreign player coming into the Premier League.
Mr Whelan single handedly built the club. He publicly spoke of how successful he would be in creating his team, and not long after that the road to success started.
Recently times have been a little tougher. Relegation is one of the hardest things to overcome for any player, fan, and everyone else involved with the club.
Now his grandson David Sharpe is at the helm and I know there is one clear reason Mr Whelan made that happen. His grandson is as hungry for success as he is.
When Gary Caldwell took over from Malky Mackay I watched the situation unfold and thought that it could be to early. But he’s since changed everyone’s perspective, including mine. His side often plays football that makes you question how they can be in league 1.
One of the main factors that contributes to that is Gary’s understanding of the game. When I played with Gary he wasn’t blessed with a lot of pace, so he had to be smart. He read the game well and had to learn how to see things before any other player.
Now that’s one of the key forces behind his team. He plans everything meticulously so that when the players are on the field they know exactly what they need to do.
Keep the ball in the team, let the other team work. When the other team get tired they’ll loss focus, then you have to finish your chances.
Wigan are now on a great run and it took them 21 minutes to tie up their game against Bury at the weekend. Goals from Ryan Colclough and a brace from the man-in-form Will Grigg were more than enough to secure another three points. That’s eight goals in eight for Grigg now.
On the other side of the field between the sticks they’ve got Jussi Jaaskelainen. At the age of 40 he’s still a great goalkeeper, now with four clean sheets in a row.
Caldwell and his men are now closer to the Championship and fans are showing amazing support. Tickets for away games at the likes of Millwall are already sold out.
It’s an exciting time at Wigan, and I’m looking forward to even greater moments to come in the near future.
I often get asked whether I want to do something or go somewhere and most of the time I respond with “I’m busy”. That always gets people wondering – what keeps me busy?
During my career my schedules were always made for me and there was never a dull moment. When I retired I kept that lifestyle going. I live by the quote “always moving, always growing”. I wake up early every morning, train and then go on to my business meetings.
Just this month I’m taking around 8 flights within a 2 week time frame.
Amsterdam is my first stop, where I host my yearly Children Charity Tournament. I invite kids of all ages and backgrounds to come to my ‘Mario Melchiot’ Football Field and spend the day playing soccer, enjoying live music from one of the top artists in Holland and eating our traditional “Vlaamse frites”.
Straight after, I will be flying into Manchester to play a charity game alongside some of my fellow Wigan players and coaches of yesteryear. The charity, Joseph’s Goal, aims to raise awareness of NKH (Non Ketotic Hyperglycinemia) and give children who suffer from the condition a better life. It’s an honour and a pleasure to play for such a good cause.
I will always cherish the excitement of one of the children’s parents when I called to let him know I’d be taking part in his charity game. It is little things like this that make me realize the beautiful game goes so much further than the football field.
After the game I’m off to London for a scheduled interview with the BBC. And later that Sunday I’ll be at Stamford Bridge watching Chelsea lift the BPL Trophy.
I never turn down an invite to watch Chelsea, but this one in particular will be special for me. It’s always beautiful to see players get rewarded after a season of hard work – especially when those players are ex-teammates.
After only a few short days in London, I’m flying on to Glasgow to be the best man at my friend’s wedding – and believe it or not – I’ll be wearing a kilt. If that doesn’t show how much he means to me, I don’t know what will.
From Glasgow I’m going to Berlin to watch Barcelona play Juventus. I still have mixed emotions when it comes to the Champions League final. I’m always reminded of my time playing for Ajax, and the day we lost the final against Juventus. It was a sad day, although softened by the fact it was my first time meeting Vialli. I went to ask him for his shirt but since he had already given it away, he took off his shorts and said I should keep them.
Two quick years later I got the call from Vialli to join Chelsea, on the one condition that I gave him his pants back.
I never did. But I still managed to play for five straight years.
From Berlin it’s a one way to Las Vegas, where I’ll be holding a Q&A with American Chelsea fans. I’ll also get to play referee for once – blowing the whistle for one of their games. We mutually agreed that it’d be best I take the referee position, (one that I never liked) instead of taking on a myriad of excited fans.
For my wellness and health, I believe it’s for the best.