12th Man: A fitting tribute

Dave Whelan with Emmerson Boyce and Roberto Martinez

Dave Whelan announced somewhat in jest that if Warren Joyce manages to get us back to the Premier League he would commission a statue of Joyce next to his.

He must have seen the previous game at Oakwell on Saturday because at present this Wigan Athletic side ae as far away from a promotion push as at any time this season. It was surprising as we arrived at Barnsley on Saturday that we started the game without a recognised striker on the pitch.

Will Grigg, Craig Davies and Adam Le Fondre all started the match on the bench with Nick Powell and Yanic Wildschut playing as forwards. I thought Latics started well and initially looked dangerous with Powell leading the line, sadly any plans that Warren Joyce had for the afternoon were sent in to disarray as Powell left the game through injury midway through the second half. Luke Garbutt was the man to replace Nick Powell – surprisingly not one of the three strikers on the bench.

After the result against Reading in the previous match a hard earned point away at Barnsley could be considered a decent point but in our position we really need to start getting wins, some would argue that’s why Gary Caldwell lost his job. Not many would criticise Joyce for his approach to the Barnsley game, after the disastrous result in his first match coming away from Barnsley with any sort of result was of the utmost importance but it was still disappointing to see us lack any sort of attacking intent during the game.

But then on the other side of the coin numerous Barnsley fans were full of praise for Latics and how we had ‘done a job’ on them. Indeed Joyce was praised for his approach to the game and how he managed to nullify the threat from Barnsley. Next up it’s another trip over the Pennines – this time to Huddersfield. David Wagner’s side took the league by storm at the start of the season but have dropped off slightly since then. Any sort of result from Huddersfield would but welcome but we really need to start winning games. Let’s hope Joyce can get his first win on Monday night.

I didn’t manage to get over to Wigan on Thursday to witness the unveiling of Dave Whelan’s statue but it looked a wonderful event, befitting of the man and a wonderful honour for someone who has given Wigan so much. Dave Whelan is often much maligned – by myself and others but there is no escaping the fact that without Dave Whelan – there would be no Wigan Athletic. Certainly not in its current guise – it was great to see Roberto Martinez and Emmerson Boyce return to celebrate with Dave Whelan.

The statue itself is wonderful and adds character to the Stadium. There is now a permanent memorial now to the most famous day in Wigan Athletics history and although some will laugh there is no better monument than seeing the man behind that day honoured permanently outside of Wigan Athletic’s stadium.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Saturday 26th November 2016.

12th Man: Let’s learn the lessons of last season

David Sharpe and Gary Caldwell

12 months ago, many people myself included expected to be writing about our triumphant return to the Premier League in August 2015. That wasn’t the case and although there’s no need to go over old ground as to why we were relegated Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe will do well to heed the lessons of last season, we’re in a similar predicament to last season although we may be in a new league. Once again we have been made favourites for promotion by most of the press and pundits and as with last year we’ve made a number of high profile signings who have had very little time to gel.

You have to hope the difference this time will be those players want to play for the club where in the case of last season that same desire wasn’t there. The squad has been completely re-shaped and at the time of writing only Leon Barnett remains from the squad that started the season last August and with his lack of game time in pre-season there is no guarantee he’ll make an appearance.

With the expectation comes added pressure and the playing staff weren’t able to deal with that last season, whatever the reason was for that. This time players talk about buying in to the vision of David Sharpe and Gary Caldwell two relatively young men who know our football club as well as anybody and will be eager to help us return to our previous lofty position.

Where last season’s squad featured a lot of un-proven talent this squad has heaps of League One and Championship experience and you can only be impressed by how the club have recruited this summer. The stand out players are clearly Welsh internationals Craig Morgan and Craig Davies whilst Will Grigg will be relied on to become the goal scoring striker we sorely need. Reece James joins from Manchester United again spurning supposed interest from Championship clubs while Everton youngsters Francissco Junior and JonJoe Kenny represent potential. Across the pitch we look strong and many may agree that on paper this team is stronger than the one that ended last season.

Despite this as I keep reiterating we need to proceed with caution, although David Sharpe’s comments at the Fans Forum about smashing the league were well intended and clearly the comments of an enthusiastic supporter they could be a stone around our neck. With so many changes and upheaval in the club this side will take time to gel and learn each other’s style of play – you can see that from the under whelming pre-season we’ve just witnessed.

The club needs to show patience but at the same time the supporters do as well, we’ve had two years of complete upheaval at the club since we won the FA Cup and this ‘New Era’ represents our best chance of returning to stability. Mistakes will be made along the way – Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe are both novices we need to give them as much support as possible.

Away from ourselves our rivals will be lining up to knock us down, make no bounds about it we’ll be a scalp for most of League One. Even if we feel more comfortable amongst the likes of Bury, Rochdale and Oldham it’s been over a decade since we were at the same level as these clubs. In that time we’ve been on a journey that they could only dream of and they’ll be eager to bring us back to earth.

Relegation really shouldn’t have happened last season, it was scandalous that a club who had invested so much and had so many resources on the pitch could be relegated alongside the likes of Blackpool and Millwall but relegated we were, relegation needn’t be the disaster it could have been if we can use this opportunity to get back to the Championship we’ll only do that if we use the club’s motto and progress with unity.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 7th August 2015

12th Man: The plot thickens

Ben Watson, Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman, FA Cup

Where do you begin to describe the last seven days in the life of Wigan Athletic, a must win game on Saturday against Huddersfield came and went with yet another defeat for the increasingly under pressure Malky Mackay. Once again we were our own worst enemy as we dominated the game but yet again failed to create any chances of note and lost to a cross come goal.

This was preceded by the departures of the two men who were central to Wigan Athletic winning the FA Cup as Ben Watson departed for Watford and Shaun Maloney headed stateside to join Chicago Fire. Later on in the week Adam Forshaw and Callum McManaman followed them out of the door signing for Middlesbrough and West Brom respectively. Malky Mackay has continually stated since he arrived he only wanted players committed to the Wigan Athletic cause at the club and I suspect the removal of players such as Maloney and Watson are central to that purpose.

There is no getting away from Malky Mackay’s record since he arrived at the club, it has been nothing short of abysmal. I and many others have been quick to call the club out on his appointment and subsequent record but is there an underlying reason to this. Have all the players who left the club this January become so disheartened with life at Wigan Athletic that they simply didn’t want to be here any longer?

If that is the case it’s a sad end to the careers of many Wigan Athletic players, especially the legendary FA Cup winning side. It was clear many players saw their future’s elsewhere but I thought it would have been in the club’s best interests to keep our most talented players together to help us win the battle against relegation. But despite that there are financial considerations to consider and as it looks more likely that we will be starting next season in League One it is understandable that the club has to plan financially for that likely occurrence.

We can blame former managers, we can blame the current incumbent, we can even blame the board but the fact is everyone needs to rally behind Wigan Athletic at the moment. The future of the club is at stake and if that means replacing our high earners and marquee signings from the summer so be it – even if we don’t agree with it.

Malky Mackay will live and die by his record with his own players, the club are giving him the opportunity to shape his own squad. The departures of Uwe Rosler and Roberto Martinez’s key players are displaying that. Perhaps we will see that upturn in form as Mackay’s signings start life at Wigan Athletic.

Whether that will be enough to keep us up remains to be seem.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Thursday 29th January 2015

12th Man: Happy new year?


It hasn’t been a happy new year for Wigan Athletic, the win on Boxing Day against Leeds – Malky Mackay’s first in six games was quickly followed up by a gutless performance against Sheffield Wednesday and our first FA Cup defeat in normal time for three years.

It’s fair to say Malky Mackay has done little since arrived and certainly not enough to warrant the amount of controversy that was brought on the club by his appointment and the subsequent defence of his character by chairman Dave Whelan. Performances have frankly been terrible and the tactics seem archaic one goal from open play in eight games tells its own story. Dave Whelan’s call to arms of “trust me on this one” rings more hollow with every passing week.

Mackay certainly didn’t arrive with a reputation of exciting football but I don’t think anybody expected what has come since then. Not only are we not scoring goals but we are still conceding stupid goals. All that has changed since the departure of Uwe Rosler is that we are creating less and playing worse.

Malky Mackay states that his team selections are based on those impressing in training which is a decent enough policy but when those very same players serve up the same terrible performances week after week how long do you persist with that policy? Players like Andy Delort, Oriol Riera, William Kvist, Emyr Huws recruited at great expense in the summer have seemingly be frozen out whilst Ben Watson and Chris McCann who returned from serious injury just over a month ago are seemingly guaranteed a starting place each week.

The case of Delort and Riera is particularly interesting and at the same time damning, two players who were regular scorers for their previous clubs not given a fair chance at Wigan by either the new manager or the one who signed them. We as a club cannot afford to get it so disastrously wrong in the transfer market and despite Mackay’s reluctance to play either striker I refuse to believe a front two of the non-scoring Marc Antoine Fortune and a hard working left winger is a better option than two strikers who come with the goal scoring pedigree as Riera and Delort do.

There was an air of resignation during the FA Cup exit to Bolton, it would have been an ideal time for Mackay to make changes and give game time to those who have received little or no game time since he arrived. Instead we stuck with what hasn’t been working for the past eight games.

For Bolton’s part they made numerous changes with young exciting players making their debuts and you could see the positivity throughout, similar to what we experienced last season under Uwe Rosler. Bolton completely outclassed us on Saturday and if it wasn’t for the man of the match performance from the re-called Ali Al Habsi it could have been 4 or 5 nil.

The fact that Mackay continues to state how well we’re playing is also a worrying trend. We aren’t playing well and haven’t played well on a regular basis since he arrived. The odd 30 minute spell here or there doesn’t matter until you can produce those performances consistently.

It’s depressing to be a Wigan Athletic fan at the moment, the club seems in turmoil in so many ways but still we have a chance to save ourselves. But the players and the management need to start delivering quickly otherwise we’ll be back in League One and many bigger clubs than Wigan Athletic have failed to recover after relegation to that league.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 10th January 2015

12th Man: Make us proud

Fairytales aren’t real are they?

 Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney
Fairy tales are for romantics, those people without a grasp on the gritty and grim reality of modern life well not exactly. We have been living a fairy tale for the last twelve months thanks to the FA Cup.
It’s hard to think ahead to Saturday’s game against Arsenal without making comparisons to last season, the FA Cup journey didn’t finish when the final had finished last season. It didn’t finish when we were relegated from the Premier League, it continued. It continued as we embarked on our first ever European campaign and it seems like the side picked up where they left off as they swept aside MK Dons, Crystal Palace, Cardiff and Manchester City on route to Wembley.
Make no bounds about it, beating Manchester City in the FA Cup final is this clubs greatest achievement, some of the biggest clubs in the land have never won the FA Cup. Wigan Athletic have. Saturday will be difficult, Arsenal despite the troubles they’re having this season are a fantastic side.
Latics will have to be at their very best to have a chance of reaching the final and many will be writing off our chances before a ball is kicked on Saturday, like they did throughout last season’s competition. To reach Wembley and an FA Cup semi-final in consecutive seasons is unbelievable for any club, let alone a club of our size who is currently in the second tier of English football.
As unbelievable as it is we have earned the right and it’s important that those players who played in last season’s final show their mettle and realise they are on an equal stage to Arsenal.
The memories will come flooding back on Saturday afternoon, the memories of Shaun Maloney and Callum Mcmanaman against Millwall and those memories of Ben Watson in the final. If the players can harness that and the spirit that we’ve shown in the FA Cup over the last twelve months who knows what could happen.
Uwe was right, we can’t lose on Saturday. We are massive underdogs, bigger than we were last season and we go to Wembley with odds completely against us. Beat Arsrenal and it will be another fantastic giant killing, lose and we’ve defended our trophy with dignity.
Fairy tales aren’t meant to be real but we’ve been living a fairy tale for a year now, I don’t want it to end just yet.
Make us proud Latics.

12th Man: Exciting times

Two points from the last three games could be seen as a dramatic loss of form, but anything after that ten game un-beaten run was going to feel like that. The facts are we are still well placed for that play-off run, talk of overtaking Leicester and Burnley was fanciful, and those sides have been consistent and have been out of reach since the turn of the year.

Our major problem isn’t the hiccups against Yeovil, QPR and Bolton it’s the fact we were left so far behind in 2013 and as such have spent the last few months playing catch up. We’ve got ourselves in to a good position and the name of the game is now consolidation, we’ve been lucky that over the last couple of weeks the results for the clubs around us have gone our way.

If they hadn’t we could well have slipped out of the play-off positions, with the amount of extra games we’ve had this season in Europe and the FA Cup any play-off place would be a massive achievement for Uwe and the squad.

The performance against Leicester was one of the best I’ve seen this season and it was heartening to see the lads have still got some reserve in the tank following the poor performance at Bolton a few days previously. Special mentions have to go to two of our longest serving players, namely James McArthur and Jordi Gomez. They have been virtual ever presents under Uwe in the last few weeks and both covered an unbelievable amount of ground in the Leicester game.


In particular it’s good to see the much maligned Jordi Gomez excelling under Uwe and finally getting the respect he deserves from the DW crowd. It would be a crying shame if he were to depart in the summer, maybe this run of form and the push for promotion could convince him to stay?

So it’s on to Leeds on Saturday, it really is a game we need to win ahead of that return date to Wembley where we’ll be out of league action for the week. So in seven days we face two massive home games and a return to Wembley for our second FA Cup semi-final in as many years. It’s never dull when you support Wigan Athletic


12th Man: Can we do it again?

Amazing, outstanding, unbelievable – how many more superlatives can you use to describe this Wigan Athletic side?

James Perch celebrates with his Wigan Athletic teammates

Each week I say the same and each week Uwe Rosler’s team manage to find new ways to astound me, following the win over Cardiff City in the FA Cup fifth round last month Latics were handed the draw nobody wanted. Manchester City, a City side that had gone on to another level since we beat them in last season’s FA Cup final.

Most people, me included expected it to be the end of our cup adventure. It had a natural symmetry to it. Here we were facing City again, what better way to go out than against the supposed best club side in Europe and the side who we beat to win the cup last season? I was expecting a valiant defeat and would have been happy to keep the score down.

Like last season’s final nobody gave Latics a chance ahead of the game, it was seen by all the press and commentators as a forgone conclusion that City would be progressing through to a semi-final against Arsenal and returning to Wembley for the second time this season.

But as with May 2013, write off Wigan Athletic at your peril, the returning hero influenced a performance that would break City hearts as Championship Wigan Athletic knocked Manchester City out of the FA Cup again. Uwe was quick to reference Roberto Martinez in his post-match press conference and the performance on Sunday was very similar to that of the league game at the Etihad last April when we only lost in the last few minutes and pushed City all the way.

Uwe said that the performance of Roberto’s team that night was near perfect and he tried to replicate that by bringing back to the 3-5-2 formation and with his own particular brand of pressing it worked. The atmosphere when Jordi put us ahead and James Perch scored the second was fantastic and we were truly in dream land. It couldn’t happen again could it? Lightening surely doesn’t strike twice and despite a nervy last half hour where City threw everything at us it did strike twice.

Epitomised once again by the fantastic performance of the ageless Emmerson Boyce Latics had beat Manchester City against the odds. We’re heading back to Wembley and I couldn’t be happier. To defend our cup with such great distinction is credit to the players and credit to the management.

 It would have been very easy for Uwe to look to concentrate on the league when he came in and although promotion is our clear priority to still be fighting on both fronts is a massive achievement and it could be argued that the cup performances are influencing our league performances.

When the dust settled on Sunday’s game thoughts turned to Wednesday and the return match with Sheffield Wednesday. With other results not going our way and no league game on the Saturday before it was essential that we got a win to keep in touch with those above us. It wasn’t the best performance and they left it late but we got that win.

To win games like Wednesday night when you aren’t at your best is a sign of the character running through this side. Be it FA Cup or be it the Championship we’re making people sit up and take notice of us again.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post Friday 14th March

12th Man: Do it for Ben

Ben Watson

Another decent week for Uwe Rosler’s every improving Wigan Athletic side was sadly tempered by the extent of Ben Watson’s leg break against Barnsley. The week had started promisingly with progress through to the FA Cup quarter finals for only the third time in our history after an assured performance in Cardiff and a comfortable victory over Barnsley on Tuesday which gave us our first league double of the season.

The shine was taken off those achievements when the club announced on Wednesday that Ben Watson had suffered a double leg break to the leg he broke last season at Anfield. As awful as this is for Ben the club move on and as Uwe mentioned when the news was confirmed the team now have the added incentive of achieving all of their aims this season “for Ben”. If there is any positivity to come out of this it will be that added incentive going forward.

The performance in Cardiff showed the sort of strength in depth we have at the moment, Uwe’s rotation policy has been clearly documented and it worked well this past week with players such as Calum McManaman, Roger Espinoza, Ivan Ramis and Jordi Gomez playing a big part in the victory over the Premier League club and then the likes of Josh McEachran, James McArthur, James McLean and Leon Barnett coming back in on Tuesday and securing a comfortable win.

The win over Cardiff was a fantastic achievement, Cardiff are in a similar position to the one we found ourselves in last season and we know how important the FA Cup can be for improving form. To get a result against a strong Cardiff side showed once again how well we are progressing under Uwe Rosler but also showed that we are taking our cup defence seriously.

The draw didn’t do us any favours and is quite possibly the most difficult draw we could have been handed, a victory over Manchester City at the Etihad will be a harder task than the FA Cup final victory last season. Manchester City have moved on to a different level since that game and we’ve lost a number of experienced Premier League players.

There is a chance of course, it may be minute but there is a chance. Uwe will be fired up about going back to the club he is most synonymous with and it will be a chance for him to show what he can do on the big stage as will a number of our players. With May 11th 2013 fresh in their minds and the thoughts of Manchester City elsewhere with Barcelona to come three days later we may just may have a chance.

This squad thrives best in the face of adversity and that’s what it is doing, let’s keep up the pressure and keep this form up.

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post – Friday 21st February 2014

12th Man: The Revolution Continues …

The Rosler revolution continues to gather pace, the Latics manager will take charge of his tenth Wigan Athletic game this Saturday as the team face struggling Doncaster and it’s been a busy five weeks since Uwe came in to the club. Unbeaten in the league with the only loss so far coming against Maribor in the Europa League the lads have gone on an impressive run considering the sort of form they were in when Owen Coyle was dispatched.

Uwe Rosler

Fourteen points from a possible eighteen in the league, progress to the fourth round of the FA Cup following a nervy third round replay and ten goals scored in the last four games. Looking back at the last week it’s been another successful one, the performance against Bournemouth although not vintage was an effective one.

Three goals without reply against a Bournemouth side who had been in good form is a decent result and keeps us in touch with the play off places. That old buzzword ‘believe’ feels like it has been dusted off since Uwe arrived and with the next few fixtures against clubs languishing in the lower half of the Championship table the possibility of a place in the play-off’s is very real.

That push for the play-offs will be without Grant Holt who has departed for Aston Villa, Holt came to represent everything wrong with Owen Coyle’s reign at Wigan. Brought in for comparatively big money and with a reputation to match the expectation was his goals would fire Latics back to the Premier League. Sadly the reality was nothing like the expectation, Holt struggled for injuries and fitness throughout his time with Wigan and with two goals one of those a penalty he could hardly be described as prolific.

There were concerns around his signing in the summer, in fact there was one infamous moment at Owen Coyle’s sole fans forum where an older gentleman questioned why Coyle had thought it fitting to spend £2.5m on a forward who was 32 when previous club policy had stopped us signing players over 30. Many laughed at the time but it seems he was right, Grant Holt’s relationship with the supporters soon turned sour. Rightly or wrongly his attitude was questioned and it seemed we were just a final payday for the burly striker. A move away is the best for all parties – in contrast the other 30+ striker signed in the summer has finally found his goal scoring boots and Marc Antoine Fortune third goal sealed progression to the fourth round of the FA Cup.

It looked like Latics defence of the FA Cup would end in a whimper on a soaked night in Milton Keynes but a virtuoso performance from Nick Powell along with another good showing from Jordi Gomez and the aforementioned Fortune made all the difference in extra time. It was also telling that the side who’s fitness had been so poor in the proceeding weeks following the departure of Coyle had improved significantly, Latics coped with extra time a lot better than their League One counterparts and that bodes well for the future with the amount of games still to play this season.

So on to the future, fourth round of the cup and rising up the league table let’s hope the side can keep up that impressive run of form for the next few weeks.

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post – Friday 17th January 2014

12th Man: The day we won the Cup

Saturday marks our first FA Cup game since that magical day in May, the day when the footballing world if they hadn’t already stood up and paid attention to Wigan Athletic. A lot has changed since that fateful day but nothing will ever takeaway the unbridled feeling of joy as Ben Watson’s header hit the back of the net.

Wigan FA Cup

As important as our eight years in the Premier League were for the obvious financialrewards and the continued recognition of Wigan being amongst the footballing elite I would say our FA Cup win was equal to it. As a child growing up the FA Cup was the ultimate and despite what the pundits and Premier League focussed press tell you it still is the ultimate.

Wigan Athletic’s FA Cup pedigree prior to last season had wavered in recent years, the fight to reach the Premier League and then stay there had relegated the cup competition to a distraction. Ironically Roberto Martinez was subjected to constant criticism over his team selections in the cup often accused of ‘disrespecting’ the oldest cup competition in the world.

I was lucky enough to attend all but one of our games in the FA Cup run last season, from a supporter’s point of view I don’t think we ever thought about winning it. Well not at first we didn’t, winning the FA Cup doesn’t happen to clubs like ours anymore. It was a chance for me to visit grounds I hadn’t been to before (Bournemouth, Macclesfield and Huddersfield) and have a good time watching football without the pressure of yet another relegation battle over our heads.

After the draw at home to Bournemouth I decided I would make the trip to the South Coast for the replay. Travelling by train to Bournemouth is an adventure itself and with the arctic conditions covering the country it was touch and go if the game would go ahead. But go ahead it did and it was one of those rare sights a Mauro Boselli goal (his final one for the club).

The FA Cup offered those of us who love our away days some fantastic trips, none more so than the trip to Macclesfield in round four. One of the few games that beat the weather that weekend Latics made hard work of beating the non-league side but win they did and all of a sudden the Latics had reached the fifth round. Another favourable draw both footballing wise and away day enjoyment wise meant a Sunday trip to Yorkshire.

The performance against Huddersfield was one of the most comprehensive of the season, racing in to a 2-0 lead before halftime further goals in the second half ensured progress through to the quarterfinal for only the second time in our history and the first time since Leeds in 1986. After being handed what were arguably favourable draws throughout the tournament our quarter final destiny laid down the East Lancs road against an Everton team still smarting from the semi-final defeat to Liverpool the previous season.

Latics came in to the game on the back of a 4-0 defeat at home to Liverpool and as per usual apart from a small band of optimistic Wiganer’s many expected us to be heading to Goodison simply to roll over as Everton made their way to Wembley. So confident were the Everton faithful that certain supporter groups were already offering ‘executive coach travel’ to the semi-final.

I have never known an atmosphere before like the one that greeted us as we entered Goodison that afternoon, a wall of sound from 2000 Wiganer’s. The atmosphere must have had the same effect on the players as it had had on our support as a Wigan Athletic side in mesmerising form took apart the leagues in form side with three outstanding goals in just over three minutes.

It started with Maynor Figueroa’s header, got better with Callum McManaman’s wonder goal and was rounded off by Jordi Gomez’s cool finish. Before you knew it Wigan Athletic were back at Wembley for the first time in 13 years, I and am sure many others thought this was where the ‘journey’ would end. We had got to Wembley and would be drawn against one of the giants and that would be it for our FA Cup campaign.

I was wrong and hadn’t considered the impact of one time Dutch international and Milan maestro Edgar Davids. Edgar mustn’t have read the script properly as he paired Latics with Championship strugglers Millwall leaving Chelsea and Manchester City to battle it out in the other semi-final.

I interviewed Ray Mathias in the build up to the semi-final a man who had managed a Wigan Athletic side against Millwall at Wembley previously and he was full of confidence that the side could do it. We were favourites of course but with a sizeable ‘London’ following for Millwall anything could have happened. The build up to the game was over shadowed as Wigan Athletic were laughably criticised for their failure to sell over 30,000 tickets for the semi-final. In fact well over 25,000 travelled down to North London for the semi-final and out sang the Millwall ‘fans’ from start to finish.

Jordi Gomez and Callum McManaman were once again in imperious form for the semi-final and although it was a tense game there was always the feeling that we would have enough which we certainly did when Jordi Gomez’s through pass found Callum McManaman and over a quarter of the population of Wigan partied in the North London rain.

I was still in a sense of disbelief when we reached the final, reaching the FA Cup final was the absolute pinnacle. Everything you dream of as a kid happening in front of you, it didn’t matter that the FA and TV Companies conspired to make it as hard as possible to get to Wembley, it didn’t matter that it cost a small ransom to get a ticket, it didn’t matter that we were outnumbered by Manchester City fans. None of it mattered as we were in the FA Cup final.

I travelled down to London on the Friday afternoon from Manchester and the train was packed full of polite but overly confident City fans who were expecting an easy win and a second FA Cup win in three seasons. They clearly hadn’t watched us in the cup last season and perhaps as well they hadn’t watched us in the league game where we had already comprehensively outplayed Manchester City only to come away from the Etihad with nothing apart from a severe dent to our hopes of survival.

I couldn’t sleep on the Friday night, a mixture of expectation, trepidation and hoping for the love of god that we could keep the score line respectable.  I was desperate for it not to follow the same lines as Cardiff seven years previously.

Heading out in to London before the game I met up with my Dad back from Spain for the occasion, I met up with fellow Wiganers and I saw friends old and new. The afternoon passed in a blur as we made our way over to Wembley and down the steps from Wembley Park tube I could see images of each and every goal from our cup run. They were all there, Jordi’s penalty at Macclesfield, Arouna’s thunderbolt at Huddersfield, Callum’s lob at Everton and the goal that set us on our way to the final – Shaun Maloney’s against Millwall.

I can’t remember much about arriving at Wembley until the players entered the pitch and there they were the multi-millionaires and world stars of Manchester City against our team of youngsters and elder statesman all moulded in to the philosophy of one Roberto Martinez.  I welled up as the players entered the pitch led by Dave Whelan, followed by Roberto Martinez and his captain Emmerson Boyce holding little Joseph Kendrick it was the symbol of Wigan Athletic and why this club of ours is so special.

I found it difficult to get in to the game for the first five minutes, I was in disbelief each time I looked around, this wasn’t like Cardiff. It felt different, it was different. Latics lined up like they had done so often over the last two seasons in the infamous 3-5-2 formation preferred by Roberto. The side showed no fear and from the off attacked City, there was no sitting back, there was no inviting pressure just relentless attacking and committed football.

The game reached half time and amazingly we were still in it, not only in it but were dominating and had been the better side throughout. We could conceivably had been one or two goals in front, the second half continued as the first had started. Latics attacking and looking to break in behind Manchester City whilst being strong in defence, the second half flew by. Before I knew it we were at the 80 minute mark and we were still in this.

The red card that followed for City followed and not only still in it but we had a real chance of taking Manchester City to extra time and possibly penalties. As Shaun Maloney lined up the corner kick I can remember thinking to myself “fairy tales don’t come true” as the ball swerved out towards the edge of the area it felt as though it stopped in flight as Ben Watson’s head connected. I spent a split second looking for that inevitable flag, there must have been something wrong with that. “He’s not raising his flag, we’re still celebrating – he’s given it.”

Pure unadulterated joy gave way to terror, knowing there was still three minutes of injury time left and this feeling could be taken away from us. It felt like the longest three minutes of my life waiting for that whistle to blow, but blow it did and Wigan Athletic did win the FA Cup.

I can safely say nothing in my life compared to that moment and nothing ever will again, getting promotion to the Premier League was great as was staying there and competing with the biggest names in the world but as Dave Whelan said “it’s the FA Cup, nothing is bigger”.

The FA Cup win in my mind should be dedicated to those who fought the hardest to get us there, those who fought to keep football in the town of Wigan, those who fought to get us to the league and those who fought to keep us alive. Be they supporters, be they directors, be they businessmen, be they councillors, be they players or be they managers. The FA Cup was for all of those who have been part of our wonderful football club.

Those who say there is no room for sentiment in football don’t know anything about football, Dave Whelan’s whole time in charge of Wigan Athletic has been built on sentiment. It was a sentiment that he had unfinished business in football and wanted to fulfil that business with his home town club. He’s done that and more. The sentiment also stretches to the management team, Roberto Martinez and Greame Jones regardless of your respective opinions of them have been a massive part of the modern Wigan Athletic. To have Roberto in charge of Wigan Athletic in their finest moment for me is wholly in keeping with the sentiment of our club.

The saddest part of the cup win wasn’t the relegation that followed, it wasn’t even Roberto Martinez leaving us behind which for me personally was hard to take. It was the realisation that we will never ever have it as good as that again.

Regardless of relegation, 2013 has been and always will be ‘our’ year.

 Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post – Friday 3rd January 2014