You saw it on the telly first but read it here second - 0-0 at Wigan
You can get a broad indication of how old someone is by what Wigan means to them. To some, it is a bankrolled rise up the leagues; to others it is a Man Utd-like dominance of Rugby League; to others again it is mudslides in the old third division. To people of my age it is Northern Soul. In an era even before Ron Atkinson calling his three black players “the three degrees” was regarded as a radical anti-racist statement (!), lads and lasses in this most provincial of provincial towns decided to adopt the music of Black America and make it their own. Fantastic. It was with some pleasure therefore that, as we made our way into Wigan, I looked in my rear view mirror to see a young lad with his windows open and his speakers blasting. Ahh, the inheritance of Northern Soul had been picked up with pride by the current generation. As he drew up alongside I realised that what was blasting away was Nancy Sinatra singing “These boots are made for walking”! This was just too many conflicting cultural cross-references than I could cope with.
At about the same time as Northern Soul was the hippest thing around (and when it was, “hip” was a hip way to describe it), I read George Orwell’s “The road to Wigan Pier”. So I was pleased that we got parked up and had time to have a walk down to see said Wigan Pier. An impressive structure it is as well, justly renowned for its place at the heart of the Liverpool to Leeds shipping trade. If we get this lot in the play-offs you ought to get yourself down and have a look. Unfortunately the museum, visitor centre, boats etc weren’t yet open. We could have hung around or we could get up to the pub for 11 o’clock opening.
So off to the pub. With a 12.30 kick-off the options were limited. You needed to maximise drinking time and minimise walking time (not too bad a motto for life actually). Like a lot of SAFC supporters we opted for the Red Robin just off the retail park, which actually wasn’t a bad pub. It also boasted a particularly entrepreneurial landlord, who toured the beer garden with a couple of buckets of cold lager cans, selling them at £2 a go. Such a pleasant change to the usual arrangement where pre-match pubs seem to be shocked that a load of people want to drink as much beer as possible in the shortest amount of time.
The JJB stadium itself is mighty impressive. As good as Huddersfield’s McAlpine, which is one of my favourite grounds. Unfortunately while Huddersfield have got the size of ground just right for the amount of support they have, Wigan just can’t get the numbers up for the round ball game and so the ground looks pretty empty. Sensibly they give the away fans one of the sides and with over 3,000 travelling we at least made it look respectable. The seating is superb – lots of leg room, nice and steep so even near the back, as we were, you feel on top of the pitch. The concourse is git wide – at least twice that of the SoL and there seemed more toilets than any other ground I’ve been to. Yes, this is definitely where I want to come for our play-off semi (despite it being by far the longest journey for me personally out of the potential play-off opponents).
You may have noticed that I’m not talking about the match much. What’s the point? You all saw it on the telly and will vehemently believe that Kyle played a blinder/ was crap depending on the prejudices you had beforehand (for anyone who didn’t see it, he was superb, fighting for everything and creating chances by the bucket load). You may not have realised how absolutely awful Tommy Smith was because he was probably out of camera shot for most of the game – by far his worst performance). Could you tell how nervous Poom looked on the telly? He really seems to have developed the jitters – calm down, big lad. You either thought Oster was ace as he dribbled and created in the first half or he drove you round the bend with his inability to get a telling shot on goal.
Whatever, we were probably the better team in the first half and could easily have gone in with a couple of goals lead. In the second half, Wigan came much more into it and long before the end Mick Mac and most of us in the stand had decided we would be happy with a point. Breen and Bjork were both called upon to do some heroics and one of their players sent a ball over from right under the crossbar.
This was definitely a game for the half-full/half-empty split. Either it was a good away point against a promotion rival (who could have gone against us if they’d won) or it was only Wigan for crying our loud. Either we had stopped our recent poor run of results or we’d extended our goal-less run to four games. Whichever it was, it probably means that we only need a victory against Crewe on Saturday to ensure we get into the play-offs. By then we really need to have found our scoring boots because Stewart also looked poor and, although Byefield only played a couple of minutes run the clock down in this game, he didn’t look like scoring in the last couple of games he started. Maybe having Arca back on the left wing might help. Certainly I’d like to see McCartney and Wright back as they do tend to push forward in an effective manner to support the attack. Don’t know how McCartney is but Wright again went off injured in this game, which doesn’t bode well.