Posted by MichaelA on December 1, 2005, 12:43:15 PMWigan Athletic have proven to be the other success story of the Premiership so far this season. The club are clearly enjoying their first season in the top division - they were only seconds away from victory over Chelsea in their opening game, and have barely looked back since. A string of famous victories has kept them near the top, although recent results against Arsenal and Spurs have seen them drop to third in the table. Their next games after Liverpool are Man U and Chelsea; a run of matches that will demonstrate the depth of resolve that Paul Jewell has instilled into his squad.
The club were formed in 1932 following the demise of Wigan Borough FC. Wigan Athletic entered the football league proper in 1978, after years in the Northern Premier League. Their gradual ascent through the league was accelerated when Dave Whelan, owner of the JJB Sports shops, became Chairman of the club. They were Third Division Champions 1996-7, and in season 02/03 they were promoted from the Second Division, again as Champions, to old First Division, before securing their entry to the Premiership as runners up last year.
According to our friend Andy at Liverweb, Liverpool and Wigan have only met on two previous occasions, in a two legged League cup tie back in September and October 1989. Liverpool were the victors on both of these occasions. The online historical database that is Wooltonian has also discovered a few more links with Wigan over the years - we've sent a few players their way, including greats like David Fairclough and Alan Kennedy, and Brian Kettle, who went to Wigan from us around 1980. Other players who played for both clubs include Mike Newell - Wigan made a few bob when selling him on to Luton.
For the Spyin' Kop, we have enlisted the help of George Chilvers, who runs the Ultimate Wigan website - the longest standing Latics site on the web, and just about the only opposition team website that I have seen that begins with a welcome message for away fans. It's also where I found most of the information on our visitors. George has been ably supported by Bernard Ramsdale a Latics fan for over thirty years, and who runs the Ye Olde Tree & Crown Latics website, which rose from a previous Latics fanzine. Since Bernard and others opened the site in 2001, Wigan have won the Second Division Championship with 100 points, and spent two seasons in the Championship, finally achieving the dream last season. He considers the site a lucky omen, especially with the start that they have had to life amongst the 'big boys'!
How has the season been shaping up for Wigan? You must be having a ball so far!
GC: Obviously where we are is way beyond our wildest expectations. To have 25 points at this point in the season is pretty good - and we are playing well.
BR: To tell you the truth, our success is like a dream. I am sure that one day soon I will wake up and find myself back inside South Liverpool's ground as opposed to Anfield!
What are your expectations for this season? Have they changed from day one?
GC: No, our expectations have not changed one iota - we expect to stay up. We, unlike most so-called experts, always thought we would, but that doesn't mean it doesn't remain our number one priority, no matter where we currently stand. It may not seem ambitious but we have to be pragmatic - give us guaranteed 17th place now and we'll take it. But to get to guaranteed survival we need all the points we can get now. And the next three up for grabs are at Anfield on Saturday. With another six at The Bridge and OT in our following two games.
BR: My expectations are pretty straight forward and they are to just be in this league next season. To that end, I hope you beat Sunderland tonight (Wednesday) leaving more daylight between us and one of our rivals for the drop. That said, we do have a nice cushion and go into our next three tough games (yourselves then Chelsea and Manchester United all away from home) with confidence sky high. The way the team is playing gives me cause to think that a Uefa Cup spot is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Who do you think is your most important player(s)?
GC: A difficult one, because we have a team rather than big name superstars. The one player though who has caught everyone's imagination, and has played a great part in welding the team is Pascal Chimbonda. Came to us unknown from Bastia, who were relegated last season, he has been an inspiration - solid in defense, attacking runs up the wing, two goals already (never ever scored before we believe) - gloves in September, and allegedly tights and a balaclava in training. A real character!!
BR: Wigan Athletic do not have 'stars' or players who are more important than their team mates. The success of Latics is their team work and the inspirational management of Paul Jewell and his assistant Chris Hutchings. That said, I am sure the Kop will enjoy the high jinks of our right back, Pascal Chimbonda. He is a footballer who loves the game and all the football fans in England.
Your worst player(s)?
GC: A bit trite I know but there's no-one that fans are consistently calling to get rid. Players have an off-day, but no-one consistently so. We have a small squad, and everyone is there on merit.
BR: I never insult any player who puts on the Wigan Athletic shirt and tries their best. Our form suggests all our players are working hard for the team.
Any young up and coming players in the squad that we might not know about?
GC: You probably already know of Leighton Baines at left-back. England Under-21, but Sven doesn't really seem to have noticed him. Solid with actually rather a good shot.
BR: Pascal Chimbonda, who I mentioned earlier is beginning to get quite a name for himself with Bayern Munich sniffing around him. I believe Liverpool are already having a good look at Jimmy Bullard and two of our younger players are already established at England Under 21's level. Incidentally, both come from Liverpool and their names are Leighton Baines and Ryan Taylor.
What sort of line-up will Mr Jewell put out against us?
GC: Probably Mike Pollitt in goal over John Filan - Filan's miss against Arsenal cost us and Pollitt played well enough early in the season and against Spurs on Saturday to keep his place. Wingbacks Pascal Chimbonda and Leighton Baines, with centre backs Stephane Henchoz, who needs no introduction, and Ari De Zeeuw.
Across midfield we'll have Jimmy Bullard, who will run and run, Graham Kavanagh, an old warhorse, Damien Francis and Lee McCulloch, with Jason Roberts and Henri Camara up front.
During the game likely to bring on Ryan Taylor (ex-Tranmere) and/or Alan Mahon in midfield, with David Connolly available to change shape/style up front, or as on Saturday to change to 4-3-3.
BR: The Jeweller, believe it or not, is putting out a reserve team against Newcastle United in the Carling Cup tonight (Wednesday). I think that answers your question! The team you will see at Anfield will be our best and despite the footballing reputation of Liverpool we will play 4-4-2 and attack from the first second until the last!
Do you have a favourite/best chant(s) and perhaps any that require an explanation?
GC: Current favourites are "Who needs Mourinho? We've got Paul Jewellio" and "Doo-doo-doo Pascal Chimbonda". If we're doing OK you may hear "Little Wigan, we're taking the p***" - we're proud of being "Little" Wigan. And for obscurity? "We come from Wigan and we live in Mudhuts! Ooh! Aaah! Ooh ooh aah! Ooh to be a Wiganah!"
BR: To tell you the truth the chants you hear from Wigan Athletic supporters when travelling away from home depend on any given situation that arises. Chants are made up almost spontaneously!
Where do you expect - Wigan and Liverpool to finish in the Premier League?
GC: Liverpool probably around (or I'm afraid just outside) top 6 - Wigan about mid-table.
BR: I think the Premiership title is all sewn up. With regards to ourselves I think a top ten finish is more than likely. As for Liverpool, I think you may snatch that fourth place behind Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal (in that order!)
Which Liverpool player will you fear the most?
GC: We had Henry at the JJB last week, and Davids last Saturday. We fear no individual - as Paul Jewell says "we don't disrespect anyone, but we're not here to swap shirts and get autographs". Just have a nasty feeling though that Peter Crouch will get his name on the scoresheet :-(
BR: Eerrr. PETER CROUCH? Hopefully, he'll get a shedful tonight (Wednesday) otherwise you can GUARANTEE he'll break his duck against us!
And your feelings on the new 'Spanish flavour' Liverpool. Senor 'Rafa' Benitez and our new latin recruits?
GC: We of course famously brought 3 Spaniards to the old Third Division, when such things weren't done, so we know all about Spanish imports. One was Jesus Seba, and there was a flag that said "Jesus is a Wiganer". Rafa's doing OK, and your new Latin recruits fit in well.
BR: Ask any long time football fan what they remember most about Liverpool and it is that 'boot room'! In my humble opinion nothing at Anfield has gone right since the days of Graeme Souness and the beginning of the end of that era. However, Rafa Benitez has the blend just right when it comes to Europe. I suppose the English way of playing is hard for the continentals to adjust to. That said, Jose Reina looks a very good acquistion and ten million pound man Xabi Alonso is obviously a very gifted player. I haven't seen Antonio Barragan as yet while Josemi is another player I haven't seen enough of to really pass comment on. Morientes seems to be getting the feel of the English style of playing though.
Care to predict the score?
GC: I never bet against us - 2-1 to Latics - Camara and McCulloch with Crouch getting yours (probably early on).
BR: 1-2 to Wigan Athletic?
Have you been to Anfield before? What are your impressions/expectations?
GC: Hmmm - how do I answer this?? You see I was born and raised in Liverpool as a Red. I had a Kop season ticket in my youth. I went to Wembley in 74, Rome in 77. But then I moved out here (before Latics were even in the League), and what with one thing and another (mainly my little lad (he's now 26) wanting to go to matches and not being able to take him to Anfield), I ended up following Latics fanatically. They always say converts are the worst!! Some people can't believe you can ever do that, but I'm just supporting my local team. And I started when we were at the bottom. Sort of reverse bandwagon jumping!!
Obviously it's no longer the same (I have been to Anfield a couple of times in recent years), but if anyone had told me all those years ago I'd be sat (yes, sat!) in the Anfield Road End, wearing blue and white and hurling abuse at Liverpool, I'd have asked them what they were smoking <big lol>
BR: I have fantastic memories of Anfield. In September 1989 we were drawn against Liverpool in the League Cup second round. I am talking here about being drawn against a truly GREAT Liverppol team as well. In fact I am almost sure that in the game before Liverpool had crushed Crystal Palace 9-0 in a League game! We feared the worst! Little Wigan from Division Three were going to get slaughtered. When we went 2-1 up in the 55th minute the feeling amongst the Wigan contingent was unbelievable. Truthfully we all thought that this, leading Liverpool at Anfield, was the highest level of achievement we'd ever see! Then the legend that is Ian Rush bagged a couple of goals within minutes. However, after that John Barnes had a penalty saved by our keeper Nigel Adkins. Peter Beardsley and John Barnes completed a 5-2 victory over Latics who had played brilliantly all through the game.
The thing that I'll never forget and appreciate even to this day was the Kop when the game had ended. Our players trudged over to the Liverpool fans and received the best standing ovation a Latics team has ever witnessed from rival fans. Not only that, but when both teams had gone down the tunnel the Kop stayed behind for a few minutes and applauded us, the travelling support as well. So, yes, I have very fond memories of Anfield. When I walk past the famous gates again on Saturday my expectations will be of a victory and a great sense of achievement. Wigan Athletic now play in the same League as Liverpool.
I think a lot of Liverpool fans have been impressed by Wigan this season. Paul Jewell is one of ours, what do you think of his future prospects at Wigan, or beyond?
GC: Paul is, as every paper seems to think is an original pun, is a gem. But his strength is in moulding a team from a collection of players who individually are fine, into something that is better than the sum of the parts. Alf Ramsey did the same - he didn't pick necessarily the best players overall, but the best for the jobs they had to do (hence no Greaves in the 66 WCF).
PJ did the job at Bradford, and he's done it for us. Long may he continue. I'm not sure he would be as successful with prima-donna footballers. He believes in honest graft.
BR: The man is a Wigan Athletic legend. He was obviously brought up with the aforementioned 'boot room' mentality. He is very ambitious and he is satisfied with nothing. In his eyes there is always room for improvement. I think his strengths are man management and motivation. I honestly think he is very happy with his lot in Wigan. However, given his ambition I can see him moving on to a bigger club. I shudder to think what would happen if he was offered the Liverpool job!
England? Don't bet against it!
Finally, you have another ex-Red, Stephane Henchoz, at Wigan. He was much appreciated at Anfield, especially for his goalkeeping in the 2001 FA Cup final against Arsenal. How has he done for Wigan so far this season?
GC: Stephane Henchoz has been a great acquisition for us - just what we needed - solid and experienced. Alongside another experienced centre-back, Ari De Zeeuw, they have formed a backbone that has enabled us to push forward to get the results we have.
BR: Stephane is a rock in the centre of our defence. He has a fantastic understanding with Arjan De Zeeuw. Whilst both these players are not exactly blessed with pace, fortunately our two other defenders Leighton Baines and Chimbonda (the Kop are going to admire him) are regularly fed rocket fuel!
Thanks to both respondents for thier time and for their excellent answers. For Wigan their first trip to Anfield indicates the distance that the club have travelled over the past decade. A result here would give them some hope as they face their most difficult run in fixtures in the Premiership.
For Liverpool, the game is an opportunity for Rafa and the team to demonstrate the consistency of results that we have all been craving. It promises to be a great game, with a couple of nice reunions, and the prospect of some vocal support from our near neighbours.
© MichaelA 2005