In years gone by, this time of the year was reserved for rallying calls by social media loudmouths, bursting with enthusiasm about anything and everything. There was always a host of reasons to buzz over the new season starting. Instead, this time round has been a particularly subdued off-season for Wigan Athletic supporters.
Nevertheless, it’s been a summer on the whole that history will never forget. Euro 2016 on the whole was a letdown – bar Will Grigg’s involvement (or non-involvement as it turned out) and a handful of decent matches in the tournament – but Europe was still the topic everyone was talking about, with over 17 million votes to leave filling the void left by the fairly dull European Championship.
It was these votes that prevented us from having to think too much about Latics returning to the Championship. (By ‘us’ I refer to people who can name more than one current Wigan player.)
There hasn’t been an awful lot of excitement around the DW Stadium so far this summer, let’s face it. It’s got to the stage where all we have to cling onto in anticipation for the new season is a trip to Deepdale to face Preston, although even that’s nothing new. As the seasons now go by, our passion for the cause will surely weaken; no longer do we find new realms to discover or see ourselves stumble into unchartered territories.
It’s as if we’ve completed a game and are playing it for a second time – and future glory will be one of déjà vu, achievements we have already accomplished. Promotion to the Premier League, a League Cup final, 8 years at the top, winning the FA Cup and an unforgettable Europa League campaign; for us to do any of those again would be a minor miracle – not least due to money playing an even greater role in English football since our relegation from the Prem in 2013. As comedian David Mitchell once said: “It will never be finally decided who has won the football.”
Scanning our new set of fixtures following their release last month, there are only four grounds in the league I’m yet to visit: Brighton, Bristol City, Ipswich and Newcastle. The goal is to get to all four of those this season, but after that, what more is there to do? I’m sure there are some who have already reached that dilemma. We’re in a dangerous scenario where after all these years – there’s no further we can go and do, both on and off the field.
It’s why fewer supporters look ahead and think of what will follow in years to come. Whatever comes next will never be as good as what came before – especially considering we’re not likely to win another major trophy for a long time, not least because we are a notoriously woeful FA Cup team (although there has been the odd exception…)
That may lie at the heart of why Latics seem to have been far from the minds of most Wigan supporters over the last two months (but ironically enough our world famous chant couldn’t be more drilled into the heads of thousands of other football fans during this time). They say rock stars turn to drugs because once they stop performing, there’s nothing else to give them the 10/10 high of performing in front of tens of thousands of people. I see this mirrored with Latics; maybe we all know that the jig is up [AGL does not, however, condone the taking of illegal drugs].
For a club that has constantly been striving to reach the top and to complete the most miraculous of rises, when those aspirations reach the pinnacle, all you can then do is look back and reminisce. We’ve been spoilt like fans of no other football team. Whilst fans of England’s top clubs were paying obscene ticket prices, playing out the same fixtures in the same league each season – yet thinking they had it all – we had 20 years of going under the radar, being the ones who truly had the best of it.
Some would argue May 2013 was the peak; others may point out the Europa League and cup exploits of the following season. One thing is for sure: it was centred around one of those three events. Last season was the special treat we were never meant to have; Burton. To strike such a team Paul Jewell managed to do when winning the third division in 2002-03 was one thing, but to make that side look ordinary and mildly sane compared to our champions of 2015- 16 is something else. It’s fitting that the connection between fans and players became so good last season, as what happens on the pitch – in line with us having already ‘completed the game’ – has become less relevant since relegation from the Premier League. The old saying that football is much more than just the 90 minutes was certainly true of last season.
I’ve always found that, in general, the younger generation cared about the result more than the older generation in years gone by. The disparity between the two has ceased to exist since the hardcore of 18-24 year olds that follow Latics around the country have – in their short lifetime – already seen everything on the pitch that a fan of most other clubs would hope to ever see.
Whilst the next generation will be in raptures following a last minute winner in a 4-3 victory over Doncaster to move top of the Championship, three matches into the season – refusing to leave the Keepmoat Stadium until an hour after the final whistle, generating running battles with the police, multiple arrests for ‘minor offences’ and David Sharpe celebrating the winner like his grandad did on Ben Watson Day – I’ll be halfway across the Pennines at that point because I’ve seen it all before. Because three matches in, never mind the Championship, Chris Hutchings was top of the Premier League for God’s sake…