They’re dreaming bigger crowds and European nights, they think it’s theirs by some divine right.
As those lyrics from the song ‘Who the f**k are Latics?’ suggested, Wigan Athletic were making major inroads until the last couple of years. But we didn’t have to dream of either bigger crowds or European nights. Both happened right before our eyes.
From averaging just a few thousand and Springfield Park in the ‘90s, we were reaching the 16-17k mark as a minimum pretty much every week in the top flight.
Due to the heights we have enjoyed over recent years the club’s hardcore support has increased significantly since the last time we played in League One. Having said that, the only ones who aimlessly throw season ticket money to Wigan Athletic each summer are the ones who are there come rain or shine.
From watching us take on the Premier League’s elite, to now welcoming Walsall and Burton Albion to the DW with the tagline ‘six-pointer’ attached. The fall is all too well understood.
Many of the 19,000 home fans who watched our final top flight fixture at home to Aston Villa have become disinterested, and with this fall in mind, it’s no wonder. But we managed to win them over once, so why can’t we do it again?
Some of these ‘lost supporters’ followed us home and away, of which I know of many. Plenty more lost supporters came to watch because Wigan Athletic were playing Premier League football. Okay, a fair amount loved to watch the old Top 4 but take a look at our individual crowds during those eight years and you’ll be surprised at what it reveals.
Our second highest turnout in the 2009-10 season was for the visit of Sunderland (20,447), a week after that 9-1 thumping at White Hart Lane. The average for Man Utd, Liverpool, Everton and Chelsea during that campaign was 17,757. As for Arsenal at home (1:30pm kick off live on Sky Sports), 22,113 turned up to witness an important match in the battle for survival. The match featured one of the best comebacks ever, but maybe I’m biased.
Top attendances against West Ham, Newcastle and Aston Villa followed in 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively. Fans were turning up to see Latics, not our opponents, and did so in their numbers when called upon. That has in general been the case for many years.
Exceptions to this rule are our first season in the Premier League and whenever we draw a side with an old-school terrace.
We even took more to Southport in pre-season last year than we did in three successive top flight trips to Goodison Park. And if there’s one thing Latics fans hate, it’s that Lower Bullins at Goodison! “But Southport’s cheaper” – aye, but 600 heading to Yeovil on a Sunday isn’t. That afternoon about half-a-dozen of our supporters were wearing Russian hats they had bought days earlier in Kazan too!
So now attendances have dropped so dramatically, how do we get the fickle buggers back and attract new fans? Here’s the not very well thought-out four point plan:
BETWEEN THE STICKS – A safe pair of hands
There has been a whole lot of external rubbish hurled at the club in recent years, much of it understandably out of jealousy or naivety. Of course, I’m referring to the amount of tangible support we receive.
Once you brush away the myth that only one man and his dog watch Latics away from home, attracting fans becomes that bit easier. What better way to vanquish such a myth than travelling to an away match on Cowley’s coaches or the infamous White Widow and Green Machine/Goblin 16 seaters. The old ‘Latics Away Travel’ tag which ran during the 2013-14 season attracted fantastic interest for every match those coaches set sail from Ashton.
That stereotype that Britons love joining queues is alive and well in Wigan. Once a few people start buzzing over an upcoming fixture, a few more take interest and buy tickets – before you know it there’s thousands heading to random fixtures like Crewe Alexandra and Macclesfield Town. But more on that later. The support this season will quite possibly trump the 2013-14 campaign in terms of pure enjoyment. I’m sure there’s many who feel it already has.
AT THE BACK – A solid base
Being able to compete against the country’s best is something I’m big on. We don’t play in the Dog and Duck league against Tinpot Timbor. Speaking of Tinpot Timbor, I think Martyn Waghorn scored in a 4-1 win over them last week. Good Rangers, aren’t they.
We’ve beaten everyone there is to beat, scored at every ground worth doing so and crucially we did it without spending ridiculous amounts. During our eight years at the top it was like buying fewer (not less, Latics media team take note) lottery tickets than everyone else but winning the jackpot each time.
If someone says Wigan have no history – rattle off those Lancashire Combination triumphs, sing of winning the Auto Windscreens twice and remind people that winning the Isle Of Man Football Festival in ’86 was some achievement.
When they point out low crowds – make sure you’ve got your in depth PowerPoint presentation explaining how in fact the crowds that we get are actually very impressive to say the least.
Should people comment on the lack of home-grown talent – notify such individuals of Leighton Baines, Callum McManaman, Jordan Flores, Tim Chow, Lee Nicholls and the rest.
MIDDLE OF THE PARK – Pass and move
We play every week, maybe even twice a week – not just every six months.
This needs drilling into supporters’ heads. I type this as I choose Halifax v Grimsby over Latics away at Walsall. I’m making up for it by looking up train times to Morecambe for our Under 21’s match there in April. What can I say, Morecambe do bloody good hot-dogs.
I brought a mate of mine along for his first Wigan game in August 2011, the 6-0 defeat to Chelsea. Whether it was the fact we were in the posh seats or I had genuinely convinced him Latics played well, he enjoyed it. I dragged him along to a number of away games that season – Everton, Liverpool, Bolton and Villa (all draws) – ending with victory at Stoke on the final day. At this point he was hooked on watching Latics, a sort of hypnosis in a way. He now works on Saturday afternoons and so doesn’t come anymore, but ah well, life goes on.
What I notice about him and many others who had joined the Latics ranks from 2009 onwards really is that almost none of them go anymore. Some dropped off after the Premier League (a couple during the Prem days even) but most fell in 2014. At any one time there are at least dozens of fans who are dipping their toes into watching Latics. If they experience Chesterfield away, next is Bury, then it’s Bradford, get them to Fleetwood and it’s sure to get people hooked.
Where as fans of Manchester United and Liverpool can cling onto the ticket stub that reads ‘v West Bromwich Albion’ (or some other mediocre team…), our fans can rely on memories rather than a ticket – linking back to Cowley’s Coaches and several other groups of Latics fans that rarely have a dull away day.
UP FRONT – Back of the net
Season ticket-ing fans up is the best way of securing their long term support. Once it becomes a part of a person’s regular routine – forced upon them for nine months through buying a season ticket – the majority will find it hard to get out of that routine. It’s the finishing touch. It’s a sort of 14 day free trial which leads to an automatic paid subscription (although generally without the free bit, especially since Latics changed the conditions for schools receiving free tickets).
Luring many of these people away from the giant clubs is a difficult ask for those already warped by the pull of being one of a million others seeking an attachment to a team that views them as a number rather than an actual person. At least at Latics if you do a podcast on a Wednesday evening at Beech Hill Book Cycle, the club are prodding you with a stick. And the club know who our fans are so much that half of them are banned!
Where was I…? Ahh yes, season tickets.
More needed to be done last summer and the summer before to retain our season ticket holders – especially the summer before. Sharpey’s 100 point target was the call to arms we needed.
Although when you’re signing players from Tranmere Rovers and Blackpool, allowing a club legend like Emmerson Boyce to leave and failing to agree terms with Jermaine Pennant – fair-weather fans aren’t going to risk it.
As it turns out, Max Power and David Perkins were very good signings, we were right to allow Boycey to leave and offering big wages to a 32 year old doesn’t always work out, does it Holty?
The 2014-15 season left too much of a scar for Latics to appeal to these fair-weather folk, some of whom were regularly leaving the DW after 75 minutes last year. If we were to win promotion this season, the ones we lost over the past two years can be won back. Forget appeasing the current bunch – with the reduced prices for next season the vast majority are certainly going to renew.
We need Yanic, Power and Polly working at the ticket office ringing up those who didn’t renew last summer. Other clubs do it and we should too. With the amount of characters we have in the side it would undoubtedly go down a treat.
“Hello Mr Smith, how are you this afternoon? My name is Yanic Wildschut and I’m calling on behalf of Wigan Athletic.”
Up the divine right tics