Welcome to Wigan. We don’t have a Waitrose, Harrods, John Lewis, Morrisons, an airport, a cathedral, a glass museum… or very much at all, come to think of it.
But the one thing we do have, apart from the George Formby Memorial Pier, is football. From Wigan United (as opposed to Wigan-United) and Wigan Town through to Wigan Borough and Uncle Joe’s FC, the people of this humble mint ball mining settlement have been greatly entertained by men with silly haircuts and nobbly knees attempting to roll a slightly under-inflated balloon between overly expensive pipes.
Hence it is natural for the denizens of Old Wigonia to fart in the general direction of those railway carriages crammed full of Sunday sauce.
Oh yes, I’m talking about the Virgin Pendolino that leaks a sweet-smelling brown substance as it arrives at Wigan North Western station. I’m talking about those awkwardly cheap ‘Will Griggs is on fier’ shirts that have been keeping Poundsavah in business these past few months. *Shudders*
I’m talking about *real life* magical weekends where you play Manchester United on Saturday and Liverpool on Sunday. The sort of thing that only happens in hacked versions of Championship Manager.
And yes, I might have poked the game a few times to make such things happen.
It’s only possible to be competitive in the first of those two ties, however. Sundays always bring 100-goal smashings, even with an all-star Wigan Athletic side that includes Vladimir ‘Super Star Jump’ Stojkovic, Dariusz Adamczuk, Erik Hagen and Julius ‘Goal Machine’ Aghahowa.
It would seem video games, hacked or no, can teach us much about real life. Except in this instance, substitute those 100 goals with, er… 2.
This heading brought to you by Northern Rolls
For all Jose’s expert puppetry (muppetry?) on Saturday lunchtime, there was no mistaking this weekend’s *actual* showpiece friendly. Evidence for this can be found in the fact the illustrious Northern Rolls burger van was actually present on Pagefield Industrial Estate when I walked past on Sunday, whereas it was mysteriously absent the day before.
Okay, so maybe I was too early to catch it on Saturday. But those burger boys (well, girls) knew precisely where their priorities lay.
Yes, Man United might have had a vast array of Latics regulars to their very selves, but the chirpy Kloppster was awarded a (marginally) more competitive test for his reserve and academy players. And it was ultimately much more satisfying… but not *quite* as satisfying as a Northern Rolls bacon barm.
Poor Phillipe Coutinho must have been wishing he was munching on a Northern Rolls sausage special, because Lee Nicholls’ goal was blessed with extraordinarily thick goalposts. Both of the Brazilian international’s delicious efforts found only the splinter-ridden sticks that separate joy from embarrassment of a Saturday afternoon. Or in this case, a Sunday teatime.
Meanwhile, Yanic Wildschut was running a thoroughly refreshing one-man touchline show to remind us all that things could be marvellous soon (The Lightning Seeds, 1996). The only player he could not beat was Loris Karius twixt the ‘Pool uprights – and I bet he would have defeated him too, had he conjured a strike at goal.
“Don’t dawdle,” warned Klopp, “or Sanmi Odelusi will come and get you”. And he was partially right, because Latics’ lesser known centre forward spent most of the first 45 minutes charging back into his own half in an attempt to retrieve possession. Mostly because he couldn’t win any of the high balls lobbed forward to him.
Lesson learned. See, this game has already taught us so much more than the United one!
And then the whistle blew for half time.
Craig Davies reluctantly halted his procedural destruction of the grass by the West touchline, exhaling loudly as he retreated to the tunnel for a Capri Sun and Northern Rolls chicken burger.
Lee Nicholls spent the first ten minutes of the second half screaming expletives at… well, everyone. Passengers in passing planes reported eerie warbling that sounded suspiciously like ‘move the f*** out, you lot!’ So now you know it certainly wasn’t aliens.
Or maybe Nicholls does possess supernatural powers, and he was experiencing a premonition that Andrew Taylor might stuff up a back pass and allow Lazar Markovic to set up Danny Ings for the opener.
…Because that’s exactly what happened next.
On the bench, the substituted Coutinho was outwardly cheered by this turn of events, but inwardly his stomach was eating itself chunk by Northern Rolls hot dog chunk. I couldn’t see his face as I was behind him in the West Stand, but I guess he was sporting one of those awkward grimaces like a Jimi Hendrix guitar face.
And much like on Saturday, a second goal was hot on the first’s shapely behind.
Ben Woodburn would have been thwarted by Nicholls’ aforementioned extra thick woodwork, if only Edward Woodward could chuck wood, or something. As it happened, the Liverpool forward had no problems tucking Ryan ‘Clark’ Kent’s sumptuous through ball inside said poles for Liverpool’s second. Simple stuff.
And finally, substitutions.
The incoming Davies, Barrigan, Burke, Gregory and Lang all contributed to a very open final ten minutes that encompassed the hosts’ greatest opportunity to score their first goal in 2016/17 pre-season friendlies.
But if I told you Tim Chow’s effort did not account for his side’s best attempt at goal, would that betray the fact he had a spatial awareness brainfreeze?
No? Well how’s about this: at that instant, he felt more out of place than a penguin at St Helens Central train station. (Look for it the next time you’re there.)
Sorry, I’m being facetious and neither the lad or the game (or indeed the penguin) deserve it.
Whereas Saturday raced through station after station on an engine fuelled by concentrated gravy, this felt more like a football match. This was the way it was intended to be.
So we can now forget all about that game.
Do you know what?
Despite the knee deep piles of horse muck on the Bridge Over the River Pie, and the congestion that brought Wigan’s roadways to a complete halt, and those overbearing All Gone Latics fanzine sellers… this ain’t hell.
All things considered, Wigan isn’t so bad – certainly not enough to warrant the blasphemous graffiti just outside Wallgate station.
Actually, I just changed my mind – I do hope it stays there for a little while longer. It might give us the psychological edge over Championship sides arriving via rail.
“Oh ruddy ‘eck, Jim, I’m well scared now, me.” – Representative of an unnamed Lancastrian Championship club pulling into Wallgate