Around this time every four years, the people of Wigan go sports crazy. Today I saw a bloke dive bomb into his back yard paddling pool and a kid toss a hammer through some poor guy’s fishing net. Yesterday someone lobbed a pool ball from their shoulder into the beer garden, before… well, I won’t go into detail, but it all ended with one unfortunate soul screaming “that’s not a shuttle cock”.
I’m told football is also an Olympic sport. Really? You could have fooled me – if teams from Great Britain don’t (usually) compete in such a competition, it might as well not exist. I’d rather go back to booting half-empty energy drink cans between lamp posts, even if it means being told to pick up said disease-riddled vessel by a passing environmentalist.
Somewhat fittingly, Dan Burn is an Olympic standard urban basketballer. His legs may consist of 100% vulcanised rubber, but his upper torso is made of a specially reinforced concrete that no man or football, no matter how heavy or rain-sodden, can ever hope to breach.
Extra Sensory Deception
But even the most well-pointed of brickwork has flaws to exploit, and Latics’ otherwise sound penalty box barricade was eventually pummelled with the force of a thousand mallets – or maybe just two in the space of five seconds.
Adam Bogdan appeared to stop Jacques Maghoma’s curving effort with… well, possibly his foot, though more likely telekinesis. Clayton Donaldson’s subsequent snatch shot roasted the post, adding further weight to the theory that the Amazing Bogdan has extraordinary Derren Brown-style mind powers.
Clean sheet intact… for the time being.
The visitors’ next real significant touch of the ball came approximately half an hour later, just before the half time whistle. Yep, you heard me right – they never even so much as smelled that artificially crafted leather in thirty minutes of Martinez Fallacy™ footy at its high-end supermarket brand finest.
In other words, Latics controlled that ball much as Jack’s brother Stephen Hendry commands a snooker ball. But ball retention is akin to water retention without testing the goalie’s meaty arms.
(And I have it on good authority that Tomasz Kuszczak’s arms are particularly beefy.)
When the ball entered Bog Man’s area for the first time since Elizabethan times, you could forgive him for being a little bit rusty. Hey, it’s the third week of the season – I’m willing to exercise some lenience here.
But in the stretch of a keeper’s arm, Donaldson was sent tumbling. To the absolute disgust, nay, sheer horror of 9,000 screaming Latisticians, ‘penalty’ was the instant call.
Not for a whole season, maybe even two, have I sensed such repugnance at a referee’s action. Which is odd, because it appeared a fair decision from where I was sitting. I am, however, not a slow motion television camera – heck, I don’t even have 20-20 vision.
Donaldson, also a tad unpractised, only chipped a weak penalty at Bogdan’s left palm. But he was to be rescued by the lesser known urban superhero Reduplication Man, otherwise known as the mild mannered David Davis, who easily beat half a dozen wannabe athletes to the rebound.
“See, I told you we should have practised running instead of welly-chucking.” — Graham Barrow
1-0 to the side with 30% possession.
Fifteen minutes’ break was an unwanted opportunity to seethe in one’s own self-inflicted crapulence. But ref Jeremy Simpson’s perceived ‘mistake’ was quickly set aside, if not totally forgotten, by an increasingly vocal (or perhaps just inebriated) home faithful.
The refreshed Latics, swift as a Burton and and sharp as a Pat, almost created the unthinkable – a goal for David Perkins. Had he beat the defender, you could have halted football forever, because the sport would have fulfilled its final goal: to let Perks score. As it transpired, he was about two feet short of poking home, so don’t slice up your season ticket just yet.
By the 84th minute, substitutions meant the hosts had every one of the club’s attacking options on the field of play. If a UFO crashed into the South Stand penalty area at that moment, Wigan Athletic would have been left with no strikers.
The contest was fading into the obscurity of sloppy passing and half-hearted field hockey punts goalwards. And as we know, field hockey is no fun without the punch-ups you see on ice.
But following ten minutes’ absence from the Birmingham penalty area, Latics finally slipped through. Bilbo Grigg sent in the fireball, and Wigan Athletic’s forgotten centre forward Craig Davies was standing in just the right place to thread home from no more than seven or eight yards.
Mystifyingly, it had taken the duration of a full football match – a gripping one at that. But the aliens finally landed just as Wigan Athletic scored.
We’ll let you know which strikers survived the invasion on Saturday evening.