The Latics were born
Wigan Athletic Football Club was established in 1932, following the three fledgling and floundering previous football teams in Wigan. Wigan’s first football team was Wigan County. It was founded in 1897 but did not have much success and disbanded within three years. Wigan United was next, and was founded in 1902. Like its predecessor, this team also struggled to reach the three year marker. Finally Wigan Borough was set up in 1921 and had considerably more success than the previous two teams – the side actually founded the Football League third division North. But, once again, success was not long lived and Wigan Borough folded after ten years.
In 1932, the year after Wigan Borough played their final game, Wigan Athletic – known as the Latics – were formed. Wigan Athletic bought Borough’s ground, Springfield Park and played in the Cheshire County League. Despite the bad luck of the previous three Wigan football clubs, Wigan Athletic Football Club proved that teams from the northern town are not jinxed when it comes to sporting success.
The Early Days
It did not take long for the Latics to stand apart from the previous Wigan teams. The 1934/5 season was historic. Carlisle United were thrashed 6-1 by Wigan Athletic in the first round of the FA Cup, with the Latics setting a record which to this day is unbeaten – establishing the biggest win over a league club by a club which is not in the football league.
The man with the honour of being the first manager of Wigan Athletic was Charlie Spencer. Spender held the position for five years until 1937. Other notable early managers include Jimmy Milne, who managed post-war between 1946 and 1947, Bob Pryde (from 1949-52) and Ted Goodyear (1952-54).
However, despite immediate success, it took until 1978 for the team to be voted into the Football League. A tense re-vote went ahead, after Wigan Athletic drew on number of votes with Southport, and on June 2 1978, history was made as Wigan was named a Football League team, starting off in division four, after 34 years of attempts. The Latics were getting so exasperated with not being allowed into the league prior to this that in 1972, the club applied to join the second tier of the Scottish League.
From the lowly fourth division, Wigan won three promotions, steadily climbing to today’s position in the Premiership. Promotions came in 1981/82, followed by relegation to the third division in 1992/3, with another promotion in 1996/97 and the most recent promotion in the 2002-03 season. The current ground, the JJB stadium, took over from Springfield Park as the home of Wigan Athletic during the 1999/2000 season.
Whelan and dealing
The 1995/6 season saw the owner of JJB Sports, Dave Whelan, snap up the club from its previous owners, Nick Bitel and Stephen Gage. Whelan’s big bucks bought Wigan Athletic a host of world class signings, including ‘the three amigos’ -Isidro Diaz, Jesus Seba and Roberto Martinez. These signings made football history, because Wigan Athletic were the first squad in England to play three Spanish players. Whelan spoke publicly of his hopes of taking the Latics to the Premiership – a dream which was not taken seriously.
The manager at this time, Graham Barrow, was a casualty of the Latics’ mid-season dip in performance and was sacked after a crushing 6-2 defeat at home to Mansfield Town.
After Frank Lord’s short but sweet stint as caretaker manager, John Deehan was the man assigned with the almighty task of carrying Wigan Athletic all the way to promotion. They were within a whisker of securing a play-off position, needing just one point from the final three games of the season. This proved beyond their reach and dreams of promotion were firmly extinguished.
Ray Mathias followed Deehan as manager, and had similar success, with the Latics reaching the Division Two play-offs in 1999, but ultimately losing to Manchester City. This kind of almost-there management was not good enough for Whelan, and Mathias was soon out of Wigan.
Despite a promising start to the season, it was a case of third time unlucky for Mathias’ replacement, John Benson, who led the team to another play-off defeat. This was getting tiresome for even the most loyal Latics supporters, who started to question the manager’s choice of players.
Following short and uninspiring management stints from Bruce Rioch and Colin Greenhall, Manchester United legend Steve Bruce graced the local club with his managerial presence, but even this first class Premiership expertise was not enough to win promotion, or to stop Bruce leaving for Crystal Palace.
The Premiership beckons
Storming ahead of their Division Two rivals with 100 points, ex-player and new manager, Paul Jewell, finally led the Latics to promotion in 2003. Wigan Athletic made it into the Championship, just one league away from the crème de la crème of English football. Whelan’s Premiership ambitions were no longer seeming so far fetched.
Finally, during the 2004/05 season Wigan Athletic made history: finishing the season second place in the Championship could only mean one thing… Second only to Sunderland, Wigan Athletic had won promotion to the Premiership for the first time in their history.
During their first season in the Championship, Wigan’s record was impressive – the Latics had the lowest number of goals conceded of any team in the division, at just 35 goals all season.
Premiership, and we’re having a laugh…
After fighting so hard to get to the top flight, Wigan Athletic proved they were no one season wonder. A list of top signings were made to strengthen the side and ready the Latics for Premiership success. Former captain Arjan De Zeeuw returned to skipper the proud club. Other new players included Michael Pollitt, Josip Skoko, Stephane Henchoz, David Connolly and Henri Camara.
The boys were not eased into the new division gently – far from it. The first game saw Wigan Athletic face the best team in English football, Chelsea. Incredibly, it was no whitewash. In fact, it was not until an unfortunate 92nd minute extra-time goal from Chelsea’s Crespo, that Wigan succumbed to the 1-0 defeat. The new talent in the league had put up a fight which not only impressed their loyal fans, but also made an impression on Chelsea’s manager, Jose Mourinho. Latics’ manager Paul Jewell was congratulated by the opposition manager after the game for his team’s strong performance. Defeat never tasted so sweet.
Their first season in the Premiership, 2005/06, saw the Latics make their mark by remaining staying stubbornly in the top half of the division for almost the whole season – by November in this first season, the Latics were an unbelievable second in the Premiership.
The Latics also made an impressive mark on the League Cup in 2006. An impressive run saw them reach the final – a moment in Wigan’s history, as it is the first time the team had reached a major cup final. After beating Arsenal on away goals in the semi final, it was fellow northerners, Manchester United, whom Wigan faced at the Millennium Stadium for the final. A 4-0 defeat ensued, but the Latics exited the competition with their heads held high, proving one thing – these new boys were not to be sniffed at.
The second Premiership season was not plain sailing, but luckily the January transfer window offered a much needed opportunity to bolster the side. New signings included Caleb Folan, Julius Aghahowa and David Unsworth who were sure to help the Latics in their second season Premiership battle.
However, the second season in the Premiership proved to be more of a struggle, but when they found themselves in a head-to-head with Sheffield United, who were also on the brink of relegation, the Latics pulled together for an end of season 2-1 victory, and to secure another season in the Premiership.
After a successful career at Wigan Athletic as manager, and ensuring his team were secure in the Premiership for another season, Paul Jewell took this opportunity to hand on the baton to his assistant, Chris Hutchings.
However, just 13 games later, including a run of six consecutive defeats, Hutchings was shown the door by Whelan. Hutchings was not happy about the short time he had been given to prove himself, especially since strong players such as Emile Heskey were not on hand to raise the game because of injury.
2007 and another manager gone and another decision to make for Whelan – this time, he has gone full circle and appointed one-time Wigan manager, Steve Bruce, to the top spot again. At the time of his appointment as manager, in November 2007, Wigan Athletic faced a tough remainder of the season. Sandwiched between Bolton and Derby County, securely in the relegation zone, Bruce has got a difficult task ahead of him if the Latics are to continue their historical Premiership run.
Statistics and further information
Below is a list of Wigan Athletic’s managers, club honours and records. For more statistics, interesting facts about Wigan Athletic, and information about the JJB Stadium and kit, have a look at this WAFC website and the Know Britain website.
- 2007 Steve Bruce
- 2007 Chris Hutchings
- 2001-2007 Paul Jewell
- 2001 Steve Bruce
- 2000-2001 Bruce Rioch
- 1999-2000 John Benson
- 1998-1999 Ray Mathias
- 1995-1998 John Deehan
- 1994-1995 Graham Barrow
- 1993-1994 Kenny Swain
- 1993 Dave Philpotts
- 1989-1993 Bryan Hamilton
- 1986-1989 Ray Mathias
- 1985-1986 Bryan Hamilton
- 1983-1985 Harry McNally
- 1981-1983 Larry Lloyd
- 1976-1981 Ian McNeill
- 1974-1976 Brian Tiler
- 1972-1974 Les Rigby
- 1970-1972 Gordon Milne
- 1968-1970 Ian McNeill
- 1968 Alan Saunders
- 1967-1968 Harry Leyland
- 1966-1967 Alf Craig
- 1963-1966 Allan Brown
- 1961-1963 Johnny Ball
- 1960 Allenby Chilton
- 1959-1960 Pat Murphy
- 1959 Jimmy Shirley
- 1958-1959 Malcolm Barrass
- 1957-1958 Trevor Hitchen
- 1957 Sam Barkas
- 1956 Billy Cooke
- 1955-1956 Ron Stuart
- 1954-1955 Walter Crook
- 1952-1954 Ted Goodier
- 1949-1952 Bob Pryde
- 1946-1947 Jimmy Milne
- 1932-1937 Charlie Spencer
- Northern Premier League Champions: 1970-1971, 1974-1975
- Northern Premier League Cup Winners: 1971-1972
- Northern Premier Shield Winners: 1972-1973, 1973-1974, 1975-1976
- Cheshire League Champions: 1933-1934, 1934-1935, 1935-1936, 1964-1965
- Lancashire Combination Champions: 1947-1948, 1950-1951, 1952-1953, 1953-1954
- Election to Football League: 1978
- Promoted to Third Division (old): 1981-1982
- Football Association Cup best: Round 6, 1986-1987
- Football League Cup best: Final 1996
- Freight Rover Trophy Winners (now AutoWind Shield): 1984-1985
- Third Division Champions: 1996-1997
- Auto Windshield Winners: 1999
- Second Division Champions: 2002-2003
- Championship Runners Up: 2004-2005
- Promotion to Premier League: 2005
- Biggest win: 7-1 v. Scarborough 1996/1997 Division Three
- Biggest win (non-league): 12-1 v. Congleton Town 1937/1938 Cheshire League
- Biggest home loss: 0-5 v. Bristol Rovers (Div 3, 26th February 1983) and also versus Chelsea (FA Cup round 3 replay, 26th January 1985)
- Biggest away loss (league): 6-1 v. Bristol Rovers (3rd March 1990)
- Biggest loss (non-league): 0-8 v. Hyde United (1945-1946)
- Longest unbeaten run (league): 21 games in the 1981-1982 season
- Longest unbeaten run (non-league): 52 games from 15th September 1962 to 5th November 1966
- Most wins in a season (non-league): 33 from 46 games in 1974-1975 (Northern Premier League)
- Best FA Cup run: Round 6, 1986-1987
- Best League Cup Run: Round 5, 2002-2003
- Most Clean-Sheets in a season (League games only): 25 by John Filan 2002-2003
- Highest points in a season: 100 in 2002-2003
- Highest League Position: 10th in The Premier League, Season 2005-2006
- Largest transfer fee paid: £5.5M for Emile Heskey – Birmingham City 2006
- Largest transfer fee received: £3M Nathan Ellington – West Brom 2005
- Greatest goal-scorer in a single season (league): Graeme Jones (31)
- Greatest goal-scorer in a single season (non-league): Harry Lyon (66)
- Greatest all time goal-scorer (league): David Lowe & Andy Liddell (66)
- Greatest all time goal-scorer (non-league): Harry Lyon (273) 1962-1969
- Most consecutive appearances of any player: Jimmy Bullard (121)