12:32 15 February 2012
By Latics Staff
The Wigan Athletic football fairytale
The Latics story is surely a fairytale with few parallels in modern football...
Established in 1932, the club would establish itself as a big name in non-league football over the forthcoming 46 years, claiming four Cheshire League and Lancashire Combination titles, as well as two Northern Premier League honours shortly before their election to the Football League in 1932.
Former Latics player and European Cup winner Larry Lloyd helped achieve promotion for the very first time in 1982, moving into the Third Division where they remained until 1993 before suffering relegation back to the bottom tier of league football.
In 1985, victory at Wembley was tasted for the first time, defeating Brentford in the Freight Rover Trophy Final 3-1, with Mike Newell, Tony Kelly and David Lowe scoring the goals for Bryan Hamilton’s team.
As for league competition, the club’s rise from the foot of the Fourth Division to the peak of the Premier League was unique, and was catalysed following the arrival of local businessman David Whelan, who bought the club in 1995 and powered an incredible rise through the leagues in the space of ten fantastic years.
When Whelan’s football career as an uncompromising defender Blackburn Rovers was cruelly cut short after breaking his leg in the 1960 FA Cup Final against Wolverhampton Wanderers, he used the compensation to build his JJB Sports business empire. He purchased Wigan Athletic for around £400,000, and has so far invested an estimated £100 million into his home-town club. The enduring legacy of his backing is undoubtedly the DW Stadium. Opened in 1999, the 25,000 capacity all-seater stadium replaced the club’s former Springfield Park home and provides a setting fit for the Premier League….seventeen years after buying the club, Dave Whelan remains the ever-outspoken driving force of Wigan Athletic.
He forecast shortly after his arrival that Wigan Athletic would one day be playing Premier League football, and although many scoffed at the thought, the vision became a little clearer in 1997 when the team were crowned Division Three Champions under the guidance of Manager John Deehan.
Two years later, Latics were back at Wembley to contest the AutoWindscreens Shield Final against Millwall with Ray Mathias the man in charge. Paul Rogers’ late goal sealed another victory for the club under the twin towers where they would return barely a year later to take on Gillingham in the Division Two Play Off Final, now managed by John Benson.
However, it was a heartbreaking final, losing to Gillingham 3-2 after extra time, despite a late equaliser from Stuart Barlow to take the team within touching distance of the second tier.
That honour would have to wait until a record-breaking 2002/03 season in which 100 points were put on the board as Paul Jewell’s side swept aside all before them and were crowned champions – destined for the First Division a huge step closer to Whelan’s Premier League dream being realised.
2005 marked the club’s ascension into the top-flight, finishing second in the newly-named Championship to clinch an automatic promotion place into the promised land of the Premier League.
Over the following eight years the club would continually defy the odds, and the critics, to remain in the top flight and, before their relegation in 2013, proudly stand as the ninth longest serving team in the division.
2013 of course also marks the year of one of the club’s greatest achievements...being crowned as FA Cup winners for the first time after a dramatic Wembley win against Manchester City the likes of which the famous competition has rarely seen.
Roberto Martinez, at the helm for four years guided the team, led onto the pitch at the start of the day by Whelan, to glory against one of the world’s richest clubs with a starting eleven assembled after spending over £100million.
Ben Watson’s injury-time header was the difference, not only closing a remarkable chapter in Wigan Athletic’s history, but also one in the Chairman’s returning to the venue of one of his darkest days to celebrate one of the proudest.