Fairy tales are a common occurrence at Wigan Athletic and among those of entering the football league, reaching the Premier League and winning the FA Cup is Ben Watson’s story of pain and glory in the 2012/13 season.
From injury against Liverpool to FA Cup winning glory with that header, Watson’s season has been a roller coaster by his own admission.
He started the season with 10 appearances in the first team and a match winning goal against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (pictured celebrating) but admitted it wasn’t easy, saying:
“It was a tough start to the season because I wasn’t playing straight away and I had to be patient.
“I was coming on as a substitute and doing reasonably well.
“I’d made good progress by the Tottenham game and it was great to score the winning goal in that and earn a run in the team.”
Two weeks after that match winning goal at the beginning of November, Watson suffered a season changing injury (pictured left0 at Anfield after an aerial challenge with Raheem Sterling resulted in a broken leg and five months out of action.
Reflecting on his time on the side lines Watson remained upbeat and was thankful to those who helped him recover:
“Not to say that being injured is an enjoyable experience because it’s far from that when all you want to do is play, but by the end of the rehab I had started to enjoy doing the gym work.
“I worked with Gaz Piper our strength and conditioning coach and he helped me through a lot.
“Working with him every day was brilliant because that guy is never in a bad mood.
“Coming in to work and seeing a smiling face makes you feel much better and I’d like to thank him for all the time and effort he put into my rehab.”
Following over five months of rehabilitation, Watson made his playing return in the Under 21s (pictured right) as an allowed over-age player and weeks later was back in the first team in the 3-2 victory against his former club West Bromwich Albion at the start of May.
“Playing a couple of games with the Under 21s was good for fitness but there’s nothing like playing in the first team and to win my first game back in the way that we did was really important.
“Seven days later after an unbelievable game away at West Brom, I’m standing on the touchline waiting to come on in the FA Cup final, it was a surreal journey.”
Watson’s journey culminated at Wembley Stadium at 7.05pm, when he found himself in unfamiliar territory, out-jumping Manchester City’s defenders at the front post to head in Shaun Maloney’s corner and win the FA Cup for Wigan Athletic.
The story has been told in many different ways but the man himself tells it thus:
“Winning the FA Cup will go down in history and nobody can take it away from us because it will be remembered forever which is a real honour.
“It was an indifferent season for myself and coming on and scoring the winner in the final is something I dreamed about as a kid.
“You dream about it up to the final as well and you find yourself asking the question ‘can I score the winning goal in the FA Cup final?’ and luckily for me that was the case.”
“I smile every time I hear the words FA Cup final because not many people can say they’ve scored a cup winning goal, it’s quite overwhelming at times.
“It’s the biggest trophy to win for a club in this country and it’s the most famous domestic club trophy in the world.
“It still makes me chuckle now to think that we’ve won the FA Cup but it makes me feel immensely proud.”
Pride and honour have been common words to describe Latics’ FA Cup triumph, but Watson admitted scoring the goal has come with some banter from his team-mates.
“I get stick everyday anyway for various things and scoring that goal has given Shaun (Maloney) and Gary (Caldwell) another thing to tease me with.
“They always say I’m milking it but I’ll milk it forever I think, they’re jealous to be honest.”
Watson spoke strongly about the manner of the FA Cup victory and believes that the level of opponent in the final says a lot about Wigan Athletic as a club.
“Everyone wrote us off and in years to come when somebody asks ‘who did you win the FA Cup against?’ they probably won’t believe that we beat Manchester City, the wealthiest club in the world with hundreds of millions of pounds worth of talent on the pitch.
“Not only did we win the game but I think we controlled the game and should have won by more goals.”
Three days after the FA Cup final a 4-1 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium confirmed Latics’ relegation to the Championship after an eight year stay in the Barclays Premier League.
Watson said it was a tough period at first but now it’s time to look to the future:
“I’ve been relegated before (with Crystal Palace) and it’s a tough time.
“It’s not nice, not just for the players but for the whole football club, the staff you don’t get to see or hear about and of course it’s tough for the fans.
“I certainly believe that if we can keep the majority of this squad together for another year then we’ll go straight back up.
“That is 100% the feeling in the dressing room, Newcastle United bounced back a few years ago and so did West Ham so I can’t see why we can’t do it.
“We’ve played Championship opposition in the last season and we’ve done really well, the quality we’ve got sets us up nicely.”