A season’s worth of football culminated in one month as the Barclays Premier League entered its final stages and the FA Cup final was seen out in style after hundreds of entrants were whittled down to just two.
The excitement of Wigan Athletic’s unforgettable FA Cup final victory over Manchester City on May 11 was turned to heartbreak just three days later when a 4-1 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium marked the club’s relegation to the Championship after eight years in England’s top flight.
Latics’ supporters and the people of Wigan didn’t let that get them down too much though and the day after a 2-2 draw against Aston Villa in the final match of the season, around 30,000 people flooded into Wigan town centre to cheer on their FA Cup winning heroes on an open top bus parade.
May started successfully with a 3-2 away win against West Bromwich Albion which maintained Latics’ chances of beating the drop.
After falling behind twice to goals from Shane Long and Gareth McAuley, Latics battled back and overcame the Baggies in style.
James McArthur’s diving header just a minute after coming on as a substitute made it 2-2 and with 10 minutes to go Callum McManaman turned in a close range shot to win the game, after excellent work by Shaun Maloney.
McArthur had to be at his best in stoppage time at the Hawthorns as he cleared off the line in the final action of the game.
Momentum was building ahead of the upcoming FA Cup final a week later but Latics had to maintain focus on the Premier League as Swansea City arrived at the DW Stadium on May 7.
In stoppage time of the first half against the Swans Latics’ tails were up when Roger Espinoza scored his first ever goal for the club to make it 1-0.
Blows were dealt back and forth just after half time as Angel Rangel equalised for the visitors before James McCarthy put Latics back in front.
Goals from Itay Shechter to equalise for 2-2 and a 76th minute winner from Dwight Tiendalli gave Swansea a 3-2 victory and sent Latics to the cup final with it all still to do in the league.
Nobody could take away what happened next though and everybody connected to the club will remember the date, time and the feeling when Ben Watson headed into the east end net of Wembley Stadium to give Latics a 1-0 lead against Man City.
Four days after the disappointment of the Swansea defeat, Latics fans, players and staff were flying high as the club sealed its first major trophy in its 81-year history.
Watson was the hero, a fairy tale ending to a difficult season for the midfielder after the leg break against Liverpool.
The impact of that goal on the club and the town of Wigan was so significant that it wouldn’t be a surprise if there were an increased number of new born babies in the town named Benjamin in May 2013.
Back to the football for Latics as they met Arsenal the Emirates Stadium for the seventh time in the Barclays Premier League, it was another moment that people will remember but one that was described by many as a moment that will only make the club stronger.
Relegation was confirmed on that night, May 14, despite a gallant effort to overcome the Gunners.
Latics saw out the season and their current spell in the Barclays Premier League five days later in a 2-2 draw against Aston Villa, fittingly with skipper Emmerson Boyce scoring the team’s final goal of the campaign.
Despite the league situation, words like sad, distraught and disappointed were shunned and banned a day later as the team took to the streets of the town centre on an open top bus to offer their appreciation to the supporters and to show off the grand old FA Cup trophy.
Setting off from the club’s Christopher Park training ground, Latics arrived in the town centre at the bottom of Standishgate to a continuous crowd of people who lined the full length of the street all the way up to Market Place where the players’ stage awaited them.
The noise increased as the bus made its way further and further up into the centre of the town, with the likes of Callum McManaman, Roman Golobart and Ali Al Habsi starting choruses of the songs sung each week in the stands.
It was an occasion to remember and an incredible example of the cohesion between the people of Wigan.
Words of encouragement and messages of ‘We’ll be back’ could be heard from the stage as the nation’s media watched Wigan Athletic show off the country’s most sought after prize.
Gary Caldwell took to the front and said:
“To see so many people come out and celebrate is incredible and we’ll all remember this sight for the rest of our lives.
“In years to come we’ll all look back at this momentous achievement and know just how special a time it is in the club’s history.
“I just think these fans are amazing, we’re in the Championship next season and we need them to stick behind us and hopefully next year we can have a day like this again.”
The man whose goal made the celebrations possible share a similar sentiment on the impact of the supporters in the 2012/13 campaign.
Ben Watson said:
“To win the FA Cup is unbelievable and it was a pleasure to win it for our supporters because they’ve been great.
“It’s not just been my dream since I was little, it’s been everyone’s dream.”
Captain of the final winning team Emmerson Boyce also said it’s been a long-standing ambition of his to win the FA Cup and added:
“When you’re watching the final as a little boy you dream of becoming the captain that gets to lift the FA Cup and to actually accomplish that is a dream come true.
“The main thing I remember from that day is looking up at the crowd during the celebrations and seeing how happy we had made them.”
And so the month of May came to a close, the FA Cup began its journey of inspiration around the Wigan borough and the club began to prepare for a new mission, promotion back to the Barclays Premier League.