Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Friday, August 9, 2013

Wigan Athletic

Wigan Athletic FC is a football club from the Lancashire town of the same name, which has made its wealth through industry. It is located approximately sixteen miles north west of Manchester. Athletic were formed in 1932, but were by no means the first senior club to represent the town.

Previous clubs who tried and failed to establish themselves were Wigan AFC, Wigan Central FC, Wigan County FC, Wigan Town FC and then Wigan United FC who were formed in September 1919. 

They were found guilty of paying their players for time away from work, who was an illegal practise in the Lancashire Combination, where they were playing their league games. A new club called Wigan Association took over United's fixtures, but were told to change their name to avoid confusion with Wigan FC, the town's rugby league club; leading to the name of Wigan Borough FC being adopted. Despite a lowly finish in the league, 'The Boro' were given a place into the newly formed Football League Division Three North for the 1921-22 season.

Boro's home ground was Springfield Park, which had been used for the various town clubs since Wigan County had first used it in 1897. Boro's most successful season came in 1928-29, when they finished fourth in the league and reached the third round of the FA Cup. 

The cup tie attracted a record gate to Springfield Park of 30,443 to see the defeat to Sheffield Wednesday. Unfortunately that was as good as it got for the club. During the Great Depression in 1931 the club found itself unable to pay its players and was dissolved.

Following a meeting chaired by the Mayor of Wigan at the Queens Hall in 1932, Wigan Athletic were formed and they quickly purchased Springfield Park for £2,850. The club became members of the Cheshire County League for the 1932-33 season while unsuccessfully applying for membership of the Football League.

'The Latics' soon showed their strength as they were crowned Cheshire County League in three consecutive seasons starting in the 1933-34 campaign. After the end of World War Two Athletic struggled and finished bottom of the league and were not re-elected. 

The club joined the Lancashire Combination for the 1947-48 season and winning the title at their first attempt in their new club colours of blue and white. Three further championship crowns were added throughout the 1950's, before Wigan rejoined the Cheshire County League for the 1961-62 season.

A fourth league title was added in the 1964-65 season with Harry Lyon scoring an amazing sixty six goals during the campaign. The following season Lyon went down in Wigan folklore following an FA Cup match against Doncaster Rovers. 

In the eighteenth minute of the game Lyon was stretchered from the field with torn ankle ligaments. He received treatment, with rumours that whisky was also taken and returned with his ankle bandaged. In the second half of the game Lyon scored a hat trick to fire his team to a 3-1 victory.

Floodlights were installed at Springfield Park in 1966 with Athletic becoming founder members of the Northern Premier League in 1968-69. After finishing runners-up a couple of times The Latics won the league title in 1971-72. 

At the end of the season, the club who were fed up with their applications to join the Football League being unsuccessful, applied to join the second division of the Scottish League. Again the attempt ended in rejection.

Manager Les Rigby built a very competitive side including the likes of Johnny King and John Rogers who would later find great success with Altrincham. Wigan reached Wembley for the 1973 FA Trophy Final, but they were defeated 2-1 after extra time by underdogs Scarborough. A second NPL title was added in 1974-75 and after ending in a runners up place in 1977-78 Athletic were to receive their ultimate prize.

The ground of that seasons champions Boston United did not meet Football League criteria, but Springfield Park did. After many failed attempts Wigan Athletic became members of the Football League at the AGM on the 2nd June 1978 to take the place of Southport.

Athletic were an ambitious club and after Ian McNeill's side finished in sixth place in their debut season, he departed in 1981 to be replaced by former England international and European Cup winner Larry Lloyd as player boss. Bobby Charlton joined the board of directors led by chairman Freddie Pye. Lloyd took the side to promotion to Division three in the 1981-82 season.

Several managers such as Harry McNally, Ray Mathias and Bryan Hamilton in two spells led the team in the tird tier with Athletic with the latter being in charge when Wigan defeated Brentford 3-1 at Wembley in April 1985 to win the Football League Trophy. Mathias was in charge in 1986-97 as Athletic reached the end of season play offs where they were defeated by Swindon Town in the semi final.

Athletic were relegated back to the League's bottom tier at the end of the 1992-93 season as gates dropped. The 1993-94 season saw average attendances at a low of 1,845 as the team finished fourth from bottom of the table. 

In February 1995 local millionaire, owner of JJB Sports and former professional player Dave Whelan bought the club. His business had connections in Spain and through that he signed three Spaniards for the team; Roberto Martinez, Jesus Seba and Isidro Diaz, as well as appointing John Deehan as the new manager to replace Graham Barrow.

In 1996-97 The Latics were crowned as Division Three champions and returned to the third tier of the leagues with Graeme Jones leading the goalscoring charts. Dehan moved on to be replaced by the returning Mathias who's team won the Football League Trophy at Wembley in 1999 against Millwall. 

At the end of the season Athletic lost in the play offs at the semi final stage against Manchester City as the curtain came down at Springfield Park before the club moved to the brand new JJB Stadium, to share with Wigan Warriors Rugby League Club.

John Benson and then Bruce Rioch had spells in the managers chair before Steve Bruce came in towards the end of the 2000-01 season and led Athletic to the play offs with Jimmy Bullard running the midfield. Reading ended the dreams of promotion in the semi final, with Bruce stunning the club by resigning and taking the vacant position at Crystal Palace.

Paul Jewell arrived and built a good side that eventually won the Division Two title in 2002-03 with the aid of the goals of Nathan Ellington sending the club into The Championship. After a near miss in their first season at a completely new level, Jewell's side won promotion to the Premier League in 2004-05 as runners up to champions Sunderland. Arjan de Zeeuw controlled the defence with Jason Roberts leading the forwards in their triumphant season.

In their debut Premier League season The Latics finished in tenth place and also reached the League Cup Final, but they were defeated 4-0 by Manchester United at the Millennium Stadium. At the end of the season players such as Bullard and Jason Roberts departed to be replaced by big signings Emile Heskey and Antonio Valencia amongst others. 

After a late dip in form Wigan survived after a final day 2-1 win at Sheffield United to send their hosts down, with Jewell surprisingly resigning the following day. His assistant Chris Hutchings was installed in his place.

Again players departed including the aging De Zeeuw and Leighton Baines. Hutchings side with Marcus Bent up front struggled and the manager was dismissed in November 2007. Steve Bruce came in for his second spell with the club. 

He led the side comfortably to safety and then the following season the team finished in eleventh place, despite Heskey and Wilson Palacios departing during the January transfer window. However Bruce resigned for a second time in the summer of 2009 to join Sunderland.

Bruce's replacement was former playing hero Roberto Martinez who was tempted away from Swansea City. His debut season saw the club finish safe from relegation as they took a huge 9-1 defeat away to Tottenham Hotspur along the way. The 2010-11 campaign was another nail biter for Latics fans as safety was only secured following a 1-0 win at Stoke City thanks to a Hugo Rodallega goal.

2011-12 saw another struggle. This time a May win at Blackburn Rovers relegated their hosts and secured their own future, this after Athletic looked doomed with a handfull of games remaining. A Shaun Maloney goal at the DW Stadium, as the JJB had been known since Whelan had sold his company in March 2009, defeated Manchester United and not only assisted his own side but also re-opened the title race for Manchester City.

Wigan had yet another long league season throughout the 2012-13 campaign, as goals were let in on a regular interval. Despite that the team performed admirably in the FA Cup. AFC Bournemouth, Macclesfield Town, Huddersfieeld Town, Everton and Millwall were defeated for Athletic to reach the Wembley final. 

On the big day they were the better side against hot favourites Manchester City with youngster Callum McManaman being awarded the man of the match award. Ben Watson scored the only goal of the game in stoppage time to take the cup back to Lancashire. However, the celebrations were somewhat soured as three days later Wigan were relegated to The Championship after a 4-1 defeat at Arsenal.

Martinez moved on in the summer of 2013 to take the Everton job, to be replaced by Owen Coyle. However, his tenure was not a successful one and he was dismissed before Christmas 2013. The German Uwe Rosler came in to take over the hot seat.

Rosler took the side to the semi final of the FA Cup in 2014, where The Latics agonisingly went out on penalties to Arsenal at Wembley. After finishing the season in fifth place, Wigan lost at the semi final stage of the play offs to Queens Park Rangers.

After a poor start to the following season Rosler was dismissed in November 2014 with Malky Mackay coming in to replace him. Whelan passed on the chairmanship of the club to his grandson, David Sharpe in March 2015.

Mackay was replaced by Gary Caldwell, who couldn't save the side from further relegation at the end of the 2014-15 campaign. The Scot took the side straight back up as League One champions as Will Grigg banged in the goals.

Caldwell remained in place until October 2016 when Warren Joyce was appointed as manager after a poor start to the season. The highly regarded coach failed to get results and lasted until March 2017 with Graham Barrow standing in as interim boss. The Latics were relegated from the Championship in May 2017.

Paul Cook was recruited as manager in the summer of 2017; taking the team on a fantastic FA Cup run, which saw Manchester City defeated at the DW Stadium.

Wigan Athletic FC will play in the Football League One in the 2017-18 season.

My visits

Wigan Athletic 3 Hull City 0 (Saturday 21st February 1987) FA Cup Round Five (att: 11,453)

Hull City had a decent team at the time and had been boosted by new signings Charlie Palmer and Alex Dyer so we set out on the coach from Scarborough, picking up in Filey and then Bridlington in a pretty decent mood. We were pretty confident that City may even reach the semi finals, and from there who knew?

We arrived in the gloomy town of Wigan on a grey day when my much missed late pal Nick Groombridge announced that we were there, only for the stadium over the road to be Central Park, the home of Wigan Rugby League Club! Eventually we were dropped outside the rear of the Main Stand at Springfield Park on a rough coach and car park.

We were herded by police and their horses into queues to get inside a very basic away end. Springfield Park was a decent sized arena but it wasn't much to look at. There were signs that a track once ran round the pitch, so therefore the ends curved round the back of the goals. 

Our end had a few rows of terracing at the front, then a large grass bank with a little shed at the top to protect a couple of hundred from the rain. Down the left hand side was the long St Andrews Drive Side with a cover over the terracing. The far end had open terracing curved around the track, with the final side having a fine large Main Stand filling the middle third with open terracing in front and at either side.

Up until an hour of the game we were happy and confident. Dyer was having a good game and chances were being created. Then for some reason The Tigers boss Brian Horton withdrew Dyer and made some tactical changes. The game changed within a few minutes.

The Latics front pairing of Bobby Campbell and Paul Jewell started to get service and they ran the City defence ragged. Three goals went in in a relatively short interval and that was the end of the cup run. Unfortunately this brought out the worse in the visiting fans as many scaled the high fences and a short running battle took place with the police. To add to the farce several slipped and fell down the grass bank.

It was an angry but quiet coach heading home.

Wigan Athletic 1 Scarborough 0 (Saturday 4th December 1993) FA Cup Round Two (att: 1,837)

My memory fails me on how I got to this game, but I know I got there around 1pm and went into The Springfield, a fine large traditional pub a few minutes from the ground. At the time it had a bowling green at the rear and they did excellent rolls at a cheap price, plus the beer was good. I seem to recall my work colleague Pete Trapps reminding the locals of how we beat them at Wembley in 1973.

I also went to another pub with Baz Rewcroft, quite possibly The Brickmakers Arms on Woodhouse Lane. We'd had a good drink when we arrived at the turnstiles, but not as many as one Seadog who was being led away owing to the fact he didn't have much of an idea as to where he was.

A frustrating afternoon ended in a 1-0 defeat despite Boro playing well enough and having a goal disallowed.

Wigan Athletic 1 Scarborough 1 (Saturday 1st October 1994) Division Three (att: 1,403)

I definitely went to this game in a car with Bunner, Filey John, Crusher and Carl Ellis. I remember it very well as it was a momentous occasion at our house in Prospect Road as we were about to join the satellite age. We had a dish and box but Dave Trenham was struggling to get it pointing in the right direction. I left my Dad in charge looking forward to arriving home for a nice meal and an evening of channel hopping.

We were a little late in arriving. I'm not even sure if there was time for a beer. We sat upstairs in the Main Stand thanks to some tickets left by the players. The view from up there was magnificent. We were a little bit surprised to find Jason White up there, as he had been in fine form up front. Apparently he'd got stuck in traffrc from Birmingham and arrived late so manager Billy Ayre left him out.

Boro managed a draw in a poor game and we went into the not massively hospitable social club for a couple of beers and to catch the full time scores before our journey home. The adventure was just to begin.

I worked night shifts at the time so by now I was tired and fell asleep. The next thing I knew was a stange feeling as a felt like I was being lifted. I looked out of the window to find myself alone in the car which was being whinched onto a tow truck. It was broken.

The repair man couldn't allow me to stay in there so we all had to fit into his cab. Apparently all I complained about for the next hour or so was my liver, mash and gravy in the oven waiting for me. I was glad when I got home to get stuck in. Eventually we also got our Sky turned on as well!

Wigan Athletic 2 Scarborough 0 (Tuesday 20th February 1996) Division Three (att: 2,208)

We travelled to this match by mini bus while somehow convincing Bunner to drive. We picked John up who'd just finished his fish rounds. That didn't help the aroma on board. Again we plumped for the seats as Boro put in an insipid display. The highlight was seeing our lacklustre winger Kevin McGhee outpace the Wigan full back. We thought about calling the paramedics for him as we could only think that he was severely ill.

Astonishingly Bunner agreed for us to go into The Springfield for a couple of pints. We were in jovial mood back on board after the match had been quickly forgotten when a political discusion kicked off featuring John and myself amongst others. It was getting heated after ten minutes or so with Bunner seemingly listening in. Eventually he piped up that he found it all interesting, but did anyone know the way out of Wigan? He was lost!

I really miss random trips like those.

Wigan Athletic 2 Crystal Palace 1 (Saturday 25th January 2014) FA Cup Round Four (att:  9,524)

My quest to finish the 92 League grounds continued on a foul day. When I booked the discount rail tickets a couple of months earlier for £25 return I thought The Latics opponents would be Barnsley in The Championship, but I didn’t allow for the FA Cup set dates.

After night shift I had a sleep before heading to Euston. The train arrived at Wigan North Western station to be greeted by a torrential storm. I braved the weather and headed up to the town centre as it was around 1.40. My pub of choice was the Wetherspoon The Moon Under Water. The ale I chose was shocking. I was left undecided whether it was near the end of the barrel or just a bad taste. Whatever, I noted not to order Cheshire Gold again. It was so bad that I left half of it.

Not to be deterred, I had a plan B. As I hadn’t eaten I used my knowledge of such towns and looked down the streets around the market. Sure enough I soon came across Mr Chips on Hallgate. Their large portion of steak pudding, chips and gravy for £3.05 hit the spot, as a munched away while heading towards where I thought the stadium was.

It turned out that I went the long way round and was heading up towards where Springfield Park once stood. Groups of fans were walking the same way so I wasn’t too concerned. The sight of the Bricklayers Arms brought back memories of a visit in the past. The paths led under the railway, over the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and then the River Douglas before passing the Robin Park Arena to head to the Springfield Stand.

The DW Stadium was light years away from Springfield Park resembling a smaller version of Ibrox before its corners were filled in. The wind was howling and we were still getting the occasional shower so I went inside up to the concourse and did my photography, as well as grabbing a cup of tea to try and keep out the cold.

The seats were by no means sold out so I could choose a decent view. The four stands were all of the same height and were all single tiers of seats. The main Springfield Stand had boxes and media facilities at the rear as well as the player’s tunnel. Opposite was the Boston Stand, named after legendary Wigan rugby league star Billy Boston, as the Warriors shared the stadium. This had a few more seats and a basic electronic scoreboard at the rear. The North Stand housed the away fans, while the South Stand was an exact replica, but was closed for the day.

Palace had the backing of some amazing support from their travelling faithful. For the full match they never stopped singing and cheering. The home fans weren’t bad either, and it led to a great atmosphere being created for such a relatively small crowd. I could well imagine the stadium to be a cauldron on the rare occasions it was full.

Before kick off Wigan’s chairman Dave Whelan was presented with a small replica FA Cup for the club to keep as previous winners of the competition. A tatty replica had been paraded outside by a charity, with patrons making donations to have their photo taken with it. 

The pre match and half time music was brilliant and reflected the town’s heritage towards soul music through the famous old Wigan Casino. Tracks from Frank Wilson and then Dobie Gray just before the teams came out really got me in the mood for the afternoon.

The match saw me watching Palace for the first time in the FA Cup since they won 2-1 in the third round in 1976 at Scarborough in front of the Match of the Day cameras. I was delighted to see that managers Uwe Rosler and Tony Pulis both fielded strong line ups. It was soon apparent that both sides were very keen on progression.

The game was open and flowed from end to end. The Latics probably had the better of the play although Ali Al Habsi had to make a stunning save to keep out a Cameron Jerome effort. Wigan took the lead when the excellent James McClean set up the hero of the 2013 final, Ben Watson. 

The former Eagles man slotted home neatly. A long delay to a bad neck injury inflicted on the visitors Jonathan Parr led to an eight minute delay before half time. I kept warm by going downstairs for sustenance.

The second period saw Palace push for an equaliser. Again Al Habsi pulled off a great save from a Jerome effort following a messy set piece. Wigan tended to play lots of clever one touch football, while wingers McClean and Callum McManaman caused problems throughout.

Eventually the leveller came on sixty nine minutes when substitute Aaron Wilbraham stabbed home from a corner, to increase the volume from the visiting fans by a few more decibels. At that point I would have put money on Palace going on to win the tie, but I would be proved wrong. McClean forged forward and caught visiting keeper Julian Speroni off guard to score from the edge of the box. Al Habsi made another top quality save at the other end.

Unfortunately because my train was booked for 5.09 and the game was running late owing to the earlier injury I had to leave five minutes from the end, though I kept in touch by listening to the live commentary on my radio app on my phone. 

The rain was lashing down and the wind howling as I made my way back to the station. It was further than I’d anticipated through the retail park and then up Wallgate, and I was most relieved to see the railway bridge ahead.

The train was running a couple of minutes late, so I made it with a little to spare. Because of the late ending game there were hardly any fans there to catch it. I was happy with this as the Palace fans could be loud and I needed some shut eye for work. My carriage was virtually empty and I woke as we approached Watford, so I was in decent fettle.

It had been a really good few hours out and about. Long live the FA Cup!

The images of Springfield Park have been taken from the internet as I didn't have my camera with me on any of my visits.

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