Wigan Athletic’s first ever USA tour is not just proving a success in terms of conditioning and team bonding — it has set the perfect stage for the beginnings of a US-based supporters club, as fans from all over the country communicated on Twitter and Facebook to meet up, get to know one another, and support the team.
Jon Sicotte, known on Twitter as @spikechiquet, is one of them. A sports copy editor at the Toledo Blade in Ohio and a freelance writer for TheCup.us, he started following the Latics three years ago after some web and FIFA-gaming based research, and hasn’t looked back since. He traveled to both Columbus Crew and Dayton Dutch Lions matches, and was kind enough to contribute a write-up and photos of each experience for the Amigos. Thanks Jon!
Columbus Crew 1 Wigan Athletic 2
Although this Wigan trip was about the new squad limbering up for the Football Championship campaign, it really was a chance for Latics fans to find out that they are not alone. Through Twitter and Facebook, fans from all over the United States connected and got together to share stories, laughs (a few ales) and talk of their love of WAFC. Last Saturday, a group of us decided to go to the 4th St. Grill in Columbus, about a mile from Crew Stadium. It’s a Crew bar, but we were welcomed and had a great time (the bar’s Two-Hearted Ale/Chipotle sauce on boneless wings is fantastic).
The backgrounds of the fans were all over the board: a retiree from Illinois who has lived in the States for 35 years; a Texan who has been in the U.S. since 2005; a Canadian; an American with Wiganers in his family; and even some born-and-bred Americans that just happened to pick the Latics. A few of us tailgated right before the game and met a girl who lived in the area and was wearing a Liverpool kit, although she was from Wigan originally and was happy to see her town’s team playing in Columbus. She was waving a Union Jack proudly out of her car.
Crew fans and staff welcomed us with open arms and event security looked the other way as our group sat together despite having tickets all over the stadium. We may have been small, but we were mighty and we let the Crew know we were there! The array of kits was fun to watch. We met QPR fans, a few Manchester United, Man City and England National team fans in our journey. Michael, one of the guys I met while there, grew up playing youth games under Graham Barrow and the two got to catch up on old times before the match as well.
After the match, Ben Watson and Emmerson Boyce stopped by to chat with fans along with Roger Espinoza. Some of the other guys were down by the bench. A Wigan assistant coach handed up Wigan FA Cup posters as well. It was nice to meet Ben, I remarked I was happy to get to take a picture of the forehead that won Wigan the cup.
Dayton Dutch Lions 1 Wigan Athletic 6
A few days later, I ventured to Piqua High School’s soccer field and assumed I would be alone since many of my “Twitter Crew” couldn’t make the second game. I was happily wrong. I was tapped on the shoulder by a teen named Chole. She, her mum, brother and boyfriend had been in Columbus, but also made it to Piqua for the Dayton vs. Wigan match…a three-hour trip from Louisville. They introduced me to Joe, who believe it or not, lives just down the road from me here in Perrysburg, Ohio. I also met a few more fans around us (I believe our crew stood eight strong or so) and we all braved the 90+ degree heat and humidity.
The players felt the heat as well. In fact, they stopped to take a water break at the 30th minute. The pitch’s grass seemed long and dry and dead, making it slow playing. Wigan was sloppy as well and tried to fool around at times instead of trying to be technically sound. Still, the second half was full of exciting goals and a few good shows of sportsmanship. Late in the match, after scoring a goal already, newcomer Grant Holt collided with Dayton’s keeper nearly outside the box. The goalie fell and was in pain near his knee. Instead of driving to the net, Grant kicked the ball out of bound and let the team tend to their keeper. A minute later, after a penalty kick was awarded, Wigan offered the services of Lee Nicholls to play the penalty instead of the injured keeper. (Dayton only had one keeper at the match). After Holt scored against his teammate, Nicholls stayed and finished the match for Dayton (I wonder if Mr. Whelan will get a few bucks for the transfer fee).
After the match, the players came up to our little group to take pictures and sign autographs. We caught a few more guys before they got on the bus to head back to Columbus. The team even brought out a few boxes of pizza to share with us and many young kids hanging around to meet some true professionals of the beautiful game.