A couple of weeks ago Wigan Warriors met the Catalan Dragons in a televised match at the DW Stadium. The events that followed have once again brought to the surface the latent frictions between followers of the two codes, the ground-sharing issue once again being hotly debated.
The pundits said that the rugby match would have been postponed had it not been on television. The DW pitch was already in poor condition after the constant rains that had fallen over recent months. Allowing a rugby game to be played in atrocious conditions caused so much further damage that a couple of days later David Sharpe was to take drastic action by installing a brand new surface within the week that followed.
The social media message boards were buzzing. Some Latics fans advocated evicting the rugby club; others questioned why towns like Huddersfield and Hull don’t have the same types of problems with their pitches. However, it is understood that the control of the DW Stadium rests in the hands of the Whelan family, not Wigan Athletic itself. Moreover we are told that the rugby club was given a 50 year lease on using it.
Theories abound as to why the pitch has been so problematic since the opening of the stadium in 1999. The common view is that it was built on marshy, reclaimed land close to a river and a canal, so how could we expect any better? Another claim is that there is a large cesspit beneath it, from which gases rise over the winter months, poisoning the grass above.
The bottom line is that Sharpe has invested a significant amount of money in providing a new pitch for the short term, with more work to be done over the summer. The new pitch looked remarkably good for the Oldham match last Saturday, although the players will have found some difficulty adjusting to the longer grass, which could not be cut to normal length at the time because of its newness.
Sharpe’s investment will surely help Gary Caldwell’s players in their quest for promotion. Having to play on a quagmire would have seriously damaged Latics’ promotion chances, given their preferred style of possession football. But more rugby games are coming up as the football season continues.
The recent announcement that the Warriors home game with Salford has been moved forward a day to Thursday, February 25th has brought indignation from their fans. Latics have a home game with Bury on Saturday, the 27th. Warriors’ chairman, Ian Lenegan, eloquently discusses the fixture schedule complications that caused the rearrangement of the match on YouTube.
The upcoming matches at the DW are now:
Sat, Feb 20 – Warriors v Brisbane
Thurs, Feb 25 – Warriors v Salford
Sat, Feb 27 – Latics v Bury
Sat, March 5 – Latics v Peterborough
In 2011 we published an article called “1932 and all that – is Wigan a rugby town?”
The intention was to examine the more recent history of both Wigan Athletic and Wigan Warriors, looking at attendance trends in particular.
From 1932 to 1978 a look at attendances would appear to an outsider that rugby was the dominant force in the town, although a significant number of Wiganers would typically travel to Liverpool and Manchester to watch top flight football. After achieving Football League status in 1978, Latics’ average attendance went up five fold in that first season, the average of 6,701 eclipsing the 4,505 average of their rugby counterparts for the first time.
However, it was Latics’ entry into the Premier League in 2005 that was to give them dominance in terms of attendance. Even after relegation to the Championship their attendances held up in the first year, only to fall below the rugby last season
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Can a small town like Wigan support two aspiring clubs?
In terms of attendance the highest ever aggregate of the two clubs’ attendances was 34,677 in the 2011-12 football season/2012 rugby season. The contrast with 1977-78 season is stunning, with the rugby club averaging 5,544 and Latics 1,334 in their last season in the Northern Premier League.
Latics current average attendance of in League 1 of 8,679 will surely be eclipsed by the Warriors this year. However, should promotion back to the Championship occur, history suggests that they would compete on an even keel with the rugby team next season.
In terms of attendances it appears that both clubs can co-exist. It is the prickly question of ground-sharing that is the more urgent issue. Questions remain whether the pitch can withstand constant use over the course of a year and as to whether the Super League can play its part in ensuring that the rugby club’s fixtures complement those of their football counterparts.
Ground-sharing in a small town makes economic sense. Let’s hope the frictions can be reduced by dealing with the key issues.