A murky future for Latics – a Chinese buyout or Mike Phelan?

A murky time for Wigan Athletic.

 

These are unsettled times at Wigan Athletic. A team that has relegation staring in its face unable or unwilling to show the urgency needed to stave it off. The departure of the Head of Football Operations with barely a murmur from the fans. A new contract for a player who has hardly made an impact this season. The Sun newspaper telling us that another of Alex Ferguson’s men could be taking over as manager. Then the blockbuster rumour that Dave Whelan is looking to sell up, with a Chinese consortium visiting the facilities at Christopher Park, Euxton and the DW Stadium.

The players are surely caught up in this too. It has been an awful season with so many of last year’s squad finding the step up to the Championship division tough.

Some will say that the squad just has not had enough quality to compete in the higher division, but there were players of flair and high technical quality there at the start of the season. Nick Powell was always going to be a risky signing, given his horrendous problems with injury in recent years, and so it has proved. Saturday’s cameo appearance shows what a difference he could have made if he could have stayed fit. Jordi Gomez was another flair player and he had a great record in the Championship division with Latics and Swansea.  Gary Caldwell used him sparingly, Warren Joyce too, being seemingly content to shunt him off to Spain in January. Joyce also lost Latics’ most dynamic player and potential match winner, Yanic Wildschut, to Norwich City’s over-generous offer in January. Alex Gilbey too had shown flair early in the season before receiving a serious injury from which it took him months to recover.

Having had to make the massive shift from the possession football of Gary Caldwell to the hoofball of Warren Joyce the players have lost much of their ability to pass and receive the ball. Moreover with the end of the season approaching and League 1 beckoning, so many will be unsettled. Until the last couple of games a willingness to fight for the cause has rarely been lacking in the players, who have suffered so many heart-breaking defeats by fine margins. The seeming lack of urgency is surely a manifestation of a feeling of insecurity for so many of them. They know that the last time Latics were relegated there was a huge exodus of players, with 22 new players coming in.  Indeed some may have already been told to start looking for another club.

Matt Jackson’s departure was labelled as “the end of a consultancy period” on the club web site. After rejoining Latics in 2011 the ex-team captain had taken over as Head of Football Operations. Interestingly the club communique tells us that Jackson had not been involved in player recruitment for the past 18 months, although he was part of the newly formed Player Recruitment Department from the summer of 2015. Jackson was heavily involved in the Latics Academy and the switch to Euxton.

The announcement of a new two year contract for another ex-captain came as a surprise to many of us. Craig Morgan was a rock upon which League 1 was won last season, but has not had an easy time this year. Injuries and an infection have limited his availability and the 31 year old has made just 12 starts and 5 substitute appearances this season.  The contracts of Jussi Jaaskelainen, David Perkins and Stephen Warnock are also due to expire in June.

Given the results it is appears more and more unlikely that Graham Barrow will continue as manager next season. Indeed there are even rumours that a new manager may be brought in before the season finishes. Doing so would give a new incumbent the opportunity to decide on contracts and the players he would like to keep.

For weeks now we have heard rumours that ex-Hibernian and Rotherham manager and Bolton and Everton player, Alan Stubbs was a frontrunner. The rumours may have been fuelled by the fact that John Doolan, who was Stubbs’ first team coach at Hibs, has already rejoined Wigan. Moreover Stubbs will have been visible watching his son, Sam, play for Latics’ youth team and development squad. However, the assertion that ex-Manchester United assistant manager, Mike Phelan, might be taking the reins has already been met with concern by fans.  It also appears that a return for Gary Caldwell is a possibility.

To add to all of this uncertainty the alleged visit of a Chinese consortium is of even more import. The visit might well be tentative, but is this an indication that the 22 year Whelan dynasty will soon come to an end?

Much has been said and written about DW’s incredible success at the club. If he had not taken over in February 1995 what would have happened? Would another buyer have come in and made the investments that Whelan made? Not likely. The club was not an attractive proposition at the time, languishing in the fourth tier with attendances so often below 2,000. Its only real asset was Springfield Park. Whelan invested  with a mission to propel his home town club into the Premier League. Estimates vary as to how much he put into Wigan Athletic, but the figure appears to be somewhere between £90 m and £100m.

The club is surely more sellable in 2017 than it was in 1995. It has a more tangible “brand” after its successes in recent years – winning the FA Cup, reaching the final of the League Cup, eight years in the Premier League. But other than its players what assets does it have? Both the DW Stadium and the Euxton facility are owned by companies linked with the Whelan family, not the club itself.

Should the Whelan legacy continue we can expect continued financial backing for the near future at least. The club will be expected to be as financially self-sufficient as possible, although achieving that whilst maintaining success on the field of play will be a challenge. Wigan Athletic’s fan base has grown to maybe five times what it was in 1995, but still does not match those of the majority of clubs in the Championship. It is more akin to those of clubs in League 1. Moreover to maintain attendance levels the club has had to resort to cut-price season tickets. Put simply, the club will not have the revenue to seriously compete, even in League 1, unless there is backing from the ownership.

However, although Dave Whelan will surely provide a buffer for the club in the near future there appears to be no way that he will be making the scale of investment he has in the past. Given the club’s current predicament it is highly unlikely that it will reach the top tier of English football again in the foreseeable future.

Eleven of the twenty four clubs in the Championship are now owned by overseas investors. Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Wolves are Chinese owned.

In the long term it is unlikely that the Whelan family will continue to inject funds into Wigan Athletic. There will surely come a point where they will say “enough is enough”, but would anyone be tempted to buy a club that does not own its own stadium or training ground?

It is a time of uncertainty at all levels within the club. Ownership and management issues further cloud a murky near future.

 

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Joyce has gone – time to BELIEVE again

Do we BELIEVE that Latics can get out of this predicament? Table thanks to Statto.com

David Sharpe did the right thing today by dismissing Warren Joyce and his close associate Andy Welsh. Some might say the chairman deserves praise for swallowing his pride and realising he did the wrong thing in November. But Sharpe is pragmatic enough to know that if he had kept Joyce in charge, Latics would surely have been doomed to relegation.

One of the fundamental building blocks in Wigan Athletic’s rise from the fourth tier to mingle for so long with the elite clubs of English football was sheer BELIEF. It was the belief of Dave Whelan in his managers – Paul Jewell, Steve Bruce and Roberto Martinez – that led to the club to an FA Cup, a League Cup Final and eight years in the Premier League. Whelan backed them, not only with his chequebook, but with his driving ambition to hold Wigan Athletic up there.

There were certainly sticky moments along the way, but there was always the hope that things would turn out alright in the end. They did apart from that fatal night at the Emirates, just three days after Ben Watson’s unforgettable goal had won them the Cup. But Whelan had chosen his managers wisely.

Jewell’s teams were built on solid defence, but always had flair players in attack. Whelan opted for continuity when Jewell left, giving the post to his assistant, Chris Hutchings. Sadly it did not work out and Hutchings was gone after barely three months in charge. Bruce came back to the club, Whelan backed him in the transfer market and he righted a foundering ship. His teams were based on a solid defence protected by a rugged midfield, but with a good smattering of flair players to provide balance.

Martinez was brought in to keep Latics in the Premier League on a much reduced budget. He went on to produce the best results in the club’s history, away wins at Arsenal and Liverpool, the club’s one and only victory at home to Manchester United, that epic victory on cup final day. Martinez was a great ambassador for the club, through his insistence that his teams compete against star-studded opposition by sticking to the principles of skilful possession football. The FA Cup victory against Manchester City was no fluke: Wigan had played the better football on the day, with not a hint of skulduggery.

Was Whelan just lucky with his appointments of Jewell, Bruce and Martinez or did he have a vision of what they would do? If he was lucky with those three, he certainly was not with his appointment of Owen Coyle. Neither was he in appointing Malky Mackay and his grandson made a similarly woeful appointment in Warren Joyce. None of those three names – Coyle, Mackay, Joyce – became synonymous with good football at Wigan Athletic. Indeed it was quite the reverse.

But Whelan did make a good appointment in Uwe Rosler, who picked up the mess left by Coyle and got Latics to the FA Cup Semi Final and the Championship playoffs. Sadly the going got rough in Rosler’s second season, but rather than showing faith in a manager who had achieved so much, Whelan showed him the door, bringing in the hapless Mackay. Sharpe did a similar thing with Gary Caldwell, who had only months before won the League 1 title. His replacement was the inept Joyce.

Sharpe has done the right thing for the moment. The odds are that Latics will not be able to avoid relegation, but without the shackles imposed by Joyce the players can make things happen. Few of us really and truly believed that Joyce was the right man for Wigan. To BELIEVE that Joyce could save the club from relegation was asking too much, given his obsession with the defensive side of the game and the hoofball we were witnessing.

Graham Barrow has been appointed caretaker manager again. Barrow is a survivor who has seen six managers come and go since rejoining the club in 2009. Barrow is not the kind of coach who will throw caution to the wind, but we can expect him to field line ups that are more balanced that we saw under Joyce. Due attention will be paid to the offence, as well as the defence.

With Barrow in charge we at least have a hope that we can BELIEVE our team can avoid the drop.

Courtesy of Statto.com

 

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Latics fans comment on Blackburn game and Joyce’s tactics on social media

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A couple of years ago to the week Dave Whelan said his goodbyes to the crowd before a home game with Leeds United. The man whose investment of time, money and belief had lifted a struggling club from the fourth tier to unbelievable success was stepping down as chairman. His 23 year old grandson was taking over.

There had been quite a buoyant mood before the match had started as Latics had won their previous two league games. There was some degree of belief that Malky Mackay would be able to salvage the season and pull Latics out of the relegation zone. Sadly it was not to be, Latics lost 1-0 and were nine points adrift of safety at the end of the day. It took another month to sack the hapless Mackay, but by then the rot was truly set in and new manager, Gary Caldwell, was unable to turn things around sufficiently in the handfull of games that remained.

Two years on from those dark days Wigan Athletic find themselves in a similar predicament. Another 1-0 defeat, this time against a poor Blackburn side. Sadly the credibility of the current manager, Warren Joyce, is at rock bottom. His woeful tactics and lack of positivity have taken the standard of football down to levels we have not seen for decades. It is hard to have belief in the manager given his negative approach and his unwillingness to embrace good football. I watched yesterday’s game on a live feed from Germany, where even the German commentator referred to Wigan’s approach as “kick and rush”.

It was sad to see Joyce with his face patched up, present but not giving orders from the front line. The cynics had suggested that the manager’s illness was simply a ruse to avoid attending the fan forum during the week. It was clearly not and we all must wish him a speedy recovery.

David Sharpe will need to make decisions about the manager’s position over the coming week. Last time he left it late to bring in someone new. Latics have only won one game out of the last six and are heading for League 1 unless something drastic happens very soon. Significantly, reports suggest that Dave Whelan was at the game yesterday against his old club. Sharpe and Whelan will surely need to do something about a situation where a manager has not only been struggling with his job but has a seemingly major health problem to cope with too. Should they opt to put Joyce on medical leave until the end of the season they would be helping both the club and the manager himself. In the meantime a temporary appointment could be made within the club to provide the kind of positivity and belief that is lacking at the moment.

We took a look at the social media following yesterday’s match and came up with a wide range of views. Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum, The Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Facebook) and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen.  Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

 

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Stuart Alker @stuartalker tweeted:

Embarrassing day for us. The chairman will surely now be questioning the change of manager. Looks more ridiculous with every game.

Hindleylatic on Latics Speyk said:

He has to go before training on Monday.

Paul Tymon on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

We are set up basically not to lose at all costs which isn’t working and as soon as we go 1-0 we struggle.

He also added:

Everybody knows wat we need to do apart from the manager which is worrying

Adgjlzcbm on Latics Speyk commented:

Didn’t the Blackburn announcer said “Finally Wigan have made a substitution”? Who overruled the sub as we were clapping when we thought Tunnicliffe was coming off?

Paul Kendrick @PKendrickWIG tweeted:

Carnage here. Seemingly a double change for Latics as Jacobs and Bogle replaced by Obertan and Grigg. Boos from the away end as Bogle off…

Dan Thompson  @DanThompson_89  tweeted:

It’s that embarrassing we can’t even make a sub correctly!!!

Dean Chambers on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams said:

I thought it was a well balanced game: both teams were sh.it. Never heard an away following turn on the management before. That substitution could have been in a Carry On film. They’ll get shut with 5 games to go and stick the plumber in charge for the rest of the season. Might as well do it now as were boll..xed. MoM: Burn and Buxton with special mentions to Crackers, Morsy and Bogle

Whittleblue on Latics Speyk commented on the atmosphere at the match:

For those not there it was genuinely that bad, both the performance, effort and the full time reaction from the fans, it went beyond discontent it was pure venom. Rational part of me says it went beyond what was acceptable- in fact it did but on this occasion I can understand why.

Regarding that sub Tunicliffe actually left the pitch – in a strop – before being pushed back on – I’m not sure he should have been allowed back as the sub had been made. Grigg looked bemused, Bogle was not happy when they tried to hook him, fans were going berserk, other players were looking round wondering what was going on, it was an absolute joke.

Rob Murphy on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams stated:

16 defeats out of 18 by a single goal must be some kind of record

Craig Aspey @AS_caspey tweeted:

We hammered Blackburn 3-0 earlier in the season. We’re a completely different team to then. Going down with a whimper. Embarrassing

Victor Moses ;)on Latics Speyk was far from happy:

Truly dreadful setup. I don’t think we could play any less effective without trying to lose games. Asking Bogle to run the channels and come back on defense is a complete waste of his ability.

Playing with wide players so deep, looks like 4 fullbacks on the pitch. Their not forward enough to be considered wingbacks. Never a pass available for the ball carrier. Cant describe how bad that is in words.

This is against sides with weaker squads(even at best), this would never work against stronger opposition. It doesn’t work against any opposition. Yet Joyce must think under 20% win ratio is enough. Feels like an amateur vs a professional system, week in week out. 5 defenders in midfield and 4 defensive defenders. Bogle trying to play as a complete solo attack unit. Never going to work over a period of time.

Without doubt Joyces tactics today. This system will relegate us from league 1 next season.

Bernard Ramsdale @BernardTNS said:

Here’s an idea WJ. Why not start every game thinking we are 1-0 down? You can then get rid of the defensive sh.te. #eyeswideshut

Zeb2 on the Cockney Latic Forum summed up the performance:

Can’t argue … “nil” again and no more than we deserved…yet another game where their keeper could have played, sat in a deck chair. A bit of late huff and puff (to no avail) when they finally decided to field the line up they ought to have started with. Simply not enough attacking intent. My first and last away of the season

Charlz54 on Latics Speyk added:

Well, it was the same old same old same today and let’s face it we look like we are going to be relegated now. We keep hearing the same old same excuses but NOtHING changes….the fact is we can’t win football matches and that means relegation and league one again next season…..embarrassing

 Bigroy on the Cockney Latic Forum summed up the season by saying:

With us only scoring a goal every other game this season its been a bloody awful season for supporters and most feel completely despondent I’m sure. Don’t think I’ve witnessed a latics team with such a lack of invention and it’s bloody pitiful to watch. Not one player can beat a player, create a killer pass, shoot well. It’s awful to watch and um surprised more haven’t boycotted what must be the worst Latics team in around 20 years.

Daryl Rogerson @darylrogerson tweeted:

Depending on other teams games in hand, we could be 6pts from safety which is twice the gap when Joyce took over.

Lazysid on Latics Speyk added:

I will take relegation now if it means I don’t have to put up with watching this sh.te every week in trying to survive in a league we don’t deserve to be in.

Truelatic4ever on Latics Speyk was not happy:

Time for Sharpe to admit he screwed up yet again. We are absolute garbage,negative sh.te,we are going down.

Paul Kendrick @PauKendrickWIG commented:

Graham Barrow: “Defence kept us in the game. I think the finger has to be pointed at those further up the pitch who have to do better”

MudhutsMedia @mudhutter responded:

@PKenrickWIG there wasn’t anyone further up the pitch apart from the Bogle, that’s the whole problem

Bickymon on the Cockney Latic Forum commented on the owners’ quietness:

 We started preparing for league one when we sold yanic and brought in those league one type players in January. The owners are very quiet about the whole sorry mess we are in._.But then again its their fault just dont think they are interested anymore

NorthernSoul on Latics Speyk commented on the Wildschut transfer:

 In the season was undoubtedly the sale of Wildschut, just after we’d won back to back league games, started creating chances and scoring and looking like climbing the table, we let our key attacking player leave.

4m upfront with over 1m going to Boro, with 3m in performance related installments, now Norwich have missed out on the play offs and are a total shambles and Yanic can’t get in the team and seems unsettled down in East Anglia, it’s unlikely to see us get anymore than 3m in the end.

Was losing 6/7m or so a season in revenue, with relegation worth this panic sale? Yanic may have been bang out of order but if we’d have kept him and and agreed to sell him in the Summer, it would probably have kept us up. Without his pace and power we have absolutely nothing at all creativity wise. Whoever sanctioned the deal should probably resign.

Donnyspage  on the Cockney Latic Forum urged Dave Whelan to stop the downward spiral:

I for one have such a lot of gratitude for Dave Whelan and the journey we have been on but at the moment the journey seems to be going back to the lower leagues. There are the cynical amongst us who will think Dave has had other reasons than football too, like raising his own personal and business profile and having this profile shown to the world along the way. Who can blame him, the two have gone together. It could have cost a fortune to raise the business profile so much with stadium and shirt sponsorship alone. A huge chunk of money invested. Remember for all the money that he has put in Latics, Dave still owns millions in assets with the stadium and land etc and still the company name is flashed on TV every week.

I just think it is a shame after taking us up there to be on the slide which could have been prevented with a fraction of investment again rather than perennial fire sales. Someone somewhere should be accountable for this ridiculous and downward spiraling of Latics and let us hope Mr Whelan can find them, stop them and do something about this slide. I hope he is patient because it is looking like he will have to start this process from league 1 and without a parachute payment which will need the right personnel and investment from the off. It will also require the ruthless side of his business life with a full clear out of most players, the chairman and board, the manager, all the coaching staff, all the hanger ons. Let the upward journey begin again Dave.

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Losing money to win promotion

benefactor

Figures can help provide startling comparisons, causing us to question underlying trends. Recent information and figures  from Wigan and Horwich have  once more caused questions to be raised.

Wigan Athletic lost £3.9m last season. Having to pay agents a total of £1,461,088 was a contributory factor towards the loss, which had come after three consecutive years of making a profit.

The last time Bolton Wanderers announced a profit was in 2006. Referring to their loss in 2014 the club stated that ”Net loss improved by £41.6million, down to £9.1million year on year.” A couple of weeks ago Wanderers were issued a winding-up petition by the HMRC, which goes to court on January 18th. Owner Eddie Davies has loaned the club £185m over recent years, but is not prepared to continue to pump money in. In the meantime they are looking for ways to pay their players and staff.

The scale of Latics’ loss for 2014-15 came as a surprise to most of us, although it is small compared with those suffered by other Championship clubs last season, not just Bolton.

In the summer of 2014 Dave Whelan made a calculated gamble in a bid to get Latics back into the Premier League. Is David Sharpe about to follow in his footsteps?

“The continued financial support of the Whelan family has allowed the club to continue pursuing long-term strategic goals and although the financial results for the year ended 31 May 2015 mirrored the disappointments on the field, the owners remain committed to developing and improving Wigan Athletic to enable the club to return to the highest level of English football.”

The words of Jonathan Jackson to Wigan Today after announcing last season’s financial loss.

It is certainly reassuring to hear that the owners – the Whelan family – remain committed towards getting the club back into the Premier League. The question is how they will be able to develop and improve things at the club to make it a possibility. Will the Whelan family remain the benefactors to Wigan Athletic that they have been in the past?

Last season Dave Whelan had given major backing in the transfer market to Uwe Rosler, who had taken Latics to the FA Cup semi-final and the Championship playoffs.  £7.3m was brought in through the sales of James McArthur and Callum McManaman. But £10m was spent on transfers into the club, the majority on Andy Delort, Adam Forshaw, Emyr Huws and Oriel Riera. Other signings were made at lesser prices, with some being free agents.  But not only was it the shelling out of money on transfer fees that was to cost the club, but Rosler had brought in eleven new players. The large squad that resulted was to eat away at the budget week by week.

Sadly things went pear-shaped for Rosler, who was sacked in November. Seeing his financial gamble starting to look less viable, Whelan was to embark on a huge cost cutting exercise in January. The hapless Malky Mackay was to be the manager who oversaw a fire sale that resulted in swathes of players leaving in the January transfer window.

But that too turned into a gamble that turned sour on Whelan as Latics’ severely pruned squad just did not have the quality to hold their own in the Championship under a manager who could not deliver.

With hindsight one could say that Whelan’s appointment of Malky Mackay caused more damage to the club on and off the field than anything previous in the club’s history. The January sales certainly helped rebalance the finances. If those players had stayed the budget would have been propelled much further into the red, anathema for a club that had prided itself on balancing its books. It could be argued that those players had lost the will to fight for the club and were happy to sit pretty on their inflated salaries at a time when the going was tough.

But it was the scale of the January clear out that was staggering. More than anything else it was a cost-cutting exercise, which helped reduce a potentially large budget loss for the season.

Did the January sales leave Latics in better shape for the future? The reality is that they were a major factor in the club losing its place in the Championship division.  Getting back there is not going to be easy and if Latics cannot gain promotion from League 1 this season or the next they will be in trouble. Parachute payments help provide a huge competitive advantage over other clubs but they will be at an end in the summer of 2016.

For the moment the hope is that the purge within the club and the advent of a young duo at the helm will bring forward a shining new era. But even if the dynamic duo of Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe can get Latics back into the Championship division, what would be the chances of them going further?

At the end of last season Championship clubs were over £1.1bn in debt, an average of £48.5m per club. The desire to reach the riches of the Premier League continues to drive so many clubs severely into the red. Having a benefactor owner is the key to getting out of the division. But there are clubs in the division who make every effort to live within their means, not an easy matter with the profligacy around. If Latics were to get back there, in which category would they stand?

Benefactor owners have made their mark even in League 1, where clubs live within their means much better than in the division above. Last year’s champions, Bristol City, have been bouyed by the funding of Steve Lansdown. Second place Milton Keynes Dons are owned by Pete Winkleman, who moved Wimbledon FC to Milton Keynes in 2001. Playoff winners Preston North End are supported by Trevor Hemmings, who has reduced their debt by more than £50m since 2010. During the 2013-14 financial year, he waived £18.7m of debt and £15m through a share issue.

Wigan Athletic will look towards breaking even financially on the current season. They are likely to continue to shed higher wage earners this January, as they did just over a year ago and in summer. Players on Championship-level salaries will be encouraged to leave. Squad size could also diminish.

A few miles away in Horwich, Bolton Wanderers will surely do something similar but on a larger scale. They have to drastically cut their costs and a fire sale like that one in Wigan just over a year ago is on the cards. They will surely be heading towards League 1 next season, but will they meet their local rivals there?

Whether Gary Caldwell can achieve promotion this season remains to be seen. Perhaps it will be next season, or perhaps Latics will be marooned in a division where they will no longer have a financial advantage over the rest.

But in the current climate of English football the level of elevation will depend on the funding of a benefactor. But Dave Whelan’s role in Wigan Athletic’s rise was not solely as a benefactor. He was a visionary who made it possible through his hard work, knowledge and dedication.

David Sharpe has a hard act to live up to. But he has already revealed a vision that can take the club forward, impressive for such a young man.

But is Sharpe capable of being the chairman who can not only run a balanced budget this season, but provide the benefactory backing for the club to eventually get back into the Premier League?

The Whelan family have done so much for Wigan Athletic over the past two decades. How much more can we expect from them?

Splashing money on a striker and the SCMP

Does the SCMP penalise the smaller clubs?
Does the SCMP penalise the smaller clubs?

Bristol Rovers were in dire straits in late January 2002. It was their first-ever season in the 4th tier of English football and they were doing badly, occupying the 87th place of the 92 league clubs.

A trip to a Premier League club in the FA Cup sounded like a recipe for disaster. But Rovers’ 3-1 victory at Pride Park was to prove the showcase for a young striker whose hat-trick destroyed Derby that day. Nathan Ellington was only 20 at the time, but was heading towards twenty goals for the season in a struggling side.

At the time Wigan Athletic were hovering around mid-table in League 2, the 3rd tier. Latics had finished in the top six the previous three seasons and manager Paul Jewell had spent freely in a bid to get promotion.

In summer he had paid Dundee United £500,000 for Jason de Vos, £750,000 to Wolves for Tony Dinning and £300,000 to Watford for Peter Kennedy. He had followed that up in December with the signings of John Filan from Blackburn for £600,000 and Gary Teale from Ayr United for £275,000.

However, Latics were just not scoring enough goals. They had scored a paltry 53 in 46 league matches the previous season and desperately needed someone who could put the ball in the back of the net.

Jewell’s signing of Ellington for £1.2 million a couple of months later raised eyebrows in the English football world at the time. It was an enormous fee for a club in the third tier, with an average attendance of around 6,000, to pay to one in the tier below them. However, in the following season Ellington’s 22 goals propelled Latics to winning the division. Ellington was to go on to form that wonderful partnership with ex-Bristol Rovers teammate, Jason Roberts, that was to help Latics reach the Premier League.

It had been Wigan’s sixth season in the third tier when Ellington was signed in 2002, but just over thirteen years on Wigan Athletic are contemplating life back there. But it is a different club now than it was then and the Financial Fair Play protocol has come into play. Can Latics once again get out of the third tier, albeit within a differing economic climate?

There have been many theories put forward as to why Latics were relegated this season. But, no matter what was going off the pitch, scoring only 39 goals in 46 league games was the main contributory factor. Dave Whelan had splashed some £8 million during the summer transfer window in signing strikers Andy Delort and Oriol Riera together with Adam Forshaw and Emyr Huws, who were expected to provide some creativity in midfield.

Sadly the gamble did not come off and none of the four was to play in the second half of the season. Forshaw was sold, Huws injured and the two strikers sent back to their home countries on loan. Given the failed investment made by Whelan, will his grandson and new chairman, David Sharpe, be brave enough to follow a similar path this summer by making major investments in players?

Whelan had splashed money around in both the 2001-02 and the 2014-15 seasons in bids for promotion. However, in 2001-02 there was little hope of a return on his investment. Over two decades he was to pour around £100 million into the club with little hope of getting any of it back. Not only was getting promotion to the Premier League at a considerable financial cost to him, but he had to keep pouring money into for the club to stay there.

In 2007 following the departure of Jewell and an unfortunate spell under Chris Hutchings, Whelan brought back Steve Bruce to steady the ship. Bruce did exactly that. Hutchings had presided over six successive defeats, taking Latics into the bottom three. Bruce arrived in November and managed to steer Latics into 14th place, well clear of relegation. In the 2009-09 season that followed they finished 11th. But Bruce’s success had come at a financial cost. The result was Wilson Palacios and Emile Heskey leaving in January and Antonio Valencia in July. Nevertheless Latics had made losses of £11.2 million and £5.8 million over the two seasons with Bruce in charge.

Roberto Martinez was appointed in the summer of 2009 with the brief of slashing the wage bill, but maintaining Wigan’s Premier League status. Even before the season had begun Lee Cattermole had been sold for £3.5 million. Martinez was to guide Latics into 16th place, with the operating loss for the season cut to £4 million.

The 2010-11 saw Latics finish in 16th place once again, with a loss of £7.2 million. But in the 2011-12 season they were to turn things around financially, finishing 15th with a profit of £4.3 million. A profit of £822,000 was made the following season when they won the FA Cup but were relegated from the Premier League.

Relegation to the Championship saw the club cut its cloth according to its changed circumstances. Wages for 2013-14 were cut from around £50 million the previous season to £30 million. A profit of £2.6 million was announced.

However, profit and loss statements do not tell the full story of a club’s finances. Accountancy uses the concept of amortisation, which tends to distort the picture.  In simple terms transfer fees are spread over the term of a player’s contract.

Let’s say that Wigan paid a £2.8 million transfer fee to sign Andy Delort in 2014, who was given a four year contract. The amortised value is therefore £700,000 per year. On the accounts for this year the transfer fee would therefore appear as an amortisation of £700,000. Delort’s amortised book value after one year would therefore be £2.8 million, less £700,000, equalling £2.1 million.

Now let’s say that Delort is sold for £2.0 million after being at the club for two years. After two years his amortised book value is £1.4 million, so the accounts for 2016-17 would show a profit on the sale of £2.0 million less £1.4 million, that is £0.6 million. Let’s also say Delort’s annual salary was £1million. For that year’s accounts Latics would actually show a profit improvement of £2.3million due to lower wage costs of  £1 million, lower amortization costs of £0.7 million and the £0.6 million profit on the transfer.

The use of amortization in accounting for football club profits and losses is an art unto itself. However, the declared profits shown by Wigan Athletic in the last three years of reporting suggest that the club has been heading in the right direction. In simple terms its long-term sustainability depends on nothing less than making sure that incomings outweigh outgoings.

The higher than usual level of transfer activity and changes in wage costs over the course of the season just finished will certainly keep the club’s accountants busy. However, in layman’s terms the transfer fees received through the sales of such as James McArthur and Callum McManaman outweighed those spent.  Moreover the January sales and departures enabled the club to drastically its wage bill.

Wigan Athletic today announced its new season ticket prices, David Sharpe stating that:

Gary Caldwell and his staff will work tirelessly to get things right on the pitch, and I’m sure that our loyal supporters will support the players as they always do. We want to reward our supporters after a difficult season and by reducing prices by 5% we are demonstrating how much we appreciate the support we have received. Our fans will play a massive part in the new era of the club. Our season cards continue to be the most cost effective way of watching Wigan Athletic and remain extremely competitive compared to other clubs. We are committed to making the cost of watching football affordable to all.”

The club’s admission prices were among the lowest in the Championship division, where average attendance dropped to 12,882 from 15,176 the previous season. A further drop in attendance would appear inevitable, even if the club has a successful season. The prospective fall in attendances, together with reduced admission prices, means a significant further drop in gate receipts.

The average attendance in League 1 this year was 7,061. It was the larger city clubs – Sheffield United, Bradford City and Bristol City – who averaged over 10,000. Over their previous six seasons in the third tier Wigan Athletic averaged 5,841, with the highest yearly average of 7,287 in the promotion season 2002-03 and the lowest yearly average of 3,967 in the first season 1997-98.

With gate receipts becoming a more critical factor, Sharpe will be hoping he can maintain average attendances at least around the 8,000 mark. After their successes in the past decade in particular, Latics now have a greater fan base than before. However, he will be aware that he has to keep admission prices relatively low to compete with the local rugby club for support and not alienate fans who have loyally stuck by the club in the most horrendous of seasons that just passed.

For the next couple of years gate receipts will not be the main source of revenue, given parachute payments of £8 million per season. On the face of it Latics will have a significant financial advantage over the other 23 clubs in the division, none of whom have parachute payments. However, FFP protocols differ greatly between League 1 and the Championship. The Salary Cost Management Protocol (SCMP) system, operated in League 1, allows owners to inject funds in ways that would not be possible in the Championship.

League 1 winners Bristol City have been losing money steadily over recent years. In 2013-14 they lost £3.9m after being relegated to League 1. They had lost £12.9 million in the Championship the previous season, with big losses in the years prior to that. In January 2014 their major shareholder, Steve Lansdown, turned £35 million of debt into equity to keep the club afloat. Despite their lack of profitability they have been able to put funds into the redevelopment of their Ashton Gate ground, due to be completed in 2016-17.

In contrast Yeovil have not had that kind of financial support from their owners. Sadly they have suffered successive relegations and will play in League 2 next season. In March chairman John Fry claimed that their budget of £1.4 million was the 14th highest in League 1, the highest they had ever had in that division. They had started the season with a loss of £5 million hanging over them from the previous year in the Championship division. Fry has repeatedly stated his view that the SCMP penalises smaller clubs like his own, whose gate receipts cannot compete with those of bigger clubs.

David Sharpe continues to reiterate his desire to get immediate promotion back into the Championship.  Parachute payments notwithstanding, is he willing to give Gary Caldwell the kind of financial backing that his grandfather gave Paul Jewell more than a decade ago?

If he is then maybe we will see a young striker coming into the club who can make a difference in the way that Nathan Ellington did from 2002-2005.