Wigan Athletic: a club renting a stadium to survive?

“There’s an offer of £500,001 in.”

The Sun reports that the offer, presumably £500,000 for Christopher Park and £1 for the club has been made. We can assume it has been made by Frenchman Gauthier Ganaye on behalf of American businessmen Randy Frankel and Michael Kalt.

Although the administrators have stated their preference of selling the club and the stadium together the prospect of them having different owners is becoming more and more likely.

On July 7 news of an initiative to raise funds to buy Latics was made on the Wigan Warriors web site. It mentioned a “unique opportunity here to bring the ownership of these two great clubs together under one roof, each operating independently as before, but under a Wigan Sporting Partnership banner. It is envisaged that each club would retain all its training grounds, management and facilities.

The initiative was to be led by Ian Lenagan, Darryl Eales and Gary Speakman.They stated their belief that Wigan Athletic would be better locally-owned and as far the DW Stadium was concerned they stated that “sustainability and ownership of the stadium is equally important to both clubs, we are currently working with our longstanding advisers KPMG and talking to external parties.”

The communique was met with cynicism by the majority of Wigan Athletic fans who considered it to be an attempt by Lenagan to purchase the DW Stadium. What were Lenagan’s initial motives and what are they now?

Given the uncertainty surrounding the future of the football club it was understandable that Lenagan and the Warriors would want to safeguard their tenure at the stadium. Buying into it would be the obvious way to do so. Were Lenagan to succeed he would own 85% of the shares, with the council continuing to own a 15% portion.

However, the running costs of the stadium, including salaries, maintenance and local taxes are significant. In the past Warriors have perhaps had the better of the deal they made with Dave Whelan before the stadium opened in 1999. Warriors were given a long-term lease and it has been reported that they were to pay 10% of their gate receipts for the use of the ground.

Alan Nixon reported that the “French American team” and Lenagan “couldn’t agree on numbers between them”. If the deal were to go through and Lenagan were to take on the considerable costs of stadium ownership he would need incoming funds from the football club to avoid making heavy losses. Put simply, it would not be in Lenagan’s interests not to make a deal with Latics’ new owners.

Now Nixon is talking about an auction for the stadium. Are there other parties ready to bid against Lenagan?

The work of the Wigan Athletic Supporters Club through these tense and difficult months has been admirable. The ‘Save Our Club’ Crowdfunder currently stands at over £634,000 which is a terrific response from all associated with Wigan Athletic. Moreover, they have been involved in discussions with the administrators and parties interested in buying the club.

In their announcement on September 4 they stated that they “…have already met with one of the interested parties who have put in a bid to the administrators. They are very positive about working with us should their bid be successful, and they are keen to ensure that they have local partners working with them to make the Football Club a future success. We are also continuing to work with the council, the Community Trust, Jonathan Jackson, and other partners to ensure that there is a solution to the survival of our Football Club.”

The announcement makes no mention of the stadium but does indicate that the prospective new owners of the club appear to want to work together with them for the future benefit of the club.

However, Nixon’s comment about an auction for the stadium might suggest that there are other interested parties as well as Lenagan.

The prospect of the DW Stadium being owned by another party, especially one associated with the rugby club, is a bitter pill to swallow for Wigan Athletic supporters. However, at this moment in time it appears to be the best option to ensure the survival of the club.

Already there are people suggesting that Latics might eventually build their own new stadium with a smaller capacity. Much would depend on any agreement made between the new owners of the club and the current stadium. Were no agreement to be reached Latics would be forced to seek an alternative venue. Leigh Sports Village has been touted as a possible alternative.

When Dave Whelan built the stadium, he was ambitious for Latics to become a Premier League club able to attract attendances approaching its 25,000 plus capacity. In their first season in the top tier Latics attracted the highest attendances they have ever had, with an average of 20,160 per home game. In the first five years in the Premier League home attendances averaged between 18,000-20,000. Warriors at the time averaged between 14,000 and 16,000. Wigan Athletic could have increased their home attendances during that period had they allowed more away supporters, but they would have run the risk of being outnumbered in their own stadium.

Since then attendances have plummeted for both football and rugby clubs. In the 2018-19 season Latics averaged 11,663, dropping to 10,614 last season. In the 2018 and 2019 seasons the Warriors averaged 11,528 and 12,060.

In early July David Sharpe was interviewed on TalkSport. He gave an honest and realistic appraisal of the club being able to survive:

“If you look at what my granddad achieved, that makes people feel that Wigan is a bigger club than it is.  If you strip away the fact that we were in the Premier League for so long, we got to Europe and we won the FA Cup, it is really not a huge football club.

In reality, Wigan’s population is not huge, under 100,000 people, it’s surrounded by big football clubs, it’s a working-class town, the stadium for our fanbase is probably too big, it should only be around a 10,000.

So I feel, just for the football club to survive with a lower wages bill in League One I would very much be happy with that. As much as I’d love the team to stay in the Championship, with the wages they have in the Championship you have to be a very, very wealthy man to afford the running of that football club.

So, for me, the best person would be somebody who isn’t going to come with grand ambitions to say Premier League and European football, because that’s been and gone. As a Wigan supporter we’ve got to leave those days behind us and just concentrate on the club surviving.”

Over the past months Latics supporters, as a whole, have become more realistic about the club’s place in the football ladder. Most realise that the days of a benevolent owner in Dave Whelan are gone and that future owners are unlikely to put in the kind of funding that kept the club in at a level beyond what could have ever have been dreamed of.

For the moment we have to accept that selling off assets and bringing in new owners is the only way for the club to survive.

More players will depart as the administrators continue to get wages down towards those at a level appropriate to a League 1 club with the prospect of limited revenues in the coming season. Funds raised from transfers will be needed to defray the considerable costs of the administrators and legal fees.

Once the ownership issue is decided new players can be brought in. There are a lot of free agents out there, with so many clubs not renewing their contracts with the prospect of much decreased revenues coming in. Latics must build a team incorporating the fruits of the club’s excellent academy with the experience of senior professionals brought in to provide the backbone.

From a personal point of view, I just want the club to survive, albeit in much-changed circumstances. On the playing front the goal would be to avoid relegation to League 2. Anything more than that would be a bonus.

 

No Place Like Home

dwstdred

Another nervy, edgy performance by  Wigan Athletic on their home ground. The end result a 2-2 draw with newly promoted Southampton. The visitors dominated the game so much that they looked like the home team.  Why were Latics not able to stamp their authority against a team short of Premier League experience, whom they had already beaten in August? Why didn’t Wigan put  them under pressure from the start? So far this season Latics have a woeful record of W2 D4 L7 at the DW Stadium. The wins came against West Ham and Reading. So why are Wigan not a greater force to be reckoned with on their home ground?

Since joining the Premier League Wigan Athletic have an aggregate home record of W46 D43 L57. In fact only in two seasons have they won more matches at home than they have lost, both during Steve Bruce’s reign between 2007 and 2009. Even in that wonderful Premier League debut  season of 2005-2006, under Paul Jewell, they lost more than they won at home, although their away form was excellent. It was in Latics’ second season in the Premier League that they gained the least total of points at home, with just  19. Martinez’ teams  gained 22 home points in 2011-2012, 23 points in 2010-2011,  and the best being 25 points in 2009-2010, when they won as many as they lost at home.  

Steve Bruce had some simple strategies that worked during his brief tenure in the Premier League with Wigan. He produced teams of iron, with a combative and aggressive midfield providing cover for the defence. He did not worry too much about results against the top clubs, but stressed the importance of good performances against teams nearer the bottom.  But more than anything else his teams performed well at home.

Figures sometimes don’t tell a true story, or should I say that results don’t always paint a true picture of a game?  Too often this season  the picture has been Wigan playing good football, but being undone by individual or collective errors. Sometimes they have been plain unlucky. Injuries have reaped havoc and the team has played all season without a settled defence. Critics would say you make your own luck and that Wigan go into matches without a proactive approach, paying too much respect to the opposition and only rallying when going behind. For what reason did Wigan not put the pressure on Southampton in the opening part of the game? Was it due to a lack of confidence or a tactical approach that did not work? In order for Wigan to stay afloat this season their approach needs to be more proactive, less reactive.

Last season Wigan Athletic drew one and won four of their last five home games. Crowd support was a key factor in their resurgence. Latics now have only six home games left this season – with Liverpool, Newcastle, Norwich, Swansea, Tottenham and Aston Villa coming up. It is to be hoped that their home form will have improved sufficiently by then to make that final match with the Villans a meaningful encounter. The DW Stadium needs to become a ‘Fortress Wigan’ if that is going to happen.

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Wigan Athletic – Fulham Preview: Moment of truth for Roberto’s men


Rarely does a game of such importance rear its head this early in a season. Wigan Athletic have now lost seven games in a row. The last time results were that bad, Dave Whelan moved swiftly to relieve Chris Hutchings of his managerial duties. Times have changed, and while there is no chance Roberto will suffer a similar fate, he must be feeling the pressure. This match is as crucial as they come, an absolute cup final.

Thankfully, it’s against a struggling Fulham side who are notoriously poor away from home. They’re in rotten form, sitting only two places above Latics in the league table with only two points more to their name. They too, have only won a single match so far, also against QPR, who have ironically left us both behind and sit comfortably in the dizzying heights of 10th place. While Roberto finally has a full squad to choose from, Martin Jol has a couple injury concerns in defense, with Aaron Hughes missing out and Philippe Senderos doubtful. Simon Davies is also still out with a knee injury.

All this said, Fulham are one of those teams we seem to find tricky. Theoretically, they should be one of those mid-table teams that we might lose to away but expect to beat at home. But our last five meetings at the DW/JJB have ended in draws, and more often than not, Clint Dempsey scores.

In addition to Clint, Latics will have to keep an eye on Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson, Moussa Dembele, and big-money Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz, who is starting to click after a slow start, scoring a stunning lobbed strike against Everton last week. The Cottagers always hard to break down and play at a high tempo, though Martin Jol’s approach is more continental than both Roy Hodgson’s and Mark Hughes’ were.

Meanwhile, the Wigan camp has been strangely energized by last week’s 1-0 loss to Newcastle. It will be interesting to see if Martinez sticks to the same XI who performed so well, particularly in the first half, or re-introduces Franco Di Santo and James McCarthy to the lineup. Albert Crusat and Dave Jones both performed well at St. James’ and would deserve a repeat start. Di Santo has done nothing wrong, but there is little doubt Rodallega is more likely to score if deployed in the centre-forward role. And James McCarthy has not been himself, but would add a bucket of energy as a second half substitute.

The fixture list over the festive period does not look kind. We have yet to face Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool, which means we must play them twice, and Man City and Spurs each another time. So results must come soon. Seven points from Fulham, Wolves, and Blackburn should put things back on track, but three of them must come tomorrow.

Good luck lads, let this be the turning point we’ve been waiting for.

Heart says: 2-1, Rodallega and Moses to get off the mark for Latics, and who else but Clint Dempsey for the visitors.

Mind says: 1-0, Rodallega.

Wigan Athletic – Newcastle: Morale may be low but strongest XI are finally fit


Under normal circumstances, this match preview would address a history of relative success against Newcastle with measured optimism. I’d point out our last result at St. James Park (2-2 draw that we should have won), and the fact that Newcastle tend to be in that mid-table pack that has been very much accessible to us in our Premier League years; a much bigger club, but one that tends to let its guard down when minnows like us turn up.

But we won’t discuss such things because these are not normal circumstances. While we’ve slumped to six consecutive defeats and half our supporters are calling for our manager’s head, Newcastle have enjoyed their best start to a season in years. They may not have the glamour of the Shearer, Ginola, Asprilla era, but they look something they haven’t in years — solid. They’ve uncharacteristically invested well, and while Alan Pardew is no rocket scientist he has created an organized, talented and competitive side. Getting rid of Andy Carroll and Joey Barton can’t have hurt the atmosphere in the locker room either — or at the very least halved the team’s collective criminal history. Midfield pair Tiote and Cabaye are one of the most underrated partnerships in the league, while Hatem Ben Arfa, Jonas Gutierrez and Gabriel Obertan offer pace and invention from the wings. Demba Ba has started to click up front after a slow start, and Leon Best, despite always looking thoroughly workmanlike, scores more frequently than our strikers do.  The defense has been playing together for several years and you can tell. If anything, the only possible weak link — the player I would try to expose if I were Roberto — is rejuvenated ex-Wiganer Ryan Taylor, who is doing a job at left back. Steve Bruce used him as a left midfielder and it looks like Pardew has caught on as well. He may lack pace, but if you can keep him on the pitch long enough to take a few set pieces, he can win the match for you.

So while it is very possible Ryan will wreak havoc with his corners and free-kicks, there is at least hope that Victor Moses, and possibly even Hugo Rodallega if he’s down that wing, can get past him without too much fancy footwork and cause some problems.

I don’t anticipate any surprises in the lineup, but will breathe a huge sigh of relief if our strongest back four is finally restored, albeit nine games into the season. In midfield, I imagine Roberto will stick with McCarthy for his tackling ability, despite his poor attacking contributions of late, while Rodallega should be on the pitch from the start on the left wing. The bench too, should look strong. Crusat, Maloney and Sammon offer attacking options, while Dave Jones seems to have leapfrogged James McArthur in the pecking order. Hendry Thomas has been frozen out — a shame, because on his day he is the best tackler at the club. One of last weekend’s villains, Steve Gohouri is the most versatile defender available and worth a bench spot, although Van Aanholt really did little wrong in his appearances and could provide defensive cover. And the old Ronnie-Stam-for-Emmerson-Boyce-after-a-crap-first-half is a Martinez favorite, so he’ll probably be there. My best guess for the starting XI: Al-Habsi; Boyce, Caldwell, Alcaraz, Figueroa; Watson, Diame, McCarthy; Rodallega, Moses, Di Santo.

Results have been bad, but performances have largely been decent. The squad is finally fit. There is of course, plenty to lose, but three points in this forgiving league table would see us to mid-table. Unfortunately, no one else has beaten Newcastle this season and it’s a big ask away from home. But nothing much — except the eradication of mindless defensive mistakes — is expected. The stage is set for our boys to bounce back as they’ve done for us so many times in the past.

Heart says: Massive defensive performance, with a Victor Moses goal, 1-0 Latics.

Mind says: Early lead, eventually crumbling to sustained pressure. 2-1, Magpies.

Wigan Athletic – Bolton Wanderers Preview: Time For a Drubbing!

There has never been a better time for Wigan Athletic to give Bolton Wanderers a drubbing. The ‘auld enemy’ lies bottom of the table after seven matches with 21 goals conceded. They have lost 11 of their last 12 Premier League matches.

Whether Latics go on to beat Bolton resoundingly, or to even beat them at all, is going to depend on their approach to the game. To play the ‘cat and mouse’ stuff  that Wigan supporters  have seen too often in the past couple of years would surely play into Bolton’s hands. Despite the propaganda  that comes from Coyle, Cahill and company their confidence has to be at a low point and we cannot afford to show them too much respect. Let’s have an attack-minded lineup and get at them from the start!

Wigan Athletic’s season really needs a kick-start. As has happened so often in the past two years, the team has promised but not delivered. A dynamic performance in this game could prove to be a turning point for the season. Wigan Athletic  have the talent. It is the belief that they  need.

On the injury front it appears that neither  Antolin Alcaraz nor Hugo Rodallega will make this game, despite rumblings about the latter having a chance. There are doubts about the fitness of new signing Albert Crusat. It has been disappointing not to have seen more of the diminutive winger who can give many more  options to  the attack.  It looks like Steve Gohouri will come back into the centre of the Wigan  defence following his suspension. This will allow  Maynor Figueroa to return to his better position of left back. Although Figueroa has played most of his 70 plus games for Honduras in the centre of defence he has not looked the part in that position against the powerful forwards that grace the Premier League. So it would be Boyce and Figueroa at full back and Gohouri and Caldwell in the centre of defence.  The central midfield trio is likely to consist of Watson, McCarthy and Diame, but one cannot rule out the possibility of one of Jordi Gomez, James McArthur or David Jones stepping in there. Let’s hope that Martinez puts on an attacking front three. Moses and Di Santo are obvious choices, with either Shaun Maloney  or Albert Crusat (if fit) providing the best offensive options.  There is the  alternative of playing the more defensive minded Ronnie Stam, or even Jordi Gomez,  wide on the right.  A bold move would be to play three attack-minded forwards, with Shaun Maloney in the “hole” as the third central midfield player.

Bolton are going to have several players out with injury. This could include their excellent goalkeeper, Jussi  Jaaskelainen. Whatever lineup they put forward one can expect the usual Bolton level of  effort and commitment, together with their threat at set pieces.

Prediction: a good win for the Latics, hopefully a thumping. There has never been a better time to play Bolton in the Premier League. Victor Moses is due to get on the scoresheet and a goal from a defender is long overdue.