A Macclesfield fan’s view of Danny Whitehead

Whitehead

The 22 year old Danny Whitehead became a Wigan Athletic player in early January. On signing from Macclesfield Town,  Whitehead was loaned back to them for the rest of the season.  Given that his experience is largely in non-league football, are Latics taking a gamble in offering Whitehead a 30 month contract?

The 5 ft 10 in tall Whitehead was born in Stretford and joined the nearby Stockport County when 15, making his senior debut at the age of 17. He went on to make 60 appearances, scoring 6 goals. Whitehead signed for West Ham in the summer of 2013, following a trial period with them. Sam Allardyce, then Hammers manager, commented that:

He was recommended by Didi Hamann – who managed Stockport – as he felt he was an emerging talent that needed nurturing. I asked their current manager Ian Bogie about his talents and he allowed us to take a look at him last season and like every young player he’s got talent. He’s very capable of handling the ball and he’s able to create with his passing. Danny is very slight, which we’ll work on, but the question is can we create that potential into a Premier League player?”

Whitehead made his debut for the Hammers in January 2014 in a 5-0 FA Cup defeat at Nottingham Forest. It proved to be his only game for West Ham and he was released in January 2015. In March 2015 he joined Accrington Stanley on as short term contract.

Whitehead joined Macclesfield Town last summer. In order to learn more about Whitehead’s time at Macc we contacted Voice of Reason through the Wragg’s to Riches Macclesfield fan site.

Here’s over to him:

Danny Whitehead was a regular trialist in our 2015 pre-season friendly programme and was one of our star performers. The qualities I remember from pre-season were skill, creativity and time on the ball. Although we already had quality in midfield, both the club and the supporters were very keen to add Danny to the squad, and while it was evident that the budget was under pressure, Danny was the one trialist whom we signed in the final days before the start of the season.

Our competitive season started slowly for a number of reasons, and I would say that Danny did not carry his form fully into the early season, appearing not to adapt well to the more physical nature of competitive non-League football.

After starting in the first 2 games, he only managed to start one of the next 6, but remained involved coming off the bench in all the other games. When an injury to our skipper, Paul Turnbull , let him back into the team in early September, he went on a run of 18 straight starts.

He was voted Man of the Match on the fans message board in our 4-1 win against the League leaders Forest Green Rovers in September, but our away game to Aldershot at the end of September seemed to be a major turning point. Due to injuries, Danny combined with his near-namesake Danny Whitaker in a lightweight-looking central midfield. We needn’t have worried as Whitehead, Whitaker and our two wide midfielders ripped Aldershot apart to the extent that we were 3-0 up away from home after about an hour, and our manager John Askey was able to rest players and to bring on 3 subs, two of whom were getting their first game-time of the season.

Danny Whitehead has not looked back since that match, as we also went on a very good run. He looked more ready for the fray and used his particular qualities more effectively in central midfield. His run of 18 starts was only interrupted by injury from a very physical game at Southport, and he contributed fully to high scoring wins against Woking, Wrexham, Guiseley and Altrincham.

After signing for Wigan, he described his playing style very well – energetic, covering lots of ground, getting forward and chipping in with a few goals. He’s also quick, but my abiding memories of Danny will include some quality finishing (he’s got a great shot on him), his darting runs into space and his willingness to chase the ball down when the opposition get it. He’s played equally well in central midfield in a 4-4-2, or when there have been 3 in the midfield. Following another quality performance on Tuesday night, he has now been voted Man of the Match 4 times outright and once on a shared basis.

Wigan fans might find entertaining an interview with Garry Hill, the Woking manager, after we won 5-2 at their ground with Danny opening the scoring with a cracker – he almost spits out the names of our central midfield players before saying “we never got a kick” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRTmCr8E850 at 3 minutes and 20 seconds).

Danny goes to Wigan with the best wishes of the Macc faithful. I get the impression that his attitude is “spot on” and having already had a spell at West Ham, he has bags of skill and potential. He will need to step up again from his current level to succeed in League 1 or the Championship, but he has progressed at Macc and, at 22 years old, who’s to say that he won’t establish himself at Wigan or indeed go on to a higher level.

In an interview in November, Danny talked about how much he was enjoying playing regularly, after 2 seasons where he didn’t get many games, and observed that he had to play games to improve – he will need to do the same again and your manager will have to show faith in him to give him the chance to make that step up.

 

 

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A trip to Netherfield – Part 1

 

Geoff Davies attacks as ex-Latics player Alf Craig (left) looks on. Kenny Morris and Doug Coutts watch from defence and Bobby Todd from midfield.

Geoff Davies attacks as ex-Latics player Alf Craig (left of centre) looks on. Kenny Morris and Doug Coutts watch from defence and Bobby Todd from midfield.

On a bright sunny day, with a hint of autumn in the air, my father and I walked through the town centre towards the Gas Showrooms, opposite the market square. I had bought the coach tickets the day before, going to our usual source, Barnes Travel Agents in Market Street.

As we waited for the coach to arrive my father started to reel off one of his favourite old stories about traveling to watch Latics play. This time it was at Bacup, the ground being on top of a steep hill. The coach’s engine had stalled and the driver could not get it moving again, so the passengers had to push it up the hill. A story of his that must have been at least nine years old, when Latics would meet Bacup Borough in the Lancashire Combination.

The coach had no problems getting up hills in this journey. The advent of the M6 motorway had made traveling north much easier, although we had to come off a little before Kendal, the difficult stretch leading over Shap being close to completion, but not ready yet. We arrived an hour early and decided to go through the turnstiles and soak up some sun on the terraces. Just like at Springfield Park there was a supporters club building inside the ground where we could get drinks and a bite to eat.

As we walked in we saw a sight that I had never seen before at a football ground. There were three or four cows grazing on the pitch. It provided a classic rural scenario and made one wonder if this was the reason that the Netherfield pitch was one of the better ones in the league.

It was September 5th 1970, an exciting time for Wigan Athletic fans. The advent of the Northern Premier League had brought new hope for the club, which had been thus far been thwarted in its ambition to be elected to the Football League. Moreover Latics had appointed a dynamic young player-manager who had started to meld the talented squad assembled by his predecessor into probably the best side the club had ever had.

Playing away at Netherfield was never an easy prospect. The team from Kendal, set up by employees of the K Shoes company, were old adversaries from the days in the Combination. Like Wigan they had joined the fledgling Northern Premier League (NPL) as founder members in 1968. They had finished in midtable the previous season.

The arrival of Gordon Milne to Wigan Athletic in the summer of 1970 suggested that the club had serious ambitions. Milne had been one of Bill Shankly’s first signings for Liverpool, paying Preston a £16,000 transfer fee. He went on to make 236 appearances for the Reds in the next seven years, during which he was capped 14 times for England under Alf Ramsey. Milne had joined Latics from Blackpool at the age of 33. Although nearing the end of his playing career he was still a force in the midfield. Curiously his father, Jimmy Milne, had been manager of Latics in the 1946-47season.

The NPL offered hope to Wigan Athletic in their quest for a place in the Football League. The archaic system had remained in place by which the bottom clubs in Division 4 would apply for reelection, together with non-league aspirants. Critics would complain that the Football League was a closed shop and that the clubs would play the “old pals act” by voting for those bottom four clubs.

It was hard for a go-ahead non-league club to get into the Football League and only two had got elected in the past eighteen years, Peterborough in 1960 and Oxford United in 1962. An added complication was that the non-league vote was repeatedly split.

In 1968 Latics had been one of 15 non-leaguers making an application. They received two votes, one less than Cheltenham Town, but woefully short of the 38 votes that got the least favoured Football League club, Workington, reelected. Wigan Athletic did not make an application the following season.

In those days Latics could only dream that automatic promotion to the Football League might become a possibility for non-league clubs. However, the creation of a northern super league, composed of the top clubs from the various regional competitions, was a real step forward. Winning such a league would certainly give more kudos than the Cheshire County League, even if it had been  the best of the northern regional competitions. Moreover the prospect of only the winners of the NPL and the Southern League applying for election would make sense, if it could ever become a reality.

The NPL started in the summer of 1968. It comprised 7 clubs from the Cheshire County League, 5 from the Lancashire Combination, 4 from the Midland Counties League, 3 from the Northern Regional League and one from the West Midlands League. Interest in Wigan was high and Latics’ first game at Springfield Park against Ashington was to draw a crowd of 6,721 – the highest home league attendance for 13 years.

The legendary Ian McNeill had been recruited to manage Latics in that first NPL season. He had been managing Ross County, following a successful playing career with Leicester City and Chelsea. His contacts in Scotland were to prove valuable and in his two year stay he brought in the likes of David Breen, Benny Cairney ,Doug Coutts , Jim Fleming, Jimmy Lynn, Jim Savage and Billy Sutherland. The left full back Sutherland had been signed from Rangers to begin that first NPL season. He was to go on to make 228 appearances over a seven year period at the club.

But the most notable of all in McNeill’s squad that year was not a Scot, but an ex-youth player from Arsenal, who had played just three games in the Cheshire League the previous season, after being signed by Allan Saunders. Just 19 years old at the time, Ian Gillibrand soon established himself as a regular in the team. Although he lacked height for a central defender, Gillibrand had an impressive leap and his reading of the game made him look like the non-league version of Bobby Moore. He was to play a further ten seasons at the club, breaking the record for his number of appearances and, most famously leading Latics out to their first ever Football League match at Hereford.

McNeill was keen to win the NPL in its inaugural season, but so too were the previous season’s Cheshire League champions, Macclesfield Town, led by their inspirational player-manager Frank Beaumont. McNeill paid Runcorn £3000 for Alan Ryan, who had scored a remarkable 66 goals in the previous season. But despite having an excellent record of record of W18 D12 L8, Latics were to finish in second place, 12 points behind the Silkmen. Attendances had almost doubled from an average of 1,801 the previous season in the Cheshire League to 3,393.

The following season was an even better one for Latics, with a record of W20 D12 L6, but they were to once again to finish behind Macclesfield, this time on goal difference. Despite doing a great in those two initial NPL seasons McNeill was to leave the club following a disagreement with the chairman.

Ken Cowap replaced McNeill with Gordon Milne, who soon splashed out £4000 for the 32 year old ex-Everton winger Derek Temple from Preston. It was a sign that Latics were very serious about winning the title.

However, Milne’s key signing at the time was to prove to be the 23 year old centre forward Geoff Davies for a much more modest fee from Northwich Victoria.

Macclesfield Town 0 Wigan Athletic 1 – Professional display sees off non-leaguers

Jordi Gomez puts Wigan 1-0 up.

Jordi Gomez puts Wigan 1-0 up.

Wigan Athletic’s second string put them into the  5th round of the FA Cup for only the second time since the club was formed in 1932. A professional performance saw them grind out a 1-0 victory, courtesy of a Jordi Gomez penalty after Callum McManaman had been clumsily scythed down in the box.

The crowd of 5,849 packed Macclesfield’s small Moss Rose ground to the rafters, reminiscent of a bygone era when the clubs were adversaries in the Cheshire League. How times have changed since those epic tussles between those two well-matched clubs in the 1960s. Curiously the football played by the non-league side yesterday more than matched that of Premier League opponents, ranked 82 places above them. Wigan had to hang in there with resolute defending as the Silkmen launched their second half assault.

The second string have been fascinating to watch in cup matches this season. On previous occasions they have been reinforced with a smattering of first choice players, but only Maynor Figueroa was in the starting lineup this time around. The  pragmatic approach of the second string has contrasted sharply with that of the Premier League XI. In this match there was an absence of the flowing football that characterises the senior team. Although it made for a drab spectacle Wigan looked defensively strong and resolutely defended their lead for 83 minutes after the penalty had put them in front.

This time they did not have Mauro Boselli to score goals for them, the Argentinian seemingly going on another loan move to Italy. He was replaced by Nouha Dicko who almost scored in the second half, after being put through by an incisive pass by Gomez, the goalkeeper making a good save.

A word of mention for Maynor Figueroa. The admirable Honduran has not had a rest from football for some 18 months. He played with his national  team in the Olympics over the summer and has started in all but one of Wigan’s Premier League games this season. It was no surprise that he was the senior professional who stepped forward to lend a hand in this match.  Captain for the night, he looked a class above anyone else on the pitch.

The Good

A win is a win, albeit against non-league opponents. This match was a potential banana skin, but the players worked hard to make sure the unthinkable did not happen.

Roberto Martinez views cup matches as an opportunity for players to stake a claim in the senior squad. Once again Callum McManaman looked the part. Although he rarely plays more than a few minutes as a substitute in the Premier League he has recently signed a new three year contract. One wonders when Martinez will jump in at the deep end and start the young forward in a league match. Roman Golobart teamed up well with Maynor Figueroa in the centre of defence and looks a powerful presence. If Martinez does not get an experienced central defender in what remains of the transfer window then Golobart will push for a first team spot, together with Adrian Lopez who made a welcome return from injury.

Fraser Fyvie is gradually making his mark, after being given a settling in period. The 19 year old is not without experience, having played 58 games  in the SPL for Aberdeen prior to joining Wigan in summer.  It was a pity an injury caused him to go off after 53 minutes. Roger Espinoza made a promising Premier League debut against Sunderland last weekend, but was unable to really stamp his mark on this match. It was good to take a first look at the big Spanish goalkeeper, Joel Robles, on-loan from Atletico Madrid.

 The Bad

More injuries for Wigan with Fraser Fyvie and Nouha Dicko going off in the second half.

 Player Ratings 

Joel Robles: 6 – looked comfortable, though Macc’s poor finishing rarely tested him.

Ronnie Stam: 6 – clearly worked hard on the defensive side of his game, following recent criticism.

Roman Golobart: 7 – teamed up well with Figueroa in the centre of defence.

Maynor Figueroa: 8 – a captain’s display.

Jordan Mustoe: 5 – a rare start for the young defender. Was kept busy by attackers on his side of the pitch, but hung in there.

Fraser Fyvie: 6 – starting to look like the player who had so much hype in Scotland. Clearly one for the future.

Roger Espinoza: 5 – disappointing after his exciting first team debut last week.

Jordi Gomez: 6 – put through the pass that led to the early penalty that he converted. Nicely set up Dicko at the beginning of the second half.

Nouha Dicko: 6 – looked lively. A pity he had to go off injured when he was establishing himself in the game.

Angelo Henriquez: 6 – showed some nice touches, but must have learned how hard it can be being the lone centre forward in the Martinez system.

Callum McManaman: 7 – looked dangerous in the first half.

Substitutes:

David Jones – a capable replacement for Fyvie after 53 minutes.

Adrian Lopez – made a welcome from injury, coming on for  Dicko after 66 minutes.

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A trip to Moss Rose

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Mauro Boselli’s rocket shot at Bournemouth on Tuesday was eventful in more ways than one. Once more he showed the kind of clinical finishing that Latics have desperately lacked in the Premier League this season. The big question is whether he will ever be able to show such finishing in the Premier League. Roberto Martinez has been reluctant to put him in there, but has the time come for a change of heart? In any event, Boselli’s goal was enough to beat Bournemouth and set up a fascinating match at Macclesfield.

Macclesfield Town is a special name for those Wigan Athletic supporters who remember the club’s non-league era. My first sight of the ‘Silkmen’ was at Springfield Park in autumn of 1961, when the reigning Cheshire County League champions were visiting. Latics had only just got back into the league, at the expense of Wigan Rovers, after being relegated in 1947. However, they had finished in second place in the Lancashire Combination and were holding their own in the Cheshire League.This match proved to be a rude awakening for Wigan. Macc’s silver-haired player-manager, Frank Bowyer, led his team to a 4-1 rout. Macclesfield were to finish second and Wigan fifth at the end of the season.

Macclesfield proved to be formidable opponents for Wigan over the next couple of decades. A visit to their Moss Rose ground was to be feared and Latics often came unstuck there. One exception was a Boxing Day fixture on a snow-bound pitch in 1964 when Carl Davenport’s volley was the difference between the two sides. That was the season when Harry Lyon scored his 66 goals and Latics won the league, Macc finishing second. Both Wigan and Macclesfield joined the newly created Northern Premier League in 1968, each club winning the championship twice before Wigan got elected into the Football League 10 years later.

The fortunes of the clubs have differed greatly since those days. Wigan are in their eighth season in the Premier League and Macclesfield back in the Conference after 15 years in the Football League. There are people who knock Wigan Athletic’s success, but the reality is that Latics are four divisions above their old rivals. A remarkable achievement.

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