I apologise in advance as I’m sure this topic has been covered on countless occasions, however, after a recent heated football debate with a workmate, I felt the need to dust off my Wigan Athletic Blue and White soapbox….

There’s a Birmingham City supporter just joined the company, having only recently relocated to the North West, and as we’re Manchester based, he presumed I’d be a City or United supporter. On spying my Wigan Athletic coffee mug, his face lit up, and he asked with a sneer if we’d managed to get any more fans yet, or ‘are they all still going to the rugby instead?’.

As red rags go, this was a particularly large red one being waved in front of a very opinionated bull.

My tirade followed him down the corridor long after the discussion should have ended. ‘..only been a league club since 1978…eighty-thousand population shared between two professional sports teams…significant proportion of the population with Liverpool ancestry…surrounded by more established football clubs’ ….blah blah blah….

I say it was a ‘debate’. It wasn’t. It was a bloke from Wigan ranting at a bloke from Birmingham who very quickly realised he’d pressed a button he didn’t really want to press again in the near future.

It’s happened many times before. I once had a Geordie telling me Wigan had no fans because nobody was interested in football in Wigan. I gave him the usual history lesson, and asked if Gateshead (which has a similar sized population to Wigan) were to get into the football league next year, and got to the Premier League in twenty odd years, would they have over twenty thousand people paying to watch them every week?

His answer was ‘Of course they would. We love our football in the North East’.

And that’s when I realised that people from outside the town are missing the point completely. Wigan is not a football hating enclave, which has rejected the sport and beats a path of its own in the opposite direction to the rest of Europe. Wigan people also love their football just like normal folk do. The problem is many of them love the football played by other town’s teams rather than their own.

If you consider the world of football to be a grand summer ball, Wigan Athletic was still standing in front of the mirror trying to work out how to tie a dickie bow as the other clubs were already well into their first pasodoble. By the time Latics got there, most dance partners had already been whisked away onto the dance floor, and for the last thirty three years the club has been trying to woo them back. It’s going to take heck of a long time before Wigan Athletic has anywhere near a full dance card.

You see, my Geordie and Brummie mates wouldn’t understand this concept. They have grown up in large cities where they have had a choice of two teams to support from birth, and turn either left or right in accordance with family tradition, peer pressure, or as a result of the suburb they grew up in.

Latics fans have often had to go against their families’ loyalties and traditions to support their home town team. They’ve sometimes endured ridicule along the way by Wigan based supporters of other clubs, and during the long climb up the craggy north face of Mount Football have had their cherry and white wearing cousins look down their noses at them from the top of their Rugby League hillock.

But why should I be surprised at the non-Wigan public’s perception of the town or its club when the media constantly play the ‘no fans’ card, and sometimes chuck in the ‘rugby town’ and ‘terrible pitch’ cards for a full house? Even in the last few days the Arsenal official website reported on their reserves game at Wigan, and couldn’t resist the opportunity to slip in a comment about it being played ‘in a quiet stadium’. As a loud mouthed frequenter of Cockney Latic rightly pointed out, what do they expect on a Tuesday afternoon? (The particular article in question also said the game was in the ‘North East’. Quality reporting. Give that man a biscuit.)

Maybe people don’t want to believe that a place like Wigan could one day be known mainly for its footballing achievements, and they deliberately ignore the fact that the fanbase has grown at a staggering rate over the past few years. Heaven forbid that the press may actually be guilty of sweeping generalisations and misleading conjecture. If the press say it’s true, then surely it must be.

There will always be some people who prefer to believe the notion that the town is merely a mucky smudge on the football map that has never fully embraced the beautiful game, remains unconnected to the modern world, and survives as the cliché of a northern, working class, rugby league loving backwater. We know different though. We know they must be thinking of St Helens.

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