After eventually beating League 1 Shrewsbury Town in the last round, this weekend finds West Ham travelling to League 1 leaders Wigan Athletic in Round 4 of the FA Cup, where we will be hoping for a more assured performance from the boys. However we will be missing most of our strike force, so things may prove to be a bit more difficult than originally expected. Ahead of the game I had a chat about the game to Martin Tarbuck the editor of “The Mudhutter fanzine”:https://www.mudhutter.co.uk
I understand that Wigan are on the point of being taken over by a Hong Kong concern. Surely this cannot be the end of the Whelan family’s association with the club?
It would seem so. There are two camps within the fans over this. There are those, like myself, who feel slightly concerned and cautious about it. For all his many faults, David Whelan gave Wigan Athletic a journey that even the most wildly optimistic of fans couldn’t have dreamed of. As we are fond as saying at Mudhuts Towers, we have never needed a foreign megalomaniac investor – we’ve had our own home grown one! Removing that connection to the club is a giant leap into the unknown.
Then, there are other fans who believe that Garry Cook will find us the sort of owners who will plunge billions in – Man City style – to send us soaring to the top flight once more. I’m not sure that will happen, I’m not even sure I want it to happen, it’s a part of football I’m glad we are out of given the eye popping sums doing the rounds in the Premier League these days. But the truth is nobody knows what will happen and as fans, we are powerless to stop it. I believe Whelan wants his grandson David Sharpe to be retained on the board for continuity but that’s probably not going to be his decision to make after he’s sold the club.
You’ve had a bit of a yo-yo experience since your days in the Premier League, being relegated and promoted, then relegated again – at the moment you stand atop of Division One are you confident of getting promoted again this season?
I’m of a nervous disposition but it’s looking good right now, the irony of us playing you on Saturday is that it gives the teams behind us chance to close the five point gap. Shrewsbury aren’t going away and Blackburn are getting increasingly cocky about overturning us, and to be fair they are adding good signings to an already strong squad. All I will say is that every time we’ve had a set back we’ve bounced straight back and if we carry on that form, we should be fine. The change in ownership has the potential to unsettle things but hopefully that won’t be the case.
I know whenever West Ham have been relegated, I assume we will be either automatically promoted, or at the worst have to spend two seasons down. Do you consider yourselves to be a big fish in your League, or do you consider your days in the Premier League to be gone for a while?
It’s strange really, some of our younger and newer fans have only known Premier League football and naturally think we belong there but for those of us who saw us bottom of the fourth division with home crowds of 1,300, even surviving in League One is seen as doing well. The years in the top flight have made us bigger in terms of finances, recent history and yes, support and obviously whereas the ground is too big for us, the facilities we have are outstanding at League One level. I think as things stand, we are looking like a League One / Championship yo yo club and whether we can break that cycle depends on new investment.
Your final season in the Premier League saw you winning the FA Cup against Man City, yet also being relegated. Would you have preferred no FA Cup glory and staying up, or are you happy that you have had that success, and you’ll take the rest as it comes?
I don’t think there is a single Wigan Athletic fan that would have swapped winning the FA Cup for another year of trying to stay in the Premier League. When your former manager Slaven Bilic waved an imaginary trophy in the air in a press conference that time, it resonated all over Wigan. Winning a major trophy is far better than finishing 17th, I still can’t get my head around how finishing 4th somehow translates to success but that’s modern football and the way that financial reward has perversely become more important than actually winning a football competition.
Given that both of these events happened under Roberto Martinez, how does the Wigan faithful regard his legacy at the club?
Most fans including myself loved him to bits for what he brought to the club, the fact he was one of our most revered former players and of course he landed our first and only major trophy and managed to beat every one of the big four clubs in the Premier League. He had and still has his critics though who like to mention the 9-1’s and 8-0’s and the fact he was hopeless at organising a defence. He took the same polarised arguments to him at Everton, I suppose it just comes down to whether you prefer a patient possession based game or more traditional four at the back, long ball to a target man type approach. Do you want a stoic pragmatist approach or dreamy football that doesn’t come off most of the time but when it does it’s spectacular?
Me, I’m a dreamer and I’ll lie on my death bed remembering beating Man United at home, Gary Caldwell leaving Andy Carroll on his arse (sorry) to score the winner in front of the Kop at Anfield and Ben Watson winning the FA Cup rather than quoting poor win percentage rates, goals per game conceded and complaining that we could have been a run of the mill mid-table side if only we could have had a bit more defensive stability.
As you can tell, I still find it mystifying how some of our fans blame him for our demise rather than appreciate that just keeping Wigan Athletic in the Premier League for four years was something of a minor miracle, and I expect that’s how it is perceived from outside.
Tell us a bit about your current manager Paul Cook, and how do you rate him?
He’s brilliant. All the comparisons are with a certain other former Scouse manager, Paul Jewell, who also did great things for us. He likes his teams to attack, he’s straight talking, and he’s created a great team spirit and buzz around the club. He’s down to earth and comes across as one of the lads. Whether that approach would cut it if he were to ever manage in the Premier League I don’t know but I am hoping that one day he will find out with us.
How do you view the FA Cup this season, as an unwelcome distraction to your promotion challenge, or as a great day out with the chance to pit yourselves against teams from a higher league?
I was quite honest from the start and have stated that I’d rather us have gone out of it against Bournemouth but the performance in both games was fantastic, the replay especially. It’s easy to forget that we are a League One side and our players want to match themselves against Premier League players and they tore Bournemouth a new one from start to finish. With (little) respect to Bournemouth, playing you in the 4th Round at home is a much bigger game and I’m sure you’ll bring a big following and hopefully it will start to attract a bigger home crowd than usual, as it’s been a while since we’ve played you. I’m sure our players will be up for it again.
Again, I wouldn’t be distraught if we put up a great fight and lost gallantly, as the league is absolutely our priority. I doubt I’ll be saying that come 3pm on Saturday though.
I must confess to not having seen much of Wigan over recent seasons: are you still playing that brand of possession football that was so good to watch, and reasonably successful while it lasted?
It got thrown firmly out of the window three times and that constant upheaval perhaps points to part of the reason why we collapsed following relegation. After Martinez, we appointed Owen Coyle, who thought tactics were small mints. Uwe Rosler reverted it to a Martinez style with a bit more pressing but when he got potted Malky Mackay introduced the most depressive, defensive soul destroying brand of football I had ever seen. Until Warren Joyce came along that is who was even more negative. In between, Gary Caldwell got us out of League One, playing very much a Martinez style passing based game.
So it’s been all over the shop. Paul Cook is kind of a fusion of both, he likes his teams to pass it but also likes to get full backs forward and plays long diagonal balls to them and the widemen and the team is based around a traditional, solid flat back four. So it’s good football but also purposeful with plenty of pressing and no aversion to hitting a long ball when it’s warranted. It kind of satisfies all parties amongst the warring factions mentioned above and in his own words, he refuses to park the bus. Of course some fans moan about him not playing two up front but then I’m pretty sure that’s a universal football gripe these days….
Who have been the best three players to pull on the Wigan shirt in the past ten or so years?
We did a poll on this: Arjan De Zeeuw, Jason Roberts and Nathan Ellington. Our greatest ever centre half and our best ever strike partnership.
Are Wigan in the market for any players in the current transfer window? Are there any areas that you think need improving?
We’ve already signed James Vaughan from Sunderland (cup tied) and Jamie Walker from Hearts, a wide player. We lost Lee Evans (the Welsh international not the hyperactive comedian) a few weeks back as Wolves recalled him and sold him to Sheffield United so we need another holding midfielder. We are supposedly getting Jay Fulton on loan from Swansea, whom I know nothing about. Other than that, perhaps cover for right back as Nathan Byrne has played every minute of every game so far, and much clutching of rosary beads to pray that we don’t get any large bids coming in for any of our players.
If you could have any current West Ham player in your first team who would you choose and why?
Perhaps an obvious one but I always thought Javier Hernandez was brilliant in his United days, even though he barely got game time, he’d always come on and sniff out a goal. You might disagree having seen him play more recently, but he seems just such a natural finisher. Perhaps give him twenty minutes if Grigg is tiring. If we’re being realistic, I’ve heard good things about Reece Oxford if you’re looking to loan someone out but our two centre halves, Dan Burn and Chey Dunkley are sh*t hot at the minute. I’m sure it’ll change if we go up and start losing every week again but – yes, I guess I’m saying that we’re that good right now, we don’t need any of your players!
Which Wigan player(s) will be key to your hopes this season?
Nick Powell is the one player that we need to keep hold of in January and keep fit as he is the very definition of an enigma. He strolls his way through games but he has moments which simply have no place in League One. After an injury fit few years and a dubious off field reputation, the hope is that he is just enjoying his football again in a slightly lower pressure environment to rebuild his reputation. The vultures are circling though, or at least the transfer gossip merchants are, which I’m not sure is the same thing.
How do you expect Wigan to setup against West Ham on Saturday/Team/formation prediction?
Paul Cook is a stickler for a 4-2-3-1 with two holding midfielders who will probably be Sam Morsy and either Max Power or David Perkins. The front 4 are all sharing the goals at the minute with Will Grigg as the focal point of the team. He never rotates the team, certainly not in the league. He might tweak one or two for this game but not so much that it will weaken us.
Prediction for score?
I’ll go 1-1 and a replay which we’ll probably lose. I think there’s plenty of us who’d be happy with that as we want to tick your new ground off. It’ll take some arranging with work on my part but we’ll see.
I know we’ve had an interesting rivalry in the past but as I say to most away fans – have a great day, we pride ourselves on our hospitality in Wigan and hope you enjoy our great pubs and superb pies, and try and pick up a Mudhutter fanzine if you can as well!
Many thanks to Martin for his very full answers and for his interesting thoughts about the state of the game. You can also read more of his musings on football including articles and podcast at “the pie at night”: http://www.pieatnight.co.uk
He has obviously not been very much impressed by us this season! I think we will get through although it won’t be easy. 0 – 1 to West Ham COYI.
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