Fan’s View 23/24 – No.36: Wigan at home

Article by Paul Beasley Monday, February 19th, 2024  

FAN’S VIEW 23/24 – No.36: WIGAN AT HOME

Oxford United 4 Wigan Athletic 2

As I walked past the ever rotting Priory – it’s been closed for over 10 years now – on my approach to the ground “Ghost Town” by the Specials entered my head. There was no-one around. Could have been on Craggy island there was so little going on. Looking up towards the East Stand hardly anyone was present and it wasn’t that long to kick-off. Atmosphere somewhere around the zero mark. I couldn’t help but think that we (the fans) have almost already checked out of the Kassam. But did we ever really check in? There’s no denying there have been a few superb afternoons and evenings there but I’m of a certain again. Well happy with my view from the back row of the SSU though as I’ve said many a time.

The first half could hardly have been worse. It was dire, absolutely dire. Tim sat immediately in front of me loudly enquired “What’s the plan Buckingham?” I don’t usually shout at a manager this early in their reign but couldn’t help let out a “sort it out Buckingham.” It was basically a cry of despair.

We were lethargic, lacking snap and second to most balls. Players easily beaten; passes going astray.

In the first couple of minutes Josh Murphy’s pace down the left had a promising look about it but that was soon gone. We then did cock all attacking wise until the 35th minute. Then Cameron “I like a shot, me” Brannagan thumped one against the post from a first time Marcus McGuane lay-off.  

About five minutes later we went behind and on balance and quality of play there was no arguing with that. A fancy bit of footwork from Jordan Jones saw him easily go past Sam Long and a tight angled shot from close range beat Jamie Cumming at his near post.

We had quite a few players well off form throughout the entire game. Long wasn’t great in the first half but much improved after the break. Our keeper though did not convince throughout. I thought he should have done better with this, although a slight deflection could provide some mitigation and earlier should have held a shot which he just parried. Later in the game he seemed completely lost when a cross came over, but after hitting the frame of the goal and then him it went out for a corner, luckily for us. There was a further scare when the ball slipped out of his grasp but again we got away with it.

Elliott Moore, who has been something of a rock at times recently, looked clumsy in this one. I heard someone say he can’t be fit can he? The same was said about Marcus McGuane with the consensus being that he was fortunate not to have been the one to have made way for Jay Matete. MM wasn’t impressing but made it through to the final whistle. Compared to what we saw of him at Blackpool Matete disappointed here. And then there was Owen Dale who only made it to the half time whistle. “Blackpool should have insisted he played against us” said my son.

In added time to everyone’s surprise we levelled. Mark Harris, a willing worker and on this occasion a non-goal-scoring unsung hero, held up a Long long ball really well. He moved it on to Murphy who had moved into the centre. Other than the player himself I don’t think anyone thought our number 23 was going to shoot how he did or when he did. Mr Tickle in the Wigan goal didn’t nor did Mr Goode or any of the other blue shirted defenders that Roger Hargreaves never bothered with. It was a great finish, low and close to the post making Murphy the 17th scorer in the league for OUFC this season.

I was hoping this moment of inspiration wasn’t going to paper over the huge cracks. Someone thought that Des still needed to deliver the hairdryer treatment. Something certainly needed to change.

Without question we improved in the second half although we were still far off being convincing despite the final score line. Tyler Goodrham made such a difference. Within about a minute his buzzing around had brought him from behind to come around and take the ball off a Wigan man who looked shocked. No wonder, we’d done nothing like this earlier.

We’d only been kicking towards the East Stand for 10 minutes when we took the lead. We were moving the ball quicker and keeping it much better. An eight pass move ended up with another MM layback which was left by Goodrham but struck by Brannagan from some distance outside the box. By way of deflection it entered the net. Hitting a ball like that with plenty of defenders between you and the goal but not right on top of you gives a reasonable chance of getting such a deflection. Get at your opponents and do such things – the rewards will come.

The usual “we need another goal” thinking was there. At one up with a fair bit of the game to go it usually is. That tells how much faith I have in our defence at present.

The next goal was indeed pleasingly ours. It came in the 76th minute. Neatly put away by Ruben Rodrigues after the ball came back off a post, the rest of it was all about the twinkle toes of Goodrham. Close control, jinking about, cutting inside and then releasing a powerful strike from distance. This little fella entertains.

Just four minutes later the two goal lead was cut in half. When a visitors’ corner was played short to Martial Godo our fans cheered as he slipped over attempting some twisty turny stuff but he recovered to twist again and feed Jonny Smith whose cross was powered home by Thelo Aasgaard from the edge of the six yard box. It was Greg Leigh who couldn’t stop him.

Fears that our soft underbelly would be bitten into now kicked in. Wigan looked confident but we kept their tally down to two and in the second last minute of added time re-established our two goal advantage. Even the most pessimistic of supporters would have known the game was then won.

As the ball dropped directly down out of the sky RR immediately brought it under his spell with a Premier League quality touch. This is the side of his game we love. Having run with the ball he flipped it to Harris with the outside of his foot. Our no.9 was tackled as he got closer to goal but from wide Goodrham despatched the loose ball with intent and perhaps once more a deflection.

I went home as a Mr Happy man with the three points but knowing this wasn’t the best of performances and on another day, against the best, when deflections might not have gone our way, the outcome could have been different.

And a word on the referee, Jeremy Simpson. He took so long to get the game restarted after a stoppage that he really was a Mr Slow.

On to Wycombe, a place we rarely do well at. A place that is annoying for a number of reasons. A team that is physical even in the post Ainsworth era. Prior to their 2-1 away defeat at Bolton on Tuesday where the home keeper had to play well to secure the win, the Chairboys had only lost one in eight league games.

We’re back in the top six although Stevenage, 2 points behind, have a game in hand. If we’re to stay there we need to win at places like Adams Park. It’s an away game. It’s local – but not a derby of course. Should be a cracking atmosphere.

Wigan Athletic Financial Analysis by Colin Barson

Hot on the heels of Reading FC comes the financial analysis of Wigan Athletic, who like Reading, are another of the EFL’s members that has recently descended into the category of basket case club.

Firstly, a bit of housekeeping. Those of you who read these reports, and the associated figures that accompany them, will have noticed that I always benchmark the full figures from 17 of the 24 League One clubs. The reason being that five clubs only publish abridged “small company accounts” and two clubs (Derby and Wigan) have published nothing at all since 2018 and 2019 respectively. Well, after much detective work, involving searching every permutation of the words Wigan, Football, and Athletic I was still turning up a blank. So, I searched the Wigan Community Trust, for any associated trading, or associated people. I turned up a few potential links, and after many further hours searching these links (I’m a stubborn bugger as anyone who knows me will testify) I eventually found the accounts of Wigan Athletic. Except that they are not filed under that name but hidden away under the name of Phoenix 2021 Limited. Why didn’t I think of that? It’s almost as if they didn’t want to be found! So, we now have 18 clubs to benchmark, and I’ve had to update my master spreadsheet for the division accordingly. This changes much of the previous positioning and all of the averages, so thanks for that Wigan! Oh, and they are no longer Phoenix 2021 Limited, but now trade as Wigan Community Holdco 2023, but I’ll come to that later.

I’m sure many younger people think of Wigan as a recent Premier League member, fallen on hard times, a bit like they would Reading. But, like Reading, history tells us a different story. Yes, Wigan spent eight seasons in the Premier League between 2006 and 2014, with average crowds between 17,000 and 20,000 but their history before that is very different.

Most people know that Wigan were previously owned by Dave Whelan, a local man and former professional footballer, who then had a very successful business career. Whelan took over the club in 1995, when they were a fourth-tier club. He built, and funded, the DW Stadium which they moved into in 1999. Like John Madjeski at Reading, Whelan was the catalyst for Wigan’s rise. Oh, how we could have done with a Madjeski or a Whelan instead of getting lumbered with Kassam.

Wigan’s average home crowd in 1995 was 1,852 and in the previous ten seasons they averaged under 3,000 five times and only averaged over 4,000 once, averaging 4,148 while finishing fourth in the third tier in 1986. Prior to this they had only ever averaged over 5,000 three times. Crowds weren’t much better in the immediate years after Whelan arrived as they averaged between 3,000 and 4,000 until the move to the DW Stadium. They had about a 70% uplift for the first four years at the new stadium to about 7,000 and then spent two seasons in the Championship averaging 9,531 and 11,563 as they won promotion to the promised land, something that no Wigan fan could have ever imagined possible. Since their eight seasons in the sun Wigan have bounced between the Championship and League One, averaging about 11,000/12,000 when in the former and about 9,000 when in the latter.

The reason I’ve gone into (probably too much?) detail regarding Wigan’s attendances, ownership change, and new stadium move is to illustrate how these things can transform a club, from one previously much smaller than ourselves to one that can reach the heights and pull in the crowds, if done properly of course. We really should dare to dream, as it could be us. It also shows how some of this new support can be retained even when returning to the previous league level, again much like Reading.

However, it’s what happens next that defines the future of a club following the tenure of a benevolent owner. In Wigan’s case it’s all been a bit of a mess since Whelan left. They have had a number of owners, including the Chinese guy who allegedly won the club in a card game and then promptly put them into administration, or something like that? I’ve already spent far longer researching Wigan than I normally do, so won’t go into chapter and verse on their previous owners, but instead will come up to date and look at the 2022 season and event immediately preceding it.

In March 2021 Wigan were still in administration until being acquired by Phoenix 2021 Limited, thereby ending the nine-month long period under the administrators. Phoenix 2021 Limited were owned by Bahraini businessman Abdulrahman Al-Jasmi through his investment vehicle (some investment, as will become apparent!) Europa Point Investment Corporation (EPIC). He appointed his son in law, Talal Al-Hammad as Chairman and some other officers were appointed to run the club in Al-Jasmi’s absence. Having watched our game against Wigan, the season before last, from their Boardroom none of them were in attendance, and the place was like the Marie Celeste. They seem to have been absent both physically and metaphorically for most of their tenure.

Looking at the numbers it’s worth remembering that this was the 2022 season (the attendance figure is 2023) and it’s the year Wigan came down from the Championship and won League One at the first attempt. They did this, as we can see by spending way beyond their means, and this was less than a year after being taken out of administration!

Their match income, commercial income and other income were all slightly below the divisional average, and their total income of £11,157,332 was only just above the divisional average of £11,083,802. It was bolstered by a player trading income of over £2.8m, double the divisional average. So, if their income was pretty average, what about their expenditure? Their spending on wages was astronomical at over £13m, being third of the eighteen that report the figure. This resulted in a loss of over £7.6m, and that’s after the £2.8m profit on player trading. In other words, they would have made a loss of over £10m without the player trading. It was this that annoyed the fans of many other clubs in that season’s League One, as it was very apparent that Wigan had “bought” the title! They had a wage to income ratio of 117%, higher even than Reading.

Their cash at bank was moderate at £263,064 but at least they had a positive equity of £189,203 due to the owner converting debt to equity. During this period there were already rumblings of bills being unpaid and this continued into last season. It was a completely unsustainable “investment” that could not continue. Al-Jasmi was looking to bail out and at one time even the fantasist wannabee football club owner Sarbjot Johal, the 19 year old “entrepreneur” who was linked to Morecambe FC was rumoured to be a prospective purchaser.

I genuinely do not know why some of these people get involved in owning football clubs, nor what they expect to get out of it? Al-Jasmi has lost a minimum of £9m over a two-year period, as Wigan lost £1.5m in the part season he owned them ending June 2021, to add to the £7.6m for 2022. That doesn’t take into account what he may have paid the administrators for the club. It also doesn’t include any losses up to March 2023, when he eventually found a buyer. Madness.

That buyer was a local tech billionaire called Mike Danson, who also has a stake in Wigan Warriors Rugby League Club and the DW Stadium. The ownership is through Wigan Community Holdco 2023 and Danson has said this time it is to be a sustainable ownership, despite his wealth. He has installed his son Lucas as a director, so as to have a visible family presence, and they are certainly operating on a more sensible financial basis now, with a much-reduced wage bill, lower than the League One average. The vision seems to be to align the football and rugby clubs with the stadium, all under common ownership with mutually beneficial income streams, whilst bringing the wider Wigan community along with them.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out, as if it works, it could be a template for others to follow, after being in the clutches of football’s wrong’uns.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 19th, 2024 at 3:53 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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