24 February ~ For 35 years or so I've supported a professional footballing underdog in a town with only one professional football team. I was born and brought up in Wigan, home of pies, pits and massive Man Utd shirt sales. This weekend will see pubs full of Wiganers in red shirts, cheering when (not if, unfortunately) their home town team concede a goal. If, just once, Latics fans could turn up to work on the Monday after a game against United and be free from the taunts of these plastic Mancs, then we could all (well, about 13,000 of us, probably) could have a happy week.
I know there hasn't been much to be cheery about in the past five years, and it also doesn't help that Wiganers are probably the most miserable, cynical, moaning bastards on the face of the earth, but now is a time for unity. The club stands on the edge of something which many now watching the Latics have never experienced. Despite everything you may think you know about Wigan Athletic, it may surprise you to know that we have only ever been relegated once. I was there, and I didn't like it one bit.
Of course, given our current league position, it might have been better not to have to play Liverpool, United, Man City, Spurs and Chelsea in the space of five weeks, but that's how it is. It also doesn't help Roberto Martínez to know that half the crowd will be screaming for his head every time we concede a goal. It does seem these days that you're a member of one of two camps. You're either pro-Bob or anti-Martínez. Personally, I'm very much a tick in the "pro" column, wanting nothing more than to see him stick it to all those who want him gone, with a particularly smug two fingers being displayed to the fool who brought a "Martínez Out" banner to a recent game. The bloke was, however, wearing Ugg boots, so he has issues way beyond his worries about who manages Wigan Athletic.
Having met Martínez several times, and had the opportunity to question him directly about everything to do with the club, it is impossible for me to dislike the man. He is intelligent, articulate, passionate about the Latics and tremendously convincing. Contrast this with Paul Jewell, with his sneering comments about the club and fans at every opportunity, and I know who I'd choose every time. In six weeks' time we may be as good as gone, but I'd rather see us get relegated with Bob at the helm than stay up with a snide, philandering, amateur video-making, champagne socialist who conceded defeat to the top four before a ball was even kicked.
As for this weekend, well, it's not unfair to say I'd settle for a draw. The closest we ever came to beating United was in our first season in the Premier League, when they had one shot on goal but managed to beat us 2-1, thanks to a Pascal Chimbonda own goal. I suppose, though, it might actually be a good time to play them. Sandwiched between trips to Marseille and Chelsea, Alex Ferguson might think he can rest one or two, which might give us a sniff. It also helps that we've got long-term injury victims coming back to full fitness, giving Martínez an almost full squad for the first time in months. Regardless, here's hoping that every pub-going, United-shirt-wearing Wiganer is miserable come Saturday evening, even if the football has nothing to do with it. Paul Middleton The Mudhutter