I suspect that most neutrals experienced a few pangs of sympathy for all Wigan Athletic supporters after their 9-1 drubbing at White Hart Lane yesterday afternoon. The weather has been shocking in the northwest all week and I doubt that anyone’s sodden spirits will have been lifted by the news from London.
It was of course 14 years ago that United established the Premiership record for this kind of thing by beating Ipswich 9-0, so things were bad there even before Roy Keane became the manager. Andy Cole, who generally needed at least 4 chances to every one goal he scored actually managed to score 5 that day, just as Jermaine Defoe did yesterday, but it didn’t make him a substantially better player or improve his strike rate. One other thing I remember is that the Ipswich goalkeeper that day was an undersized Canadian called Craig Forrest who later had 7 goals put past him at Old Trafford when playing for West Ham.
My Dad and I went to see Wigan play Northampton in their (Wigan’s) inaugural season of League Football in 1978. This was at their old ground, Springfield Park, away from the town centre . I remember that Wigan won the game, but the other thing I recall was the comedy conversation I had with a local resident in the town centre when we were looking for the ground.
A particularly bright spring day in Wigan
At this time the Wigan Rugby League team were an all-conquering force who played at Central Park, which was, as the name would suggest, right in the middle of the town. By contrast, the football team, having only just been admitted to the Football League, were viewed with some suspicion in this Rugby League stronghold. Having been frustrated in our attempts to find Springfield Park, Dad pulled up to the kerb and I asked a passing local – a guy in his 60’s I would say – if he could direct us to the football ground. He looked at me with something approaching consternation before uttering the immortal lines “Eeeeh, lad, what d’you want to go up thur for? We play a man’s game here in Wigan…” and, no, he wasn’t indulging in a little postmodern irony…..You couldn’t make it up really, could you?
Anyway, my sympathy for Wigan fans also extends to them having to visit White Hart Lane which, on the evidence of my two visits there, takes the biscuit for being the most unfriendly football ground I’ve ever been to. The first visit would have been towards the end of the 1976/1977 season. I was spending the weekend with a mate who was studying at the London School of Economics and on the Saturday, he suggested that we go to a match. These were the heady days when you could just roll up at a ground, pay at the turnstile and go in. Spurs were playing Aston Villa that day, so we got the Tube out there and walked down to the ground, then were directed to the ‘Away End’, because our lack of knowledge marked us out as Villa fans. So we stood in among the Villa fans and watched a humdrum end-of-season game where I cannot remember the score but do remember that Tottenham’s Glenn Hoddle and Villa’s Brian Little stood out as the game’s outstanding players – and they had the worst feathered mullet haircuts on show as well.
Into the second half and we began to notice that there were a few disturbances erupting in the crowd away to our left. It turned out that it was standard procedure at Tottenham to open the gates on the terraces at each end of the ground at half-time and that a number of ‘hard cases’ from the Tottenham end had made their way along and into the ‘Away End’ and were intent on causing as much trouble as they could before a few bored policeman decided to intervene. The trouble never actually percolated as far as where we were standing but that was really just dumb luck on our part. We saw a few cut and dazed Villa fans being led out along the side of the pitch and the whole thing left a nasty impression.
By the time I visited again – which would have been fully 10 years later – I was actually living in South London and had decided that I would travel around the capital to see United whenever they were in town. Apart from Spurs, I think I only made it to one other match which was Queens Park Rangers, when I think they still had a plastic pitch, so that was another plan out of the window. Perhaps it was my White Hart Lane experience # 2 that put me off. As I recall the game was a lunchtime kick-off; don’t know why. I made the massively long tube journey out to Wood Green and this time got into the areas of the ground frequented by the Spurs fans. I was in a part of the old ground that I think was known as ‘The Shelf’ – essentially a standing section that ran the length of the pitch rather than being behind one of the goals.
This was before United became serial trophy hogs but even then they were a big draw and the Shelf was packed, so much so that I found it impossible to get a vantage point from which I could see the game – not being a 6-foot plus beanpole was definitely an issue here. I know that United lost the game by a substantial scoreline – I think it was 4-0, but this was a season where we finished in mid table whilst Spurs ended up in third place. Anyway, whilst it wasn’t quite of the 9-1 variety, it was still a drubbing, but I hardly saw any of it because all my attempts to engineer a niche from which I could see the pitch inevitably involved trying to shove inbetween a selection of large Tottenham fans who were clearly unwilling to make space for anyone, friend or foe. I got some unfriendly looks and a good deal of abuse every time I tried to push my way in – altogether not a happy trip
Happy laughing Spurs fans welcome Sol Campbell back to the Lane. Diamond geezers to a man….
Anyway, I’m sure that today’s result has made those chirpy Tottenham fans even chirpier – Lennon and Defoe will probably never play better, but if there is any consolation for Wigan fans it would be that their defence surely cannot play any worse……