Yes, this will be a shameless homer piece from me. I’m entitled.
What the heck is going on with Wigan Athletic? Condemned to certain relegation a mere six weeks ago, they’ve run off four wins in five games (shoulda been five on the trot but we’ll get to that) to leap to five points clear of the drop, and apparent survival for yet another season in the top flight, before which all the pundits are likely to label them a top contender for relegation anyway. Of course, nothing is certain until it is mathematically so. They could still pick up zero points from their remaining games and get leapfrogged by two teams below them. But if they do survive this season, it will be a beautiful middle finger to the FA (Football Association).
All season long now, and for the majority of their surprise tenure in England’s top flight of soccer, they have been victims of shocking refereeing decisions, ranging from innocent referee incompetence to full-fledged malicious and unapologetic cheating that stopped only just shy of a raised middle finger at the manager after the whistle. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Many of their 200+ top flight games the last 7 years have been refereed fairly, some calls have even gone their way. But most haven’t. While this is to be expected, as the big teams have always gotten a bit of bias from the officials, no team (I can say this with only slight bias) has been as hard done by as my beloved Latics. Over the years, they’ve had countless players sent off for marginal fouls (see Connor Sammon this year), had officials turn blind eyes while opponents throw punches (see Branislav Ivanovic this year, Paul Scholes a few years back, and more), and had too many valid goals called back and had too many illegally scored ones against them allowed to stand.
But this year has been the worst. If a conspiracy theorist ventured that forces had joined to condemn Wigan to relegation so another, potentially more profitable team could stay up, you wouldn’t be able to find evidence to the contrary. Now, did this happen? Doubtful… at least in that it was planned. But it’s undeniable that something is uneven in the scales. Right in the middle of their current hot streak, they were robbed of what could have been a win by two scarily awful decisions. Both goals scored by Chelsea were from a clear offside position, and this was the aforementioned game in which Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic through a clear punch in plain view of everyone and not so much of an eyelash was batted. In what amounts to a clear admission of unapologetic cheating by the officials in this game, referee’s chief Mike Riley actually issued an apology to Wigan… though paraphrased it could easily translate to, “Sorry, lads, we just can’t have a club of your size taking up a spot in the Prem anymore. Best of luck in the Championship next season.”
Lo and behold, six from a possible six against Man U and Arsenal, and my beloved scrappy little team that could is on the verge of another miracle top flight survival. I wait with bated breath to throw my middle finger at the FA…
On another note, I was recently pleased to find out I might possibly NOT be the only Wigan fan in North America. I have no idea, actually, where Ned Brown may be geographically, but it’s good to know I’m not the only horse in the race! Again, I don’t think that bias has anything to do with it, but you can click here for a sample of Ned’s work as a Wigan Athletic correspondent for ESPN.