Premier League

Wigan refuse to abide by the rules

wiganThe Manchester City fan paddling through the monsoon that greeted the crowd after the final whistle captured the mood of the moment. “We’ve been pissed on in the ground and now we are being pissed on as we go home….it sums up our day.”

Wigan Athletic certainly urinated on City’s parade. The most expensive team ever assembled in Britain was beaten by a bunch of players most football people would be hard-pressed to name. It turned out to be a genuine FA Cup fairy-tale, one of those “giant-killing” tales that will forever be rolled-out when ITV or Sky try to convince the audience about the “romance of the world’s oldest football competition”, and all that jazz.

Actually, jazz was about the only genre of music that was not called upon on another day when the Football Association and Wembley got the build-up wrong. Instead of celebrating the heritage of this once-mighty competition, the FA continue to turn to tasteless attempts at audience patronization. They should look to London 2012 for inspiration. Why do they continue to put on unnecessary rituals that the crowd completely ignore, accompanied by a cacophony of noise that doesn’t allow the crowd to even speak to each other? Instead, if they truly believe the hype about the FA Cup, then why not celebrate the competition and dispense with the drawn-out procedure of unrolling flags and unconvincing pyrotechnics? And what’s with the act of throwing large balls into the crowd for people to push around the stadium. It is more than a little reminiscent of toys being thrown into an animal cage for the monkeys to play with!

Abide with me gets worse every year – this time I failed to see anyone singing it – and where was the royalty? The FA continued its now irritating obsession with the military, but at least Brigadier Smyth-Ponsonby (or someone with a similarly plummy name) wasn’t the guest of honour. That fell to Dave Clarke, a blind footballer who has just retired from international football.

Thankfully, Wigan and their fans saved the day. After two years of sitting among the near-neanderthal behavior of Stoke and Liverpool supporters, this lot were a joy to behold. It meant something for them to be at Wembley, although of course, the experience has been devalued a little by the FA’s insistence to use the stadium for semi-finals and play-offs.

Manchester City’s fans, who outnumbered Wigan’s but were hard to spot in the journey to the stadium, tried to put-down the achievement as they splashed their way to the stations. But there was no disputing that their team under-performed and in doing so, hastened the departure of Roberto Mancini, who looks set to be replaced by Malaga’s Pellegrini.

City should have taken control early on, but Wigan keeper Joel Robles started well and pulled off an excellent save with his feet from the disappointing Carlos Tevez. Gradually, Wigan grew in confidence with Roger Espinoza and Callum McManaman catching the eye. By half-time, it was clear that City’s frustration was rising. In fact, it got scarcely better after the interval and as time rolled on, you sensed that Wigan could pull off a major shock. When Shaun Maloney hit the woodwork with a free-kick and then, six minutes from time, Pablo Zabaleta was red-carded after hauling down McManaman, the dream started to become a possibility.

The man who scored the winner, just as the added-time board was going up, was substitute Ben Watson, who took the stage in the 80th minute equipped with lurid boots and an equally notable ginger head. It was the latter that nodded home the decisive goal from Maloney’s corner and there was no coming back for City’s millionaires. Cue the images of Wigan’s Dave Whelan cavorting uncomfortably – almost replicating Boris Johnson’s ‘Dad-dancing’ from the Olympics.

What a story. It was easy to get away from the stadium, apocalyptic weather aside. Sadly, Wigan’s celebrations may be short-lived, and Watson may become one of those forgotten heroes in time, but they can never take the FA Cup win away from them. And if they do go down, their season can be enhanced by a trip or two into Europe. Sunderland 1973,  Southampton 1976, West Ham 1980 and Wimbledon 1988. Now add Wigan 2013 to that list.

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