Last night, I dreamt that Dave Whelan committed suicide. Realising that the FA Cup victory last weekend was the pinnacle of all that he has achieved at Wigan football club he decided to go out on an almighty high, driving himself off a cliff in tribute to his favourite film. In a way it was quite fitting. Dave, tormented throughout his life by the leg break he received in the 1960 FA Cup Final, ending any chance of him reaching the highest level, had finally gained retribution and and won a Wembley final. He had put that tragic chapter of his life to bed and decided he could die happily, and chose to do so in the most extravagant way imaginable; a fantastic moment of performance art that would deserve to win a posthumous Turner Prize in any year.
He had to go out on a high. It was the only way to match the remarkable things he achieved with Wigan, of which the FA Cup win was the high point. Yet many football supporters don't seem to understand just how special what they've done actually is. As soon as the Latics relegation was confirmed last night at the Emirates, tweets and messages flew in mocking them. Some argued they offered nothing to the Premier League; that all they did was avoid relegation season after season. Others pointed to their small attendances, and that the town of Wigan itself doesn't have a great footballing history, arguing that there are teams in lower leagues who have more of a pedigree for the sport, and who are more worthy of a place in England's top league.
I call these fans out for what they are: snobs. The notion that one team deserves to be in the Premier League over another is a silly one. Teams are where they are because of results, not because of history or crowd size. There's nothing special about Leeds that makes them more deserving of a place in the top flight than Wigan. Fair enough when a smaller club spent well beyond their means to gain success, putting themselves in severe risk as Portsmouth did, but Wigan haven't done this. It's true that were reliant of Whelan for a large part of their rise through the leagues in the late 90's early 2000's. For this reason they aren't a example to small clubs in League 1 and League 2, who are unlikely to find a multi-millionaire to build them a new stadium and finance their rise. Whelan has indeed invested a large amount into Wigan, but he has never endangered the club. In fact just last year their owner effectively wrote off the debt that the Lancashire club owed him.
Whelan is also fully aware that, unlike Man City's Qatari owners, he doesn't have a endless pot of money, and that it would be reckless to leave Wigan reliant on him. For this reason, the former JJB Sports owner has tried to make the club self-sufficient in recent years, buying players relatively cheaply and selling them on at high prices. During the 2011/2012 season, Wigan made a profit of £4 million, despite having the worst turnover in the league, and earning only just over £4 million in gate reciepts, while still managing to maintain their Premier League status.
To put this into a context, Sunderland have a significantly higher turnover, received £10 million more in gate receipts last season, yet operated on a £32 million pound loss and currently only sit one place and four points clear of Wigan. Of course that one place is the most crucial gap in the Premier League, and there are a number of reasons for Sunderland's failures this season, but it's still a pretty damning statistic. Our fans, along with supporters of many other clubs in the league, certainly have no right to look at Wigan and suggest they've achieved nothing.
This is without even factoring in the marvellous FA Cup win the Latics managed on Saturday. To win a major trophy on such a small budget, outplaying big-spending Manchester City in the process is quite extraordinary. Considering how long the two big North-East clubs fruitless search for a trophy has lasted, Wigan are a team to be admired. Last week saw the 40th anniversary of Sunderland's 1973 FA Cup win, and with it fans sharing memories of that wonderful day. I was born some 19 years after that famous win, and yet it still holds an emotional value for me. I grew up believing that day to have almost mythical qualities, and it's a cup win that still means a great deal to the club and its supporters. It wouldn't surprised me if there are some Sunderland fans out there who wouldn't mind swapping places with Wigan, in order to taste that kind of success again.
Look, I'm not saying that Wigan didn't deserve to be relegated this season. They've conceded 71 goals this season, a tally that matches just how awful their defending has been at times. However, considering the size of the club, considering the sporting history of the town within which they're based and the footballing powerhouses that exist so close to them, and considering the low crowds they get, they were always going to drop down to the Championship eventually.
To stay in the top division for 8 seasons, to win a major trophy and reach the final of another one within that same timespan, and to beat and outplay some of the best teams in the land is something that deserves a great deal of credit. Rather than look down on the Latics, teams like Sunderland should look at them as an example of how to over-achieve. To suggest they've offered nothing to the Premier League is laughable.
When you look at what Dave Whelan has done in his time at Wigan, it's no surprise that my subconscious thought up such a thrilling end for him.