Saturday 29th September, 2012
Wigan. Admit it, it doesn't immediately strike anyone as a must-visit town for a day out at the football. I've told myself that I won't be a snob when it comes to places I visit during my three years over here, and so it was that I found myself at Wigan Wallgate station at around 1pm on a Saturday afternoon.
My choice of Wigan Robin Park was influenced by the fact Everton were playing at home. The Merseyrail trains south of Ormskirk, my current hometown, can be a nightmare when either of the big Liverpool clubs are playing, so my choice today was restricted to the north and east. Burscough, my local club, were at home - but I went there earlier in September. I've done Southport, and am saving Skelmersdale for a Tuesday night. Therefore, the next nearest option was Wigan. Not Athletic, but Robin Park.
The walk from the town centre took around 25 minutes, when it should have taken 20. I took a wrong turn and ended up in a B&Q delivery bay, but these things happen. The ground itself was reached at around 2:45, and I walked into the sports centre to find a reception desk, much like the sort you get at your local swimming pool. I walked past this, thinking that this wasn't the right place to pay, and found myself almost walking straight out into the stand.
A man stopped me, and asked if I was OK. I explained I was here for the football, and he showed me to a table where a coin tin and some programmes were sat. I'd found the turnstile! After paying my £6, plus £1.50 for a decent enough programme, I made my way out into the stand.
I'll be honest, it's not my type of football ground. One seated stand was the only access allowed, with the pitch being surrounded by an athletics track, with hurdles, and various long jump pits etc. The pitch even had javelin markings on it!
I knew today's crowd would be small when you consider that the photograph above was taken at 2:50pm, with five minutes to kick off, with the teams about to complete their warm ups.
By kick off, a paltry 17 people were sat in the stand, with another 14 hidden away somewhere, as the official attendance was given as 31.
I suppose this is not really an issue for Wigan, given that they are an integral part of the leisure centre. To suggest that they should be a 'proper' football club with hardcore supporters is perhaps a little unfair. They are a team developed to improve the football in the community through the leisure centre - or something along those lines. They've done very well to get as high as the NWCL Premier, but you'd think that this will (probably should) be the highest they hope to go given the facilities and fanbase they have.
The game itself pitched a side performing quite well early on - Wigan - against a team lingering near the foot of the table, having had a very poor start to the season. The Staffordshire visitors would have to be at their best to get anything from today's match. The game started true to the form book. Wigan had numerous chances early on to take a lead but all of them were wasted. This would be a theme which ran throughout three quarters of the game.
The home side finally did take the lead on 15 minutes, when Phillip Howard rounded the Stone keeper to slot home the only goal of the half. It was a cold, blustery day, and the football and surroundings hadn't excited me a great deal by the break, when I retreated inside for a pie...
The second half was much of the same, although Stone had a couple of sniffs, and they can only be called sniffs, on goal. Wigan would have kicked themselves if they'd let the visitors get anything from a game which they well and truly dominated.
The second Wigan goal finally came, after numerous missed chances, on 73 minutes - with Howard adding his second. In a scene reminiscent of Boro going mad in the last quarter of the game at Lincoln a fortnight or so ago, Wigan helped themselves to goals after this, with the Stone defence's heads dropping and letting them in at will.
It was a bizarre day out for me. Seeing a game being played at the same level as Boro in front of 31 people was an odd experience. As Boro fans, we never get to see the grounds when they're not full of away fans. It was an eye opener, and it does make you wonder how they pay their expenses.
Regardless, in the end, it was nice to see some goals, but I couldn't escape the fact that the Robin Park Arena, as lovely as it is inside, is no place to watch football. I've ticked it off my ever expanding list of grounds to visit, but I shan't be back in a hurry.