Fixtures announced – MK Dons away first up for Latics

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Stadium MK by Beechey604 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Wigan Athletic travel to MK Dons in the opening fixture of their 2017/18 League One campaign. It will be the first time they have played at the Stadium MK since the club was controversially moved from Wimbledon, although they did play each other in the FA Cup 3rd Round in 2014.

This is followed up by a home fixture against Bury on August 12th. Latics then travel to Boundary Park to face Oldham Athletic and then have a home fixture against Paul Cook’s former club Portsmouth.

During the Christmas and New Year holiday period they travel to Oxford United on December 23rd, face Shrewsbury Town at the DW Stadium on Boxing Day and Charlton Athletic at home on 30th December and then Northampton Town away on January 1st.

Stand out fixtures include Blackburn Rovers at the DW Stadium on October 28th and Ewood Park on 3rd March and Bradford City at home on 18th November and at Valley Parade on 17th February.

They will be making first time visits to the Cherry Red Records Stadium against AFC Wimbledon (December 16) and the Kassam Stadium against Oxford United (23 December).

Latics will be hoping that they will have clinched promotion back to the Championship by the final game of the season when they face Doncaster Rovers at the Keepmoat Stadium on Saturday 5th May.

The full list of fixtures can be found on the official website.

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Posted in Bury, League One, MK Dons, Oldham Athletic, Portsmouth, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dreams of paradise so easily lost

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Michael Calvin’s final book in his trilogy that includes ‘The Nowhere Men’ (scouting) and ‘Living on the Volcano’ (management) is a telling critique of youth development in English football.

He journeys through the landscape of youth football interviewing players, parents and coaches from deprived inner city areas; non-league grounds, mega-rich Premier League academies and the English national headquarters.

He identifies many of the problems afflicting youth development: excessive money at the top of the game, unscrupulous greedy agents, children treated as commodities, loss of childhood, dinosaur coaches, bullying and the failure of FIFA and the FA to police the industry.

There are some shocking revelations about young players and the money in the system. ‘A 9 year-old at a Premier League club is being paid £24,000 a year through his parents’.

‘A member of the England U15 squad, is understood to have been offered a two-year professional contract worth £45,000 a week.’

Academy football is tainted by a black economy that gives incentives to parents that include houses, cars and cash.

Chris Ramsay believes that agents have spoiled the game by giving poor parents false hope and Karl Robinson says some parents are sacrificing their kids in pursuit of personal wealth.

Those who go in search of the dream should be aware of the high level of failure. ‘Less than one half of one per cent of boys who enter an academy structure at the age of 9 will make a first team appearance’.

‘A recent study revealed only 8 out of 400 players given a professional Premier League contract remained at the highest level by the time of their 22nd birthday. Since only 180 of 1.5m boys who play youth football in England at any one time become Premier League pros, the success rate is 0.012 per cent.’

There are however positive stories about enlightened coaches, tutors and parents and some boys have done very well to overcome hardship and make a good career in the game.

Calvin identifies some well-run academies and the current England manager Gareth Southgate emerges as a sensible voice against the excesses of a high-pressure money orientated system.

Sadly bullying remains ingrained in the game. Simon Edwards, a psychologist who works with MK Dons comments,

‘Bullying is everywhere in modern life. There are some fantastic people in football, but if coaches were in a legal firm in the city or in a regional supermarket they wouldn’t be able to say those things to their employees or each other.

Everyone in football has the caveat. ”Well, it has always been like that.” It’s the dinosaur effect: “I was treated like that, so I am going to treat you like that.”

Arsene Wenger believes the whole academy system has to be questioned. ‘They organized a system where the best players finish at the biggest clubs. But they do not always have the best chance to play at the biggest clubs.’

Calvin’s extensive evidence confirms that the current youth system is bloated, intoxicated by its wealth and haphazard.

Ultimately he does offer some positive thoughts about some of the up and coming young players but the overwhelming feeling is that the system needs a major sea change.

No Hunger in Paradise is highly recommended and it should be compulsory reading for all young players, parents and coaches.

No Hunger in Paradise – The Players. The Journey. The Dream by Michael Calvin. Published by Century. Price £16.99.

This review was published in the June/July 2017 edition of Late Tackle magazine.

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12th Man – The first choice

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Paul Cook

I’m pleased to say that Paul Cook was my first choice for the Latics manager’s job. Of the candidates available I believe he has the right profile for a club which is trying to rebuild itself after relegation from the Championship.

Cook fits the bill in several key areas. Firstly, he wants to be based in the North West and has strong Wigan connections having played nearly 100 games for the club and featured in the squad which reached the FA Cup quarter-final in 1987.

Secondly, as Portsmouth and Chesterfield manager he has a strong track record of success leading both teams to the League Two title. He knows the lower divisions very well but he has also played at the top level in the Premier League with Coventry City.

Thirdly, he plays football in the right way. He coaches possession based football and says that exciting the supporters is of paramount importance. Cook says he wants to attack, pass the ball well, go forwards quickly and excite the fans. If he can achieve that, he will certainly be a great improvement on the likes of Warren Joyce, Malky Mackay and Owen Coyle.

Cook certainly has the potential to be successful, like another Liverpudlian Paul Jewell who led the club from the third tier to the Premier League between 2001 and 2005, but only time will tell if he can reach those heady heights.

This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 2nd June 2017.

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Cook confirmed as new Latics manager

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New manager Paul Cook

Wigan Athletic have confirmed the appointment of Paul Cook as the new manager on a three-year contract.

Despite being offered an improved deal at Portsmouth the Liverpool born manager decided to return to the North West and take the Latics hot seat.

Cook has strong Wigan connections having played nearly 100 games for the club and featured in the squad which reached the FA Cup quarter-final in 1987.

As Portsmouth manager he led his team to the League Two title and previously managed Chesterfield to the title in 2014.

When Cook took over Pompey they had finished 16th in League Two in 2014/15. He then took them to the play-offs in 2016, and in only his second season he secured the League Two title.

Cook’s number 2 at Portsmouth Leam Richardson has also joined Latics as Assistant Manager.

Chairman David Sharpe commented on Cook’s arrival “He has a winning CV, a track record of success.”

Latics’ fans will be hoping that Cook can emulate the success of another Liverpudlian and former teammate Paul Jewell who led the club from the third tier to the Premier League between 2001 and 2005.

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Book Review: A Natural by Ross Raisin

A Natural cover

The world of the modern professional footballer is a contradictory affair. The presumed glory and fame of sporting success is mixed with the negative pressures and anxiety of young lives. Ross Raisin’s ‘A Natural’ addresses these contradictions with a novel about a young gay footballer whose success is threatened by his own sexuality.

England youth international Tom Pearman has been released by a Premier League club in the north and finds himself playing for a lowly League Two team in a remote southern town.

Isolated from his family and friends he is struggling to come to terms with the style of football demanded of him by an out-of-touch and tyrannical manager.

Not only is Tom an outsider but he also believes that there is ‘something deeply wrong with him’. Which is perhaps not surprising, given that no player in England’s top four divisions has come out about their homosexuality. It is telling that if a player did ‘come-out’ it would still jeopardise their career.

Tom inevitably hides secrets from his teammates. He has to be a split personality, one part footballer, and one part human being. He develops a relationship with the head groundsman but this only heightens the pressure and the constant fear of exposure.

The downward trajectory of Town’s captain Chris Easter is in contrast to Tom’s football fortunes, but both players suffer long periods of despair and self-loathing. This is the high-pressure environment that football families have to operate in.

Easter’s wife Leah has almost forgotten the dreams she once held for her own life. She has a transient lifestyle, moving as her partner is transferred from club to club, she is now lost and disillusioned with where life has taken her.

Raisin provides an authentic portrayal of life in the lower divisions both on and off the pitch.

The fine details are present in the pre-match nerves, the neatly laid out kit and the smell of Deep Heat in the changing rooms, but it is the edginess about the unchecked laddishness, the fake camaraderie and the close scrutiny from supporters on social media that Raisin wants us to feel.

On the down side the novel is a little slow paced in the opening half and some of the characters are relatively undeveloped and unengaging.

But the central plot retains the reader’s interest and we want to know what happens to Tom both in his personal and professional life.

It is a brutish environment where young men are taken away from their families, isolating them from real life before rudely returning them at some point in the future.

Despite what the football authorities may have told us about professional football it is still riddled with prejudice, racism and sexist behaviours: bullying; physical abuse and sexual harassment is still rife.

During the team’s Christmas party two young players are made to perform a sex act on a prostitute. On another occasion a terrified young player is held down and has his penis boot polished by a teammate. This young player subsequently gives up football completely because of the bullying.

This is a rare novel about the challenges of being a gay professional footballer and hopefully it will go some way to help changing perceptions in a sport that has still got a very long way to go.

A Natural by Ross Raisin is published by Jonathan Cape.

This review was published in the April/May 2017 edition of Late Tackle magazine.

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12th Man – End of season review

Gary Caldwell

Gary Caldwell wasn’t given enough time

In the last 12th Man column of the season I was asked by the Wigan Evening Post to provide answers to four key questions:

What went wrong?

At the beginning of the season I was optimistic that Latics would have a good campaign in the Championship. Gary Caldwell’s team had comfortably won the League One title and there was a feeling that they could build on that momentum.

They made some promising signings with Jordi Gomez and Nick Powell returning to the club and Alex Gilbey joining from Colchester United and Dan Burn from Fulham.

Latics made an indifferent start to the season but they were only three points from safety with two thirds of the season remaining. It was always going to be a possibility that the team would take time to gel and settle into a higher division.

However, Caldwell was not given the time to adjust and he was sacked after only 14 games. It was a regrettable decision by Dave Whelan and David Sharpe.

The Board then made another major error by not recruiting wisely. Whelan’s friend Alex Ferguson recommended Caldwell’s successor, Warren Joyce, and what a disaster it proved to be.

Joyce was out of his depth in the Championship and he introduced a negative style of football, which was not only ineffective in accruing points but also deeply unappealing to watch.

He lasted only four months in charge and left the club deeply embedded in the relegation zone. Joyce was allowed to bring in 14 players in the January transfer window and many of these were either unfit or inferior to the players already at the club. They also lost winger Yanic Wildschut to Norwich City and Jordi Gomez to Rayo Vallecano.

Throughout the season they also suffered with long-term injuries to Alex Gilbey, Nick Powell, Donervon Daniels, Reece James and Andy Kellett. Plus some players who had done well in League One struggled to cope with the step up.

Interim manager Graham Barrow prompted an improvement in performances in the few remaining games, but it was not enough to keep Latics in the Championship.

It is likely that if the Board had shown some continuity and been patient with Caldwell they would not have been relegated. Many of the problems this season have been self-inflicted and the Board must take responsibility and quickly learn from their mistakes.

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Nick Powell’s hat-trick was one of the few highlights

Highlights?

In a season of few highlights it was Nick Powell’s 11-minute hat-trick to stun Barnsley that took the eye. The talented Powell had been injured for most of the season but he came on for Latics against the Tykes when they were 2-0 down with only 20 minutes remaining.

Powell almost immediately won a free kick on the angle of the area and he stepped up to smash an unstoppable shot past the Barnsley keeper. Two minutes later the keeper couldn’t hold Ryan Colclough’s low drive and Powell pounced to make the scores level.

Powell was in unstoppable form and Barnsley resorted to desperate measures to try to contain him. Fouls were plentiful around the Barnsley box and the chance of a free-kick or penalty always looked likely.

The inevitable happened and a defender foolishly fouled Powell in the area. A clear penalty and it was, of course, Powell who stepped up to take it. He showed no signs of nerves and smashed the ball down the centre of the goal to seal an amazing comeback and keep Latics’ season alive for a few more weeks.

Who would you like as the new manager?

Former Latics midfielder Paul Cook would be my first choice for the job. Cook has strong Wigan connections having played nearly 100 games for the club and featured in the squad which reached the FA Cup quarter-final in 1987.

The current Portsmouth manager has just led his team to the League Two title and previously managed Chesterfield to the title in 2014. When Cook took over Pompey they had finished 16th in League Two in 2014/15. He then took them to the play-offs in 2016, and in only his second season he secured the League Two title.

Cook’s future could depend on the current takeover talks at Portsmouth with billionaire former Walt Disney Chairman Michael Eisner looking to take control of the club.

Portsmouth are considering appointing a director of football next season should Eisner’s takeover go through. Eisner has already informed Cook of his interest in creating the role.

Cook is believed to want a firm input over any potential candidate to ensure minimal disruption to his set-up. Any dispute about the role could lead to Cook’s departure and open the way for Latics.

Early hopes for next year?

Latics must take the time to ensure that they get the right manager in place and if they do, then the new man will benefit from having the nucleus of a strong squad for the lower division.

They must get back to the attacking football that was successful under Caldwell in League One and if they do that then they will have a good chance to bounce back quickly.

This article was published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post.

Posted in Dave Whelan, David Sharpe, Gary Caldwell, Graham Barrow, Paul Cook, Warren Joyce, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Season of disappointment ends with creditable draw – Wigan Athletic 1 Leeds United 1

Ryan-Tunnicliffe

Ryan Tunnicliffe scored his first and possibly last goal for Latics.

Wigan Athletic finished the season with a creditable 1-1 draw against Leeds United at the DW Stadium on Sunday.

Ryan Tunnicliffe produced a composed finish rounding Leeds keeper Rob Green to make it 1-0 to Latics after six minutes.

Fulham loanee Tunnicliffe turned from hero to villain early in the second half when he foolishly tripped Eunan O’Kane in the box and Chris Wood converted the penalty to draw Leeds level.

Kemar Roofe hit the crossbar for Leeds but Omar Bogle should have done better when he had two one-on-ones with the Leeds keeper and might have been awarded a penalty when he appeared to be brought down by Rob Green, but the scores stayed level at the final whistle.

Latics must now regroup in League One after an abject season in the Championship and Leeds will reflect on how they missed out on the play-offs after failing to win in their final five games.

In what looks likely to be interim manager Graham Barrow’s last game in charge, he made three changes from the 1-0 defeat at Reading, with Max Power, Callum Connolly and Omar Bogle replacing Shaun MacDonald, Reece Burke and Nick Powell.

Latics were ahead after only six minutes when Michael Jacobs produced a slide rule pass to free Tunnicliffe in the box, and the former Manchester United reserve rounded Green to slot home from close range.

Leeds pushed forward to try and get a quick response but Latics looked dangerous on the break. Green was given a yellow card for stopping Tunnicliffe taking a quick throw-in as Latics threatened.

On 25 minutes Bogle had his first one-on-one when he broke clear and Green had to be quick off his line to make a sharp save.

Green then saved at the feet of Tunnicliffe as he picked up Max Power’s through ball.

Latics were good value for the lead as the teams went in at half time.

But in the 49th minute Leeds were given a route back into the game when Tunnicliffe tripped Eunan O’Kane in the box, Chris Wood calmly converting the penalty kick.

Soon afterwards Leeds might have gone ahead but Kemar Roofe’s 25-yard shot struck the crossbar and bounced away to safety.

It was end-to-end stuff now as Bogle had his second one-on-one opportunity.

Bogle hesitated in front of the advancing Green, the striker’s initial effort was saved but from the follow up the keeper appeared to bring down Bogle, and despite Latics’ appeals for a penalty nothing was awarded.

Barrow replaced Craig Morgan, Michael Jacobs and David Perkins with Alex Bruce, Nick Powell and Ryan Colclough as Latics tried to finish the season with a win.

Latics’ best opportunity to claim victory came in the last minute of added time. Green failed to get any distance on a punch from a free-kick and Power’s attempted lob back was frustratingly wide of the target.

Overall Latics were a little unlucky not to have secured all three points, but in the grand scheme of things it was all immaterial, as they had already been relegated and Leeds had already missed out on promotion.

Posted in Championship, Chris Wood, Graham Barrow, Leeds United, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment