One of the few disadvantages of Wigan’s extended stay in the top flight has been that I’ve not been able to get to as many other football league grounds as I’d have liked. There are always the newly promoted teams to visit but some of these are the teams that yoyo between the Championship and the Premier League. This season the new teams will only provide one new ground at St Mary’s, Southampton and one that I missed last season at the Liberty Stadium, Swansea.
As Wigan had spent many seasons in the lower divisions I enjoyed many years visiting a long list of grounds from Rochdale’s Spotland to Bournemouth’s Dean Court and in the process had some memorable days out.
Having now totted up my list of grounds, it appears I’ve visited 56 of the 92 members of the Football League. Not a bad haul but perhaps slightly short of where I would like to be, given my age and some might say obsession with football.
One of the reasons why I haven’t increased my total has been that many of the teams have now built new stadia and in the process moved locations. Shrewsbury Town have moved to New Meadow, Cardiff City to Cardiff City Stadium, Chesterfield to B2net Stadium, Colchester United to Weston Homes Community Stadium, Coventry City to Ricoh Arena, Crawley Town to Broadfield Stadium, Doncaster Rovers to Keepmoat Stadium, Brighton & Hove Albion to Falmer Stadium, Northampton Town to Sixfields Stadium, Morecambe to Globe Arena and Milton Keynes Dons (Wimbledon) to Stadium MK.
My task as become even more difficult as many of the teams that Wigan faced in 1980’s and 90’s have now passed out of the Football League and are now playing their football in the Conference or even lower down the football hierarchy. Teams like Halifax Town (now AFC Halifax), Wrexham, Mansfield Town, Macclesfield Town, Chester City, Lincoln City, Luton Town, Hereford United, Darlington, Grimsby Town, Stockport County and York City were all regular opponents. Some of these teams are making positive strides to return to the football league but others are floundering.
It is worth reminding some of Wigan’s younger fans that our success is a relatively recent affair and without Dave Whelan’s investment and good management we could have suffered a similar fate to many of the teams that are now struggling.
For those of us who remember the difficult days (Kenny Swain’s era being a particular low point) Wigan starting an eighth season in the Premier League is an almost surreal experience and last season’s wins against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal are very special moments in football and ones to be savoured.
My pursuit of the 92 will continue this season with the League Cup and FA Cup games hopefully providing some new grounds. Maybe I’ll go to see a game as a neutral, but that’s not likely to be very often as you wouldn’t want to miss following the Latics both home and away.