Despite the doom and gloom of Wigan’s relegation to League One, there is at least one positive to come out of last season’s pitiful showing, that is my mission to visit all 92 Football League grounds can now gather pace.
Back in 2012 I wrote about the pursuit of the 92 football league grounds – the goalposts keep moving. I highlighted the fact that one of the few disadvantages of Latics extended stay in the Premier League was that it had prevented me from getting to as many of the 92 Football League grounds as I’d have liked.
However, following Wigan’s recent fall down the Football League pyramid I can now at least seek out the grounds I missed during our meteoric rise to the Premier League.
Next season I will be able to visit seven new grounds in League One. Other commitments permitting, I should be able to get to Burton Albion, Colchester United, Coventry City, Gillingham, Peterborough, Shrewsbury, and Southend.
Maybe not the most glamorous list of locations but for the committed football fan and ground hopper it makes perfect sense.
When Wigan were previously in the lower divisions I enjoyed many years visiting a long list of grounds from Bury’s Gigg Lane to York City’s Bootham Crescent and in the process had some memorable days out.
It is fair to say that the atmosphere and camaraderie at these smaller grounds can often be preferable to those at the Premier League grounds.
My list of grounds is growing, and it appears I’ve visited 68 of the current 92 members of the Football League. Not a bad haul but perhaps slightly short of where I would like to be.
In my previous piece I noted that I would have experienced more grounds but many of the teams in the league have now built new stadia and in the process moved locations.
The building of a new ground can be something of an irritation to those who are seeking to do the 92. You tick off a ground only to find that you now have to visit it again!
The building of new football grounds has been something of a boon to the construction industry in recent years.
New grounds in League 1 and 2 include: Shrewsbury Town who have moved to New Meadow, Chesterfield to B2net Stadium, Colchester United to Colchester Community Stadium, Chesterfield to Proact Stadium, Coventry City to Ricoh Arena, Crawley Town to Broadfield Stadium, Northampton Town to Sixfields Stadium, and Morecambe to Globe Arena.
Other new grounds in the pipeline are Scunthorpe United, ready during 2015/16 and York City and Brentford who should have new grounds by 2016/17.
Teams dropping out of the football league further complicate the task of completing the 92 clubs.
Teams like Tranmere Rovers, Cheltenham, Halifax Town (now AFC Halifax), Wrexham, Macclesfield Town, Chester City, Lincoln City, Hereford United, Darlington, Grimsby Town and Stockport County were once regular opponents for Latics.
On the other hand some teams, like Wigan, have made the journey from non-league to Football League.
I remember visiting the dilapidated Fleetwood Town ground when they were in the Northern Premier League but they have now progressed to League One and their newish Highbury Stadium is on the same site as the old ground.
In many ways returning to League One will be a return to Wigan’s roots in the Football League. Prior to 2003 Latics had spent 25 years in the third and fourth tier of English football.
For the old brigade, like myself, it should feel like a re-connection with our past but for some of the newer/younger fans the smaller new grounds may come as a shock after the glory days of the Premier League and FA Cup success.
But whatever your age or length of time supporting Latics, it is definitely worth embracing the new experience, following the team on their travels and getting behind the team on the pitch.
You might say it’s an obsession to tick off all 92 grounds but I get to see parts of England I wouldn’t necessarily visit and in the process have some great away days and maybe even see a few Wigan victories in the process.