Wigan Athletic and Phoenix 2021 – Rising from the Ashes

On the 1st of July 2020 a statement on the Wigan Athletic website confirmed that the club had fallen into administration, just 4 weeks after a takeover by an unknown Hong Kong based consortium.

Panic immediately set in amongst supporters who were left shocked, blindsided and confused by the sudden announcement that seemingly had come out of nowhere. There was no indication as to why such action had been taken and there was no indication that the problem would be resolved quickly.

Fans began to fear that the club they had followed around the country and into Europe was about to be ripped away from them by a faceless owner on the other side of the world, with no care nor compassion for the club.

As fundraising efforts increased to help pay staff and support the players in their survival battle, off the pitch matters were far less visible. Asset stripping took place almost immediately and player sales were agreed within days of the administration announcement being made.

Despite the infamous “This will not be a fire sale” promise from administrators Latics would go on to lose over 20 players in the summer transfer window, with a transfer ban limiting our ability to bring replacements in. Paul Cook left his role as manager and dozens of staff members lost their jobs. These people were not on footballers wages, they were cooks, receptionists, ticket office workers and ground staff. These people were tossed to the wayside.

The relegation to League 1 due to a 12 point deduction saw numerous prospective buyers pull out of deals and things began to get extremely scary for Tics supporters. Hope began to run out.

When a deal with a Spanish consortium fell at the final hurdle it seemed as though every option was gone and the future of Wigan Athletic Football Club wouldn’t last longer than a few months.

That is until a tweet was posted onto the WAFC hashtag that sent the entire fan base into delirium.

Talal Al Hammad was a name unknown to Latics fans, but with rumours of a takeover led by a Bahraini businessman being close to completion it didn’t take long for supporters to join the dots.

At first the legitimacy of the account was questioned by some people, with conspiracy theories about who was behind the tweets flying left, right and centre.

Not only were we getting tweets from Talal though, another board member would make a name for himself on the WAFC hashtag in the following days.

Oliver Gottman, who was listed as Chief Finance Officer for Phoenix 2021 on Companies House, tweeted “what’s all this about Galloways?” which of course made him popular amongst the Latics faithful from the get go.

In typical Wigan Latics style nothing about the situation was normal. However, after almost 9 months of pain and uncertainty there was finally some good news for Tics fans all over the world.

However, despite Phoenix 2021 Limited taking over the club there was still plenty of work needed on the pitch. Latics were in the relegation zone in League 1 and had a fight on their hands to survive, but it felt as though the positivity brought about by off field events would spur the lads on to complete the greatest of great escapes.

Leam Richardson was appointed permanent manager after his heroics and the season ended with joyous celebrations outside the ground between players and supporters. The entire season had been played behind closed doors so this moment meant so so so much to all involved.

Wigan Athletic had defied the odds yet again.

Chief Executive Mal Brannigan spoke to Latics TV after Leam’s permanent appointment as manager and his words got supporters on side immediately. The link between the boardroom and the fan base had been missing under the previous ownership group and we all appreciated the efforts of the new owners to communicate with us on a regular basis.

Be it Mr Al Jasmi’s welcome interview sat at his magnificent table, Talal’s twitter account or Mal Brannigan’s willingness to face the media it felt as though we could trust this new group. Latics fans experienced 20 years of trust in Dave Whelan and his family during their time in charge at the club and the early signs with Phoenix 2021 suggested we could do the same again.

A lovely picture of 2 Latics Legends

The summer was huge for everyone involved in the club as they essentially had to built a football club from scratch. With 3 contracted first team players and a handful of academy graduates to throw into the mix step 1 was building a squad to challenge in the division.

Whilst promotion was the aim most people would’ve settled for a stable top half finish, but the ambitions of the new ownership group quickly became apparent.

Players with big reputations at League 1 level such as Ben Amos, Jack Watmough and Charlie Wyke came through the door, as did former Latics heroes Max Power and James McClean. Several other players would arrive in the summer and the squad looked set for a play off push.

Off the pitch a lot of improvements were made too. Staff that had lost their jobs during the administration were brought back, Leam’s coaching staff was added to and work on infrastructure began at the Stadium and Training Ground.

Season ticket sales reached record numbers and a new form of income was brought out in the BELIEVE Fans Fund. This gave Latics supporters the opportunity to directly improve a certain aspect of the club, be it Academy, First Team Operations or High Performance & Sports Science.

This innovative and inclusive programme was yet another example of our new ownership group putting the fans in the forefront of their thinking. It’s refreshing and has been met with heaps of praise.

The Stadium saw a revamp as well with a huge BELIEVE sign added on the outside of the West Stand. Pictures of Latics legends, players, staff and fans were put up all around the ground and several videos/events were created to give back to the supporters that had kept the club alive just over a year before.

There will also be a mosaic with the names of all 2021/22 season ticket holders on a wall of the DW Stadium as a thank you for their support. As well as this, BELIEVE Fans Fund members will have their names worked into the design of our 2022/23 Third Kit, yet another example of the owners improving the bond between themselves and the fan base.

On the pitch everyone knows how well it’s going so far. As I write this Latics sit 2nd in the league, 4 points off top with 2 games in hand. We have experienced some fantastic games in every competition we have took part in and have 10 games left to secure promotion.

That being said the best part of this season for me has been the feeling of security around my football club once again. Knowing that win, lose or draw everything is in place at our club to ensure tough times won’t last is a brilliant feeling to have and I, along with I’m sure every other Latics fan, am extremely grateful to everyone at the club for making this the case.

Hopefully we go and secure promotion back to the championship now and get back to where we belong. With the ambition, but also the sensible planning, of the current leadership structure at the club the sky is the limit for our club once again. And if anyone deserves that to be the case, it’s us.

Wigan Athletic are back and I couldn’t be happier. Thank you Phoenix 2021, and Happy 1 Year Anniversary. Here’s to many many more. 💙

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