Wigan's rise to the Premier League

  • Last Updated: May 6 2013, 18:01 BST

What a disgrace, said the critics, that Wigan could not sell all their FA Cup semi-final tickets.

Roberto Martinez: Will lead out Wigan at the FA Cup final
Roberto Martinez: Will lead out Wigan at the FA Cup final

What an incredible achievement, said the club, that more than 20,000 people were heading to London to watch Wigan bid for a return to Wembley.

A club from a midsize mill town more famous for the achievements of its rugby league team, that only joined the Football League in 1978, one step away from an FA Cup final.

Those fans were able to celebrate victory over Millwall and next Saturday they will face Manchester City on the biggest day in the club's history.

Wigan Athletic did not come into existence until 1932, making it the youngest club in the Barclays Premier League, and - for a few weeks at least - the only club never to have been relegated from the top flight.

The Latics emerged after four previous clubs in Wigan had folded. They purchased Springfield Park, the former home of Wigan Borough, and secured a place in the Cheshire County League having seen an application to the Football League fail - not for the last time. Their first match, on August 27, was against Port Vale Reserves, and the following season they were crowned champions of the Cheshire League.

Initially, Wigan played in red and white and did not adopt blue and white until after World War II.

The Latics enjoyed some success in the FA Cup, including pushing top-flight side Newcastle to a reply in the 1953-54 season, but still their attempts to join the Football League came to nothing.

Wigan were hugely successful in non-league, winning numerous titles in the Cheshire League and Lancashire Combination.

The club's all-time leading scorer, Harry Lyon, was a key figure in the 1960s, scoring 273 times for the Latics, including a record 66 goals in the 1964-65 season.

In 1968, Wigan were founder members of the Northern Premier League, winning the title in 1971, and a year later, frustrated by the Football League's knockbacks, they even applied to join the Scottish Second Division - unsuccessfully.

In 1978, at the 35th time of asking, Wigan finally prevailed in their Football League quest, replacing Southport after two rounds of voting.

It was the year after Wimbledon had been admitted to the league but initially there was no rapid rise for Wigan.

It began well when they were promoted to then Division Three in 1982 and secured their first league silverware in 1985 when they won the Football League Trophy, but they slipped back into the bottom tier in 1993 - Wigan's only League relegation.

Times were tough. The following season Wigan finished fourth from bottom and average crowds had dropped below 2,000, but salvation was just around the corner.

In February 1995 came the second pivotal moment in the club's history when local businessman Dave Whelan, a self-made millionaire through his sportswear business, bought the club and set out his ambition to reach the Premier League.

Whelan turned his attention to building his fortune after breaking his leg playing for Blackburn in the 1960 FA Cup final, making next weekend's match particularly poignant for the 76-year-old.

And the chairman will not be the only man walking out at Wembley who remembers Wigan when promotion to the third tier of English football was the priority.

Wigan made headlines with the signing of the Three Amigos - Spaniards Roberto Martinez, Isidro Diaz and Jesus Seba - in the summer of 1995. Fast forward 18 years and it is manager Martinez who has guided the Latics to their greatest day.

In 1997 the rise began as Wigan were promoted back to Division Two but the play-offs proved their nemesis, with defeats by Manchester City, Gillingham and Reading before they reached Division One for the first time in 2003.

Appointing former striker Paul Jewell as manager had been a gamble but it was paying off spectacularly and they came close to reaching the Premier League at the first time of asking.

They had to wait but only for one season as Jewell's side secured automatic promotion on the final day of the 2004-05 campaign.

The Latics took to the Premier League immediately and were in the hunt for European football for much of the season as well as reaching the 2006 League Cup final, where they lost 4-0 to Manchester United.

But success made their prize assets targets for other clubs and the following season saw the first of Wigan's great escapes when victory over Sheffield United on the final day of the season kept them up and relegated their opponents.

It is a pattern that has continued throughout the following campaigns, the last four of which have been under the stewardship of Martinez.

This season the escape will need to be greater than ever but, whether the Latics avoid relegation or not, with a first taste of European football to come, another significant chapter in one of English football's more unlikely success stories has been written.


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