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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

'The highlight of my career': Former Wigan players and staff reflect on 2013 FA Cup triumph

Ahead of their fifth round tie against Manchester City, former players and staff members remember that fateful day from five years ago against the same opponents.

Jordi Gomez, centre, lifts the FA Cup trophy after helping Wigan Athletic defeat Manchester City in the 2013 final. Andy Rain / EPA
Jordi Gomez, centre, lifts the FA Cup trophy after helping Wigan Athletic defeat Manchester City in the 2013 final. Andy Rain / EPA

Wigan Athletic host Manchester City in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Monday night. It is a repeat of the 2013 final, when Wigan won their only major trophy in a shock win against Roberto Mancini’s side who had won the league the previous season.

Wigan have since slipped to England’s third tier, while City are clear at the top of the Premier League. We spoke to four people involved in Wigan’s victorious FA Cup run.

Jordi Gomez, midfielder

“We felt no pressure and I wasn’t nervous. Reaching the FA Cup final was already a success for Wigan. I’d received some criticism from Wigan fans - in one game against Reading I was booed … until I scored a hat-trick. The criticism eventually calmed when we won the FA Cup. I’m not a great collector of shirts or memorabilia, but my FA Cup medal is safely stored at home in Barcelona. That was the highlight of my career.

“I prepared for it by eating really good Spanish food the night before with tortilla made by a Spanish chef. That’s the best.

"We had a very good team spirit and the players wrote notes to each other the night before the game. I'd not seen that before, but it worked.

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“It was an even game. City didn't dominate and we were comfortable. I was substituted for Ben Watson after 81 minutes and then my good friend Pablo Zabaleta was sent off near the end. We’d played together at Espanyol and then we both ended up living in Manchester.

"We all thought the game was going to extra time, then we had a corner and Ben Watson did a great header. So Roberto made the right change taking me off and bringing Ben on, but we hardly celebrated because we still had one league game.

“We had been confident of winning the FA Cup and staying up in the Premier League, but winning the FA Cup was so special for the fans and it was the highlight of my football career. I didn’t expect to win a major trophy with Wigan.

“Roberto Martinez gave me the chance to play abroad. He took me to Swansea [City] and then to Wigan. He’s doing well with Belgium and I think he’ll be back in the Premier League again.”

Gomez, 32, plays for Levski Sofia.

Dave Mitten, kitman

“We travelled by train from Wigan the day before the game and a few hundred Wigan fans were there to see us off. I was interviewed on the radio for the first time in my life – they asked me about the prospect of having two FA Cup medals in the family since my uncle Charlie won one with Manchester United in 1948. I was excited, it all seemed surreal.

“A coach met us at Euston Station and took us to a Spanish-owned hotel. They really took care of our Spanish manager, Roberto.

"My worry was the kit. It had gone on the team bus the day before and I went to Wembley the night before the game to put the kits out. The Wembley staff were very helpful with us.

“I went back to Wembley on the morning of the match to make sure the kits were in order. I took a taxi and walked up Wembley Way. There were no hiccups, no missing kit. The nightmare is a player not having his boots.

“I felt for the players who were left out like Ali Al Habsi, our usual goalkeeper, but that’s football. The mood was positive. It was a great group with no bad eggs. They thought we could beat City.

“We'd ridden our luck in the FA Cup. In the third round at Macclesfield there was no water in the dressing room. The players had to get on the bus without showering.

“I sensed that the final was going to be our day. There didn’t seem much harmony at City and they knew Roberto Mancini was leaving. It didn’t seem that he was the most popular member of City’s staff.

“I stood on the side with Paul Kelly, a senior City physio, before the game. We’d both started out together at our local club, non-league Flixton. Now we were about to be involved in the FA Cup final.

“When the goal went in – a fantastic header – I prayed for the game to finish. Young Callum McManaman was superb and dug Gael Clichy out all afternoon. It was the best game he had for us.

"I was delighted for Roberto. He was a clever man, a qualified physio with a degree in business studies as well as being a manager. I can’t say a bad word about him and I was always there to back him up on the bench if anyone got too abusive. He was obsessed with detail. He’d scout a game away in London, get home at 2am and then work out his game plan to beat them.

“Roberto was always calm in the dressing room, he was a top leader, but we also knew that he was leaving Wigan, regardless of whether we won the FA Cup or stayed in the Premier League.

“We won the cup. I found the base of the FA Cup in my kit bag which the players had forgotten about. We went back to Wigan on the team coach, but we couldn’t celebrate because we had one more crucial league game at Arsenal a couple of days later. The lads were exhausted, we lost and went down. We’d gone from the high of Wembley to the low of relegation. I don’t think the FA wanted little Wigan in the league – they could have given us an extra day or so.

“But I’d take the FA Cup over staying in the Premier League. It’s the best competition in the world and while I grew up as a Man United fan in Manchester, Wigan got in my blood. The fans, too. It’s still there and that FA Cup medal is my pride and joy.”

Dave Mitten was released by Wigan as budgets were cut during life after the Premier League.

Ben Watson, right, scored the only goal of the 2013 FA Cup final to guide Wigan to victory. Andrew Winning / Reuters
Ben Watson, right, scored the only goal of the 2013 FA Cup final to guide Wigan to victory. Andrew Winning / Reuters

Roman Golobart, central defender

“I’d made my first team debut in the FA Cup that season, which wasn’t taken seriously at the start and young players like me were involved. We knocked Bournemouth out, then Macclesfield and Huddersfield [Town]. I played every game. The fans were always into the competition, the club started to be when we reached the sixth round against Everton at Goodison. I was dropped for that one, but came on at the end with Wigan leading 3-0. We felt lucky against big teams, we had belief that we could win.

“We had Oasis playing in our dressing room before the game. I’m really into music – it was one the reasons why I loved living in Manchester when I played for Wigan – and knew that Oasis were City fans. But it was right that we have their music on, British music. Even though I was Spanish, I felt British and so did our team – even more than City.

“It was 0-0 at half time and our goalkeeper Joel (Robles) was doing well. Ben Watson’s goal was special for many reasons. Not only did it win the FA Cup, but he’d broken his leg six months before and he had a very good relationship with Shaun Maloney, who provided the cross. Everyone has a chance to win in sport, but for the guy to score in the last minute after such a serious injury was so special.

“I had been disappointed not to play in the semi-final and the final as I'd played more minutes than any of the other players, but Maynor Figueroa heard that I’d been left out of the bonus pool before the final. The next day, there was an envelope waiting for me with a lot of money in – or at least a lot of money when you’re 19.

"He’d taken my place in the semi-final, but was injured for the final, so I wore a shirt with his name on during the celebrations. He told me that he watched it on TV and was very emotional. There are always so many stories behind a team winning a trophy.

“Wembley was legendary and I liked the fact that we didn't have as many fans as Man City. We hadn’t even sold out our allocation for the semi-final. That was cute, it was cool. We’re not as big as Man City, but the win meant so much to our hardcore fans.

“I got my FA Cup winners’ medal for the five games I played on the way to Wembley and I show it off to this day, but that summer Wigan went down. I thought the Championship would be perfect for me, but didn’t know who the manager would be as Martinez was going to Everton. As it happened, I left the club.”

Roman Golobart plays for Merida in Spain.

Former Wigan assistant manager Graham Barrow "wouldn't put it past" Roberto Mancini to win the World Cup with Belgium this year. Darren Staples / Reuters
Former Wigan assistant manager Graham Barrow "wouldn't put it past" Roberto Mancini to win the World Cup with Belgium this year. Darren Staples / Reuters

Graham Barrow, assistant manager

“I was the first team coach, a role I’d had since Roberto Martinez came to manage at Wigan. I’d originally brought him from Spain to Wigan as a player. He cracked on that he couldn’t speak English at first – he could!

“The FA Cup meant a huge deal to me, I’d been brought up thinking it was the greatest competition in the world. I’d played at Wembley as a player and we went to the semi-final with Wigan. I’m glad the semi-finals are there, it gives you a taste. If there’s a better stadium than Wembley then I’ve yet to see it.

“We played City away a few weeks previous and should have beaten them. We didn’t but Roberto came up with a game plan. He also brought a sports psychiatrist in who helped pull everyone together. One the eve of the final he gave everyone paper and a pen and told then to write down why they were proud to work with the other individuals, from the players to the coaches. When we went back to our rooms, there was an envelope full of people’s anonymous comments about you. It brought a lump to my throat and I would have been choked if I was a player.

“I popped back into the dressing room before the game and saw [1966 England World Cup winner] Geoff Hurst. I don’t get star struck, but I went to shake his hand.

“Aguero had a chance early on but City didn’t get many after that. We grew in belief and I was thinking that the game would go into extra time … then we scored after 90 minutes.

“Callum McManaman was man of the match. I’d worked with him as a young player and Roberto kept asking me if he was ready.

“I held the FA Cup at Wembley. I’m not one for sentiment, but I have one picture in my kitchen of me with the FA Cup and some of the players at Wembley with the words "2013 Winners" on the scoreboard. I’ve never seen myself so happy. My face was like that when my kids were born.

“I spoke to City’s Brian Kidd after and he told me we deserved to win. Nearly all the City players stayed on the pitch and applauded us. A fair chunk of the City supporters stayed to see us lift the cup, too.

“We had to play Arsenal a few days later so there was no celebration, our minds stayed clear. We trained on the Sunday morning after the match. There were four of five games that afternoon … and every result went against us in our relegation fight. We lost at Arsenal, but we didn’t get relegated because of the FA Cup, we got relegated because of our performance against Swansea at home.”

“I’ve still got a fantastic relationship with Roberto. I think he appreciates what I did for him and I do likewise. He’s unique in that he can mix with anyone. He got a raw deal at Everton and he’s doing well with Belgium. I wouldn’t put it past him to win the World Cup this year.”

Graham Barrow had a long association with Wigan, who he most recently managed last season. He’s currently coaching at AFC Fylde.