x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Wigan Athletic have mastered the art of Premier League survival

Take any one of the club's escapes from relegation in the last seven springs, and it might owe to fluke. Lump them together and this has become a stalwart force of getaway.

Wigan have beaten two of the Premier League's top three in the past eight days - Arsenal and Manchester United. Stefan Wermuth / Reuters
Wigan have beaten two of the Premier League's top three in the past eight days - Arsenal and Manchester United. Stefan Wermuth / Reuters

The fact that Wigan Athletic look well placed to escape Premier League relegation once again is laudable

Too few people appreciate Wigan Athletic. Clearly, we need some sort of Wigan Appreciation Society For Non-Supporters, and I could run for president. And vice-president. And secretary. And foreign secretary. And historian.

Take any one of Wigan's escapes through the last seven springs, and it might owe to fluke. Lump them together, and this has become a stalwart force of getaway.

Appreciation grows as another escape from relegation seems nigh and as Wigan stand today as the best team in the English Premier League. (Oh yeah? Well, who else this month has beaten Manchester United and Arsenal and been rooked at Chelsea?)

Some people impugn Wigan for the charmless and relatively passionless environment in a town that traditionally prioritises another sport. Maybe it's time to appreciate Wigan for the charmless and relatively passionless environment in a town that traditionally prioritises another sport.

If the snooty, lunatic demands of fan bases make the combustion for the manufacture of winners in sports worldwide, then the lack of same counts as an obstacle.

Wigan have overcome that, not to mention Sheffield United in 2007, Arsenal in 2010, West Ham United in 2011 and Manchester United-plus-Arsenal in 2012.

Of course, my Wigan wonder goes way back. The first Premier League match I attended was at Wigan. In fact, and I do loathe boasting, but I witnessed Wigan's first-ever Premier League win - in person.

Please, contain your envy. It's unattractive.

On the memorable afternoon of August 27, 2005, an afternoon so many have forgotten, some 17,223 of us squeezed into the JJB Stadium. OK, so the place did feel kind of cavernous with plenty of empty seats all around, and I did wonder briefly what was the big hoo-hah about stadium passion in England. But still ...

Still, 17,223 of us settled in to watch Sunderland in the house for what they call a "relegation six-pointer," and I think we all know the unbearable tension of those relegation six-pointers in August. You could have cut the tension with a knife, had you been able to locate the tension. Just 13 days prior, 23,575 had turned up for the Premier League lid-lifter, a 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Hernan Crespo's cruel goal in injury time.

For this second epic instalment, 15 seconds had elapsed when referee Steve Bennett called a penalty because Gary Breen tripped Jason Roberts, and then the Grenadian slotted home the penalty.

Wigan won 1-0, and the fans taunted Sunderland fans with, "Going down, going down, going down", which nine months later turned out to be an astounding act of forecasting.

How in the world could they know?

By now, though, just look. Those whimsical Wigan wiles have sustained themselves for seven seasons, with jarring recent events very much hinting at eight. To sit around and appreciate this feat of dungeon-climbing, we have a bevy of under viewed YouTube moments.

We would have to revisit that truly tense day at Bramall Lane in Sheffield in May 2007, to appreciate Phil Jagielka's handball and David Unsworth's penalty at 45 minutes, to marvel that Sheffield United's Danny Webber hit the post in the second half, to re-tally Wigan's goal difference of minus-22 next to Sheffield United's minus-23 with both on 38 points.

There would be the 2-0 deficit on 79 minutes to Arsenal on April 18, 2010, transformed into a 3-2 survival guarantor. There would be the lunacy last May with West Ham up 2-0 in the DW, which used to be the JJB, with Charles N'Zogbia's winner at 90+4 making that 3-2 as well.

There would be the titanic ensuing-week visit to Stoke City, with Stoke fans taunting, "We're sending you down," but with the manager Roberto Martinez celebrating thereafter, especially after Maynor Figueroa flicked that gorgeous cross over on to Hugo Rodallega's head on 78 minutes.

There would be Shaun Maloney's 20-yard strike eight nights ago against Manchester United, and that shocking early barrage on Monday night at the Emirates.

If our appreciation society really got busy, we could laud the fact owner Dave Whelan said he would not dismiss Martinez last season even if Wigan went down (as Wigan never do), and the fact Martinez stayed even though Aston Villa flirted.

But even if we sit as the usual blobs in the usual viewing inactivity and start no new society, we can do something novel this April.

We can take an absurdly delicious month with its Uefa Champions League semi-finals wrapped around its el clasico, and we can earmark some attention for the oddly buoyant Wigan, four matches to go, primed to go all Indiana Jones on us yet again.

cculpepper@thenational.ae