everything you need is right here

wigan athletic 3 wolverhampton wanderers 2

When Latics began their fightback in, oh, mid-March, it looked as if things would, much like last season, go down to the last day. Of course, due to the impending implosion of both Wolves and Blackburn, along with a staggering run of results that’s left us top of the form table, this didn’t happen, and we reached safe ground on Monday evening, with a game to play. Suddenly the do-or-die match against Wolves became a dead rubber.

Any sense of anticlimax was annulled by a reasonably exciting match and the sheer novelty of watching Wigan play with absolutely no pressure. It wasn’t the best match I’ve been to at the DW – that was probably last month’s 4-0 evisceration of Newcastle – or the most exciting – definitely the 3-2 against West Ham last season – but it’s certainly the most fun I’ve had watching football; every missed pass can be laughed off, every missed chance scoffed at. “How did he miss that?” you ask, a stupid grin of disbelief on your face, when two weeks ago you responded to the exact same miss by clawing your eyes out and bawling in pain. Context, it seems, is everything here.

Anyway, our resurgence over the past month or so has been so exciting and dramatic that today felt like the coda to an epic novel, or at least like that part of a pantomime where, once all the plot threads have been resolved, the ‘Buttons’ character gets the audience to sing a song (with actions!) and then they throw sweets into the crowd (in this terrible analogy, the wedding/curtain call scene is the lap of honour at the end). But you get the point: the war had been won, and this was the victory bash. It certainly felt more party than football match. Before kickoff, they presented Gary Caldwell with his Player of the Year award, and Emmerson Boyce with his own award (this season he became the Latics player with the most Premier League appearances). A minute’s applause on the eight minute (to mark our eighth year in the Premier League, which is a phenomenal achievement whichever way you choose to view it) was interrupted by a Wolves goal, but nobody seemed to care. Certainly the players didn’t; it was 2-1 before very long. Even the Wolves fans were in good spirits, which you’d probably have to be to come up to Wigan to watch your side long after they’ve been relegated.

Boycey – who, to me, never seems quite as good as the fans make him out to be – got two goals to match his award, and loveable scamp Franco Di Santo added another goal to his rapidly-increasing tally (he’s still awful). At half time, a young girl was brought on to the pitch. We’d met her before, at that dreadful Bolton match earlier in the season. Back then, she was desperately seeking donations to allow her to fly to the US for a life-saving operation; you know the kind of story. Today she was back, post-op, doing well and seemingly very healthy. It was like every plot thread was coming to a close, with every ending a happy one. Even Hugo Rodallega, playing what was most likely his final game for Latics, nearly got a last-second goal to say goodbye with. Instead he bundled it against the post, which I feel is a more appropriate sendoff for him anyway.

The image of this afternoon that will stick in my mind is that of Roberto Martínez during the lap of honour, genuflecting to our stand and gleefully whipping a Wigan scarf around in the air. The grin on his face? Oh, my, there are not the words. There were dark, dark days this season, but we stuck with our man – and his philosophy – and it paid off spectacularly. The lap of honour is meant to be for the players to thank the fans for their support, but truth be told, in that moment we paid our thanks to Bobby. He really is a terrific person.

Happy endings, yeah? Sometimes you get them.

wigan athletic, 2011/2012: played 38, 11 wins, 10 draws, 17 losses; 42 goals for, 62 goals against; 43 points overall; 15th place

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