The 12th Man - FA Cup Special - Wigan Athletic
This weeks FA Cup special 12th Man feature in the Wigan Evening Post has two contributions from Vital Latics:
A Life Defining Moment
There are events and occasions in life that fill you with pride that you can look back upon full of nostalgia, marriages, births, visiting exotic places etc. What happened on the 11th May 2013 in North London puts all that into the shade, what happened that day, for me, was my life defining moment.
Having grown up through the 1960's and 70's I became fascinated, perhaps unhealthily, with the FA cup, which for myself as a kid was the ultimate prize in world football, October and November each year I would be filled with excitement, the first round draw would be on Radio 2 at 1pm on the Monday afternoon following the 4th Qualifying round.
Sat with friends huddled around a transistor radio as the draw was made live had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up, 1969 first round draw, Wigan Athletic will play Port Vale, 1971 first round draw, Wigan Athletic will play Halifax Town, 1974 first round draw Wigan Athletic will play Mansfield Town, massive games etched forever in my memory banks
When we started to rise through the divisions from 1997 onwards I had a little dream that maybe we could go on a cup run, one to emulate reaching the quarter finals under Ray Mathias in 87, but once the Premier League was reached the FA cup seemed to take a back seat, a competition to make lots and lots of changes to the team, I felt that we, and others, were disrespecting the greatest cup competition in world football, having never progressed past the fourth round in 26 attempts until last season would appear to back up that theory.
When we beat Millwall to make the final it didn't really sink in, not until the morning of the 11th May, waking up on cup final morning, my team, Wigan Athletic, who used to make the first round proper and consider that an almighty achievement, were going to contest the greatest cup final in world football, I can still feel the butterflies in my stomach now as I read back those words
Arriving at Wembley and meeting fellow Latics fans, old and young, some who'd travelled from the USA and Australia to be there, had a sense of the unreal about it, singing Abide With Me in the build up to the game and looking around to see that I wasn't the only grown man in floods of tears, then the absolute explosion of noise as the teams came out, Boycey carrying little Joseph onto the pitch and summing up our great club in one action.
Not for one moment did I dare to dream that we would win it, my first thoughts were 'keep them out for ten minutes', then Joel made that save with his feet from Tevez and suddenly there was a feeling of maybe, just maybe. We were the better side as the game grew and half-time was suddenly upon us with the Latics fans looking back at a couple of chances that we could have grabbed a goal and confidence was abound
The second half came and went, just when we thought extra time was looming Ben Watson rose majestically and planted a brilliant header beyond Joe Hart and the cup was ours. I wept tears of joy, tears of pride and tears for the friends who like me were Latics through and through, but sadly didn't make the game because time had caught them up
The greatest day of my life? Seriously? Without any doubt, nothing comes close to what I felt that day and still feel as I cast my mind back, I have been walking on air since the 11th May 2013 and that will continue for the rest of my life, we won the FA cup and I was there to be a part of the greatest day in the history of the club
We now set out in this year's competition as holders, MK Dons are the first challengers that we face in our fight to keep the FA Cup in the DW Stadium trophy cabinet, we are the club that hold the greatest prize in world football, we are FA Cup Champions
Here We Go Again
What would I personally consider the best part about the FA Cup win, the fact that as a support we appreciated what we were achieving.
FA Cup 3rd round day is one of the special days of the season. It's always nice to see a big team come unstuck against a small team. A giant killing is what the cups are about and it's nice to have brought some of that magic back to the cup last year. 3rd round day is when there is maximum opportunity for the giants to be slayed, and you go into those games, where you are the bigger team, with everything to lose and nothing to really gain if you take the expected win. Last year we were grateful to have escaped against Bournemouth in the home leg, and then of course we won the replay.
On 4th round day as we were at Macclesfield avoiding the banana skin, many supporters were enjoying the throwback and reminiscing about old times, reminded of the capacity of the cup to provide an upset as non league Luton town sunk Norwich City. I was ill for the trip to Huddersfield and can still recall my body reeling between bouts of illness and adrenaline fuelled excitement as the goals went in and we took control the game. Against Everton there was an element of disbelief as we went 3 goals up and secured a day out at Wembley. That was a dream come true.
Going to Wembley had an air of trepidation as the senior club looking to progress to our first final, but enjoying the day out at the same time. Once Jordi slipped Callum in for the second, I was able to relax, and things just kept getting better. The big day out came and from the kick off, the genuine belief grew and grew. At the point Pablo Zabaletta went for a wander was the point where we became favourites, we had the extra man for extra time, and should be able to make it pay. Forget that, when Ben Watson scored the winner, the timing was perfect; you wound the giant when he hasn't got time to do anything about it.
I am not sure whether I feel more or less optimistic than I did this time last year. It's strange to think that we are the holders, and it can't possibly happen again this year, can it. A little piece of the dream is taken away with the feeling that we've had our turn, and it's someone else's year. On the other side of that coin, winning the FA Cup is no longer uncharted territory. We've been there and done it, and I'd like to do it again.
I had the dubious pleasure of touring Old Trafford this week, and I was filled with pride knowing that the copies of the FA Cup on display are indeed copies, because we are the current holders and have the 'real' cup.
The above articles first appeared in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 3rd January 2014 and are republished here with permission