Ten years after winning the FA Cup, Wigan are riding their luck by avoiding a tailspin

Ian King
The DW Satdium, home of League One club Wigan Athletic

In the decade since they beat Manchester City in the cup final, Wigan have been relegated five times, won League One three times and been in administration.


It only took three days. The question of whether Wigan Athletic supporters should accept the trade-off of beating Manchester City in the FA Cup final if it meant staying in the Premier League had been treated as something of a joke in the run-up to the cup final itself. The Premier League season had two games remaining, and Wigan really needed to win both to have a realistic chance of staying up.

The question was, of course, a false binary. It was perfectly possible for Wigan to lose the FA Cup final and go down. If anything, that seemed like the most likely permutation, considering that the first of those two games was against an Arsenal team that had just leapfrogged back into fourth place, but with Spurs still just a point behind them. It was also possible that they could win the FA Cup and stay up. There was a case to be made that the psychological boost from such an unexpected win could carry them through those last two games.

Well, we all know how it actually transpired. Wigan beat Manchester City in the FA Cup final, a real throwback of a game won by a late flicked header scored by Ben Watson after City had been reduced to ten following the sending-off of Pablo Zabaleta for a second yellow card. But that lift never came. Three days later, Arsenal beat Wigan 4-1 at The Emirates Stadium. Results elsewhere opened the gap to four points, and Wigan Athletic had become the first team in the history of the game to win the FA Cup and get relegated in the same season.

If the ten years since then have proved anything, it’s that Wigan Athletic still don’t quite seem to know which division they should be in. Or, to perhaps put it slightly differently, that for their supporters the relative tranquillity of a mid-table season is something that happens to other clubs. No matter what division they’ve been playing in – a period which takes in the Premier League, the Championship and League One – they’ve only finished below the top five or above the bottom six once since 2009 and that came in 2019, when they finished 18th – 7th from bottom – in the Championship.

Since the 2013 FA Cup final, they’ve been the winners of League One three times, but have been relegated five times. Their defence of the FA Cup ended back at Wembley, and only after losing a semi-final shoot-out to Arsenal at the end of a run which also saw them beat Manchester City for a second year in a row. But they’ve also had points deductions issued against them three times, the last of which doesn’t even kick in until the start of next season.

On the same day that Wigan were relegated from the Premier League, the club would undergo a change which would cause them similar long-term ramifications with the announcement that Dave Whelan would be standing down, with his 23 year-old grandson David Sharpe taking his place. In 2018, the  family sold the club, stadium and training facilities to the Hong Kong-based International Entertainment Corporation (IEC) for £22m. The announcement was made 13 days after the end of the 2017/18 season which had seen Wigan win the second of their three post-Premier League titles. 

Over the five years since, the rollercoaster only seems to have become more exaggerated. In June 2020, with the season still ongoing, IEC sold the majority of Wigan Athletic shareholdings to the Hong Kong-based Next Leader Fund, but just four weeks later the club was put into administration after it was confirmed that the new owners of the club weren’t going to putting any money into it.

Dark rumours started to circulate that the club had been the victim of some sort of sting. A secret recording of a conversation between a fan and EFL chair Rick Parry had found Parry claiming that the league were aware of suspicious betting patterns on Wigan getting relegated. Despite local MP Lisa Nandy and the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham writing to Parry to request an investigation, no further action has ever been taken, and this very strange incident now seems to be half-forgotten. But the costs were real. On July 7 2020, 75 (approximately half) of the club’s non-playing staff were made redundant by the administrators.

Wigan’s appeal against their 12-point deduction was unsuccessful, and at the hearings it emerged that the new owners had discussed putting the club into administration in a conversation with Begbies Traynor the day before the sale was announced. It was claimed that Au Yeung Wai Kay was “not open” with club officials. At a board meeting on June 24, he failed to disclose his conversation with Begbies Traynor the previous day, and on the 26th and 29th gave “either false or knowingly misleading” assurances about future funding. 

All concerned blamed the pandemic, but the entire episode left a considerably greater number of questions than answers. Why buy the club only to put it into administration? Why bother buying it in the first place? What of this talk about betting patterns? If that talk is as straightforward to dismiss as the EFL’s comments on the subject have seemed to suggest, why hasn’t there been a full explanation of whatever it was that he was talking about?

Coming on top of the expulsion of Bury less than a year earlier and the collapse of Macclesfield Town, who folded in the middle of September 2020 – just weeks after falling out of League Two – it was a period when it felt as though precious few lessons had been learnt.

The sale of the club to a consortium called Phoenix 2021 Ltd, led by Bahrain businessmen Abdulrahman Al-Jasmi and Talal Mubarak al-Hammad, was finally completed at approved at the end of March 2021, but the roller-coaster has continued since then. Wigan became the League One champions again in 2022, but yet again the Championship has proved too much for them. Player and staff wages have been repeatedly paid late throughout the season – it’s up to five times, at the current count – while their chances of survival at this level were effectively put out of reach by a three-point deduction incurred over these ongoing issues, while the club has now also been slapped with a four-point deduction for 2024/25, and a further four points, suspended to the end of next season, subject to the club paying everyone on time every month next season.

And how likely, Wigan supporters may perfectly reasonably ask, is that? After all, if the club has been unable to get wages paid on time during the season, when there is some form of regular income coming into the club, how is that supposed to happen throughout the summer? And if the answer to that is ‘season ticket money’, well…okay, but spending all of that money on keeping the club afloat throughout the summer only raises questions about what happens in the autumn, the winter, and next spring.

The owners of the club have repeatedly stated their commitment to the club, but this hasn’t yet been translated in actually ensuring that the club has the money to fulfil its most basic financial obligation, to pay the staff in full and on time. What assurances are there that this situation is to change?

Because while this sort of wild up and down ride can be exhilarating, the downs of such a journey can threaten the very existence of the football club. The trappings of failure are forming yet again at Wigan Athletic. The relegation. The unpaid wages. The high manager turnover, including the high-profile name who only lasted nine matches.

To a point, it should be acknowledged that every relegation could become the first chapter in a tailspin, and perhaps the biggest surprise of the recent history of Wigan Athletic has been that none of their post-Premier League relegations have resulted in one of these. Every time we end up in this position, the chances of pulling out of it are diminished slightly further. Going into the summer, and not for the first time over the last decade, how lucky do Wigan Athletic feel?