Football - FA Cup winners Wigan, Whelan target top flight survival

Success or failure in sport is never down to just one person but it is no exaggeration to say that without chairman Dave Whelan, Wigan Athletic would not have won the FA Cup for the first time on Saturday or spent the last eight years as a Premier League club.

Reuters

Whelan put Wigan on the soccer map and believes they can also keep their place in the top flight after their stunning 1-0 Cup final victory over Manchester City at Wembley on Saturday.

Wigan, who have battled relegation for the last three seasons, are a club from a small northern town, situated close to Manchester and Liverpool.

Overshadowed by both those soccer hotbeds for decades, Wigan also live in the shadow of their more illustrious rugby league neighbours, Wigan Warriors, with whom they now groundshare.

Whelan is a born battler and, unusually for a chairman, was in the limelight almost as much as manager Roberto Martinez and his players during Saturday's FA Cup final victory.

At the age of 23, Whelan broke his leg playing for Blackburn Rovers in the 1960 FA Cup final against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Wembley, an injury that ended his top flight career and his ambitions of playing for England.

"It is a dream come true of course," he told reporters after Saturday's win, "and especially after the heartbreak of what happened here in 1960 it's especially moving. It just proves what you can achieve if you have a dream and believe it can come true."

Whelan was sold to Fourth Division side Crewe Alexandra two years after his leg break, but with the compensation he got from Blackburn following his injury he bought a grocery business, which would prove to be the start of a hugely successful nationwide business career that turned him into a multi-millionaire.

'REMARKABLE DAY'

He bought Wigan in 1995 when they were in the Third Division and victory on Saturday was the crowning glory of his footballing career.

"It is the most remarkable day, and I have to say we thoroughly deserved it. Roberto is a top manager who did a wonderful job for this club as a player and now as a manager.

"When the day comes for him to tell me he wants to leave for a bigger club I will understand that, of course I will, but right now he is our manager and we have two vital games to play to stay in the Premier League, so I am not opening the champagne yet."

Martinez has been touted as a possible replacement for Everton manager David Moyes, who is leaving Goodison Park to replace Alex Ferguson at Manchester United next season.

Wigan are now looking to avoid adding an unwanted footnote to FA Cup folklore. Five clubs, including Manchester City in 1926, have appeared in the FA Cup final, lost and also been relegated. None of them have won the FA Cup and gone down.

Wigan want to avoid becoming the first.

They play at Arsenal on Tuesday and host Aston Villa in their last Premier League match next Sunday.

Currently they are 18th in the Premier League on 35 points and realistically cannot afford to drop any more points to avoid the drop.

Ben Watson, who came off the bench to score the winning goal on Saturday, believes Wigan can survive.

"We went to Arsenal last season and won there, and after this victory over City I think anything is possible for Wigan Athletic," he told reporters after the game.

"Yes we are elated to have won the Cup and yes we will be in the Europa League next season for the first time, but we have to survive in the Premier League, and with the chairman we have and the manager we have, we are capable of doing that."

When Whelan bought Wigan, who had only been elected to the Football League in 1978, he promised he would get them into the top flight, a notion that seemed fanciful at the time but one they achieved by 2005.

He funded the construction of a new stadium to replace their old Springfield Park ground in 1999 and brought in some fine players to the club over the last 18 years as they rose through the divisions.

It would be a terrible irony if, at the time of their greatest success, they fail to avoid the drop.

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