The smallest club in the world’s most famous football league has pulled off more great escapes than Harry Houdini and Steve McQueen combined. The Premier League has never been kind to so-called little guys, but, then again, Wigan Athletic – the team from rugby-ville that plays in a half-empty stadium – has never been especially kind to the Premier League. These days, Wigan is irresistibly surreal, a mix of old-fashioned virtues and modern flare, like a 1930s Ford masquerading as Barcelona on wheels.
Wigan is fundamentally unattractive. It’s not that it’s an ugly part of the world, though it is, nor that it’s never boasted an established football team, though it hasn’t, but that a kind of glorified boredom hangs over the place. In Wigan, you suspect, it always rains, even during the Olympics. Current West Ham midfielder Mohamed Diame says the town is “crappy” and the girls aren’t great either. Wigan has always been associated with the classic meat pie, a footballing delicacy that has little to do with actual meat but is nevertheless the food item every proper fan eats at half time. The place is a shithole – only you can’t help but feel affection for it.