From the touchline at Portman Road, John Sheridan struggled as he searched for a positive spin on an opening-day defeat and tried to avoid the complexities of the broader situation at Wigan Athletic.
‘It’s important not to keep bringing it up,’ said Sheridan. ‘I’m trying to stop the lads from thinking about it but it’s difficult. You’ve just got to put your arms around them, keep them going and trust we can turn the corner.’
This was supposed to have been the campaign when Wigan set their sights on a return to the Premier League with an ambitious and fast-improving young team assembled by Paul Cook.
Wigan Athletic feels like a club that has been set back 20 years after entering administration
Instead, they are back in League One, relegated following a 12-point deduction and entering a 75th day in administration.
Cook has quit, there have been more than 70 redundancies behind the scenes and Kal Naismith is the only player still at the club from those who started against Fulham on the final day of last season. The training complex, purchased from Bolton when Bolton were in financial peril, has now been sold to Preston, a symbol of fluctuating fortunes for some famous clubs in the North West.
‘It’s very difficult for the supporters, isn’t it,’ said Sheridan. ‘They had a top, top manager and he has ended up leaving for no reason whatsoever. They were an excellent team, they finished in the middle of the Championship. Things have changed a lot in a short space of time.’
The club were torn apart on the opening day of League One in a 2-0 defeat away to Ipswich
Jason Taylor of the Wigan Athletic Supporters Club reckons the events since July 1 have ‘set the club back 20 years’ to the early days of Dave Whelan’s ownership.
Fans have launched a rescue fund, raising close to £700,000, in the hope of buying a future stake in their club but some have turned their anger on the administrators for failing to find new owners.
Local public figures including MP Lisa Nandy and Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham, have been critical of Begbies Traynor, and a group of fans calling themselves Wigan Athletic Grievance Society protested outside the company’s Manchester HQ on Friday.
‘We can’t do a deal until there’s a deal on the table,’ insisted Paul Stanley, one of the co-administrators. ‘Politicians piping up with ill-informed comments don’t actually help the process.’
Young and ambitious team assembled by Paul Cook seems a long time ago
Wigan were losing £800,000 a month when Hong Kong owner Au Yeung Wai Kay pulled the plug on July 1. There were deferred wages to pay once football restarted and limited income streams with no crowds, no season-ticket sales and a transfer market yet to open.
The money raised by fans helped pay the wages of non-playing staff, and three promising academy players were sold. In one sense, Wigan were fortunate to have a team packed with desirable assets but they found few favours around in the football family.
Chelsea, in the midst of a £200million spending spree, refused to pay less than £20,000 in compensation for coach Anthony Barry who joined Frank Lampard’s backroom staff last month.
The administrators hoped a wealthy Premier League club might show goodwill and deduct it from outstanding payments on a loan fee due for Dujon Sterling but Chelsea declined in the knowledge Barry would be out of work soon enough as Wigan cut the staff.
Sheffield United shook hands on a £3m deal for Antonee Robinson, who was poised to join AC Milan in January for a fee starting at £6m, but relegation triggered a clause allowing the left back to leave for less than £2m.
The Blades reduced their bid accordingly and Robinson eventually joined Fulham for £2m.
Antonee Robinson and Kieffer Moore both departed the crisis club for cut-price figures
‘When a club is on the way down, it seems as though everyone takes a kick,’ said Stanley.
Yeung agreed to waive a £36m loan, which eased the pressure, but the bulk of the money brought in by selling players was owed to other clubs for previous transfer fees. The wage bill is down from £10m to about £2m, and that should be the end of the exodus. There may even be scope for reinforcements.
Danny Fox and Josh Clarke, signed last week, were not ready to play at Ipswich, where seven players made their league debuts for Wigan as Teddy Bishop and Gwion Edwards clinched a 2-0 win for the home team.
Sheridan, who arrived from Waterford on Friday, believes ‘three of four’ new players would make the team competitive.
‘It’s a good opportunity for me,’ said the 55-year-old. ‘I will work hard and push myself and hopefully get them back to winning ways.’
But Sheridan knows the territory in League One. He knows this is a tall order for a skeleton staff and a team patched together at a club with no owners. It was not supposed to be this way.