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GOOD LUCK TO LEIGHTON BAINES AND ENGLAND FOR THE WORLD CUP

14 June 2014

Former Youth team player Leighton Baines is club history maker at the World Cup in Brazil

Wigan Athletic supporters will have a lump in their throat on Saturday night when England take on Brazil in Manaus in the opening group match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup – and not just because they are all good patriotic sorts.

If Everton full-back Leighton Baines lines up as expected for the Three Lions, it will mark a special moment for Wigan Athletic: the first time a club product has played in the World Cup.

Baines became a scholar at the age of 16 in 2001 following his release from Everton and a career that could have headed out of the game forever like so many do at that age was rescued by then manager of Wigan’s Centre of Excellence, David Crompton.

Crompton had been at the club for over 20 years and in his time had brought through the likes of Peter Atherton,  Joe Parkinson and Alan Johnson in the 80s and Matty Carragher, Michael Millet and Greg Strong in the 90s. He clearly saw something in the younger Liverpudlian that caught the eye, and maybe had the foresight to see beyond his physical size.

Baines’ talent was evident from the very start, forcing his way into Paul Jewell’s plans at the age of just 17.

His debut came as a 90th minute substitute in the 3-1 Worthington Cup victory over Premiership West Bromwich Albion at the JJB Stadium in October 2002, and he then started in the LDV Vans Trophy win away at Notts County three weeks later. His first league game came after another month in a 2-0 win at Oldham Athletic (pictured below), four days after his 18th birthday.



He was forced to battle it out with the far more experienced Steve McMillan for the left back slot over the course of the next year or two but as the Scot had a bad run with injuries, so Baines’ class told and he became a mainstay of the side that rose all the way to the Barclays Premiership.

He didn’t score many goals, but when they came they were pretty special; who can forget his 40 yard screamer at Ipswich in December 2004 or his free-kick against Manchester United in October 2006? He scored another stunner against Tottenham in a 3-3 draw at the JJB and his penalty at Old Trafford on Boxing Day 2006 remains the only goal the club has ever scored at Old Trafford.

His departure in the summer of 2007 was something of an inevitability for the player voted both the supporters and the players’ player of the season, and it was a bitter sweet experience. A sad day because we were losing a really good servant who notched league 145 games, but a proud day that a product of the club fetched a total fee of £6 million – a record that stands to this day.

He was capped at Under 21 level for England whilst still at Latics, in fact playing the first ever match at the new Wembley, a 3-3 draw versus Italy (an omen?). His first full cap came in 2009, by which time he had established himself at Everton.

Bainsey is one of those players who was always cheered on his return to the club (despite his annoying habit of scoring penalties against us) because he has always talked about the crucial role Wigan Athletic played in his development.

He would probably have notched many more England caps had it not been for Ashley Cole, but now he has his chance to shine on the biggest stage of all. He has worked incredibly hard to get where he is today and everyone at Wigan Athletic wishes him all the best in Brazil.

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