Latics personalities past and present unite to pay tribute to Dave Whelan.Famous Wigan Athletic faces from the club’s past, present and future gathered to pay tribute to outgoing Chairman Dave Whelan at an emotional DW Stadium last night.
The sold-out Dinner With Dave Whelan was held in honour of outgoing Chairman Dave Whelan, to celebrate twenty incredible years which saw the former JJB Sports owner purchase fourth tier Latics in 1995 and take us all the way to the Barclays Premier League, winning the FA Cup and qualifying for the UEFA Europa League.
The Whelan Wigan story will forever remain as one of football’s most amazing real life fairy tales and last night a packed audience heard stories and tributes from down the years from the people who helped to make the dream a reality.
The event was hosted by popular Sky Sports News presenter Peter Stevenson and first to be interviewed was current Assistant manager Graham Barrow, who was the manager when Mr Whelan first came to the club:
“He said we’d be in the Premiership in 10 years, and we all laughed! But you soon understood that here was a man who always got what he wanted – and so it proved.
“To see how far the club has come is quite incredible but if anyone could have achieved that it was Dave Whelan. It’s been a privilege to be involved in the story.”
Former striker and Assistant manager Graeme Jones was next to step on to the stage and said:
“Mr Whelan’s had a big impact in my life. For a start he was the only one daft enough to pay £150,000 for me, which was serious money between two third tier clubs in those days. That was where my relationship with the club started and wherever I end up, Wigan Athletic will always be in my blood – and that’s down to him.”
The Club’s current Operations Manager Matt Jackson talked about the amazing team spirit which Paul Jewell’s double promotion side possessed. He said it was down to the time Mr Whelan gave Jewell to build a team.
“He told the squad that the manager will be here for a lot longer than some of them would – and that was a typically powerful message. Paul was able to construct a team in his making, a fabulous team with some great players, although at times it was Jimmy Bullard and fifteen babysitters.”
Bullard himself sent a video message, raising a bottle of beer to Mr Whelan: “You were the best chairman I ever had, no question.”
Former manager Steve Bruce also sent a message, thanking Mr Whelan for giving him two spells in management, the first of which, he revealed, came at a time when he was contemplating leaving the game:
“You were the first real chairman I worked for, who cared deeply about his club and understood the game, who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t been given that chance at Wigan? Enjoy your retirement although I don’t suppose you will ever retire completely.”
Current Everton manager Roberto Martinez, who was present in person, then pointed towards the special relationship he had with Dave Whelan:
“Wigan’s a place where my life changed,” he said, “and that was down to Mr Whelan. He had the faith to bring us to England and trust us, three young Spaniards, to represent his club, and you could always see his vision for the future was the driving force at the club.
“When I was offered the chance to come back and he told me that no matter what happened I would still be managing the team in four years, I knew I wanted to come and work for Mr Whelan. And for that chance I will always be grateful because we achieved a lot.”
Current Manager Gary Caldwell spoke about the aura that Mr Whelan had around the club from the day he arrived as a player and how he will always feel a part of a club where he enjoyed such success on the field and where he has been able to start his managerial career.
“It is a club where you feel you belong right away and that is down to Mr Whelan.
“Now we have a chance to rebuild for the future because the reality is that we are in League One and that is not good enough for this club. It’s a challenge we have to embrace and enjoy.”
Wigan Athletic Chairman David Sharpe, who took over from his grandfather in March, said:
“No one will ever step into his shoes, he is an impossible act to follow and what he has achieved at this club is incredible.
“It’s a new era for the club now with Gary in charge and we have to do everything we can to get back to the Championship at the first attempt.”
The evening came to a rousing close when Dave Whelan himself took to the floor and said:
“It has been an incredible twenty years and I have enjoyed every minute of it. We’ve had some ups and we’ve had some downs but the way we have taken this club from the Fourth Division to the Premiership, the FA Cup and Europe has been an incredible journey.
“The reality is that age has began to catch up with me and the time is right to be handing the reins over to David. He has the club running through his veins and I have no doubt he will lead us into the new era alongside Gary with success.
“Finally I’d like to thank our fantastic supporters who have been loyal throughout my time at the club and deserve to have the club back in the big time.”
Thank you, Mr Whelan.