New feature begins with look back at Latics’ first season in Division Three following the club’s first Football League promotion in 1982.
- Latics finish 18th, a point above the relegation zone after going winless in their final five games.
- Larry Lloyd’s side thankful to 16 league goals from Eamonn O’Keefe and 12 from Peter Houghton.
- Lloyd sacked towards the end of the campaign, Harry McNally took charge after director Sir Bobby Charlton had brief caretaker spell.
Just promoted for the first time as a Football League club, how about this for a pre-season campaign for Wigan Athletic?
East Fife, Swansea City, China, Stoke City and Everton, who would go on to beat European Champions Aston Villa 5-0 a week later, all-visited newly promoted Latics at Springfield in August 1982, and from the team-sheets, which you can access by clicking the team names, you can see the level of opposition boss Larry Lloyd wanted to test his side against.
Notable names including Neville Southall, Kevin Ratcliffe, Alan Irvine,, Graham Sharp, Steve Bould, Paul Bracewell and Sammy McIlroy all visited Springfield in pre-season with Everton and Stoke City respectively.
The opening day of the 1982-83 season saw Latics manager Lloyd make three changes to the starting XI that finished the previous campaign with a 2-0 defeat at Aldershot Town.
Graham Barrow, who had been a regular throughout the Division Four promotion campaign, returned whilst Everton loanee Paul Lodge and John Rogers, in his second spell with the club after five years with Altrincham, were also selected. Those to miss out were Jimmy Weston (unused), Brian Taylor (loan spell from Preston North End finished) and Mark Wignall (released but fondly remembered for double in 4-2 League Cup win over Chelsea).
Mark Wignall was released at the end of the 1981-82 season, but will always be remembered for his double in a 4-2 League Cup win over Chelsea at Springfield.
That opening day fixture at Sincil Bank ended in a 2-1 defeat with George Shipley’s double, including a controversial penalty, outdoing Les Bradd’s opener.
Over 5,000 spectators were at Springfield for the first home game of the campaign as Peter Houghton and an Eamonn O’Keefe penalty – after a retake - gave Latics a 2-1 half-time lead against Brentford, Terry Mahoney had opened the scoring for the visitors. Lodge bagged another penalty for the hosts – after O’Keefe had missed his third spot-kick of the match and Alan Whitehead was sent off for the Bees. Francis Joseph scored for the ten men set up a tense finish, though Latics held firm for a 3-2 victory.
Three days later, Latics were in home action again, as Bradford City visited Springfield as two John’s (Butler and Rogers) bagged either side of another Houghton strike for another 3-2 victory.
A third consecutive five-goal thriller of the week followed, this time Latics on the wrong side in South Wales as Cardiff ran out winners despite strikes from Houghton and Rogers.
A home defeat to AFC Bournemouth and a defeat at Chesterfield left Latics in 19th place after six games, though a memorable 6-3 win at Doncaster Rovers, managed by Leeds United legend Billy Bremner, on the final day of the month helped Lloyd’s side to get back on track.
Houghton’s treble was crucial to the success in Yorkshire, with Bradd, O’Keefe and Colin Methven also on target and Archie Gemmill, Derby County and Scotland legend, impressing on just his second appearance for the club after signing from Jacksonville Tea Men in the NASL, he would only stay briefly, though, returning to the Baseball Ground mid-season to link up with Peter Taylor once again.
Comprehensive Springfield successes over Plymouth Argyle (3-0) and Southend United (4-0) followed as Lloyd’s side sat in eighth position after nine league fixtures.
Peter Houghton, who had seven goals in the first nine Third Division games of the season, in action against Plymouth Argyle.
Latics had 23 goals in nine games, with Houghton, Bradd and O’Keefe proving absolutely ruthless in front of goal – I wonder what odds you would have got then on Latics scoring just twice in their next five and, on top of that, losing all of them!
Trips to Bristol Rovers (4-0), Reading (2-1) and Exeter City (2-1) all ended in defeat with the goals against the Royals and the Grecians coming from Bradd and Jimmy Weston.
Future star David Lowe would make his debut in the defeat in Berkshire whilst Steve Walsh made his Latics bow in the following fixture, a 1-0 home defeat to Newport County.
Steve Walsh on his Latics debut against Newport County.
Latics next registered a point in early November as Houghton opened the scoring in a 1-1 draw at Orient [now Leyton Orient] in the first-ever game between the two sides with Kevin Godfrey levelling for the hosts.
Another London club, this time Millwall, were on the agenda for Latics in their next Division Three affair with the Lions coming up to Springfield only to be put to the sword by a dominant Houghton as he notched twice in a 3-1 success after Les Bradd had opened the scoring.
Wins in this campaign often came around like those buses in the capital and that was to be the case again as Kevin Langley and Lowe opened their Wigan Athletic accounts in a 2-0 win at Gillingham before ‘Lowey’ was again on the score-sheet in a 3-2 home win over Sheffield United with Jim Steel bagging a double in his second, and final, appearance of a loan spell from Oldham Athletic.
Like the wins coming along in packages, the winless runs seemed to develop at pace and that was the case at Christmas as Oxford United and Walsall won at Springfield either side of a draw at Wrexham and heavy 4-1 defeat at Preston on New Years’ Day.
Latics reacted to that loss to their local rivals with a 2-0 home success over Huddersfield Town, who would go on to get promoted, and three more wins – at Brentford and Bradford either side of a home win over Lincoln.
Lloyd’s programme notes for the visit of struggling Doncaster Rovers at the end of January explained that the influx of young players like Lowe and Walsh had been responsible for the upturn in form.
However, that run of four successive victories was ended against Rovers, who were relegated at the end of the season, and Latics would win just once – a 1-0 home win over Exeter thanks to an O’Keefe goal – in their next ten games and Lloyd was sacked ahead of home game with Wrexham with Latics just four places above the relegation zone.
Alex Cribley, Barrow and Houghton were on the mark for Latics in a 3-1 win after David Gregory had given the Welsh side a half-time lead, in what was Sir Bobby Charlton’s first game in charge of the club on a caretaker basis alongside Harry McNally.
Larry Lloyd, who signed for Latics as player-manager from Nottingham Forest in 1981, was sacked following First Division Notts County towards the end of the 1982-83 campaign.
Charlton and McNally’s side still travelled to Plymouth Argyle, after picking up just one point from fixtures with Sheffield United and Cardiff City, not yet safe, though O’Keefe and Butler were on the mark to secure a second victory for the caretaker managers.
Director Sir Bobby Charlton, who took over from Larry Lloyd on a caretaker basis alongside Harry McNally, watches on as Lloyd celebrated Division Four promotion.
Latics would only win one of their final five fixtures, but they picked up three points from draws with Gillingham, AFC Bournemouth and Huddersfield to secure safety with Wrexham losing to fellow strugglers Reading on the last day.