Former England international, who led Latics in the early 70s as player-manager, recalls the importance of Latics’ 1-0 defeat to Manchester City at Maine Road in 1971.
- INTERVIEW: Former Wigan Athletic player-manager Gordon Milne on 1971 clash with Monday night’s opponents Manchester City
- Milne spoke to Latics’ official match programme ahead of the game – buy here
- Former Liverpool midfielder Milne tells Latics: “The team that I took to Maine Road was the beginning of something, making steps into the future and where the club is now, and I like to think like that and think we all played a little part.”
Wigan Athletic’s award-winning match programme includes a special interview with the club’s former player-manager Gordon Milne on Monday night.
Milne, who was capped 14 times by England, was Latics’ player-manager in 1971 when we reached the Third Round of the FA Cup and travelled to Maine Road to face Joe Mercer’s League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup holders, who boasted names such as Colin Bell, Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee in their ranks.
Non-League Latics, plying their trade in the Northern Premier League, went down 1-0 on the day as goalkeeper Dennis Reeves saw his boot split as he cleared into the path of the City attack, with Bell finishing off to give Mercer’s side the win.
But Milne and his side drew plaudits for their performance, in which he said he changed very little from the club’s successful Northern Premier League campaign.
Dennis Reeves, Billy Sutherland, Ian Gillibrand and Doug Coutts in action at Maine Road.
“My view is quite simple,” Milne explained. “Once you get a team playing a certain way and into a system two things happen; firstly you win matches and secondly your players get confidence, which is probably more important in many ways.
“So if you change that, you are asking the players to do something they haven’t done before and that isn’t conducive to playing well. You can ask players to adapt a little bit, but don’t change things or over-complicate them. We were very conscious of Manchester City and the ability they had that day but we stuck to our guns and it turned out to be a very good performance, albeit we lost 1-0.”
The importance of the performance of the players that day isn’t lost on Milne, who acknowledged he benefitted personally due to the FA Cup run, with Mercer a huge help to him a few years down the line.
Francis Lee heads for goal for City
“It was a big day for me personally,” Milne continued. “I had played for England and Liverpool and been at the top level myself as a player but this was a game that played a huge part in starting my career as a manager.
“Joe Mercer, who I later went on to work with at Coventry City, was the Manchester City manager that day and he, and Malcolm Allison, said some nice things about us after the game, which gave me a huge source of pride because we were a team of part-time players – that meant a lot to us, the City players were very respectful towards us.
“There is no question in my mind that, without what happened that day, I may not have gone on to manage Coventry City with Joe because the performance of the team at Maine Road did my reputation many favours."
The team that I took to Maine Road was the beginning of something, making steps into the future and where the club is now, and I like to think like that and think we all played a little part. I would hope Wigan fans of my age would have tremendous pride in the journey the club has been on having been through that era.
It was a further seven years before Latics were elected to the Football League, but Milne feels performances like the one against City from his side earned respect for the club, which later proved beneficial.
“The club now is unrecognisable in many ways from the one I was involved with, albeit I am sure a lot of the same faces are still watching – the club very much had a family feel,” Milne said.
“I feel part of that journey, though; I don’t think I would be being over-romantic with saying it but it was similar to when I was at Liverpool as a player at the beginning of the Shankly era, which of course was the early stages of what the club became through the 70s, 80s and beyond.
“When I came to Wigan, it was a club relying on its supporters and people like Stan Jackson who was going into his own pocket to fix the boiler so we had hot water for training on Thursday nights.
“The team that I took to Maine Road was the beginning of something, making steps into the future and where the club is now, and I like to think like that and think we all played a little part. I would hope Wigan fans of my age would have tremendous pride in the journey the club has been on having been through that era.”