“They’re closing Whelan’s,” garbled my gran, wiping away a small tear.
I hadn’t the heart to tell her that Uncle DeeDub sold his discount stores to a well-known high street supermarket way back in 1978. But to her, that shop in the Galleries had always remained Whelan’s – I guess that like a work experience kid, the human brain finds it difficult to process change.
Coincidentally(?), ’78 was the year Wigan Athletic were elected to the Football League. From its privileged vantage point near Mesnes Park, this current incarnation of Whelan’s Discount Stores has witnessed countless crazy comebacks and spectacular shocks during its 38-year lifespan, at both the Springfield Shed and the Robin Park Pie Dome.
But please don’t think I’m citing this as a horrible, horrible omen for Wigan Athletic FC. Perish the thought, dear reader! With results like this each week, you have little to worry about. (Coughs nervously.)
Christmas in January
Emerging from the concourse, awestruck spectators were treated to Christmas storybook scenes as the snow glistened beneath the warm glow of golden floodlights. Evidently infused with waves of nostalgia, Latics felt it only right to provide football to match.
The opening fifteen set a ‘cops ‘n’ robbers’ tone, with the hosts playing the role of burglars. Their trophy was a 30-yard Max Power chartbuster, which stood alone as the goal of the week among twelve at the DW Stadium. At the very least, it was certainly worthy of the stadium announcer’s disbelieving ‘wow’.
But of course, there was still time for Our Max’s marmaliser to be eclipsed by even better efforts.
Jay O’Shea was well aware of this. He swerved one into the jelly-like hands of Jussi Jääskeläinen, who expertly threaded his save between two advancing forwards. At least, I’d like to give him credit for that – it could just as easily be blind luck that he bisected them perfectly. But we’ll say he meant it.
Fetch the joysticks
Meanwhile, controlmeister Haris Vuckic was desperately trying to unjam the X button on his joypad. No matter how hard he mashed the other buttons, he simply could not get his player to shoot at goal, and it was beginning to cost the hosts valuable Playstation Points.
But this paled into significance alongside two goals in the space of one incredible minute, which is an amazing feat when you consider the 40 seconds Latics spent celebrating their first.
Reece James’ attempt may have struck a defender on its way past Tommy Lee – certainly, the ball seemed to loop uncomfortably into North Stand goal. But debutant Reece Wabara, who created the assist with some highly entertaining WWF-style wrestling on the right, cared not for such insignificant detail.
For the first time, 1,000+ travelling Chesterfield supporters were silenced. In truth, this goal was the only thing that was ever going to stop their post-Xmas party.
And about 7 or 8 touches later, the ball came to rest inside the luckless Lee’s netting once again. Haris Vuckic conjured the velvety through ball that broke the Spireites’ back, and Michael Jacobs collected a richly earned goal for his very own rapidly increasing tally. The injured Lil’ Willie Grigg shook his fist in faux annoyance, for he now had company at the top of the scoring charts.
We need one more!
Vuckic evidently found a replacement controller at half time, as he immediately produced two (admittedly ill-advised) attempts that threatened only the stewards at the back of SS2. And it was contagious – Michael Jacobs also became a gibbering jelly-legged wreck when through on goal. Or perhaps he was attempting to waste time and boot the ball over the stadium gates?
The introduction of Rai Simons shortly after the hour mark brought a renewed urgency to Chesterfield’s forward line. Jussi’s limbs creaked as they stretched to reach a creditable effort, causing the travelling support to moan in approval.
And when Ollie Banks shot through the Finn on 79 minutes, certain home spectators spent a good minute staring anxiously at the entrancing snowfall. By this point, ES7 was an absolute mess, and for good reason – sub Yanic Wildschut was playing as an out-and-out defender as the visitors had seized total control of possession.
But they remained two goals down, and Wigan were keen on grinding the game to a necessary halt. Jussi semi-begrudgingly accepted a yellow card for his (admittedly only slightly slower than usual) ‘man walking through quicksand’ impressions. By which I mean he only muttered profanities about the ref when he wasn’t listening. Good restraint.
Only four minutes of additional time plus a brace of corners lay between Latics and seven points from a potential nine. But for one final time, just like so many previous times, Chesterfield could not muster an effort to smash the obstinate Wigan statues. I guess those three goal comebacks are harder than you think, hmm?