The balance of power appears to be shifting on the playing fields of Wigan. In a town where rugby league has long been king, football is edging ahead in popularity.
Paul Jewell's side arrived at the summit of the Nationwide First Division on Tuesday night - dizzy heights for a club that entered the Football League 25 years ago. A crowd of 12,874 saw Wigan make it five successive league wins by beating West Bromwich Albion 1-0, with a goal from their new signing Geoff Horsfield, who cost £1m when he arrived from Birmingham last week. That crowd was 1,759 more than the one that watched the rugby league side when they played Hull last week.
Both share the 25,000-capacity JJB Stadium, a complex studded with top-class facilities. Now the football club is beginning to look like the one that is the most likely to fill it, a situation that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. During the glory years between 1988 and 1995, the Warriors had average crowds of 14,500 at Central Park, which is now a supermarket.
The football team only attracted a few thousand, but in 1995 the landscape began to change when Dave Whelan bought the club after building up the JJB sports empire. With Whelan as the chairman and Jewell at the helm, Wigan romped to the Second Division title last season. And despite losing to Millwall on the opening day, they are on a roll again.
Whelan's millions have helped transform the club but Jewell claims it is the work ethic, not the money, that is the driving force.
"We are labelled big-spending Wigan. That is not true," the former Sheffield Wednesday and Bradford manager said. "We are simply hard-working and we all enjoy working together. This is a working-class football club where people do not get carried away."
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