Wigan's row with police has worrying implications

Wigan Athletic 1 - Ipswich Town 0
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The Independent Football

Dave Whelan entered the Wigan Athletic press room brandishing a paper with such purpose he could have been Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich. There was no sense of relief, however, nor proclamations of peace in our time. Instead, we were talking police on time and a half.

The paper that the Wigan chairman placed with quiet disgust on a table was a bill from Greater Manchester Police that made for worrying reading, not only for the incumbents of the JJB Stadium but for British football generally. The issue at stake is: how much should clubs pay for their matches to be policed?

Whelan believes he is being overcharged, the police say they are merely passing on the true cost and unless the dispute, which has been rumbling for 18 months, is resolved, Wigan's last home match this season will be against Millwall on Saturday. Today Manchester's finest are asking for the ground's safety certificate to be withdrawn because Wigan now owe GMP nearly £300,000, and if that request is granted no matches can be played at the JJB.

The dispute revolves around how different forces interpret cost. The bill smouldering on the table amounted to nearly £43,000 for Wigan's previous home game against Leeds United while Preston North End, 20 miles away but under a different police authority, were charged just £7,700 when they played host to the same opponents. "I just want things to be fair," Whelan said.

The bill made interesting reading and although clubs who reward mediocrity with weekly wages in their thousands should be the last to complain when constables are charged out at £46.23 per hour there are clear implications. If police forces want to be paid for officers on duty outside as well as inside the ground the cost to football is going to rocket. Wigan will surely have to pay to keep the JJB open; the attention will turn to other clubs when they do.

The costs can go in only one direction, too, if Wigan are promoted to the Premiership. The attendance was 16,744 for this match, a figure that will increase when the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool are in town and the number of constables on duty will need to increase, too. And after this game, the chances of that happening increased.

Wigan and Ipswich Town went into this game second and third in the Championship, level on 66 points, and finished it with the home side top of the table thanks to Nathan Ellington's cheekily chipped penalty after 43 minutes.

The visiting manager, Joe Royle, complained that the foul that had yielded the spot-kick had been outside the area, but he also was realistic enough to admit there was justice in the result. Wigan, who had six players unable to train on Thursday because of chest infections, rose to the occasion: to say Ipswich shrank from it would be to flatter them. Just one shot on target - and that an easily saved free-kick - was pathetic given the importance of this match.

And nowhere was the difference between the sides most apparent than up front. On paper Darren Bent and Shefki Kuqi (29 goals between them) should have provided a significant challenge to Ellington and Jason Roberts (38), but on the pitch the comparison was pale.

"You could argue the service they got was not great," Royle said, "but strikers have to make their own chances, too, and Wigan's did. At the moment we don't have a goal in us."

That makes it three defeats in succession for Ipswich and Royle has seen a six-point lead last month dribble away to a three-point deficit. Not only Whelan had the look of a man with the world on his shoulders on Saturday night.

Goal: Ellington (pen, 43) 1-0.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Filan; Eaden, Jackson (Wright, 39), Breckin, Baines; Teale (Graham, 82), Kavanagh (Jarrett, 69), Bullard, McCulloch; Roberts, Ellington. Substitutes not used: Walsh (gk), Johansson.

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Davis; Wilnis, Naylor, Unsworth, Richards; Miller, Westlake, Horlock (Couñago, 70), Currie (Magilton, 59); Kugi, Bent (Bowditch, h-t). Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Karbassi-Yoon.

Booked: Wigan Athletic: Kavanagh, Roberts.

Referee: G Laws (Tyne and Wear).

Man of the match: Roberts.

Attendance: 16,744.