Wigan's new era ushered in by another local boy made good

Self-made millionaire Ian Lenagan has eagerly taken on the task of reviving the once-great club after buying out Dave Whelan, writes Dave Hadfield
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The Independent Online

An era has ended at Wigan, with one self-made local multi-millionaire picking up the banner from another in the quest to bring back the glory days at the club. Ian Lenagan, who went from the mean streets of Scholes, at the rough end of the town, to build and float on the stock market a computer empire, was confirmed yesterday as the club's new chairman, having bought 89 per cent of its shares from Dave Whelan.

Also standing down is Maurice Lindsay, who, apart from a stint running the Rugby League and Super League, has been on the board since 1979 and has been synonymous with much of the club's success.

Lenagan and his chief executive, the former Wigan player and football manager, Joe Lydon, take over officially on 1 December. Lenagan will cease to be chairman of Harlequins, where the two have been working together for the last six months, although he will retain his 65 per cent shareholding there for a maximum of two years, or until a suitable buyer emerges.

"I'm buying Wigan because I want to run Wigan," he said. "I've been successful in business and I want to bring that here."

Lenagan's first memory as a Wigan fan is the 1958 Challenge Cup final against Workington, although, as a man who has always been ahead of the game, he remembered it yesterday as being in 1957.

"I've supported them at every final they've been in since then and I've shared in the pride and passion of everything that is Wigan," he said.

He warned, however, that he would not be able to wave a magic wand over a club that has struggled to compete with the best over the last few years and even faced the indignity of a struggle against relegation last year.

"We are extremely constrained by the salary cap," he said pointedly. "We have no player signings to announce and we have limited resources. We would like to spend more but we have no intention of breaking our salary cap."

Lenagan revealed that the club had only around £140,000 left in the budget for new players. "Enough for one good player, or two reasonable players," he said.

That is not exactly good news for the Wigan coach, Brian Noble, who has a year left on his contract and admitted that the long drawn-out saga of the change of ownership had finally been concluded.

"I'm very positive about the future of the club," he said, but, as well as major recruitment, there was no mention of an extension.

Lenagan had dampened down any unrealistic expectations by describing 2008 as a year of consolidation and appealing for patience from the fans. "We're here for the long-term," he said.

That certainly seems to apply to the club's tenure at the JJB Stadium, which is owned by Whelan. Part of the delay in completing the change of ownership was in order to thrash out an extra 25-year lease which gives Wigan guaranteed use of the ground they share with Wigan Athletic until 2050, as well as the freehold of their training complex at Orrell.

What is less easy to predict is what now happens to Harlequins. Lenagan was the latest in a line of benefactors who have helped to keep the loss-making London club going, but he is not allowed, because of potential conflicts of interest, to continue to run it. He would, he said, maintain "a passive financial interest" until he could divest himself of his shares.

The future of the club should be somewhat clearer after a press conference at The Stoop on Monday, but there are no fears at the Rugby League that they will be unable to start next season in reasonable health. "If it was not for Harlequins, I would not be taking over as chairman of Wigan today," said Lenagan, insisting that he would leave the club in good hands.

Messrs Whelan and Lindsay were equally adamant that their priority had been to pass on their club to the right successors. "We said that if we didn't get success we would move on and we didn't get success," said Whelan, who is also chairman of Wigan Athletic, with typical bluntness.

It was an emotional day for him, he said, but probably even more so for Lindsay, who joined the board as a go-getting 38-year-old when it was on its way to the Second Division and rode roughshod over all and sundry in his determination to make Wigan the most successful club the game had ever seen.

His impact on the game, at Wigan and in his national roles, has been immeasurable. Full-time professionalism, summer rugby and the advent of Super League have all borne the Lindsay stamp of bold innovation.

When it came to reminiscing yesterday, he could only reduce his short-list of favourite memories to three: the 1985 Challenge Cup final – still regarded as the best-ever and the first won by Wigan for 20 years; the World Club Challenge victory over Manly two years later; and Great Britain's win over Australia in Melbourne in 1982, a win achieved with an all-Wigan pack.

"I can't narrow it down any further than that and, when it comes to a favourite player, I'd have to say Ellery Hanley. I had my rows with him, but he was a great leader."

Apart from his losing battles with the salary cap, Lindsay has not been in good health for some time and will now take a rest abroad.

"It's no use pretending that you've got the same energy at 67," he said, with the air of a man with a weight lifted from his shoulders.

With one final irony, he remains a director of the football club that he once regarded as the enemy. With his determination not to cramp Lenagan's style by lurking in the wings, that could mean the incongruous situation of him being at Latics' games at the JJB, but not Wigan's.

Up And Down With Wigan: From Eighties fat cats to Super League underachievers

The Good Years (early 80s to mid-90s)

1982-3: John Player Trophy

1984-5: Challenge Cup

1985-6: John Player Trophy

1986-7: First Division, John Player Trophy, Premiership

1987-8: Challenge Cup, World Club Challenge

1988-9: Challenge Cup, John Player Trophy

1989-90: First Division, Challenge Cup, Regal Trophy

1990-1: First Division, Challenge Cup, World Club Challenge

1991-2: First Division, Challenge Cup, Premiership

1992-3: First Division, Challenge Cup, Regal Trophy

1993-4: First Division, Challenge Cup, Premiership, World Club Challenge

1994-5: First Division, Challenge Cup, Premiership, Regal Trophy

1995-6: First Division, Regal Trophy, Premiership

The Not Very Good Years (since the inception of Super League in 1996)

1998: Super League

2002: Challenge Cup

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