Rugby league: War of Wigan peers

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The Independent Online
It Was intended to be the killer argument with which to floor the dissident faction at Wigan. Under the guidance of the two directors they wanted to vote out of office, they were reminded by the club's chief executive, David Bradshaw, Wigan had enjoyed "more sustained success than Liverpool or Manchester United".

The reply came from the back of a packed meeting at Central Park on Tuesday: "Manchester United have got a ground." The chairman, Jack Robinson, and the vice-chairman, Tom Rathbone, survived a vote of confidence, but that does not mean the dissatisfaction encapsulated in that comment will go away.

"If I had lost that vote, I would have done the honourable thing by walking away and wishing them good luck," Robinson said. "Equally, they should accept the result and all start pulling in the same direction." But he knows that may be a pious hope.

Wigan have a maximum of one season before Central Park becomes a supermarket and, for all the board's assurances, they cannot tell shareholders where they will play after that. There is a loose agreement to share Bolton Wanderers' new ground at Horwich until a new stadium is built in Wigan. But where in Wigan? And when? The council already has a deal with Wigan Athletic - chaired by Robinson's enemy, Dave Whelan - to support development of one new ground.

"We just want equal treatment and for them to give us the same sort of support," Robinson said. But two new grounds in what, for all its rugby club's success, is only a small town? It seems highly unlikely - almost as unlikely as all parties getting together and working out a scheme for the rugby club to become full partners in Whelan's venture.

Shareholders fear a rootless, nomadic existence and, ironically, that fear is growing when, on the pitch, Wigan are sorting themselves out. They go into tomorrow's meeting with St Helens as the side in form, Robinson being rewarded for the faith he had in Nigel Wright overcoming horrendous injury problems.

"We could have got our money back for him three times," Robinson said. "But I always believed he would come good. If Nigel, Tony Smith and Andy Farrell stay fit, we will have the best midfield triangle in the world."

Wigan will be strengthened further next year by the return of Denis Betts after three seasons with the Auckland Warriors. But even that has its critics, who see in it the risk of the club's wage bill again spiralling out of control.

Robinson denies Betts' salary will be as high as pounds 260,000 a year but admits it is "sizeable" and that Farrell has had an increase in his contract commensurate with it.

Those who hold Robinson and Rathbone responsible for the financial necessity of leaving Central Park can turn around and say - vote or no vote - that this is how it all started.

"They want a winning side but they don't want to pay winning money," Robinson said of that argument. He still has that balancing act to perform.