Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

A Football Tourist’s Guide To Wigan – Part One

Ah lovely, lovely Wigan. Regular readers will know Wigan is one of my favourite places in the world. Why? Well read all about it here.

Today Blackpool were playing at Wigan for the first time in yonks – so it was time for us to do the full tourist trail ahead of the match.


We like to listen to artists hailing from the towns and cities we’re visiting and I was fully expecting to go full-on Starsailor today. But no. My research revealed such a plethora of talent that we began to wish our journey was longer. Our playlist included The Verve (and Richard Ashcroft), Kajagoogoo (and Limahl) and The Lathums (who Swedish fanzine Are You Here For The Game? put me onto). We didn’t have time to get onto Starsailor or George Formby (although we would be meeting him later).

Before we knew it we were pulling up at our first tourist spot of the day.

Haigh Woodland Park

Pronounced ‘Hay’, I’ll confess I’d never heard of this place but, as we approached, Lee recognised Haigh Hall as somewhere he’d DJ’d weddings some ten years previously.

Our first stop after parking up was the gift shop. And here are the highlights.

There was a particularly odd selection of toy animals.

Next stop was the Crazy Golf. There were two courses here. This was the fancy one and I’d been advised that there was a cheaper one further into the park.

As we approached Haigh Hall itself, Lee groaned in dismay. Back in the day it had been a splendid grand venue but the building has recently fallen into disrepair.

That view though…

I consulted Wikipedia to find out what had happened.

The miniature railway was sadly closed today.

As we strolled through the park we observed lots of people running across and along our path. We soon realised we were in the middle of a park run. Much as we’re getting more active now with three gym sessions a week, I’m not sure we’ll get to the running stage – although, if you’d asked me a year ago if I’d do Go Ape I’d have laughed in your face, so you never know. One of the male runners was making very loud sex noises. That’s something I’ve noticed at the gym too. But you don’t get women making those noises.

Beautiful park.
Go Ape type thing.
Ooh the other crazy golf.

Next we came to the park bit of the park – the play area. This was quite simply the best park ever. There was a zip wire type thing except it was a tyre that you sat on. That was fun. There was a little climbing wall. And a fun electronic game that had us running round tapping the lights. We wanted one of those for our garden – what a fun way to keep fit.

We could have stayed here for ages but it’s probably not the done thing for two grown ups to be hanging round a children’s play area taking photographs so we moved on.

It is this sort of thing that makes me fall in love with Wigan every time I visit.

We were on our way out of the park when I decided I needed the loo to be comfortable – and what a great decision that proved to be. The toilet sign led us into a delightful little courtyard. And – oh, what’s this? A micropub? What a wonderful surprise!

I asked for directions to the toilets and was advised that I could go upstairs but they were doing something up there; or out that door and downstairs. I went for the latter option but couldn’t find any stairs. We headed across the courtyard and, with still no sign of any stairs, asked a couple sitting outside a cafe for directions.

‘Oh just through that door there.’

Dear reader, the door led nowhere, possibly to a disabled lift or something. We emerged perplexed.

‘Oh sorry not that one – that one there.’

At length we found some stairs – although they were going up, not down. Still no sign of any toilets. We ended up walking the length of the courtyard back the way we came but indoors and upstairs. At the end of the corridor we finally spotted a sign for the toilets. Phew! That was bloody hard work! It was a good job I wasn’t dancing.

Back downstairs we of course couldn’t leave without checking out the micropub.

The landlady was lovely and chatty. She was from Lytham I think. I enquired about the brewery and they said they’d knocked that on the head as they weren’t getting the footfall but they had a good relationship with a local brewery who supplied them with beer. She also told me about the regeneration of the town so that’s something to look out for over the coming months and years (if it’s anything like that hotel at Blackpool North it could be decades until completion).

As it was a lovely day we decided to sit outside with our drinks (a beer for me and a coffee for Lee). From this vantage point we surveyed the inner courtyard and – oh, what’s that? – a chocolaterie and sweet shop? Well we had to call in there – purely for Football Tourist Guide research purposes, of course…

Of course I couldn’t resist the lovely chocolates and came away with six of the best:

– Baileys Truffle

– Rum Truffle

– Cointreau Truffle

– Ginger

– Orange Truffle

– Spiced Rum

I resolved to save these as a treat for when I submitted my Open University assignment later in the week.

These, however, were all scoffed before we got to the next stop.

Now attempting to leave once again we were stopped in our tracks by a butchers shop.

And the last thing I did before finally leaving the park was to pause and photograph this lovely and unusual flower.

Already I was feeling fully content. It’s as if the air is easier to breathe in Wigan. It is my happy place as it’s so full of joy and the people are so lovely. Obviously with the football to come the day wouldn’t be entirely joyful but I was very much enjoying the day so far.

Museum of Wigan Life

Now I’d been here before ahead of a Chase match at Atherton Colls. My fondest memory from that visit was a knitted pie and I was looking forward to introducing Lee to it today.

The museum was free to enter, which was great. Today’s main exhibition was about rugby – a sport that I knew little about, other than it has a different-shaped ball and apparently different versions of ‘league’ and ‘union’.

We soon learned that Wigan was the home of rugby league and I was surprised by the number of parallels between this sport and football.

I had season ticket books just like this for the football.
I do love a good memory wall.

Pirate programmes are making a comeback in football with the demise of official match programmes (or the ‘proper programme’ as people snubbing my fanzine allude to them). Indeed I would sell more copies if there were squads and fixtures listed in there so I suppose that’s food for thought for when our programme eventually dies out – although I do pride myself on offering a different (and, I believe, better) publication than the ‘proper programme’.

I wonder if my fanzines will rock up in a museum halfway round the world one day as an example of British football culture? That could well increase the value of yours. What, you haven’t got your hands on one yet? Here’s the link to subscribe for this season.

How little we knew about rugby league – this parallel universe that on the surface seems so different to the football world but really there are so many similarities. What day is the sport played on? And at what time of year? Why had I never watched a match – or been to a match?

But never mind that – where were the knitted pies? Indeed, all we could find that wasn’t rugby related was a selection of items plundered from Egypt.

Our search for the pies led us to a back room where a local photographer was preparing for a talk and slide show on his time photographing the most successful club in the history of world rugby league (Wigan, for the avoidance of doubt).

The highlights from the museum shop were these.

Next we headed upstairs to the library and archives.

There was a lot of talking going on in this library. We bumped into Matt of Mitch Cook’s Left Foot blog fame, who hails from this neck of the woods. He bemoaned his local hood being unrecognisable from his youth, transforming from local shops such as ironmongers and haberdashers to bookies and charity shops. The librarians themselves were equally chatty, showing us old scrapbooks of newspaper articles yet to be added to the electronic archives.

Indeed it was hard to get away but my rumbling tummy edged me towards the door and eventually we found ourselves in the town centre and in my Pub of Choice for lunch.

The Raven

The home of Giraffe Woman and the Singing Chef, this is my number one food pub in Wigan. Their website indicated that they were currently offering a reduced menu, but there was still SlimmingWorld-friendly food available for me.

But first beer.

Mmm Plum Porter…
Kickin Chicken Curry. Not particularly ‘kickin’.

This is a traditional boozer with good, hearty food and decent beer. There’s a pubby room at the front and more of a dining room at the back, which is where I always sit because I’m always eating when I’m here. There was a good number of Blackpool fans in here who (as is becoming the norm) recognised Lee but ignored me (which I’m fine with).

Right. Now a bit of outdoorsy touristy stuff while we walk off our dinner.


On a previous visit I’d happened across this arty area when searching for John Bull Chophouse.

Billy Boston.
The Face Of Wigan.

However my research for this Tourist Guide threw up a statue that had passed me by.

As we approached George Formby in The Grand Arcade, I remarked:

‘Ooh isn’t he little?’

And then when I stood next to him I realised he was actually taller than me…

In my defence, statues are usually elevated on plinths, aren’t they?

Before we left the arcade, I conducted a Loo Review.

Soap dispenser in disguise as a tap. Very confusing.

But this arcade had more to offer. Oh yes. As we approached the escalator on our way our, my eye was caught by an unusual vending machine.

Can anyone explain Prawn Cocktail lashes to me please? The only remotely feasible explanation I have heard so far is that they are disguised as crisps for people who might not want others knowing they use false lashes.

Wigan Athletic v Blackpool

Ooh look – another statue. This is Dave Whelan.

The usual thing happened when I arrived at the ground: I was at the opposite end to the away end and I was walking the wrong way round to get there.

Ooh there’s a bar at the ground.

When studying the rear of my ticket, I was surprised to see that they had a stand named after Leam Richardson – the manager popular with players and fans alike who had just been sacked weeks after signing a new contract. That must have been one heck of a falling out.

Wigan Athletic have the Best Mascot Ever. Yes, even better than the boiler at West Brom and Minty the Kendal Mint Cake at Kendal Town (although that is a close-run thing).

How can you not smile when looking at Crusty?

On the subject of not smiling, it was now time for the match.

It started off fine until, well until 17 minutes in, when Big Marv was sent off for the second time this season. Frankly, his head had been in the shed since his previous dismissal at Sheffield United.

I wonder if players have access to mental health professionals to help them through times when they’re not at their most focussed. Is this something that the club or the PFA provide? Would this be something that players would utilise and embrace? It seemed that Dom Thompson, too, was mentally affected by his error that led to a goal in the Norwich match.

Do they feel they are letting the team down? Surely their teammates (and we fans) understand that they are human beings and will make mistakes.

Blackpool battled on with ten men for the remainder of the game – miraculously going in at the break 1-0 up. But of course the game took its toll and Wigan equalised before scoring a cruel winner two minutes from time.

I was surprised to hear a chorus of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ directed at Blackpool manager Michael Appleton. Give the guy a break! What more can he do? The players have been mentally exhausted ever since that heroic display at Sheffield United. On top of that he’s had injuries and suspensions galore to contend with. All on the back of being forced to sell the one player who could (and did) single-handedly win us games and not replacing him in a disastrous transfer window. We’re pretty much left with the bare bones of last season’s team without Josh Bowler. And look how they performed at the back end of last season when Bowler was omitted from the team. Peterborough away? Shit, right?

Well that’s what we’ve got to look forward to for the rest of this season if we don’t invest in January. Whilst the club may favour the summer transfer window for doing their business, history has proven that a good January can transform a season. Let me take you back to the Belokon days when I’d have put money on us being relegated and we ended up being promoted after signing (if memory serves) 15 players in January. Whilst I accept that is somewhat extreme, I do feel that we need to properly invest in this squad if we are to maintain our Championship status. Selling Bowler seems foolish now, given that we could lose more money than we got for him by being relegated (which keeping him might well have saved us from).

Football fans are notoriously fickle and demand instant gratification. We’d have had Larry sacked first time around before he won us promotion from League One. Clamouring for the manager’s head is counter-productive. How about we support him and the board joins us in supporting him and then let’s see what he’s capable of? Managers who succeed popular managers are always going to start on the back foot (Allardyce succeeded Ayre; Appleton has succeeded Holloway AND Critchley). Please can we give him a chance?

Consequently I wasn’t in the best of moods as I headed out of the ground. I called in for a quick Loo Review while I collected my thoughts.

There was a time when I would have smoked that cigarette. And I’ll confess I did check the packet to see if there were any intact cigarettes in there. If there had been, I would have taken the packet. Dear reader, I haven’t had a cigarette since Bristol City away in 2005. Bloody football, eh?

I met up with Karen and we began our walk into town for our Wigan pub crawl (oh I wasn’t done with Wigan yet!). We were kettled in a different direction to the one we wanted to take – down a dimly-lit route down unfamiliar streets. Just as we were about to cross the bridge we were prevented from progressing so as not to mingle with the home fans. You don’t get this at Hull! Eventually we found ourselves back in town, where the day would start to get better again as beer was introduced to the equation…

Next up: The Football Tourist’s Guide To Wigan – Part Two.

  • The Raven
  • Tap n Barrel
  • The Anvil
  • Swan & Railway
  • Wigan Central
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