The JJB Experience

I’d a free invite into corporate ‘hostility’ at Wigan Football Club for their game against Watford this past Saturday and duly dropped by at the JJB stadium. Our party of four males was aged between 7 and 77. The former of which I was charged with entertaining for a good part of the afternoon! Remember what it was like when you were that age? Football games were such a mystery – they still are to some of us!

The hospitality package included a three-course dinner in one of the lounges at the stadium. Sure there was a choice of but one meal but I had a very good scran all the same thank you. A small army of young ladies kept the drinks coming over too.

Two former top-flight referees (whom I didn’t catch the names of) MC’d the proceedings in a jolly Northern way with plenty of crap gags and the odd sweary word thrown in. Part of the presentation were the various quizzes and competitions before and after the game. One couple were asked to stand up by the man with the mic as they had chosen to travel up from Watford for the game on their honeymoon. “It was either Wigan or The Maldives” quoth the blushing bride to the assembly only half-jokingly I considered.

A gent from a different party at our table enquired of my football loyalties and I mentioned my life-long tie to the Hibs. After he informed me that he was an Everton supporter rather trumping my card he thought. I was pleased to inform him that one of my local teams I used to attend regularly had won two European Cups. The subject was changed at this point!

Of course Wigan is Rugby League country and Wigan Warriors share this stadium there being some fine shots of those lads in action adorning the lounge and concourse walls. Apparently the Warriors sell out at 25,000 fans every home game.

I was pleased that our view of the game was not to be from a lounge or box. It was a beautiful afternoon up there in Lancashire as we watched the two teams run out. A fairly sparse away support from Watford sat behind the goal to our left as the players got the game under way. It was apparent that our section had a goodly amount of corporate guests as there were plenty of suits around. There were also gaggles of young women in heavy make-up and glittery tops everywhere too!

A sloppy start by both teams made me think about some of the fallacies of the modern English Premiership. I’m obviously biased but I really believe Hibernian would be a match for either of those two sides. The thinking was rare, there were few moves more than the odd pass or two, whilst the defending was downright sloppy. Nobody really stood out but I kept an eye on £6m Wigan signing Emile Heskey to see what he might produce. The answer was, little of note, apart from a little huffing and puffing. Emile was pretty mediocre actually.

Apparently Wigan have sold several of their success stories from their amazing initial Premiership season last year. This was very apparent as the replacements at this time appear to have not gelled together. It’s always nice to see a David take on and beat a Goliath though so I wish them the very best under their bright young manager, Paul Jewell.

Likewise back in the lounge. I liked the good folk at Wigan Football Club. Sure it can be easy to point to the lack of sophistication in the presentation and sneer a bit when the MC asks for a “nice roned of applause ‘fuh kitchen staff now ladees and gents” (Imagine that said in a Peter Kaye-ish accent) Yes it was comical – but I liked the style and unassuming friendliness of the people around this club. I think their team could possibly get dragged into a very early relegation dogfight but I hope not for their sakes. We all love an underdog so bloody good luck to them.

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