Wigan manager Paul Cook has described the past seven days as “the worst, toughest week of my career by far”.
The Latics beat QPR 1-0 on Wednesday in their first game at the DW Stadium since they were plunged into chaos when the owner, Au Yeung Wai Kay, stopped funding the club and put it into administration.
As Kieffer Moore’s venomous 33rd-minute strike ripped into the net, it was easy to imagine the punches of celebration among the fans who thought their club was virtually clear of relegation trouble but is now involved in a battle for its very existence.
Cook has cut a dignified figure throughout. Members of his own staff were among the 75 made redundant by the administrators on Monday and the former Chesterfield and Portsmouth manager spent part of the build-up to this game ringing round former colleagues to express sadness at how the situation has worked out.
“It is not about me. It is not about how much sleep I don’t get. It is about the town of Wigan and the people who have been made unemployed,” he said.
“I started here as a player and have seen the club evolve. Now I have been lucky enough to manage it for three years. This club must be here for a long, long time.
“Football can’t let clubs go out of business. We need a new owner. This club needs to bring a bit of happiness to the town, not sadness.”
‘A defeat would have flattened this town’
Like all his players, Cook only received 20% of this month’s salary when it was paid late on Monday.
None of them looked affected by the obvious negative impact of the situation Wigan found themselves in.
Standing in the pouring rain, which presumably deterred any fans who were minded to ignore the call not to demonstrate and turn up outside DW Stadium, Cook was his usual fervent self.
He described the win as imperative.
For, while the club has employed the vastly experienced sports expert David Phillips QC to lead its challenge to the automatic 12-point deduction, the move is expensive and there is no guarantee of success. The only way that can be achieved is by finishing with a total that will keep them out of the bottom three even if the penalty is applied.
The Latics are four points off that, although they are at least ‘off the bottom’ as even without 12 points, their goal difference would put them ahead of Luton.
“A defeat would have flattened this town,” said Cook, whose side have won seven games out of nine, the best sequence in the Championship since 2014. “We would have gone out with a whimper. But we are not relegated yet. We are still fighting.”
The only spectators on Wednesday were in the directors’ box and included two of the three administrators who have been brought in to try and solve the mess left behind by owners from Hong Kong who have never set foot in the town, let alone the stadium.
Administrator Gerald Krasner told BBC Sport that Wigan executives in the UK had expected £6m to arrive in the past two weeks to see the club through into next season.
“The fact is not one penny arrived,” said Krasner. “Instead, the club was put into administration. The facts of the matter speak for themselves.”
EFL chairman Rick Parry said he was “tremendously shocked” and that an investigation into Wigan’s administration would be “challenging” – but he denied his organisation had been lax or were to blame.
Au Yeung Wai Kay, who heads Wigan’s owners Next Leader Fund, claims it had “invested more than £40m” in the club and blamed the coronavirus pandemic for the decision to put it into administration.
‘Still a lot of fight in us’
The £135,000 so far raised by supporters has been used to pay for day-to-day expenses, such as putting petrol in the lawnmower. Larger bills, including £500,000 business rates, a legacy of the club’s Premier League era, are more problematic, let alone the 80% still owed to the players for this month’s salaries, in addition to the sums deferred when Covid-19 shut down professional football in England in March.
It is still difficult to comprehend that 10 days ago, nobody associated with Wigan had a clue what was about to unfold.
Club sources have told the BBC that the regular cheques always had to be requested after the International Entertainment Corporation bought Wigan from long-time owner Dave Whelan in November 2018.
It is hoped a new owner can be in place by the end of August. Wigan Warriors rugby league club owner Ian Lenagan is in dialogue with the administrators and, for many reasons, it would be the ideal scenario for the town’s two major sporting organisations to coexist under the same umbrella, in addition to sharing a stadium.
The situation is not quite so simple, though. By law, the administrators must look after the interests of the creditors meaning, in all likelihood, the biggest bid will win the club. In addition, big bills will have to be paid before the ownership situation is resolved so player sales are inevitable.
And there is also the £24m loan that remains outstanding to Au Yeung Wai Kay, part of the £40m investment he made to buy the club in May.
The battle to save the club must continue, just as Cook must try and guide Wigan to safety by making up the gap to those above – assuming the 12 point-penalty is applied.
“It was a really nervy evening,” said Cook. “But I hope there is a tiny bit of happiness for everyone to enjoy. There is still a lot of fight in us.”