By Chris Harris
"It must be the worst feeling in the world knowing relegation awaits eight months away." "No money, no fans; they will need a miracle if they are going to survive." "I don't think they will win more than eight games."
These are some of the more disparaging remarks Wigan had to endure as they prepared for their first season in the Premiership. We won't name names, but it's safe to assume that some leading football 'experts' have egg on their faces.
Far from being relegation fodder, Wigan soared to second in the autumn, challenged strongly for a European place and contested the Carling Cup Final. In many ways, Paul Jewell's side are the story of the season.
In fact, Wigan's story will be available in book form very soon. 'Season of Dreams' is heading for the shelves and, as Phil Wilkinson of the Wigan Observer explains, the title has taken on a context few expected.
"It's quite funny really, we thought the title would stand up even if Wigan went down, because we knew they would give it their all and make it a remarkable season whatever happened. Now it's even more appropriate.
"A lot of people predicted that Wigan would go straight back down and, to his credit, Paul Jewell said that he could understand why because of Wigan's track record. But I think it was the lack of respect in some of the comments which hurt him and the fans.
"In the end, the final home game of the season was a strange occasion. Pompey came up here and robbed us and all their fans were celebrating because they were going to survive. That's the situation the Wigan fans thought they would be in so they were a bit sad at the end of the game.
"I think we expected a scenario like the one at West Brom last year [when they survived on the last day of the season]. Instead people were naturally upset but, of course, when they sit down and look back they will realise how well Wigan have done."
Jewell's stock has risen inexorably this season. His first dalliance with the Premiership ended in relegation but those who judge people on their use of resources have called for Jewell to be named Manager of the Year. They have a point.
"He says hard work has been the main reason for Wigan's success but I think it's much more than that," says Wilkinson. "Players like Pascal Chimbonda, Jimmy Bullard and Mike Pollitt were plucked from obscurity; Chimbonda is now in the PFA Team of the Year, Bullard has been sold for 10 times his original fee and Pollitt has been outstanding at times.
"Jewell has a remarkable gift for finding players and his team is also exciting to watch. When we played Arsenal up here Arsène Wenger was complimentary about Wigan's positive approach and Sir Alex Ferguson has also made some genuine remarks about them.
"The Wigan team is so fearless. I can think of at least four games with last-minute winners. Wigan have exciting players and they have been involved in exciting games."
Next season might be harder. Wigan will no longer be a surprise package, points may be more elusive and Wilkinson wonders whether the excitement of this season can ever be topped, simply because "it is so new to them at the moment".
But those concerns can wait. For now, Wigan can reflect on a job well done. All eyes will be on Arsenal's Highbury Farewell this Sunday, but Jewell's players deserve their place in the limelight too.
That quote again: "I don't think they will win more than eight games." For the record, Wigan reached that particular milestone in the first week of November. Not bad for so-called no-hopers.
Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 5 May 2006