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Monday, 20 May, 2002, 21:30 GMT 22:30 UK
No place like home for Wigan
BBC Sport's Dave Woods

Once they were kings; a side that dripped with class that smoothly, skillfully and inevitably won every cup and trophy it entered. And always in front of terraces that were packed.

But the crown slipped and suddenly Wigan has become every one's favourite rugby league crisis.

Crisis is comical hyperbole, but their is certainly cause for concern.

It is not that Wigan are not dominating the game like they used to that is causing such consternation.

After all no club could expect to enjoy such a magnificent and unchallenged reign indefinitely, whatever the sport.

Wigan captain Andy Farrell with the Challenge Cup
Farrell with Wigan's latest piece of silverware
The biggest head-scratcher is why in Wigan, where rugby league has always been the undisputed number one sport, is there an apparent growing apathy for the game.

Proof of that malaise was apparently provided last Saturday when only 11,000 turned up to watch a team fresh from a Challenge Cup final victory play against an in-form Leeds, who themselves had just beaten Bradford.

It was the latest in a number of relatively disappointing crowds at the JJB.

All manner of suggestions have been put forward for the smaller gates - summer rugby, Wigan no longer dominating the game, poor marketing, even the owner Dave Whelan's growing fondness and financial support for the local rugby union outift Orrell.

Heart ripped out

All those have been contributing factors, but the main reason for Wigan struggling to tempt in the locals can be found in just three letters - JJB, or at least the stadium that carries the name.

Wigan are discovering that moving out of their scruffy but wholesome home of over a century, Central Park, and into the state-of-the-art JJB Stadium, has been costly.

The heart was ripped out of the club the minute they moved to a business/leisure park on the other side of town.

Wigan legend Martin Offiah at the 1993 Challenge Cup final
Wigan were regular winners during the 90s
Central Park had many advantages that the JJB can never recreate.

The trek to the old ground was a fortnightly habit that had been part of the make-up of generations of Wiganers. It was also the best marketing tool the club ever had.

No-one could work or live in Wigan without a daily reminder that rugby league was the heartbeat of the town, with Central Park such a prominent landmark close to the centre.

Prohibitive cost

Workers would use their breaks to wander to the place, kids would try to sneak in to watch training, and when the team was leaving for a big match - an annual wembley visit or other such final - hundreds, thousands would be there to see them off.

Now, you can work in the town centre five days a week, even socialise there on a weekend, without any kind of reminder that rugby league even exists in Wigan.

True the old place needed rennovating, and the cost, because of land-slipping proximity to the River Douglas, would have made that prohibitive.

But the marketing department of Wigan RLFC will have to work doubly hard to make up for the loss of such a prime location and asset.

The JJB is out of sight, and all too often out of minds.

See also:

18 May 02 | Super League
10 May 02 | Super League
27 Apr 02 | Challenge Cup
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