Skip to content

Wigan Athletic's rise to the Premier League and return to League One

Roberto Martinez: Won the FA Cup in his last season in charge of Wigan.

In 1995 Dave Whelan took over fourth-tier Wigan. Twenty years on, after reaching the Premier League and winning the FA Cup, Whelan has stepped down as chairman as the club return to League One. Here we chart their remarkable rise and frustrating fall...

Rise to the Premier League

Wigan’s rise from non-league obscurity to an established football league club started when sports retailer Dave Whelan, born in Bradford but raised in Wigan, purchased the club in 1995. His ambition was clear from the start. To get the third division club to the Premier League.

In the 1996/97 season, Wigan won the Division Three title for the first time in their history. It was in part thanks to Whelan bringing in ‘the three amigos’, Roberto Martinez, Isidro Diaz and Jesus Seba who were pivotal during Wigan’s promotion push.

Dave Whelan (left) and Paul Jewell (right): Jewell kept the club up after beating Sheffield United 2-1 in May 2007.
Image: Paul Jewell led Wigan to the Premier League - and kept them up

The Latics remained in Division Two for six seasons - building the JJB stadium (now DW Stadium) in the process – before winning the league in 2003 with 100 points. 

Their title-winning season was overseen by manager Paul Jewell, who took the job in 2001, and spearheaded by record £1.2m signing Nathan Ellington, who scored 15 goals. 

After a first season of Championship consolidation, Wigan were promoted again. A second-place finish in the 2004/05 season saw them into the Premiership, with the formidable strike partnership of Ellington and Jason Roberts scoring a combined total of 45 goals to fire them to the promised land. 

WIGAN, ENGLAND - MARCH 12 : Jason Roberts of Wigan Athletic evades a challenge from Matt Lawrence of Millwall to score the second goal during the Coca-Cola
Image: Jason Roberts was a key figure for Wigan during their rise to the top flight

The early Premier League years

The Premier League era started well for the Latics as Jewell was not only able to lead the team to a remarkable 10th-place finish but also to their first ever League Cup final.

It was Wigan’s first ever major cup final but after a surprise victory against Arsenal over two legs in the semi-finals, they were thrashed 4-0 at the Millennium Stadium by Manchester United.

The following season Wigan survived in the Premier League by the narrowest of margins; a 2-1 win against Sheffield United on the last day of the season kept them up by just one goal at the Blades' expense. 

After pulling off the great escape Paul Jewell stepped down as manager a day later, leaving Steve Bruce to step in and lead the team to 14th the following season.

The Latics improved again in 2008/09 with an 11th-placed finish, with the likes of Emile Heskey, Wilson Palacios and Antonio Valencia major contributors to their success.   

Roberto Martinez and the FA Cup

Image: Watson heads Wigan to FA Cup glory against Man City

With Bruce departing for Sunderland, former player Martinez, who had won League One as a manager at Swansea City, was appointed as his successor at the start of the 2009/10 season and led them to a 16th-place finish in his first season at the club.

Wigan were close to being relegated for a second time in the following campaign, though, defeating Blackburn 1-0 to secure their survival and send the Lancashire club down. 

Their eight-year stay in the top flight finally came to an end in 2012/13 - however, it was a season of mixed emotion for Latics fans, as Martinez led the team to a famous FA Cup triumph over Manchester City, just three days before their relegation was confirmed.

Roberto Martinez and Dave Whelan celebrate Wigan's 2013 FA Cup success
Image: Martinez and owner Dave Whelan celebrate Wigan's 2013 FA Cup success

Ben Watson's Wembley winner qualified Wigan for the 2013/14 Europa League, although a 4-1 defeat at Arsenal made them the first team to suffer relegation and win the FA Cup in the same season. 

"Winning the FA Cup is the stuff dreams are made of," said Martinez. However, his time at the DW Stadium had come to an end and he accepted a four-year deal to be David Moyes' successor at Everton. 

Wigan manager Roberto Martinez shakes hands with James McCarthy
Image: Wigan manager Martinez consoles James McCarthy

Managerial changes and another relegation

Owen Coyle took over on a two-year contract and kicked off with a Community Shield clash with Manchester United at Wembley. However, he had left by mutual consent by December after winning just seven of his 23 games in charge.

Former Brentford manager Uwe Rosler was next in the hotseat and, despite failing to steer the club away from a Europa League group stage exit, helped them to the FA Cup semi-finals.

Unfortunately for the Latics, a Wembley loss to Arsenal preceded a more painful play-off semi-final exit to QPR, which denied the club a shot at an immediate return to the top flight.

Image: Ben Watson celebrates a Europa League goal for Wigan

Rosler continued into the 2014/15 season but after selling James McArthur and Jordi Gomez, the club were in the relegation zone by November and Malky Mackay replaced the German at the helm.

Chairman Dave Whelan stepped aside for his 23-year-old grandson David Sharpe to takeover in March and, with Wigan stuck in the dop zone, Mackay was sacked on April 6 and replaced by 33-year-old Gary Caldwell - the club's fourth manager in almost two years.

Rotherham's win over Reading on April 28 relegated Wigan to League One. 

Wigan's Emmerson Boyce looking dejected as they go in at half time during the Sky Bet Championship match at the DW Stadium, Wigan.
Image: Emmerson Boyce shows the pain as Wigan head towards relegation

Around Sky