It’s just before 9am on transfer deadline day, and the first deal has already been completed. “So that’s two vanilla lattes, one cinnamon and one caramel? Drive on to the next window please...” I’ve been invited by the club to spend the whole day (and most probably night) at Euxton, so a stop-off at Starbucks en route is the least I can do to make a positive impression. On arrival, it’s pretty calm. In fact, nothing much is happening.
The contrast to the excited shrills of the Sky Sports News presenters counting down the clock to 11pm could not be greater. Club media staff are about their usual pre-match stuff, so I settle down in the corner of the office and kick-off my deadline-day blog. Chief executive Jonathan Jackson pops his head in and asks if I’ve got half an hour to discuss what may or may not happen in the next few hours. We relocate to his office, where he explains the whole process of player transfers, which I’m disappointed to learn no longer happen via fax but by email. Ruining my plan to casually unplug the fax machine to foil any bids from Sunderland for Will Grigg. More on that later.
Jackson - a lifelong Latics fan - is casually dressed in club leisure-wear, underlining the calm, relaxed feel about the place. The club has already got most of its work done, bringing in Anthony Pilkington from Cardiff, Danny Fox from Nottingham Forest and Leon Clarke from Sheffield United, to bolster the squad with both quality and experience. I’m told Everton midfielder Beni Beningime – brother of Latics Under-18 star Divin – will almost certainly be arriving too, to add a bit of bite and energy to the engine room. Jonathan Jackson on the financial challenge facing Wigan Athletic And the plan, the hope, is still to hold on to Grigg.
With Jackson needed elsewhere, next stop is the canteen, where the orders are going in for the dinnertime dart to McDonald’s. While one of the media team manfully goes for the food, Paul Cook walks by on his way to the games room. He stops for a lengthy chat... filling me in on deals that have got away, and deals that may still happen. One of these is free agent Jonas Olsson, who is over in Sweden but wouldn’t have to sign before the deadline, so there’s no panic there. With the arrival of our food, the manager leaves us to it, and the sound of him and his backroom staff laughing and joking next door - playing darts, snooker and pool - reinforces the relaxed air about the place. After dinner, I’m invited into the manager’s office, where a dozen staff are sharing a laugh and a joke.
They’re talking honestly and open in front of me about transfer targets, showing me clips of players on the huge TV on the wall, and going through the squad list on the white-board... and what they hope it will look like by 11pm. Anthony Barry is constantly on the phone, checking everything that needs to be happening is happening. The physios are chasing up contacts at other clubs to check up on the fitness status of unnamed players, just in case. Peter Reid is also there, casting bait about Liverpool’s faltering Premier League title bid, in the hope Cook or Barry may bite.
Again, I’m amazed at how relaxed it is, not dissimilar to a common-room at college... laughing, joking, general banter. After a nice brew, made by Leam Richardson, I’m summoned to the games room for a ‘meeting’ with the media team. We all feel we should be doing something more productive, but we are literally waiting for something to happen. The blog’s been updated again, tomorrow’s paper is written as much as it can be... it’s the calm before the storm. Which might not even be coming. The quietest deadline day ever, I’m told... if only to justify racking the balls up for another frame.
Finally commotion in the canteen - the pizza’s arrived. And the whole Euxton team - from top to bottom - sit down and tuck in... chatting away, laughing and joking, phones switched on, but still nothing much doing. I’m then invited by the manager back into Jackson’s office, where this time we’re joined by executive chairman Darren Royle, head of football operations Chris Brass and head of football administration Chris Laird. Details of the Olsson deal are being put together, with arrangements being made to fly the player in from Sweden to sign the following morning. ‘Is he definitely out of contract?’ appears to be the biggest concern. With that checked and double checked, next stop is arranging a flight and a hotel for his arrival tomorrow. As we chat over another cup of tea, Cook receives a text message from a manager of a fellow Championship side, asking if there’s any chance of talking one of his first-teamers on loan. The conversation didn’t last long, and the reply was not in the affirmative.
Chat finally switches to the elephant in the room - what’s happening with Will Grigg? As the clock ticks towards 9pm, the position remains the same. Latics haven’t had a bid remotely close to his value and, what’s more, they’re not encouraging one. There’s a growing confidence - a real belief - he will be staying at Wigan. Which, it’s important to point out, everyone in that office would be more than happy with. Not content to stick with what they’ve got, Latics are even trying to strengthen. West Brom’s young forward Jonathan Leko is strongly fancied, but there are concerns over whether a deal can be done in time. The player may have an injury, and his wages are understood to be out of Wigan’s reaches. There’s a knock on the door. Beni Baningime enters, with his mum and dad... who are clearly excited and proud to see him joining his brother at Wigan.
Although the manager tells me I’m more than welcome to stay in the office, I decide I’m imposing - it’s time for me to leave for them to seal the deal in privacy. I return to the media office to update the transfer blog. We start to write up the Baningime story, while Leonardo Da Silva Lopes looks to be on his way to Gillingham on loan. Suddenly there’s a noticeable increase in volume from outside – both in terms of voices and footsteps. The news we’ve been dreading all day finally arrives.
Sunderland have come back in for Will Grigg. After what seems like an eternity, Jackson comes in to explain the situation. Looking at his face, he doesn’t need to. He’s very visibly upset. This is Jonathan the Latics fan, not Jonathan the chief executive. He knows the fans will be gutted. He himself is gutted. The club, he explains, did everything they could to fight off the interest – but the money on offer kept rising until it was impossible to refuse.
Four bids inside the space of an hour, more than doubling the money on the table. Sunderland just not taking no for an answer.
The rest of the night is a blur, as we try and relay the Grigg information as quickly as we can through our respective channels. A figure of £1.5million is quickly being touted around by some media sources, possibly originating in the north east. My figures are straight from the horse’s mouth - £3million guaranteed, rising to £4million in add-ons linked to performance - which we quickly make sure is out there.
The first add-on, securing promotion from League One, seems guaranteed given Grigg’s track record.
While tying up the loose ends of the Grigg deal, Latics are also trying to get the Leko deal over the deal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen. Perhaps just as well, because there’s now a frantic race to put together the following morning’s paper before deadline - as well as updating the website with fresh info as it’s received. In no time, it’s 1am, and myself and Jackson are the last two in the building.
The Grigg deal has still not been ratified. Maybe they missed the deadline after all. One look at Jonathan’s face confirms the day has taken its toll. He’s had to make the most difficult decision of his career. With his business hat on, he knows it’s the right one. But as he locks up the building and we defrost our cars ready for the drive home, it doesn’t feel like it.
Paul Kendrick @PKendrickWIG
Latics reporter Wigan Observer/Wigan Post