We were delighted when Steve Halliwell (follow @Aspulliter on Twitter) contacted us to share his story of love at first sight for a classic Latics shirt, particularly as it gave us the chance to bid a fond farewell to the Whelan family after 23 years at the helm of Wigan Athletic.
Steve takes up the tale:
“It all started in 1995 when I got back from sunnier climes and as I walked through Wigan town centre on my way to Springfield Park, there, proudly displayed in my local JJB Sports store, was a football shirt that was outstandingly beautiful in both design and colours.”
“With a proper sewn on badge along with the sponsor JJB (obviously) in the actual material not a shiny stick on affair, my shirt has been worn, washed and ironed many times over and it is in ‘as new’ condition. Top quality garment made in the UK by Puma of heavy duty material.”
“The one and only downturn to this thing of beauty is that the actual shop staff in the JJB stores wore this garment as part of their uniform but without the glorious ‘tree and crown’ badge.”
“I haven’t heard a fan say they don’t like it, either in the original 1995 form or this season’s version.”
Puma turned the black and blue striped kits of previous years on their heads by placing bold green panels between wide blue and white stripes to produce a truly original kit, which also saw the return of the club’s tree and crown badge in a design that came to be known as “the Three Amigos shirt.”
The release of Puma’s bold new kit, now instantly recognisable as belonging to the Latics; came shortly after Dave Whelan’s arrival as chairman and heralded the beginning of a rags to riches tale of sustained success under his family’s leadership.
Within 5 years of former Blackburn Rovers full-back and JJB Sports owner Whelan’s arrival, the Latics had swapped Springfield Park for the purpose-built JJB Stadium.
Within 10 years the club had marched all the way from the fourth tier of English football to the Premier League, where they would remain for eight consecutive seasons before relegation came in the same year as their 2013 FA Cup triumph brought major silverware to a club who had only joined the Football League as late as 1978.
However, it was the kit that was the revelation in the revolution that Dave Whelan had sparked, a design which Puma have re-visited for this season.
The popular design was worn for three seasons between 1995 and 1998 by cult Wigan heroes including prolific striker Graeme Jones, captain Colin Greenall and a trio of young Spanish players who came to be known as “the Three Amigos.”
The signing of Roberto Martinez and Isidro Diaz from FC Balaguer, and that of skillful forward Jesus Seba from Real Zaragoza arrived when foreign players were still a rare commodity in English football. It was a major coup and publicity boost for the Latics who at the time were playing in the bottom tier of the Football League.
Latics fans fully embraced the new arrivals and even flew a “Jesus is a Wiganer” banner, but it would be current Belgium national team head coach, Roberto Martinez who would leave the most permanent impression on the club.
Named “Player of The Year” in his first season with the club, he stayed until July 2001 making 227 appearances and scoring 23 goals. After leaving for spells with Moltherwell, Walsall, Swansea and Chester City, Martinez eventually returned to manage the club in the Premier League and to FA Cup glory in 2013.
The Three Amigos kit, instantly recognisable as belonging to the club, is associated with a period where the Latics began their climb through the Football League and whilst sadly replaced for the 1998/99 season with a mainly all blue affair, Puma have brought the colours back for the 2018/19 season.
Wigan supporters have spoken with their cash, with the kit selling so well that some sizes have sold-out leading the club and Puma into a mad dash to replenish stock ready for Christmas.
As the Whelan family and current chairman, David Sharpe prepare to hand the keys to what is now the DW Stadium over to Hong Kong hotel and casino firm IEC, it is perhaps fitting that the same colours worn at the start of Wigan’s “modern era” adorn their beloved club at the start of Wigan Athletic’s exciting next chapter.