What happened last season?
After the euphoria of the 2002/3 campaign and walking away with the Second Division title, Latics' first venture into the First Division was awaited by the faithful with mixtures of confidence and trepidation. The first game, a fairly convincing 2-0 defeat at Millwall, brought home a reality check and the local rugby-favouring press' comments about being a pub team will not be forgotten or forgiven for a long time.
But Latics learn quickly, and on 16 September, after only seven games in the highest echelon they had played in, Latics were at the very top of the table after a home win against West Brom. The mighty 'ammers never got that high.
Other reality checks took place at West Ham and at home to Rotherham, Crewe and Wimbledon, but a double over Ipswich and a 5-0 victory over later-to-be-promoted Palace in front of live Sky cameras at the JJB were highpoints.
We stayed there or thereabouts all season, consistently in the play-offs, but the regular end-of-season falter took place and we went into the last game, at home to West Ham, needing either a 4-0 win to be sure of a play-off place, or a victory with other results going our way. 4-0 was never really going to be an option, but an early goal for us and news constantly streaming through that other results were going our way and just holding on would be enough to put us in the play-offs.
28 seconds from time Brian Dean equalised, and the dream went.
But hey ho! Another year - and we do learn fast.
So - thoughts in general?
I'm not normally a conspiracy theorist, but we did have a lot of players sent off and penalties awarded against us when we played other "big teams". At West Ham we had two sent off and a penalty given, John Filan, our keeper, was sent off twice in the season, one of which was rescinded. Jason Roberts saw red twice, both at crucial points in the season for him to be suspended. And at Palace two of our players (including Jason Roberts) were sent off for second yellows - both in injury time!! Rodney Marsh opined in his half-brained way that the Division was weak because a team like Wigan were challenging for a place in the Premiership. The phrase "Wot a plonker Rodney" is well merited.
The defence again were fairly strong, but did not dominate as they did in the Second Division. Jason De Vos leaves with our good wishes to Ipswich, but we will survive without him.
After contractual squabblings with his agent which saw him first go on loan to Portsmouth when a deal had seemed to be struck, Jason Roberts joined us from the Albion to link up with his old Bristol Rovers partner Duke Ellington. Some fans had doubts about his loyalties etc when he arrived, but a nifty backheel into local rivals Preston's net 32 seconds into his debut saw him become an instant hero. His partnership with Ellington showed great potential, and we look forward to him managing not to get sent off and score loads of goals.
We had bizarre moments in the season too. Wimbledon's last ever game at Selhurst Park was against the Latics, and the "crowd" of 1,054, which included over 500 from Wigan, was the Division's lowest attendance of the season. I was in the chippy across the road from the ground at five to three with no-one else in sight.
Coventry away saw the greatest goal celebration from players and fans. With seconds to go in a fairly lifeless game Matt Jackson slipped to let in the home attacker to score what seemed like the winner. Latics kicked-off, took the ball upfield, and the cross was fumbled by the keeper right into the path of... you couldn't have written it... Matt Jackson who thumped the ball home to initiate absolute bedlam in the stands.
The grounds have been magnificent. After years of (with due respect to them) Colchester and Chesterfield and Port Vale, trips to the Stadium of Light, Pride Park, Upton Park have been inspirational, and with Molineux, Walker Stadium and Elland Road to be added this year we are enjoying life.
What's going to happen next season?
We will still be a force this year. Despite having the money Dave Whelan buys shrewdly and frugally, and in Paul Jewell he has a manager with his feet on the ground. Per Frandsen is an obvious coup, and early pre-season looks at David Graham and David Wright makes them look promising. We will be up there. But Wolves, Leicester, West Ham, Sunderland, Sheff United, Ipswich etc etc all will have a say. Leeds? Probably not, European past glories count for nothing now. Just ask Forest, who also can't do as badly again.
Where will we finish? I have no idea - but we'll certainly enjoy ourselves. Our song at the end of the season, to baffle all who heard, was "We live in mudhuts - we're having a laugh."
I'd love us to do it this year. If for no better reason than to wipe the smug grin off Rodney Marsh's face.
Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)
"How did you ever manage to get a transfer fee off us for Peter Kennedy????"
"500 elastic bands have made a mean cricket ball"
"I remember Craig Ramage's name, but don't know why you specifically named him. Was he a baddie?"
"I'm only 24 hours from tulsa"
"That Irish pub "Sams bar ?" is the best away pub i`ve been in for years."
"I actually have a degree from Oxford and live in Dublin - what are the chances?"