It was only a question of when, not if.
Wigan chairman Dave Whelan is to leave the club after 20 years at the helm.
It’s a pity that a man whose heart was always in the right place leaves football under such a cloud. And sad that he still doesn’t understand why his comments about Jews and the Chinese offended.
It will be a mystery to the Twitter or iPod generation, but it was the language of his generation that got him in so hot water with the Football Association and others. Views like those he expressed were once commonplace in the boardroom at many a football club. And also in society at large.
While we see many cases of how political correctness has turned our world stark raving bonkers; many of the outdated utterances of Dave Whelan were out of step with modern society. I found some of them to be unpleasant – and nobody has ever accused me of being politically correct.
It’s about being in touch with the here and now. Not yesteryear. Dave Whelan was out of date.
I don’t point the finger at him. He is a product of his generation and I totally get that. I understand that the views he may hold, and certainly the things he has said, were once the norm.
In the 1980’s an after dinner speech by the likes of Whelan or Ron Atkinson would have gone down a storm with the all male audience. I recall being at one such function when almost everyone laughed at a routine by Atkinson that might have made Bernard Manning blush. Only Howard Wilkinson found the jokes to be beyond the pale and left.
But the language I grew up with in the 60’s and 70’s has moved on. Just like the television programmes that inspired much of the language used in the school playground or in the workplace. Today there is no place on TV for a ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ or ‘Mind Your Language’. Thank heavens for that. But I don’t knock the fact that once upon a time an older age group found such comedy shows to be funny. I grew up watching ‘To Death Do Us Part’ and the earlier shows were funny. But that was then. It wouldn’t seem funny if produced today (not that it would get past first base with any commissioning editor).
In a statement Dave Whelan criticised the punishment handed out to him by the Football Association. He said: “The FA came to the decision that I wasn’t a racist, but they fined me £50,000 and banned me for six weeks. I could not understand what that was all about. If I’m not a racist why did I have to have those punishments?
“I had no intention of insulting anyone. I would never insult any race of people on the whole planet. What I really wanted to say… is I respect every race of people on the planet.”
Now in my mid fifties, writes Vernon Grant, I have always found it hard to explain to those twenty or thirty years my junior how different attitudes were before they were born. To my mind the sixties remains the best decade I have lived through. That’s as it relates to music, television and football. Britain was still great. You could play football in the middle of the street and you were safe walking home. My generation was the lucky one. As children, we reaped the benefits of post war life.
Dave Whelan grew up in an even earlier era. He made his fortune in the pre-politically correct days. He was a younger man when women were ‘birds’, you went to the ‘chinky’ for a take away and when phrases such as ‘nig-nog’ ‘jew boy’ and ‘paki’ were in everyday use. Society has moved on. Praise be! But not everyone moved with the times.
In his mind Dave Whelan continued to live in a time that has passed. His downfall is his own fault. He didn’t mind his language. But like many others of his generation, he’s also a victim of an ever changing world in which what was acceptable one decade, is not the next.
Dave Whelan has been accused of racism and sexism. Now, in handing over the reins of Wigan Athletic to his 23 year old grandson David Sharpe, he’s accused of nepotism. He will not concern himself with that.
Whelan is a footballing man. A former player who loves the game. There are football clubs in far worse hands.
Whelan’s dedication to the game, and one club in particular, should not be forgotten. When I first saw Wigan play they were in the old Division 3. Whelan gave his money and time to get them to the Premier League. In 2013 Whelan wept as he watched Wigan beat cash rich Manchester City in the FA Cup final. It was the first trophy lifted by the club in 81 years.
But I suspect age has played a part in some bad decisions made by Whelan. Like most chairmen, he has made good and bad managerial appointments. Roberto Martinez and Uwe Rossler were good ones. The sacking of the latter was premature and a big mistake. The appointments of Owen Coyle and the current incumbent, Malkay McKay, gross errors of judgement.
Regardless of the embarrassing and unacceptable comments he made about Jews and Chinese people, I feel it was time for Whelan to wear slippers and put his feet up.
Whelan said: “The club will remain in family hands and I have every confidence that David, along with chief executive Jonathan Jackson, will lead us forwards with wisdom.
“In making this announcement, I would like to say a huge thank you to the board of directors, all the staff at the club, and of course the wonderful supporters of Wigan Athletic, who have helped make the journey over the past 20 years such an exciting and memorable one.”
It’s a shame how that journey ended for Dave Whelan. But he’s earned a controversy free retirement.