A game against Wigan Athletic can mean only one thing: a short chat with Martin Tarbuck, one of the multimedia moguls behind the frankly brilliant Mudhutter fanzine. Funny, intelligent and proudly parochial in the best possible way, it’s never anything less than a great read. As with all the little interviews we have had on here, it never ceases to amaze us how normal match-going chaps across the country keep producing stuff with so much originality and wit. All in their spare time as well.
After you’ve read the interview, feel free to check out their website here.
I have always had the Mudhutter down as early adopters in terms what you have done with your fanzine on the web and with podcasts, etc. Can you tell us a bit about how it all began and where you are now?
Andrew Vaughan and I set up the Mudhutter after we both moved off the Cockney Latic which we’d been running for a while – since the eighties in the case of Vaughanie. It had been getting a bit too glossy and corporate and there were lots of problems behind the scenes. As you found with When Skies Are Grey, the Rivals network became less friendly bedfellows the longer it went on.
Just as our team was rising through the divisions we made a concerted attempt to keep things underground, actually charge a little bit more and cut the print run.
For a small town, we’re lucky to have some really talented lads writing for us even now and football is usually the last thing we write about to fill pages. The podcasts have dried up but they were never about football, just a couple of lads talking about all the daft shit that happens growing up on a council estate in Wigan. We get as many plaudits and readers outside Wigan as we do in it which is always pleasant. We do have a small, dedicated following who buy it and love it but I suspect like most clubs these days they are outnumbered by the 90% who will never get a fanzine (in any sense of the word).
We plug away and do four or five print mags a season. We’ve all drifted, got family commitments and moved on to other projects but we still manage to cobble together the Mudhutter a few times a year and run a few events and what have you. We’ve got a few younger lads helping and writing now as well. I’m hoping to delegate all the work to them soon just as the crafty Mr Vaughan did a decade or so ago when the enthusiastic younger version of myself expressed an interest in writing for the fanzine.
You seem to spend quite a bit of time defending Roberto Martinez to other Wigan fans. What are the main criticisms of him?
He’s split the fan base like no other manager and even after three years and six games the knives are sharpening. I’m firmly in the ‘pro’ camp and it’s easy to insult those who oppose him and badge them all as a bunch of rugby loving Johnny Come Latelys who think tiki taka are those funny coloured little mints, but plenty of real diehards don’t like him either and would prefer to see a more direct game.
The criticisms are his formation, slow build-up play, one up front, refusal to change shape, no plan B, continually picking his love child Jordi Gomez, refusing to give players who have done so well in the cups a chance in the league, and basically being very, very lucky not to have got us relegated. The ‘anti’ camp credit survival for the last three years purely to Charles N’Zogbia and latterly Victor Moses and Shaun Maloney while waving something about 8-0 and 9-1 reversals on big neon signs above their heads.
I think part of it is this obsession with tactics and formations brought on by the blanket media coverage and the fact we all sit high up in our plush seats these days and it’s easy to criticise. Plus, there’s general malaise that we’ve not kicked on even though it’s a miracle that we even stay afloat for a club our size. Personally I think Martinez is the best manager we’ve ever had, who has given us amazing wins against all of the biggest names in the game – except Everton, I think I’m right in saying – and the way he is revolutionising the club will serve us well for many years, as those lucky incoming Swansea managers keep finding out.
Plus, it’s our Bob, adopted Wiganer.
We’ll miss him when he’s gone, even if some of us don’t quite realise that right now.
The enmity between Wigan football and rugby fans is always quite surprising too. Is that a uniquely Wigan thing?
It’s really bad. Really, really bad. Utterly pathetic. But it’s gone on so long that neither side will ever back down. For a town so small there is almost no crossover and whereas it’s hardly North Belfast the two groups of fans tend to stay firmly out of each other’s way. I tried to do a piece explaining how the animosity began a while back: who is at fault and the key incidents which drive it, and I rattled off 9,000 words so it’s really difficult to summarise. Nevertheless, here goes:
Rugby league is popular in Wigan; it’s probably more popular than it is in any other town, save maybe St. Helens, Warrington or Leigh, but football is still more popular and always has been. Us football fans will never shake off that rugby town jibe as we know it deep down even though more people watch Wigan Athletic than Wigan Rugby and that’s before you count the thousands of Manchester United, City, Liverpool and Everton season ticket holders who live here.
Personally I can take it or leave it now but the stuff their infamous chairman Maurice Lindsay did in the eighties when the rugby were winning everything and the football club were in the third division and skint has caused a rift that lasts to this day and is in fact getting worse. The rugby club, their fans, the council, local media and police force were determined to get rid of a football club which wasn’t doing any harm simply for existing in a ‘rugby town’ and it’s been passed down by generation so that now we have tens of thousands of football ‘fans’ in Wigan who will support anyone but their home town team, because all rugby fans support a football team as well but actively hate the one in their own town. This I don’t get and never will.
All we ever asked for was their support although I concede that we’ve probably given them plenty of stick back since we’ve thrived and prospered in spite of their efforts.
I feel sorry for them; they’ve missed out on one of the great football stories of the modern game purely due to their own bigotry. That’s enough, I’ll pipe down.
Dave Whelan always seems quite a complicated character. How do Wigan Athletic fans generally view him?
I know he’s an egocentric megalomaniac but at the end of the day he’s our egocentric megalomaniac. It’s quite evident that Sky Sports have got him on speed dial filed under ‘opinionated, jingoistic, geriatric old buffoon’ but he’s played the game (and I don’t know if you’ve heard but he once broke his leg in an FA Cup final) so I suppose he’s earned his right to have his say. Frequently.
So essentially it’s ok for us to take the piss out of him but woe betide anyone else who does it. We used to be quite merciless with him and his constant rhetoric about £40m war chests and not employing foreign managers or signing anyone over 30 but since we bothered to actually look at the accounts properly, we’ve had to acknowledge that without him we’d be nowhere. You only have to read the news this week to realise that once he’s gone we will probably be on the fast track to oblivion like many of his previous ventures. It just makes him look all the more the philanthropist. Having said that, his grandson seems bang into the football club.
Whelan has given us one hell of a journey and delivered on his promise to get us to the Premier League. The problem is, now what?
You are probably the least disliked side in the Premier League. Do you enjoy that or find it a bit patronising?
Really? I thought everyone hated us because even though our crowds are bigger than QPRs we have several thousand empty seats every home game and EVERY OTHER TEAM IN THE COUNTRY SELLS OUT EVERY WEEK of course.
I suppose we’ve no rivals apart from the above-mentioned egg chasing infidels. Bolton hate United, Blackburn hate Burnley and they’ve both been relegated and even Preston laugh at us in comparison to their true rivals, Blackpool. Our traditional hated rivals are Chorley and Altrincham and cup draws permitting it will hopefully be a long time before we play either of them again.
We’ve got pretty football and a likeable manager but to be honest apart from that I though everyone loathed us because we didn’t follow the script, did we? We were meant to come up from the Championship in a fairy tale promotion, travel in large numbers all giddy-eyed to all these Premier League grounds (and we did that first, selling nearly 1,000 away season tickets) shock a few decent sides, get off to a flyer, stay up on the last day of the season and then get relegated with a record low points total the season after, never to be seen again.
It’s a shame a few more people in our town could see fit to like us a bit more instead of pursuing this distant love affair with United and Liverpool via the big screen down their local. The wankers. Oops, cut that bit.
Have you been at all surprised by how well Leighton Baines has done at Everton?
I suppose I should be really given he’s the only player we’ve brought through for a couple of decades since we regularly supplied top flight players to many clubs including the likes of Joe Parkinson, Kevin Langley and Warren Aspinall to Everton. I just re-arranged the way I wrote that for a perfect good, bad and ugly by the way.
There are players who move for the money who we hate or are indifferent towards and there are players who have served their time and we understand they move to progress their careers. Bainesy definitely falls into the latter category and most Wiganers are proud as punch to see him playing for Everton and even England. I just wish he’d stop scoring those obligatory penalties against us.
Who are the current Wigan players to look out for?
Nobody is really standing out so far this year and looking like next summer’s transfer out. We’ve signed an African forward called Arouna Kone whose first touch goes further than I can kick a ball. Mauro Boselli, the £6m flop, is finally scoring goals for fun in the cup and the reserves and must be due a start. In midfield the two James’s, McCarthy and McArthur, will do their best to contain your big chap in midfield. But as ever, like all shit teams, our best player is our goalie.
You have supported your club at just about every level – is the Premier League all it’s cracked up to be?
That rampant, hedonistic first year of unbridled ecstasy and passion died off a long time ago and now we’re just still together because we can’t imagine life without it. It’s pretty soulless, forking out for a season ticket knowing that we’ll be lucky to see five home wins a season while paying through the nose to go away from home just to get stiffed by refs – and we do get stiffed more so than any other club, you’ll never convinced me otherwise.
We ended up telling ourselves when deep in the mire last year: ‘Hey the Championship won’t be so bad – new grounds! Cheaper tickets! More young players actually getting a game! Actually having a chance of winning most matches!” The fallout of relegation however, prior to that, could see us collapse completely and I don’t doubt that a large portion of our support would piss off to wherever it was they came from when we got into the Premier League, sadly.
Looking at Bolton and Blackburn they seem pretty resilient but then their football teams have been around a lot longer than ours. The journey down is never going to be as much fun as the journey on the way up, is it?
We have to remind ourselves how fantastic it is and how lucky we are to be where we are. A lot of clubs would love to swap places with us and, to be fair, in the last few years, when it comes to the – please forgive me – ‘business end’ of the season, we’ve had as good a time as any set of fans. It’s like winning a trophy every single year and there’s a little bit of me that is immensely proud that we’re sticking around in the Premier League when so many people – many of them in our town – want to see the back of the pesky little upstarts.
Or ‘The sooner they piss off back to the Cheshire League the better’ as a bloke in my local said the other week. Shortly before I knocked his head clean off.