Dave Whelan’s decision to resign as chairman of Wigan Athletic last week is perhaps not the greatest surprise. No one could bemoan a man who at 78-years-old wanted to take a step back from the demands of operating a professional football club.
Whelan is someone who was well respected within the game for achievements on the field, but has cut an ever increasingly controversial figure over the last couple of months, and with good reason.
Not only did Wigan appoint Malky Mackay, a man who is in the midst of an FA investigation into allegations that racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic text messages were exchanged with Iain Moody while the pair were at Cardiff City, but Whelan himself was embroiled in a racism row in late 2014. The time therefore was right for him to go.
Whether the cloud that has hung over Whelan played a part in his decision to step down is anyone’s guess, but there is no hiding from the fact it has tarnished his reputation within the game. An interview in which he openly used derogatory language, whether intentional or not, sent out a dangerous precedent to others that behaviour and attitudes like that are acceptable.
Whelan himself defended his use of words, as nothing more than an ‘affectionate term’ used to describe the Chinese and nostalgia for a society that no longer exists.
The simple fact remains, whether he meant to cause offence or not is irrelevant. It has no place in society, let alone football.
Had that incident not taken place, we would be talking about a man that was revered and praised in equal measure. After all, this is a man who, in two decades as Wigan owner, laid the foundations for three promotions, an eight year stay in the Premier League, a maiden FA Cup triumph with a shock 1-0 victory over Manchester City in 2013, and a Europa League group stage appearance.
That makes for even more impressive reading when you consider that Wigan were on the verge of dropping out of the Football League in 1995. Whelan’s funds not only saw them turn dreams into reality, he also financed the construction of their current home, the DW Stadium, in 1999.
However, pretending the controversy of the last few months didn’t happen isn’t going to help anyone. Using his footballing achievements to gloss over his comments is, again, in danger of sending out the wrong message.
Football, and indeed society, has no place for those comments. With racism hot on the agenda in light of a minority of Chelsea supporters who shamed the club with their actions and caused greater concern within wider society of the persistence of racism in the 21st century, we could do without high profile figures fuelling the fire and giving the green light for others to make similar comments and act in such a disgraceful fashion.
Whelan has arguably done an awful lot for the game. He may have spent vast amounts of money over the last twenty years to aid Wigan’s progress, but for the majority of their time in the Premier League, the Latics relied on a small group of players to perform their seemingly annual great escape from relegation.
It’s not been an easy road since for Whelan or Wigan as relegation from the Premier League followed four days after their FA Cup final success. Despite a play-off semi-final appearance last season, the club are hanging precariously in 22nd place in the Championship, and relegation to League One is a real possibility.
On the field, Whelan has essentially overseen the birth and growth of football in a passionate rugby league town. But his actions in the last six months have, rightly so, overshadowed his position.
Whelan’s actions, coupled with the appointment of Mackay, arguably brought the club into disrepute. Ultimately then, Whelan must come to terms with the fact his successes will always be uttered in the same sentence as that now infamous interview.