Having overseen Wigan Athletic FC's remarkable rise from the fourth tier of English football since purchasing the club in 1995, chairman Dave Whelan perhaps understandably finds it a "massive shock" to be watching them in the UEFA Europa League.
Whelan was a player himself until serious injury struck in the 1960 FA Cup final. He subsequently built up a business empire and has invested considerably in Wigan, an unfashionable club from a town dominated by rugby league. However, under Whelan's ownership, the side who first entered the professional ranks in 1978 have enjoyed hugely unexpected success. Their eight-year spell in the top flight culminated in last season's FA Cup final victory against Manchester City FC. That historic triumph, though, coincided with relegation.
"The reactions were mixed, to be honest, because if you win the FA Cup and you are relegated they're on a high – because winning the FA Cup is something so special," said Whelan, 76. "Nobody could imagine Wigan Athletic winning the FA Cup, where we had to go and beat Manchester City in the final. We had a mountain to climb and we climbed it so well. But injuries last year took their toll on us.
"You would never, never expect Wigan Athletic would get into Europe. I think it's a massive shock to me, a massive shock for the town – and possibly a shock to the whole of the Football League. But we earned it, we fought for it. We deserve to be in the competition and hopefully we are going to give, and have been giving, a good account of ourselves."
Wigan are second in UEFA Europa League Group D at the halfway stage, two points adrift of leaders FC Rubin Kazan ahead of their matchday four trip to Russia on 7 November.
To hear more from Whelan and Wigan manager Owen Coyle, watch the video above.
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