Here’s an interesting fact. Did you know that Wigan Chairman Dave Whelan tops the Sunday Times rich list of British sportsmen and women….? Well I didn’t.
With a whopping £190m nicely tucked away, his fortune overshadows even our very own Hollywood superstar David Beckham who languishes in a distant second with a mere £125m in his bank account. Hang about…. Whelan’s a business man isn’t he? Yes he is – the former owner of JJB sports only qualifies because of a promising but short career as a footballer which ended rather prematurely when he broke his leg whilst playing for Blackburn Rovers in the 1960 FA Cup Final.
He’s come a long way since those dark days. Despite being born in Bradford, the 73-year-old is Lancashire through and through and has lived in Wigan since he was a wee nipper. Following his ill-fated stint on the pitch, he opened a chain of supermarkets in the area which were imaginatively named Whelan’s Discount Stores. In an early demonstration of the business acumen that has typified his working life he made a tidy profit on his supermarkets when he sold them all to a bloke called Ken Morrison or something for over a million smackers.
The late seventies marked his first foray into the world of sports retailing when he acquired a shop in Wigan named JJ Bradburns. He appropriated the initials and named his fledgling company JJB Sports which is what we all now so fondly know and love. The chain grew bigger and bigger until there was one on every featureless high street up and down the country and it generated enough money to allow Mr Whelan to buy Wigan FC in 1995. This is where the story gets a bit more interesting.
The Latics were little more than cannon fodder back then having been relegated from the Football League only two years previously but then coming back up at the first attempt. They were enjoying impressive average attendances of 1,800 at their Springfield Park ground when new Chairman Dave Whelan announced that Wigan would be a Premiership side within 10 years. It couldn’t be done they said but their meteoric rise from the depths of the Third Division was completed when Paul Jewel’s side beat Reading in April 2005 at their newly built JJB Stadium to win promotion to the top flight for the first time in the club’s history.
Whelan’s resources have allowed Wigan to consolidate their position in the Premier League and successfully avoid relegation, albeit by the skin of their teeth, back into the Football League. By 2007, he had had enough of being shopkeeper and sold his remaining shares in JJB Sport but retained a string of fitness clubs. He modestly renamed them all DW Sports Fitness Clubs and duly branded Wigan’s Stadium with his own initials to give it the moniker we so affectionately know it as now.
Although his Football Club is pretty nondescript and happy to hover just above the drop zone as the height of their ambition, Dave Whelan is most certainly not and has been outspoken on many occasion by calling for the resignations of Premier League Chairman Dave Richards and chief executive Richard Scudamore on several occasions whilst also throwing his weight behind the campaign to have West Ham relegated as punishment for the Carlos Tevez registration debacle. I might add that all this was done without showing the slightest hint of self-interest in the matter, of course.
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