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Playing to Win by Dave Whelan

Release date: 20th August, 2009
Publisher: Aurum Press

List Price: £18.99
Our Price: £12.34
You Save: £6.65 (35%)
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Wigan chairman Dave Whelan, who has written an autobiography of the quality you would expect of a man who played in all four of England's professional divisions before becoming a multi-millionaire, has attracted his fair share of anecdotes.

One of the most illuminating shows his willingness to combine calculated risk with a compelling reward for the people who work for him.

Towards the end of the 2004-05 football season, Wigan were on the cusp of winning promotion to the top flight. With three games remaining, they drew against QPR then dropped a further two points at home to Preston the following week. This left them needing a win at home against Reading to secure promotion.

On the eve of Wigan's biggest-ever match, Dave Whelan tabled an enticing offer to his players: beat Reading and I'll take you all on holiday to Barbados next Friday.

For the Wigan Athletic chairman, ex-professional footballer and self-made millionaire even before he built his JJB Sports empire, an ascent into the Premiership guaranteed by this victory would represent the culmination of an incredible decade-long march through the lower divisions. It would be the fulfilment of a personal dream and well worth the cost of the thirty seats he provisionally booked on the departure from Manchester for his players and training staff.

This was no 'gimme', for Reading needed to win to keep their promotion hopes alive, but Whelan's incentive worked: Wigan won 3-1 and they're still occupying a top-flight berth, much to their chairman's pleasure.

Whelan has never really received credit for what he has achieved: playing in all four divisions is a feat equalled by few, though he did so during the maximum wage era, meaning his remuneration was at best modest. His playing career effectively ended in the 1960 FA Cup final when he was on the receiving end of a bad tackle, but he had the tenacity and wherewithal, borne of a wartime childhood, to go out and build a business empire which generated sales of £718 million last year.

His route to the top in business tree was as tough as his time playing for Blackburn. He kicked off as a market trader but refused to be bullied by bigger organisations, including Boots, who he took to court. Later, Whelan was to build an impressive supermarket chain which he sold to Morrisons (his negotiations with Sir Ken Morrison were concluded at a gent's urinal) before he bought a shop specialising in fishing tackle that he transformed into JJB Sports, the UK's largest sports retailer, a company listed on the stock exchange and valued at more than £87 million.

One suspects that if Dave Whelan were based in another part of the country, the plaudits would have flowed more readily, not as though this appears to bother him.

In 1995, he bought Wigan Athletic and, given his entrepreneurial background, with hindsight, we all should have known he would take the club to the Premier League's promised land and keep them there, no doubt combining that wonderful mix of risk and reward en route. This is a first class autobiography with all proceeds going to the new Wigan Boys Club. Buy it.


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