Rise of the Underdog: Watson, Whelan & Wigan's redemptive tale of two broken legs

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In the 1960 FA Cup final between Blackburn Rovers and Wolves, Dave Whelan suffered a horrific leg break shortly before half time.

When he regained consciousness, he learned his team had lost 3-0 and that the trophy was on its way to Molineux.

It was the pain of defeat rather than the leg break that Whelan continued to carry around with him.

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Indeed, in the build-up to the 2013 FA Cup final, the Wigan Athletic owner regularly reminded everyone connected with the club of his Wembley agony, so much so, in fact, that it became a running joke around the town.

Whelan even recounted the story in the dressing room before the Latics' showdown with Manchester City.

So, when Emmerson Boyce climbed the steps at Wembley to lift the FA Cup alongside club captain Gary Caldwell, the Barbadian told Whelan, "Now THIS is a story to tell people!"

He wasn't wrong, either. Wigan's 1-0 victory over City ranks as one of the biggest shocks in football history.

City were flush with cash having been taken over by the Abu Dhabi United Group and their squad full of superstars had won the Premier League title just a year before.

On the day of the final, they sat second in the table; Wigan were 18th, and staring relegation in the face. Ominously for the underdogs, no side had ever been demoted and won the FA Cup in the same season.

In addition, Wigan didn't have a single player who had even played in a final before, while seven members of City's starting line-up had featured in their 2011 Wembley win.

Ben Watson Roberto Martinez Wigan Manchester City 2013 FA Cup Final

Bizarrely, though, it was relegation-threatened Wigan who went into the game in a better frame of mind.

"We had been seeing a psychologist in the build-up to the final, and the day before the game we did an exercise where the players and staff had to write down why we were proud to be walking out at Wembley with each other," Caldwell told the BBC in 2018.

"We handed it back and did not know what it was going to be used for. But that night or the next morning, everyone found an envelope under their door. We opened it to find everything that our team-mates and the staff had written about us, on strips of paper.

"It was quite emotional and very powerful. You really felt a sense of the team spirit and that was a fantastic thing to do right before the final."

By complete contrast, City's players woke up to (accurate) reports that their manager, Roberto Mancini, would soon be sacked and replaced at the helm by Manuel Pellegrini.

City defender Joleon Lescott would later insist that the rumours in no way affected the team's performance but the favourites undoubtedly turned in an unusually insipid display.

Wigan goalkeeper Joel Robles was forced into a fine early save from Carlos Tevez but, for the most part, City struggled to fashion openings.

Wigan, thus, grew in confidence as the game wore on, with Callum McManaman proving particularly influential down the right wing as Roberto Martinez's 3-4-3 formation caused trouble for City.

The game was still scoreless, though, when Ben Watson was introduced with nine minutes to go.

Ben Watson Wigan Manchester City 2013 FA Cup Final

The midfielder had only just returned to action after six months out with a broken leg. As he later told FATV, "If anyone was going to score, it was myself."

Just three minutes after Watson's introduction, City full-back Pablo Zabaleta was sent off for a second yellow card.

Watson thought to himself, "This is it. This is it. You're not gonna ever get a better chance to win an FA Cup." And he wasn't about to let it pass him by.

In the first minute of injury time, Shaun Maloney whipped a corner into City area. Using the right leg he had broken to launch himself into the air, Watson connected with a near-post header that flew into the far corner of the City net.

"It was meant to be," the match-winner enthused afterwards. "It was just meant to be."

For Watson, and for Whelan.

"We knew how much it hurt him to have his playing career cut short playing in the Cup final," his grandson and successor as Wigan chairman David Sharpe told The Daily Mail, "and to win the FA Cup made his time in football complete.

"There are photos of the day all over his house. The memories are very special. It was the biggest day of our lives. I’m sure every Wigan fan will say the same."

Wigan were sadly condemned to relegation just days later having lost to Arsenal. But Whelan's FA Cup story - at least - had a happy ending.