Playing to Win
Few figures in British business or sport have enjoyed Dave Whelan’s success. As a football man he played in all four divisions. As a businessman he created one the country’s leading high street brands. And as chairman of Wigan Athletic he’s taken his club all the way from the Third Division to the Premiership. Dave’s story is one of ambition, enterprise and tenacity – but also of a man fiercely loyal to his family, his friends and his roots. It begins in wartime Wigan with the Whelans’ desperate struggle to survive. Dave describes the terrifying wasp-like hum of the Luftwaffe and the devastation wrought by their bombs; he remembers the deathly winter of 1942, peeing on his own hands to stop his fingers from freezing; admits how hunger drove ordinary families to lie, cheat and steal; and relives a remarkable reunion with the father he’d never known – a returning soldier. In peacetime a boyhood love affair with football leads him to sign with Blackburn Rovers and when national service calls he joins the Army football team, becoming close friends with ‘Busby Babes’ Bobby Charlton and Duncan Edwards. Then, a vicious tackle in the 1960 FA Cup final spells the twilight of his playing career – but a new dawn in business. Starting as a market trader, he breaks the mould from day one: taking on Boots single-handedly in the Appeal Court; negotiating the sale of his supermarket chain to Ken Morrison – whilst stood at a urinal; and transforming a single tackle shop in Wigan into JJB Sports, the UK’s biggest sports retailer and a GBP1 billion PLC. In 1995 he used his personal fortune to buy struggling, hometown Wigan Athletic, vowing to take the Latics all the way to the Premier League. At the time he was ridiculed, but ten years later, on the final day of the Championship, Dave watched, ecstatic, as his club beat Reading 3-1 to finally secure their place in the top flight. Sometimes tragic, frequently controversial and always heartfelt, Playing to Win lifts the lid on a life lived on the pitch and in the boardroom and tells how a hungry kid from Wigan’s backstreets became a national success and a local hero. Dave Whelan was the founder of retailer JJB Sports and is the chairman of Wigan Athletic Football Club.