OUT OF THE MAY­HEM – INTO THE BIG TIME!

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

THIS time next year, Gavin Massey hopes to be bat­tling As­ton Villa and West Bromwich Al­bion for a place in the Premier League.

“No­body ex­pected us to beat Man City and we did that,” says the Wi­gan winger, who last week capped a mem­o­rable cam­paign with pro­mo­tion to the Cham­pi­onship. “So who knows? The way we’ve played this sea­son, any­thing is pos­si­ble.”

Yet, just 12 months ago, the 25year-old was fac­ing trips to Bar­row, Brom­ley and a life in Non-League foot­ball.

Rel­e­gated with Colch­ester in 2016, the Wat­ford grad­u­ate had joined Leyton Orient with dreams of a swift re­turn to League One.

In­stead, he found man­age­rial may­hem, un­paid wages and a club driven to de­struc­tion by the ne­glect of owner Francesco Bec­chetti.

By April, the O’s were doomed and, just a year af­ter his heart­break at Layer Road, Massey was rel­e­gated again – this time to the National League.

“I’m a pro­fes­sional foot­baller, a priv­i­leged guy,” says Massey. “But relegation still af­fects you. I’d had two, back-to-back, and I was down in the dumps. Just re­ally low.

“It does hurt your con­fi­dence and I’ve seen lots of play­ers in that sit­u­a­tion kind of drift away and give up on foot­ball. So, to be here, with Wi­gan…it’s amaz­ing how quickly things can flip and change.

“Af­ter we beat Fleet­wood to win pro­mo­tion, I was sit­ting on the coach when our cap­tain, Sam Morsy, stood up. He said, ‘Gav, can you pos­si­bly de­scribe your last 12 months in foot­ball?’.

“I thought for a while and said ‘No mate, I don’t think I can’. This time last year, I was head­ing out of the Foot­ball League. Now, I’m stand­ing here hav­ing beaten Manchester City, got to the FA Cup quar­ter-fi­nals and won pro­mo­tion into the Cham­pi­onship. It’s sur­real, to­tally crazy.”

Rat­tled

As was that chaotic 12 months at Bris­bane Road, in which Orient rat­tled through six man­agers be­fore even­tu­ally los­ing their cen­tury-long grip on league sta­tus. “It still sad­dens me,” says Massey, who fin­ished the sea­son as Orient’s top scorer. “Po­ten­tially, we had a great squad. I even spoke to the gaffer here when I joined Wi­gan (Paul Cook – pic­tured left) and we both agreed that team should have been push­ing for pro­mo­tion. “But, from the mo­ment I signed, things started go­ing wrong. You try to stay pro­fes­sional, ig­nore all the chaos. Af­ter a while, though, you can’t.

“One man­ager would get the sack. Then an­other. Then they’d bring in an Ital­ian man­ager who couldn’t speak a word of English. You’re think­ing, ‘What’s go­ing on here?’.

“When he gets sacked, you think ‘Right, it can’t get any worse’. Then there’d be an­other bad de­ci­sion or some­thing else would go wrong. Then, all of a sud­den, no­body is get­ting paid. It was a farce.

“The fans had their views of the own­ers and, be­lieve me, the play­ers did as well. But we were just try­ing to keep go­ing, keep the club in­tact – even when we knew we’d prob­a­bly get rel­e­gated.

“We re­ally fought for that club and I think we de­vel­oped a strong bond with the sup­port­ers. But, by the last two months of the sea­sons things were just ridicu­lous. To­tally im­pos­si­ble.”

For Orient – mid-ta­ble in the National League – the slog back to re­spectabil­ity is likely to take years. For Massey, just months.

The Lon­doner had twice im­pressed in games against Portsmouth and, when gaffer Cook swapped Frat­ton Park for the DW, sign­ing Massey was an early pri­or­ity.

And, where Orient quickly turned into a night­mare, Massey rapidly re­alised life in Lan­cashire would be very dif­fer­ent.

Ven­tured

“From the day I joined to the day we went up, there wasn’t one mo­ment when I didn’t think we’d be in the Cham­pi­onship next year,” says Massey, who had never ven­tured north alone be­fore tak­ing the train to sign for Wi­gan.

“And it all comes from the

staff. The gaffer and his coaches are so down to earth. There’s noth­ing big-time about any of them.

“Work ethic is ev­ery­thing to them. The mes­sage was ba­si­cally that we’ve got some real su­per­stars in this team who prob­a­bly shouldn’t even be in League One. So, if they put a shift in, who can stop us?

“Open­ing day, we played Mil­ton Keynes, who were tipped to reach the play-offs. We were down to ten men af­ter half an hour, right up against it. But we scored a goal, then grafted to hang on for a 1-0. That set the tone re­ally. You could just tell that the boys could smell pro­mo­tion.”

Chief among those su­per­stars is Nick Pow­ell, the for­mer Crewe pro­tege who lost his way af­ter a big-money move to Manchester United. Now 25, the 15-goal play­maker is the stylish heart of this Lat­ics side and is once again on the radar of sev­eral Premier League sides.

“Nick is hands down the best player I’ve ever played along­side,” adds Massey, who has chipped in with six goals of his own this term. “This boy does things in train­ing I’ve never seen be­fore.

“In a match, ev­ery­thing is so calm. When you watch him on the pitch, you can tell that ev­ery­thing is just too easy for him. He’s lev­els above ev­ery­body else in the league.

“When we beat West Ham in the FA Cup, they high­lighted Nick on Match of the Day. The pun­dits were all say­ing he looked like a Premier League player that day, but he looks like that ev­ery week. He def­i­nitely shouldn’t be play­ing at this level. “And it isn’t just him. Will Grigg is the ul­ti­mate goalscorer. He’d prob­a­bly be one of the best strik­ers in the Cham­pi­onship. “For me, it’s great to learn off th­ese play­ers. It’s crazy, be­cause Nick’s younger than me and I’m watch­ing ev­ery­thing he does. But you can’t be proud about it – it’s an in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity to play along­side lads like this. I feel very lucky.”

Aside from can­ter­ing to League One pro­mo­tion – Wi­gan were out­side the top two for just five of the last 34 game-weeks – Cook’s side also dumped Bournemouth, West Ham and City out of the FA Cup be­fore fall­ing to Southamp­ton in the quar­ters.

“Ev­ery­one said the FA Cup would be a dis­trac­tion, but it ac­tu­ally spurred us on,” says Massey. “I mean, how could beat­ing Man City not breed con­fi­dence?

In­stant

“Be­fore that game, we ac­tu­ally had a lit­tle blip. You want to take on a team like City full of con­fi­dence, but we’d just lost to Southend! At the back of your mind, you’re think­ing ‘God, if we lost to them, what could this lot do to us?’.

“But then we went out, beat them 1-0 and, sud­denly, you’re think­ing, ‘If we can beat them, we can beat any­body’.”

It is that men­tal­ity which Massey hopes will pre­vent a re­peat of 2016-17, when Wi­gan fol­lowed pro­mo­tion un­der Gary Cald­well with an in­stant re­turn to League One.

“I’m con­fi­dent, and I think the boys are as well,” he says. “Af­ter some of the per­for­mances we’ve put in you can just tell we can be a good side in the Cham­pi­onship.

“It’ll be a lot of hard work, but the qual­ity is there. We’ve proved that. And af­ter the year I’ve had, I’ve learned any­thing can hap­pen.

“I’ve gone from po­ten­tially play­ing in front of a few hun­dred peo­ple to play­ing in front of 30,000. So who knows? This time next year, maybe we’ll be push­ing for the Premier League.”

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