TORONTO – Wigan isn’t regarded as one of the most fashionable places in England, but that may be a touch unfair. The town is the birthplace of northern soul, a hotbed of the north’s cherished rugby league, and the place where The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft began cockily cavorting down streets and possibly walking over car bonnets.
Perhaps it’s down to the culinary obsession in this particular corner of Greater Manchester. Locals are known as “Pie Eaters,” and as The Independent’s David Barnett noted earlier this year: “Go to Wigan and tell them that it’s British Pie Week and you’ll no doubt receive a volley of blank looks. That’s because every week is pie week in Wigan.”
For somebody visiting the area from overseas – particularly from as far afield as Honduras – pies may not be the most appealing of foodstuffs.
“I don’t like them much,” FC Dallas defender Maynor Figueroa admitted to theScore, over 10 years on from he initially joined Wigan Athletic on loan from Honduran giant Olimpia.
Making an impression
Acclimating to Wigan was initially difficult on the pitch for Figueroa, as well. He wasn’t afforded the time on the ball he had been in his homeland, and was quickly being drilled in the route-one tactics of Steve Bruce. However, the Spanish-speaking contingent soon swelled upon the arrival of Roberto Martinez, whose philosophy was a stark contrast to what had been in place previously.
“Roberto is a different manager,” Figueroa said. “Steve Bruce liked it more directly, but Roberto liked playing more on the ground, he loved to keep the ball. It’s totally different.”
Just a few months into Martinez’s reign, Figueroa scored one of the best goals of the Premier League era. It looked like an impulsive decision to try to score from inside his own half, but Figueroa claims it was a plan he devised at half-time after surveying Thomas Sorensen’s positioning from afar.
“So I saw the ‘keeper in the first half, he was outside the box,” Figueroa recalled. “So in the second half, I had to try and shoot. It doesn’t matter from where I’m gonna shoot because I am sure I’m going to score a goal today. When I saw the opportunity, I don’t think two times to shoot. It’s the best goal of my career.”
Figueroa remembers his wife’s surprise when he was sullen on his return home – Wigan had only managed a 2-2 draw at Stoke City – but he now looks back on his audacious effort with pride, and is still regularly asked about it today.
‘An easy game’ for City
The most notable achievement for Wigan during Figueroa’s stay was its FA Cup triumph in 2013. The Latics were hurtling towards the second tier of English football while Manchester City, on course for a runner-up finish in the Premier League, was heavily fancied to take home the old pot. However, the final was played against a backdrop of rumblings about City boss Roberto Mancini’s future, and there was a surprising lack of intensity from Wigan’s illustrious opponent from 40-odd minutes down the road.
“They think ‘oh we’re gonna play against Wigan, an easy game for us,'” Figueroa said.
“We say ‘no, this is the unique opportunity to make a story because we are down in the league, we are in the bottom of the league. We’re coming down to the second division but this is the unique opportunity to get something special to give to the fans.'”
(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
Wigan won with a last-gasp header from Ben Watson, sparking jubilant scenes at Wembley. Figueroa was one of a few injured absentees from the fixture – something the Honduran notes had his boss in a downbeat mood ahead of the showpiece – but he had a rare opportunity to support a compatriot in his stead in Sporting Kansas City stalwart Roger Espinoza.
“I say to Roger, ‘Roger you can do it, come on, you have to represent Honduras. We gotta win the FA Cup.’ We did it. We did it and we were all so happy because for the first time in the history of this club we won the FA Cup, and that’s amazing.”
‘I want to help my people’
Figueroa cringes when he’s reminded he’s now 35 – “I look 10 years younger!” – but his drive and ambitions haven’t weathered with age or the rigours of Major League Soccer with FC Dallas. He harbours ambitions of coaching and wouldn’t rule out potentially managing Wigan one day, but immediately wants to hang out with his father, who still enjoys his job as a bus driver, and assist those back in his old village and beyond.
“Today more than ever I want to help my people in Honduras,” he said. “I want to build an academy to help a lot of people coming from the city when they don’t have nothing.
“I want to help many people.”