Rough guide to
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Rough guide to...Oldham
29 July 2003
Relationship with Division Two
Remember the last time Town suffered relegation? Think back to that sunny day in early May 1997. While Town were pointlessly thrashing already-doomed Southend 4-0, Oldham were carrying out a similarly futile tonking of Norwich. Both teams took the plunge. Whereas Town made an instant return to Division One, the Latics have remained down here since. This will be their seventh successive season in the third flight. And as you'll read a little later on, their participation this season looked very unlikely until last week.
Runners-up in the top division in 1914-15 must be up there, but football fans demand modern success. How about 1990? A vintage year, taking into account the end of one season and the start of another. As an old-money second division team, Joe Royle's charges lost to Man Utd plc in a replayed FA Cup semi, made it to the final of the League Cup (losing to Cloughie's cup kings), took a short break for summer and then set off on the campaign that would see the boys in blue promoted as second division champions in May 1991.
There followed three seasons battling with the 'big boys'. Lore has it that the rot began with Mark Hughes' extra-time volley in the 1994 FA Cup semi-final. Oldham were duly swept aside in the replay and a month later they were relegated. Talk about dragging you down.
Joe Royle managed the club for some 12 years before departing for Everton (and a seemingly eternal damnation in the world of punditry on Channel Five) six months after relegation. Keeping faith and hold of the same manager for that amount of time is no mean feat.
The heartbreaking run-ins during the 90s cemented the geographical hatred of Manchester United. Then there's Bury and all those other clubs in the region. Get a map and look for yourself. Apparently Tranmere are something of a bogey team and aren't very popular because of it.
I think you'll find Latics fans are just happy at being able to watch their team play league football next season though. Maybe I'm being optimistic saying they'll love every team they play, but, hey, who knows...
The financial crisis this summer has seen talented players such as Fitz Hall, Chris Armstrong, Wayne Andrews and Clint Hill leave the club on frees or knock-down prices. Southampton took advantage of Oldham's impoverished state and paid a miserly £250,000 for Hall - an England u21 centre-back and considered to have some future in the game. But that's capitalism for you. Or how tight a Scotsman can be.
Among the rest of the squad, David Eyres is still playing. Once-promising Manyoo young 'un (aren't all youth players at Old Trafford destined for that monicker?) Michael Clegg now ranks among their number. Remember David Beharall? Town had him on loan a couple of years back under Robin Lawrence's reign. He joined Oldham in early 2002 for £150,000.
Manager Iain Dowie is much sought after, having produced a team playing some neatish footie with his hands tied with the purse's strings (kinky). Oldham fans feel that he could take a team of ordinary Joe Bloggses and turn them into contenders. Which is handy, as next season he might have to.
This summer the Latics' very existence has hung by a thread. Two years ago Chris Moore brought a controlling interest, investing a sizable amount of money in an attempt to revive the club's fortunes. Last season Oldham narrowly - and painfully - missed out on promotion when they lost to QPR in the play-offs. Two months ago Moore withdrew his financial support, and employees have been unpaid since then. The club's biggest problem was not owning their ground - meaning the staff were the only assets. This has led to a protracted 'divorce' process with Moore seemingly leaving the club for dead.
However, following an open letter in the Manchester Evening News from the paper's Latics reporter, the evening of Thursday 24 July saw Sean Jarvis, the club's marketing manager, get a positive result from months of tireless work. Moore transferred his 95 per cent share in the club to a group including Jarvis - a commercial reign? The shares are going to be redistributed among a number of bodies, including the supporters' trust. The future is far from assured - massive debts still hang over the club like the executioner's noose - but at least they have a foothold to get them going again.
After the promise of last season Dowie had supporters riding the crest of a wave with hopes of more of the same. Moore's hammer blow shattered those hopes, and while it's not a case of being back to square one, there's definitely going to be some difficult rebuilding and restructuring needed at the club over the coming months. It'll be interesting to see where they are when Town play them on Boxing Day. (Yes, yes, I know the team will be at Blundell Park; I meant where the direction the club as a whole would have taken...)
On 7 January 1905 Oldham Athletic beat Newton-le-Willows 11-0. Plumpton scored the first five goals, while Sheridan netted the last six goals. Before the club took that name, it was known as Pine Villa. How alpine.
Neil Warnock once managed Oldham. He presided over the second half of their '96-97 relegation season. Twelve months later, wearing a pair of aviator shades and looking like a Bond villian, Warnock took great joy in beating Town in their last league game of the '97-98 season. Still, we were assured of a play-off berth by then, so who cares?
The Inspiral Carpets were (or 'are', depending on the reform situation) from Oldham. Cool as...
How will they do?
Dowie's a shrewd manager. Last season Oldham were a tough team to beat - losing just twice on their travels and having one of the meanest defences overall. On the eve of this season he's lost key players, the spine of his team. The playing staff has been reduced to 12 professional footballers. Would you like to hazard a guess? Personally, I hope they do all right.
The Oldham Athletic E-Zine is a messageboard that isn't as busy as I imagined it would be. Maybe they're taking a break after recent club-related stresses. There's the incredibly thorough and literate Latics Supporters Club, Canada, which is ever so up-to-date. Not so up-to-date but fun while it lasted is the Boundary Bullet-zine - scroll through four years of archived daily emails.