Time for a Change PDF Print E-mail
Oldham Athletic
Written by Mark W   
Sunday, 20 August 2017 15:52

Things are looking grim so far, no points, just one league goal and already the dream of a League cup run has gone for a Burton. However, we are three league games into a new season, just three. You can’t judge whether we will stay up or not off three games. Many are trying to do just that, but you can’t.

Whilst you can’t write us off and start planning for relegation, you probably can come to a conclusion that it is going to be another long hard season. Teams do come back from this position and challenge for promotion, (Sheffield United did it from somewhere similar last year) but that’s not going to happen. Whilst we might be able to turn it around to stay up, that’s as good as it is getting. We are no Sheffield United.

To some extent, whether we can stay up or not, is kind of beside the point. Of course I want us to stay up and of course I fully understand the consequences if we go down. Right now, though, it is that dread of another eight months of battling for the odd result that fills me with dread without worrying about the conclusion.

I just want to be able to get excited about a season. Other fans get to experience that. You could sense the excitement of the Oxford fans at the start of this season. They believe that this could be their year. I know Bury fans and Rochdale fans who started the campaign full of expectation following closed-season strengthening. It looks like it might have been false hope for them both right now but they have both got pretty strong squads. They should be competing at the right end as we move into 2018.

We don’t get to experience that any more. Yes, there were some who seemed to think we had a decent summer and that we might be able to challenge for a top half finish. Yes, you read that right, getting excited that we might be able to finish 11th. Reality has already bit though, having a summer that is less disastrous than the last two is different from having a decent summer. We get the odd run such as under Lee Johnson where we had a few months of playing some good football where it was possible to let yourself dream. Having got ourselves into a pretty good position we opted to throw it away by failing to replace Lee when Barnsley came calling.

As a football fan, it is all about being able to dream. It’s great to win a match, but there has to be a bigger picture. It’s all about success, whether you support Real Madrid or Glossop North End, you go because you want to see your team succeed. If you know that’s not an option, what’s the point?

I know this is negative, I hate being negative. I can only be realistic though. I genuinely do not see how my football club can achieve any kind of success in the foreseeable future, and yes, by foreseeable future I mean under the current ownership.

From what I can see, we have no plan. I have heard the Board state on a number of occasions that they have a 3 year plan or a 5 year plan but in recent years I have heard nothing. We are in our 21st consecutive season in league one yet all the rhetoric from the board room is about a season of consolidation. How can you be in a season of consolidation after 21 years? Consolidation is the aim in years one and two.

I remember that the SportsDirect deal was going to allow us to compete in this division. We are into year 4 of that deal and are we competing? No, we are not.

I remember that the new stand was going to enable us to compete. We would finally have an asset that would allow us to generate revenue 365 days a year. That would put us in a position where we could compete with the better sides in League One. We’ve got the new stand. It doesn’t generate round the clock revenue because by the owner’s own admission, we are only benefitting from matchday revenue. Even that is restricted because the supporters’ bar we were promised will be available “manana”. So are we competing? No we are not.

Do we hear the owner telling us of the latest plan to make us compete? No, presumably because he hasn’t got one.

I don’t dislike Simon Corney. I have dealt with him on a number of occasions and he seems to be a nice bloke. When he and his two associates took over the club in our hour of need they had a plan and I genuinely believe that they were unlucky. They put money into the club and would probably have put in more had the financial crisis not hit at the worst possible moment. Simon B and Danny have gone now. With them went the financial clout for us to put together a promotion push. Simon Corney knows that and he has done a good job of ensuring that we don’t slip through the leagues. You can’t question that there are much bigger clubs than us who have played in League two and non-league over the last decade. It doesn’t surprise me that Simon gets miffed when fans don’t recognize that.

It’s not enough though. We need the dream, the belief that this club can achieve something. I’m sorry Simon, but you can’t deliver that.

The current structure of the club, the land, the ground, OEC, etc. makes finding a buyer exceptionally difficult. Who would purchase the club without the land and make a success of it? The answer to that is simple… Nobody. A way has to be found for someone to be able to purchase the job lot. That is up to Simon and Brassbank. The statements that we have seen from them and the open conversations that Simon has held with fans suggests they want their money back. Realistically that’s not going to happen and if that is the starting point in any negotiation it is no wonder no buyer can be found.

It is easy for me to suggest that some guys I don’t know should be prepared to take a loss. I get that. I also understand that Simon says he is ploughing significant funds into the club on an annual basis. If that is the case, it must be better for him to cut some of his losses now rather than keep going. It should also be remembered that all this money he, and other parties puts in, simply increases the debts of the club and makes finding an investor even more difficult.

I call on Simon to be open with the fans and the public of Oldham and tell us what it would take to get your hands on the club and its associated assets (I appreciate they are not the club’s assets but when TTA took over they had an option to repurchase the assets at a very fair price. I’d like to think they could offer a similar deal to our next owner).

I am grateful to the three businessmen who took on the club when we desperately needed them but I just feel that we are in desperate need once again. The continued season on season loss of fans will kill the club. We can blame that eroding of the fan-base on the growth of the Premier League or apathy within the town but the truth is, it is a lack of ambition. We aren’t just losing the casual fans, we are losing people who have shown decades of loyalty. The way I feel about the club at the moment I can’t blame them.

I recognize that losing our owner would be a risk. I, like most fans look at owners like Oyston, SISU, and Venkys and shiver. The examples of Stockport and Tranmere as teams who have suffered catastrophic failure are far too close to home. I can’t say that if we had new owners we wouldn’t see that kind of slide. Likewise, I can’t say that we wouldn’t see a rise similar to Brighton and Bournemouth. Both were clubs who we would have seen as being in a worse state than us at some point in the last decade. Even Huddersfield weren’t getting much better crowds than us not that long ago. They show what can happen to a well run club.

I’d be prepared to take the risk. I honestly feel that we haven’t got that much to lose. If we are still in this division in 5 years time, starting every campaign hoping to survive we will be doing so in front of sub 2,500 crowds which will lead to further cuts in the playing budget and the vicious circle continues.

I know this will not be a universally popular view, in fact I know that some will see it as tantamount to treason. For that I apologize, I am only saying it because I care and I am concerned about the future of Oldham Athletic.

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A Dreadful Conflict of Emotions PDF Print E-mail
General Football
Written by Mark W   
Thursday, 02 March 2017 23:20

It is very rare that an issue at another club leads to me feeling strongly enough to write a blog. Today, however, I have been intrigued at strength of feeling on social media with Oxford United fans arguing amongst themselves. It has intrigued me because I understand it completely.

Last night Oxford won 3-2 at Luton in the final of the EFL Trophy to claim a spot in the final at Wembley at the start of April. Whilst a section of the Oxford fanbase looks forward to a 2nd trip to the national stadium in as many seasons, another sizable group of fans will continue their boycott of the tournament. Feelings are clearly strong with both factions trading insults throughout the day.

I have not attended one game in the tournament this season despite having previously been to most games in its predecessor over the last couple of decades. Indeed, I wrote a blog on the importance of the competition in 2011 here: http://www.ernieflag.co.uk/site/index.php/bloggs/14-oldham-athletic/127-jpt-a-golden-opportunity

I have never boycotted Oldham games before and not going to matches was not something that sat comfortably with me. Unfortunately, some things are more important and making a stand against the inclusion of B teams is one such issue to me. I genuinely believe that had fans simply accepted the inclusion of higher league U23 sides it would have only been a matter of time before the top Premier League clubs were allowed to enter a 2nd team into the Football League. This would be the death knell of football as we know it.

Clearly I am not alone as there has been the best supported cross-club boycott that I can remember in English football. Crowds have been over 50% down on JPT matches last season.

Ever since we kicked off the competition with a home defeat to Carlisle I had a real concern that we might make it to the final. I didn’t want to have to make the difficult decision that the Oxford and Coventry fans are faced with now. I have to be honest and say that I wanted us to get knocked out as early as possible.

I did, however, go through the situation in my head and I can’t 100% state what I would have done. I think I would have stuck to my principles and not attended the final but at the same time it would have been devastating to miss out on our first competitive final of any kind for 27 years. If I had attended I don’t think I could have enjoyed it but if I’d stayed at home I would be missing out on a big part of the club’s history.

This, in itself, is a reason why this tournament has been a disgrace this season. No fans should ever be put in this position. A trip to Wembley is something special so nobody should be put in a position where they have to even think about not going.

I hope the Oxford and Coventry fans make their own decisions and are not made to feel like they have let their club down whichever way they decide to turn. Above all, I hope that this ill-thought out experiment is abolished after just one season and that we can all get back to supporting our own clubs home and away in every game next year.

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Last Updated on Friday, 03 March 2017 08:13
 
A Guide to Boundary Park PDF Print E-mail
Oldham Athletic
Written by Mark W   
Sunday, 22 January 2017 22:57

On Tuesday 24 January, Oldham Athletic will throw open its doors to the public and allow entry to the game against Peterborough free of charge.

As there will be a number of people who will take advantage of this offer to make their first visit to Boundary Park or to return after a lengthy period of absence I thought it was worth providing a guide to the place.

Firstly, you will notice that I have just referred to the ground as Boundary Park. You might have read that it has been renamed Sports Direct Dot Com Park. Whilst we are very grateful to Mike Ashley for any cash he may be giving us, it’s called Boundary Park. It has always been called Boundary Park and it always will be. It’s a hell of a mouthful anyway, so just stick with the old school version and blend in.

I would never speak on behalf of anyone else without getting their express permission but as a season ticket holder, I would like to welcome you to Boundary Park and everyone I have spoken to is of the same view. There seems to be a handful of fans who have an issue with people getting in free when we have paid up front. These are few and far between. I want to see Boundary Park full with a great atmosphere. I am fed up with half empty stands. I want you to come, enjoy yourself and come back. If you can help cheer us on to a victory that would be even better.

If you used to come to games, you will remember the car park behind the Broadway stand. You will probably remember that you could drive up, hand over some cash and park on there. You can’t any more. The car park will be half empty, it always is. If you want to hand over your hard earned money to take one of the empty spaces you will be turned away. Don’t ask me why but I am sure there is some bizarre logic in there somewhere. There’s plenty of free parking within a ten minute walk though, so don’t worry about it.

Speaking of that side of the ground, there is a fancy new stand there now. It is supposed to have a supporters’ bar in it, but it hasn’t (though it is has been going to open soon for well over a year so that’s something to look forward to). Despite this it is actually a good stand. There are bars below the stand itself and even TVs where you can check on other scores at half time. Viewing is good and despite the moanings of some, you don’t tend to get wet, especially if you are near the back.

There’s even a fancy bar-code entry system these days though I am guessing that with free entry, you won’t get to experience this cutting edge technology.

You may have heard of the Athleticos who do a good job of trying to create a decent atmosphere. If you fancy getting involved, head for the large section of the Rochdale Road End (now the Jimmy Frizzell stand though you wouldn’t know it). If you have got kids who would like to see Chaddy the Owl and partake in special activities like face painting, you should give the small section of the RRE a try. This is the family stand and you will find yourself with other likeminded parents.

For returning fans, I am afraid the Chaddy End is no longer an option. This is now the away end. It’s a real shame as the heritage of the club has been diluted by that decision but it is what it is so you will need to try somewhere new. You’ll be able to see how much noise the handful of Posh fans will be able to make with those famous acoustics.

I would ask that you try to show some understanding to those of us who go on a regular basis. As I have said, most will be delighted to have you there but we do have our quirks. If you invited me into your home you would probably be a bit miffed if I walked straight into your lounge and sat in your favourite armchair. Likewise, some of us have our favourite seats that we have reserved for the season. Unhelpfully, there aren’t reserved stickers on season ticket seats so you might be asked to move. Many fans won’t be precious over a particular seat but if someone is, just go with it.

As you will, no doubt have seen, we have John Sheridan back in charge. Shez did an amazing job of keeping us up last season and we are all hopeful he can do so again. There’s been a bit of bad press about him over the last few days but as long as you don’t dress like a referee it is unlikely that he will call you a **** and you could always take him some of your unwanted Christmas presents for him to pass on to his kids.

If you want to know who the star players are, it won’t take me long. Connor Ripley is the keeper. He’s on loan from Middleborough and he is fantastic. We’ve got one of the best defensive records in the league and that is largely down to him and our captain Peter Clarke. Clarke is also our top scorer despite being a centre half. Other than that, we have returning heroes in Anthony Gerrard (cousin of the one you have heard of) and Aaron Amadi-Holloway. They were both instrumental in our form in the 2nd half of last season and are back after 6 months away.

I had better address the elephant in the room. Whilst there is a new sense of optimism following the return of Shez, there is a chance (clearly an outside chance) that it might be a bit shit. If it is, please try to get behind the team. Remember that you have been given free tickets so try to give a bit back. Don’t tell everyone around you how bad it is, we already know I promise.

It won’t be though, it will be great. We are on a 1 game winning streak at home and the law of averages suggests that we are due to score a load of goals.

One last thing, some of you will support a different team, heaven forbid, you might even support one that has the word Manchester in it. That’s fine (it’s not, you should support your local team but I will ignore that) but please leave that at home for the evening. There is no reason to tell everyone around who you really support. You are there to support Oldham for the night. It will only lead to people thinking you are a bit of a cock and none of us want that.

Actually, it wasn't the last thing. There will be a minute's applause after 9 minutes for one of our fans, Dot, who passed away at the end of last week. If you could join in it would be much appreciated.

Enjoy the game folks and hopefully we look forward to welcoming you back on Saturday when we entertain Bradford and make it 3 home wins on the bounce.

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Last Updated on Monday, 23 January 2017 18:07
 
Dunn For From the Start PDF Print E-mail
Oldham Athletic
Written by Mark W   
Monday, 18 January 2016 23:40

When Oldham Athletic’s Board sacked Darren Kelly after a handful of games in September it was imperative that they made the right decision when replacing him. The failure to appoint a manager following Lee Johnson’s departure in February had led to a season of great promise petering out and the Kelly appointment had been farcical (as I wrote about when he left the club HERE).

 

The start to the season under Kelly had not been all we would have wanted but whilst it was difficult to see a promotion challenge on the horizon, we’d picked up seven points in as many games so there was a base for the new manager to build upon.

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Last Updated on Friday, 22 January 2016 12:39
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Another One Bites The Dust PDF Print E-mail
Oldham Athletic
Written by Mark W   
Saturday, 12 September 2015 21:07

We’ve all done it… you hear it on the radio or see it on Twitter and then have a right good snigger to yourself at the team who have just sacked their manager after a handful of games. “How ridiculous” you say, you can’t possibly judge him off ten or fifteen matches. You do this safe in the knowledge that your football club would never do anything like that.

Based on this, I should now be writing an article about how Oldham Athletic should have stuck with Darren Kelly for a least a season as you have to back your manager and give him time to build a team that can do him justice. I am not writing that article, though.

When Lee Johnson departed for Barnsley in February, we were sat 9th in the league with our best chance of a promotion push in many a year. The disappointment of losing the boss could have been partially offset by the appointment of someone who the fans believed could push us into a play-off place. Instead, the Board opted to give the reigns to Dean Holden and in doing so, accept that it was all about staying up. Many people slated Corney for this but to me, I thought it was sensible. The tide had already started turning and I don’t think anyone in our price-range could have led us to a top 6 finish.

The key was getting the right man in place for the start of the 2015/16 season. We all know that fans have been dwindling away for the last 20 years but this season had the potential to be different. As season tickets went on sale for the new stand, I couldn’t recall such a feelgood factor about the club during our time in League One. There was real excitement about the long awaited stand and I felt that a big appointment could have gone a long way towards securing an increase in attendances. I was in shock, therefore, when we announced the unknown Kelly would lead us into the new season.

It didn’t surprise me that we had opted for someone with little managerial experience as this tactic had proved relatively successful in our last couple of appointments. I was expecting someone I had heard of, though, and someone with real pedigree.

The early signs were not good. I listened to snippets of his interview on local radio and heard what sounded like someone who’d been fairly successful on a football manager computer game and thought he could transfer this skill into real life management.

The early summer brought a lack of transfer activity barring the signing of Lee Croft who presumably, given his previous ties with the club, was not chosen by the manager. The key players were retained though and as the season approached there were some decent signings. The worrying thing was that there were strong rumours that none of these were being identified by the manager and there was also talk from people who usually get these things right that Kelly was already on borrowed time. A week before the season, word was that he might not make it to the opening match.

Before a ball had been kicked in a competitive game Kelly’s position was already becoming untenable as these rumours would not go away and the club opted not to comment and dismiss them.

Seven league games in and he has gone. It should be pointed out that he only actually lost 2 of those 7 games. It is clear that whilst the team looked clueless today against Peterborough, it was not this defeat that ultimately cost him his job.

If it is true that the Board realized that they had made a mistake in pre-season, why did they not act then? Sacking Kelly before the Walsall game would not have appeared any more ridiculous than doing so now but it would have given us more time to move forward with the right man and would also have been fairer to him.

Simon Corney and his Board have significant experience of running a football club now, with him being in his second decade in charge. He also has a decent track record of appointing managers, although some may disagree. I do not understand how an error of this magnitude has been allowed to occur. I struggle to believe that when presented with over a hundred CVs earlier on in the year a decision was made that Darren Kelly’s stood out. I also don’t follow the common belief that it was simply a case of choosing the cheapest option. Risking relegation is certainly not a cheap option.

It feels as if those charged with running this club have taken their eye off the ball, especially when the manager situation is paired with the North Stand fiasco, which I am purposefully steering clear of. You could probably chuck Ched Evans into the mix if you really wanted to. We cannot afford to lose any more fans but everything I am witnessing can only lead to just that.

I am not naive enough to think that we should ‘sack the board’ as it doesn’t work like that. There is not a big queue snaking up Sheepfoot Lane of rich investors desperate to pour their wealth into the bottomless pit that is Oldham Athletic Football Club. I am also savvy enough to realize that Simon Corney is already on the lookout for someone who he may be able to offload the club to. I do think, however, that if he cares about the club (and I genuinely believe he does) he needs to re-engage with it or find someone who can.

When the fans of other clubs look at us and snigger this weekend they will make that usual accusation that the Board have acted fair too hastily. They will almost be right and they will certainly be pointing their fingers in the right direction.

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Last Updated on Saturday, 12 September 2015 21:13
 
Climbing the Pyramid with The Brewers PDF Print E-mail
General Football
Written by Terryy   
Saturday, 02 May 2015 16:08

I doubt whether any other town in the country of the size of Burton-on-Trent can claim to have had four Football League Clubs.

In the pre-war years Burton could proudly lay claim to three Football League sides in Burton Wanderers, Burton Swifts and Burton United.

Burton Wanderers inflicted Newcastle United’s worst ever defeat 9-0 in Division Two on 15th April 1895. A contemporary report in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle Sports Edition included quotes about a match on February 8th 1896, when Newcastle United (6th) were due to play Burton Wanderers (2nd) at St James' Park in the League Division Two return fixture:

About 7,000 people lined the barriers (about average for that time) waiting for the two teams to take the field. The game was advertised to start at 2.45pm and at the allotted time the Newcastle team began to warm-up, but the opposition failed to appear as only six Burton players had arrived; the others having missed their connection at Sheffield. The Newcastle players approached referee Mr. Cowley claiming that the match should be awarded to Newcastle. However, although nothing was certain, it was believed that the rest of the team would arrive by 3.30pm and the decision was taken to delay the kick-off.

Shortly before 3.30pm the Newcastle players returned followed a couple of minutes later by eight of the Burton team (not including the keeper) and the match was on! The Burton captain lost the toss but Newcastle had the decency to kick up the hill in the first half. Within minutes a long low shot by defender Graham found the net. At 3.45pm “the first of the missing lot, namely Watts, the regular goalkeeper, turned up and immediately took up his position under the crossbar, attired in ordinary long trousers and jersey". A couple of minutes later the remaining tawdry two arrived having kitted themselves out.

Thus United only had one goal for their early numerical advantage as they "had taken things easily" and only when the opposition was up to their full quota did their "tactics become more vigorous".

Initially it was United who continued to dominate the game and kept Burton's custodian well occupied, but The Wanderers gradually worked their way back into the game as the "attack of the visitors became more spirited". They hit the bar and had another goal chalked out for offside.

"Remarkably fast play next became the rule, and the excitement grew in intensity as both sides pressed in turn" but there were no further goals in the first period. The players retired from the field and the visitors were "cordially applauded for their plucky stand under such unfortunate circumstances".

In the second half Watts now had his kit on, but United had both the incline and the wind in their favour and they laid siege to the Burton goal. Lennox soon scored a brace. The first a "flying kick banged into the net" the second following "a splendid piece of combined play" brought "to a magnificent conclusion by swinging the ball into the net".

There were more chances for both sides and United had a goal disallowed while Burton defender Hanford "elicited tremendous cheering" when he blocked an Aitken "stinger". United added a fourth just before the end; Graham scoring his second (his only goals of the season).

In 1897 both Burton Swifts and Burton Wanderers faced re-election and the Wanderers were voted out, their place being taken by Luton Town.

The club rejoined the Midland League but in 1901, it merged with Burton Swifts who were facing re-election once again. The new club, known as Burton United continued to play in the Football League for another six years, before it too lost its place and went out of business in 1910.

Senior football in the brewing capital was represented by Burton Town but the club was wiped out during the War in 1940. A 10-year void was filled with the formation of Burton Albion F.C. (The Brewers), at a public meeting in 1950, playing at the Lloyd’s Foundry ground on Wellington Road.

 

Burton1

 

The Brewers worked their way up the football pyramid via:

The Birmingham League (including a F.A. Cup third round appearance at Charlton Athletic);

The Southern League (including a move to Eton Park in 1958 and a period of three-years from 1962 managed by Peter Taylor, who went on to be Brian Clough’s managerial partner);

The Northern Premier League part under the player/management of ex- Nottingham Forest and Manchester united Ian Storey-Moore.

During the Club’s Northern Premier League days, local businessman Ben Robinson became Chairman and Storey-Moore was succeeded in 1981 by Neil Warnock, who had worked previously for an undertaker and was a qualified football referee and chiropodist. Warnock’s team won the Northern Premier League Challenge Cup beating Macclesfield Town in the Final at Maine Road, Manchester in April 1983. Also during his reign, the Club hit the national headlines in 1985 when it lost in the third round of the F.A. Cup to Leicester City at Derby County’s Baseball Ground. A 6-1 defeat (including a hat-trick for Gary Lineker) was due in part to the fact that the Albion goalkeeper, Paul Evans, was hit by a missile thrown from the crowd. After huge national publicity and a Football Association review, the game was replayed behind closed doors at Highfield Road, Coventry with Albion losing by a far more respectable 1-0 score-line.

Warnock was succeeded by his assistant Brian Fidler and the Club reached Wembley in the F.A. Trophy Final in 1987. A goalless draw with Conference side Kidderminster Harriers was followed by a replay at The Hawthorns, West Bromwich where 15,685 saw Albion go down 2-1. In 1988 Burton-born and ex-Latics player Vic Halom (‘King of all Geordies’) became The Brewers’ manager.

After a further ten years in the Northern Premier League/Southern League (based on geographical balance), Ben Robinson started his second spell as Chairman, and appointed Nigel Clough as player/manager in October 1998, with his former Forest team-mate Gary Crosby as his assistant. After struggling in the remainder of the 1998-99 season there followed a period of continual improvement that saw the club finish as runners-up in the Southern League Premier Division in successive seasons, just missing out on promotion to the Conference.

Another geographical alignment of the feeder leagues saw Albion return to the Northern Premier (UniBond) League in 2001, when Clough’s team of part-time players swept all before it, with a league record number of points gained, over 100 goals scored and only 30 conceded achieving the goal of Conference football.

The players went full-time and the first three years in the Conference were all played at Eton Park, with the Club finishing in the bottom half in each campaign. It became clear that the only way for the club to progress was to move away from their home of more than 45 years. Chairman Ben Robinson negotiated the free acquisition of land from Pirelli against naming rights, and the Pirelli Stadium was built on the site of the Italian tyre giant’s Sports and Social Club at a cost of £7.2m in 2005, only a stone’s throw from the Club’s former home. The Stadium is paid for and its conference and meeting facilities have generated a steady income from non-football-related activities, leading to the Club being in the enviable position of having no debt.

Although the Pirelli Stadium opened for business in July 2005 with a low key pre-season friendly against Chester City, it was officially opened in November 2005 by Manchester United, who ironically returned to the Pirelli two months later in the F.A. Cup third round. Albion held the Premier League giants to a 0-0 draw in front of a then record ground attendance of 6,191 and TV audience, before losing in a replay at Old Trafford, while coming away with enough money to bring forward by four years the Club’s 5-year plan. The team kicked on to earn a best-ever Conference finish (9th), only to better that the following season with a 6th place finish, and then the play-offs in the 2007/08 season before losing to Cambridge 4-3 on aggregate.

The Club’s ability to generate significant off-field revenues through the Stadium’s excellent banqueting and conferencing facilities enabled Clough to have the backing to put together the side that ultimately achieved Football League status, 102 years after their predecessors, Burton United, lost their League status. The Brewers racked up an impressive run of twelve straight wins mid-season to streak ahead of the pack, and even when manager Nigel Clough left for Derby County in January 2009, with the Club in great form, it seemed the title was a formality. Under caretaker-manager Roy McFarland The Brewers won four of his first five games. Bookmaker Bet Square paid out in February in anticipation of The Brewers being Champions. That appeared to be the kiss of death with them winning only four of their next 12 matches as the momentum dissipated and nerves crept in, with what had been a 19-points lead being whittled away. It was squeaky-bum time, as the title-decider went to the final day when, despite Albion’s 2-1 defeat at Torquay United, Cambridge United’s failure to beat Altrincham handed the Blue Square Premier title to The Brewers.

Ahead of the 2009/10 season in the promised land of the Football League, the Club was granted permission to increase capacity at the Pirelli Stadium to 6,912.

When caretaker-manager Roy McFarland opted not to apply for the full-time role it was turn of former Birmingham City and Derby County striker Paul Peschisolido to benefit from the Chairman’s desire to give ambitious young managers a chance to succeed. The former Canadian international brought in another ex-Blues’ and Rams’ man, Gary Rowett as his assistant.

After a first season that saw The Brewers comfortably consolidate their new-found status with a thirteenth place finish, the second term in the Football League was a more difficult campaign, given that the club had to play over half of its league matches in the final three months of the season, after numerous postponements left them with up to eight games in hand on their rivals.  From a comfortable position just five points off the play-offs in December, their inactivity meant that at the start of February a relegation battle ensued, with a six game unbeaten run at the end of the season eventually confirming League status for a third season with a game to spare. The backlog of games was also affected by the club’s best ever FA Cup run. Championship club Middlesbrough was beaten in the third round but the Club’s first-ever appearance in the fourth round ended in a 3-1 defeat to another Championship club, Burnley.

The Club has the best training facilities in the country to call upon at St George's Park, Rangemore, on the outskirts of Burton, which have been used since long before the F.A. found the money to finish the project. I saw Latics Reserves beat Burton Albion Reserves there in 2012.

 

Burton 2

 

Peschisolido was sacked as manager in March 2012 following a run of poor results, and Gary Rowett was promoted from within to lead the club to Football League safety. Rowett's first full season brought the club's highest ever league finish of 4th in League Two, qualifying for the League Two play-offs against Bradford City. The Brewers won the first leg at Valley Parade 3-2, but the Bantams fought back in the second leg to progress to Wembley and break Albion hearts.

The Brewers bounced back however, and this time reached the play-off Final in 2013/14. Over 8,000 Albion fans made the trip to Wembley to see the Club make its first appearance there in 27 years. A tight game against Fleetwood Town looked to go either way until Antoni Sarcevic scored with 18 minutes left to consign the Albion to a second successive year of play-off disappointment.

With Albion achieving six wins and a draw in the opening seven League Two fixtures of the in the 2014/15 season, and progressing well under Gary Rowett, he left to become manager of Birmingham City in late October 2014.

Ben Robinson made another astute appointment from sixty applicants, in the form of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, to his first managerial role in England after a year at Royal Antwerp. On 18th April 2015 Burton won 2–1 away at Morecambe to earn promotion to Football League One for the first time in the Club’s history. On 2nd May 2015 The Brewers graduated from the Abbey Stadium Cambridge with full honours as Champions of Football League Two.

 

Burton 3


With Louis van Gaal and Ronald Koeman faltering, and Dick Advocaat unable to create a snowball effect, Jimmy has turned out to be the season’s flying Dutchman, and now he appears to be attracting the attention of Leeds United. If the opportunity arises, he faces a tough decision whether to quit the progress he is making with Burton, for a role in the quicksand of Elland Road, with a crack at promotion to the Premier League.

I have supported Oldham Athletic for longer than Burton Albion has existed, but since moving to Burton in 1974 to work at the Town Hall and living in the town for 40 years, I have taken a close interest in The Brewers’ progress.  At work I enjoyed first-hand news about the Club from a colleague who was in daily contact with Maurice Edwards, a former Albion player/referee/scout and close friend of ex-Brewers’ manager Peter Taylor. With Brewers’ fixture dates nearly always coinciding with those of Latics, the opportunities to watch them have been few and far between, but, in addition to home games, I have seen them play at places such as Accrington, Altrincham, Barnet, Boldmere, Halesowen, Sutton Coldfield and, of course, the old Wembley Stadium.  When watching The Brewers, I do not have the same emotional attachment as I do with Latics, and sometimes it has proved difficult to remember to sing the appropriate words to the same songs.

Pre-season has often provided the best opportunities to see them play, particularly in the form of the Bass Charity Vase competition, which was founded in Burton-on-Trent in 1889, to be competed for annually by Midlands’ teams, particularly Football League clubs. The proceeds from the games would be donated mainly to medical-related and hospital charities. Its Patrons were Lord Burton and Hamar Alfred Bass who presented a magnificent inscribed silver Rose Bowl (reputed to be one of the most valuable trophies in British football) to be held by the competition winners.

 

Burton 4

 

Many famous clubs and players have taken part since the competition started. Innovation has been a key to its continuing success: even during the difficult times of the two World Wars, the competition took place. Coalville Munitions Girls won during the Great War and a Royal Artillery team was successful during the 2nd World War. Other past winners include Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Coventry City, Derby County, Leicester City, Liverpool, Notts County, Nottingham Forest, Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion. On one occasion I tipped-off Oldham Athletic’s manager Joe Royle that West Brom was to field its strongest side in the competition at Eton Park, five days before playing Latics. Joe sent a scout to watch, and Latics came away from The Hawthorns with a point in the opening game of the season. In addition to The Brewers’ homes, I have seen games in the competition at Bass Meadows, Gresley Rovers, Rocester F.C. and Stapenhill F.C. I also remember watching one of the games in the competition played at Peel Croft, Burton Rugby Club’s ground, when a young Stan Collymore played for Wolves. The competition is played pre-season and current holder Burton Albion is the most successful club, having won the trophy 27 times.

 

Burton 5

 

My hope was always that one day The Brewers would play Latics, and so it came to pass in the first round of the F.A. Cup in November 2002 at Boundary Park. Josh Low gave Latics the lead only for Aaron Webster to equalise just before half-time from the penalty spot. When ex-Latics Craig Dudley sprinted through to put The Brewers in front in the 59th minute, the Rochdale Road End exploded, and the long-arms of the law could see no further than the colour of the shirt when arresting not only a fan for pitch encroachment but also Aaron Webster for….your guess is as good as mine!

 

Burton 6

 

Picture courtesy of Oldham Athletic fanzine ‘Beyond The Boundary’

It took a 90th minute goal from Fitz Hall to realise my dream of seeing Latics playing in Burton in the replay. The script for that replay at Eton Park read that Albion were to play well, but Latics were to go through to the next round. The game followed the script, but it had so many twists and turns, that it would have done Alfred Hitchcock proud. Latics went in front in the 59th minute through Clyde Winjhard, but succumbed to Albion pressure when Christian Moore scored in the 84th minute. In the 20th minute of extra time, Albion took the lead when Moore scored again and, with the sound of my friends in the adjoining home stand chanting my name and asking me the score, my blushes were spared when the legendary David Eyres equalised with only four minutes of extra time remaining. In the ensuing penalty shoot-out Albion went first and both teams had seven attempts, including one scored by Albion player/manager Nigel Clough, but Carlo Corazzin scored the winner for Latics to end an epic contest. Albion fans rated the two games against Latics as the best in their Club’s history up to that date.

I had to wait nine years for Latics to be drawn out of the F.A. Cup hat to play The Brewers again at Boundary Park in the first round. This time a series of mistakes by Albion gave Latics a 3-0 lead by the 35th minute and all the visitors had to show was a Calvin Zola consolation goal in a tepid encounter.

In July 2009 The Brewers' Chairman Ben Robinson went out of his way to greet the ’92 in Blue’ team of Oldham Athletic supporters and to support their 92-club charity challenge, when they visited the Pirelli Stadium.

 

Burton 7

 

Even when I was one of the many co-owners of Ebbsfleet United, I watched from the home end as ‘my’ club played at the Pirelli Stadium, because The Brewers had a greater need for the points.  Now I am looking forward to watching The Brewers from the away end of the Stadium, with all the emotion that goes with supporting Oldham Athletic.

Ben Robinson has told the Burton Mail that promotion could provide a ‘major boost’ to the club’s coffers, and business leader Chris Plant has claimed that promotion will put the town ‘on the map for all to see’. Many Latics supporters are planning to boost the Burton economy next season and, with so many pubs to visit and the town’s renowned Beer Festival, it may take more than one visit, with possible away draws against The Brewers in the Carling Cup, F.A. Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, helping to quench those thirsts.

 

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Last Updated on Saturday, 02 May 2015 16:20
 
Yearning For Success PDF Print E-mail
Oldham Athletic
Written by Mark W   
Sunday, 15 March 2015 23:29

As another season comes apart at the scenes, there appears to be a growing sense of depression at Boundary Park.

At the start of the season there was little belief that this season would end up being anything other than a battle against relegation and it is beginning to look as though that is exactly how it will turn out. For a long time, however, we were in or around the play-off picture and there was genuine optimism that things were going to be different. We had a manager who said all the right things and he had the team playing better football than we had seen in several years. We were, however, only ever in the pack with ten to fifteen other clubs and a combination of factors including the demise of the manager and an injury backlog have shown talk of the play-offs to be nothing more than a pipedream.  

You might imagine that the brief flirtation with the top six might have led to something of a feelgood factor but if anything it seems to have gone the other way. It seems that it has simply led to a growing realization as to just how difficult it will be for this club to achieve the promotion that the fans long for. This becomes even more apparent with the move towards the new financial fair play rules as the spending required to deliver success is to be closely linked to income and so any reduction in attendances will inevitably lead to even longer odds on success.

Much has been made of the difficulties in attracting supporters into Boundary Park these days and in particular the fact that an upturn in form tends to lead to little improvements in crowds. Last month, on Valentine’s Day the club made a real effort for the game against Colchester by reducing admission to just £5. They seemed shocked and hugely disappointed that this did not lead to the kind of uptake they clearly anticipated. I think they are missing the point though.

Whilst there are massively different expectations from supporters at different clubs, ultimately all football fans want the same thing. They want to see their team being successful and the thing that keeps them going to games, or attracts them in the first place, is a belief that success is on the horizon. It is no coincidence that I started to go to Latics when the team was successful in the late 1980s, early 1990s. Yes, I now go partly because “that’s just what I do on a Saturday afternoon” but it is that desire to see us achieve something and the belief that we might that keeps me passionate. If that belief isn’t there, what’s the point?

It is this that explains the difficulties in attracting support at Oldham and why the odd good result just won’t make a difference. To understand that you have to realize that Oldham Athletic’s recent history is not like most clubs.

To me, success relates to one of the following:

  • Winning something. Again, this will differ for different clubs with different expectations but be it the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, League Cup or even the JPT, that moment of glory gives the fans what they are looking for.
  • Qualifying for Europe. There are 20 clubs in the Premier League and realistically, 15 or 16 of them know that they are highly unlikely to claim the title. These teams do know, however, that a good season can deliver a European adventure.
  • Promotion. For most of the clubs in the league it is promotion that offers them the best chance of glory. Every season 72 clubs set out with a hope that they can claim a spot in the top six (or seven in League two) and grab a place in the division above.

There are other moments of glory such as a big win in the cup against higher division opposition but those memories soon fade. It is only the three examples I list above that really go down in the club’s history.

If you accept this definition of success you soon realize why I say that Oldham are out of the ordinary. In the last five years, sixty percent of league sides have had some sort of success. That means that almost two thirds have had an event that will galvanise the fan base. If you look back a bit further, all bar three of the current 92 league clubs (97%) have had success in the 21st century. The three clubs who can’t make this boast all have to go back well before the turn of the century. Both Oldham and Tranmere Rovers last tasted the sweet smell of success in 1991 whilst Coventry city have to go back another four years to 1987 for their FA Cup victory.

Looking back over that 24 year period since Oldham last won something, it is interesting to compare the demise in league position with the demise in crowds. The following demonstrates how closely the two are aligned (for demonstration purposes the graph shows league position in reverse ie. Bottom of league 2 would be 1 whilst top of the Premier League would be 92).

Oldham

Taking just the period whilst we have been trapped in League one, we have seen a 21% fall in crowds between our first season in 2007/8 and last season.

This is how that graph looks for our two most comparable opponents

Coventry

Tranmere

As you can see, the trend is almost identical. Both Coventry and Tranmere have blips in those charts but both are easily explainable. Coventry saw a spike in support in 2006 when they moved to the Ricoh Arena but that only lasted three years before they reverted back to where they were and then the support almost completely disappeared when they were forced to leave the Ricoh and play in Northampton. Tranmere on the other hand saw crowds increase in their final season in the Championship in 2001 and then witnessed another increase in 2005 when they finished third in League one, narrowly missing out on promotion. In both cases, the increases lasted just the one season before returning to usual levels.

Comparing the drop in crowds over the period since Oldham joined League one, it seems most reasonable to look at Coventry up until when they left the Ricoh and to exclude last season for Tranmere when they crashed into the basement division for the first time since 1989. From 1997 to 2012, Coventry saw a 23% fall in crowds whilst from 1997 to 2013, Tranmere also saw a 23% decrease.

It appears that Oldham's exodus of fans is exactly what you would expect to see in the circumstances.

When you look at this context, it is easy to see why much of the Oldham public responds to the football club in the way that they do. There have been many false dawns in the last eighteen years and they have all ended up in some sort of failure. We have seen countless seasons collapse after a good start, we have seen a chairman walk out on us just as we seemed to have finally got somewhere and now we have seen a manager desert us too. It is only natural that each time something like this happens, you lose a few more people who just can’t bring themselves to believe any more. Other clubs have these disappointments too but for the vast majority they have them intermingled with seasons that do deliver.

I am concerned at the moment because I am watching people walk away who I would have never imagined would do so. Not only that, I am finding my own blind faith tested like never before. If this club can’t convince people like me they really are in trouble.

I acknowledge the downbeat tone of this blog and I am well aware that I am calling out the problem without offering up any solutions. If I knew what the solution was I would certainly call it out. What I do know, though, is that as fans we need some hope. We need to be hearing the right things coming out of the club and we need to know that the owner has a clear strategy about how we might one day achieve something once again.

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Last Updated on Friday, 17 April 2015 11:22
 
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