A glimpse into the future of Oldham Athletic
Halfway through the season. Halfway up, or down, League One. Things could be better for Oldham Athletic, having started the season in superb form. But things could also be much worse, as demonstrated by what is currently an uncertain long-term future. Oldham regular Neil Tague offers an insight into what lies ahead at Boundary Park.
The fiery Scot…
As the league succumbed to a shocking outbreak of what some are already calling “winter”, Oldham were rattling along nicely. But since the postponed games, they do not seem to have woken up, losing both matches and dropping from the play-off fringes to twelfth.
Oldham have just lost to newly-promoted, not-all-that-noisy neighbours Rochdale. Of course, the Latics could recover. They could slump further. However, there’s still much admiration for how rookie manager Paul Dickov has gone about his work so far.
The man journalists are obliged to refer to as “the fiery Scot” has galvanised a squad that, under Dave Penney, should probably have been relegated. Dickov has empowered some young players, with playmaker Dale Stephens and non-stop Dean Furman, in and out under Penney, asked to get hold of games from central midfield. Local boy Chris Taylor has been re-energised and Kieron Lee given a proper job. In short, there is a more positive air about the place.
Loanees and lethargy
Dickov has also worked a contacts book clearly superior to Penney’s. Two Sunderland giants, Jean-Yves M’voto and Oumare Tounkara, were snapped up on season-long deals to add weight to a physically small side and both have been virtually ever-present.
More recently, Oldham brought in Cedric Evina (a classic Arsenal wing-back type – lightning feet, advances well, defensively hopeless), Filipe Morais from Chelsea and the excellent Aidan White from Leeds. Securing a couple of these players for the rest of the season could be key.
Downsides? They lack nous and the experience to tough things out — Latics dominated for large spells against Rochdale but lost concentration for a crucial ten minutes and gifted two goals. They often lack a plan B and don’t cope too well with pressure situations. In addition, Dickov is short of options off the bench to break down sides at home, which hasn’t helped the sluggish Oldham public to come and support the club — gates of 4,000 are a problem.
Being knocked out in the first round of three cup competitions has been bad, especially the FA Cup defeat at Accrington, although it goes to show how hard the team are working week in, week out — Oldham are not good enough to coast and any loss of focus is punished.
There is also the departure of man-mountain Sean Gregan, he of the cult song about antics in a chip shop (ask a Preston fan). Gregan has been a big figure in every sense since signing in late 2006 and was immense last season, deservedly winning every player of the year gong going.
But the idea of Gregan alongside M’voto, also not the paciest, was terrifying. And you can’t blame Dickov for wanting to impose a new style on a squad in which Gregan was the most powerful voice — cynics would also point out that Gregan would be well-placed to step in should Dickov’s start have gone badly.
It should also be said that Gregan is no model pro — he takes a size of short not seen since Razor Ruddock retired, was lucky to avoid a drink driving ban in 2009 and was involved in the notorious bust-up at a fans’ function that ultimately did for John Sheridan’s reign at Latics.
Relocating the Latics
The biggest long-term issue at the club is the plan to move to a new ground in Failsworth at the Lancaster Club site. This, probably the fourth or fifth proposed move in the last 15 years, has been debated back and forth.
The club says Boundary Park is dilapidated and that a new venue needs to be able to generate revenue seven days a week from various streams. Boundary does indeed look a sorry sight, but more so since the club ripped down the Broadway stand for no discernible reason in the summer of 2008, leaving a three-sided ground and killing any remaining atmosphere instantly. Has putting in a better stand with some of these much-lauded “facilities” been fully explored?
Another big question is whether the club can even pay for the new ground. That’s before the location is even considered — for many, Failsworth is more Manchester than Oldham. That may sound parochial, but the fact is the new ground would be less than four miles from Manchester City’s relatively new stadium and even closer to FC United’s planned home in Newton Heath.
Broadly, most fans seem to be against moving but chairman Simon Corney, who saved the club along with his business partners in 2003, is dead set on it. Corney is generally accepted as a good man, but seems permanently exasperated by how things have gone since he and his partners decided it might be fun to plough some of their telecoms dosh into a football club.
Should the Lancaster Club move go the way of “Sports Park 2000” and various others, it could prove to be one kick in the teeth too many for Mr C. Given that new investors aren’t beating the door down, the whole thing’s a bit worrying. Oldham really could use a good charge at the play-offs in what is this level’s most open division in years.