LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Oldham Athletic

Latics lag in League Two, derby with Rochdale revived

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

It seems a long time now that Oldham Athletic had the whole country willing them to beat Manchester United in the do-or-die FA Cup semi-final of 1990. Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher had just finished roadying for Oldham band the Inspiral Carpets, Thatcher still had a few months in power and the Latics’ popular manager Joe Royle would soon be linked with the England job.

Four years later, Royle’s Oldham again faced United in the FA Cup semi-final. With the Latics a minute from the final, United’s Mark Hughes equalised. Trounced in the replay, Royle’s men didn’t win another match in the Premier League from then on.

Relegated and, by November 1994, Royle-less, Oldham never recovered. Two decades were spent in the third flight as the club battled one financial crisis after another.  Following relegation in 2018, and with an unpopular owner in Dubai-based Abdullah Lemsagan, Oldham are lurching closer to the fifth tier than the third.

Boundary Park/Tony Dawber

Founded as Pine Villa in 1895, Oldham Athletic have only had one other stint in the top flight, either side of World War I. Ironically, their most successful campaign was in the tainted season of 1914-15, marred by a betting scandal and overshadowed by severe moral questions about football in war time. Oldham finished a point behind champions Everton.

The club, renamed Oldham Athletic after moving into the Athletic Ground in 1899, had previously climbed up the divisions under manager David Ashworth. Though Ashworth had left before 1914-15, soon after taking Liverpool to the title in 1922, he returned to Oldham but failed to save them from relegation.

Always based at the same ground, soon renamed Boundary Park, Latics would not play top-flight football for 68 years.

Oldham Athletic tickets/Tony Dawber

Apart from a brief period under player/manager George Hardwick in the early 1950s, Oldham only sparked back to life under Jimmy Frizzell. Stalwart manager throughout the 1970s, the former Athletic defender kept the club in a fairly solid spot in the Second Division – until the arrival of Joe Royle in 1982.

Within five years, Royle had led the Latics to a promotion spot – except that 1987 was the year play-offs were introduced, and third place no longer guaranteed passage to the top division. Worse, Oldham would then lose out over two legs to Leeds on away goals – the decisive strike coming in the 90th minute, right after the Latics had seemingly put the tie beyond reach.

The drama at Boundary Park ushered in a new era of a cavalier, high-scoring Oldham, attacking against the odds for the high stakes of a major trophy, final or place in the top division. First came Wembley in 1990, Oldham beating Arsenal 3-1 and West Ham 6-0 to reach the League Cup final, Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest having a little bit too much experience on the day.

Boundary Park/Tony Dawber

But with Andy Ritchie, nabbed from Leeds after that dramatic 1987 play-off, Oldham always had goals in the locker. Shortly before the Forest final, the Latics took Manchester United to the wire with a heart-stopping 3-3 FA Cup semi-final at Maine Road. Coming immediately after Crystal Palace beat Liverpool 4-3 in the other semi, it made for a day that lasts long in the memory.

Four days later, Ritchie scored a late equaliser to send the Oldham end beserk in the replay, which was then decided on a late goal in extra-time by United’s Mark Robins.

Backdropped by a packed, swaying Boundary Park, a year later Oldham then came back from 2-0 down to beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-2, sending the Owls to the play-offs and the Latics to the last First Division of 1991-92. The last kick of the game, and the season, was a winning Neil Redfearn penalty.

Ever-present Redfearn was rewarded by being sent to Barnsley, Royle preferring the return of Irish international midfielder Mike Milligan. Oldham duly stayed up in the First to become an inaugural member of the Premier League in 1992-93.

Boundary Park/Tony Dawber

Boundary Park then witnessed two extraordinary end-of-season games that kept Oldham up again, a 3-2 win against Liverpool and 4-3 victory over Southampton.

1993-94 was Oldham’s – and Royle’s – last hoorah, culminating in the fateful FA Cup semi-final with Manchester United and relegation.

Despite the efforts of old boys Graeme Sharp, Andy Ritchie and John Sheridan in the manager’s seat, Oldham failed to get back up again. Within a decade, the club had to be saved from bankruptcy and were barely holding on to even third-flight status.

The arrival of 31-year-old Lee Johnson as manager in 2013 brought further drama to Boundary Park when his relegation-threatened Oldham side faced his father’s, Yeovil, then chasing promotion. A 1-0 win helped keep the Latics up.

Boundary Park/Tony Dawber

Johnson junior’s savvy stewardship soon saw other clubs come in for him. In January 2016, John Sheridan returned to Boundary Park and rolled up his sleeves for the relegation battle ahead. In January 2017, it was the same story, Sheridan returning for a relegation battle. This time, though, there was no coming back, the Latics losing their first five games straight in 2017-18. Ex-Oldham midfielder Richie Wellens stepped in but a string of draws in the spring of 2018 wasn’t enough to lift the Latics to safety, Oldham falling short by one point behind, of all teams, Rochdale.

Halfway through that disastrous campaign, Dubai-based Moroccan football agent Abdullah Lemsagan took over the club, installing his brother Mohamed as sporting director and using his connections to lure Manchester United legend Paul Scholes to Boundary Park – renamed Boundary Park after Lemsagan ended years of advantageous sponsorship with Sports Direct.

Scholes’ only experience so far as a full-time manager lasted a month before interference by the owner drove him away. The Latics would finish 14th in League Two – a performance that would not be bettered in the following two campaigns. By 2021, with the taxman knocking on the door quite firmly, wages going unpaid and unrest in the dressing room, fans began to stage regular protests. ‘Enough. Sell the club’ read one banner as Oldham lost the first four games of the potentially disastrous 2021-22 season.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Oldham’s home since 1904, Boundary Park took its name from its location on the town’s far north-eastern edge, caught in the sweeping winds blowing off the Pennines.

Oldham’s ground still feels traditional, even though its old-school floodlights now tower over the new, business-friendly North Stand. From 2008, Boundary Park had been a three-sided affair as the club struggled to meet the cost of rebuilding the former Broadway Stand, at one point even considering a move closer to Manchester.

Capacity is currently 13,500, although in the standing days, attendance figures of 40,000-plus were not unknown. Even footage of 1991, Oldham’s seminal 3-2 last-ditch win over Sheffield Wednesday to claim the Second Division, with massed ranks swaying behind each end and an inevitable pitch invasion, feels like a different era. The club quickly replaced the plastic pitch and went all-seated in 1994.

Home fans have also been uprooted, leaving their beloved Chadderton Road (‘Chaddy’) End for the Rochdale Road one opposite. The ticket office is behind the twin-tiered Main Stand, the club shop at the Chaddy End side of the North Stand.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

If you’re coming from outside Oldham, take the Metrolink tram to Westwood, a 15min walk to the ground. From the tram stop, head down Middleton Road away from the main A669 then right up Featherstall Road, past the Tesco superstore, continuing beside the dual carriageway. Some 150 metres after the roundabout, cross over into Westhulme Avenue up to Boundary Park ahead in the distance.

From Oldham, it’s about a 20min walk, straight up Rochdale Road, turning left at the Royal Oldham Hospital. By bus, the most frequent service from the bus station on Cheapside is the First Manchester 409, which leaves from Stand L every 10mins (every 30mins eve/every 20mins Sun). It stops on Rochdale Road on the other side of the Royal Oldham Hospital (5min journey time) from the stadium. The next stop is Old Edge Lane, by the pre-match White Hart pub. From Stand E, the less frequent First Manchester 408 (hourly inc Sun/evenings) calls at the same stops. 

Stagecoach buses 149 (Stand E/F, hourly Mon-Sat, every 2hrs Sun, daytimes only) and 183 (Stand A, hourly Mon-Sat, daytimes only) and TfGM buses 159402 and 403 (all hourly Mon-Sat, daytimes only) run less frequently from Oldham bus station to the Royal Oldham Hospital. The 149 and 159 stop closer to the ground, the 403 service finishes earlier.

One service runs all the way from Manchester Piccadilly, the First Manchester 182 (hourly, daily inc Sun/evenings) to Royal Oldham Hospital 45mins away. 

The sat nav code for Boundary Park is OL1 2PA. There’s no match-day parking at the ground. The club recommends using the signposted car park at the Royal Oldham Hospital (OL1 2JH, £5 for match-day use, otherwise £3/6hrs), a 5-10min walk to the ground. There’s also a P&R service at Oldham Mumps Metrolink stop on Regent Street (OL1 3TZ), free with a Metrolink ticket. 

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The Ticket Office by the main entrance on Furtherwood Road currently opens Tue, Thur & Fri 10am-4pm (until kick-off on match days), match-day Sat 11am-kick-off. The club also distributes online (print-at-home only, no mobile downloads) and over the phone (0161 785 5150/0161 624 4972). On match days, cash turnstiles also operate, exact change appreciated. For all enquiries, contact supporter.services@oldhamathletic.co.uk.

Advance prices are set at £18, £8 for over-65s/under-21s, £5 for under-18s. On the day, it’s £22, £10 and £7.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The Club Shop (Tue-Sat 10am-4pm, match-day Tue 10am-8.30pm, match-day Sat 10am-5.30pm) is on the nearest corner of the North Stand to the away Chadderton Road End. Home kit is blue with red/white trim, away orange with blue/white trim and third choice white with blue/white trim. 

The Oldham owl features on T-shirts, badges, keyrings, dog bowls and air fresheners, as well as on a whole range of branded confectionery, from sour strawberry bites to jelly meerkats.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

A few pubs line the Oldham Road just past the hospital, a shortish stroll from Sheepfoot Lane. The furthest, the friendly, family-run Railway Hotel, offers a large beer garden, TV sport and live music. Nearer to Boundary Park at No.133, at the junction with Broadway, the Carter’s Arms is another old-school pub with darts, cask ales and quiz nights.

The nearby White Hart (No.233) is another traditional local and home fans’ stronghold, with TV sport a mainstay. Also near the Oldham Road/Broadway junction, the Greyhound Inn is a classic pub set in the valley on Holden Fold Lane less than ten minutes’ from the ground – go straight up the hill outside, then first right to Boundary Park.

On the other side of the ground, the Rifle Range Inn tucked away on Burnley Lane is a great local and real ale den – take the nearby dual carriageway underpass to reach the ground.

The nearest outlet to the stadium, tucked behind the Premier Inn is Clayton Green, a family-friendly chain eatery that also welcomes away fans.

On the corner of the Main Stand and the Chadderton Road End, the Roger Palmer Fans Bar opens from noon on Saturday match days, welcoming home supporters and sensible away ones.

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