Oldham

Former capital of cotton where Royle once ruled

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

The Team from a Town of Chimneys is the title of Stewart W Beckett’s book chronicling the history of Oldham Athletic. On its cover, a classic leather football floats over rows of red-brick towers and back-to-back terraced housing, a classic skyline of the industrial communities where the modern professional game developed.

Oldham still commands this panoramic view from its elevated location between scenic, rural Saddleworth and the flat central Manchester conurbation.

And though just five miles from the centre of the metropolis and ringed on all sides by fellow former mill towns, home of comedian Eric Sykes and Madchester mob the Inspiral Carpets, Oldham retains its own character and pride.

Buck & Union/Tony Dawber

It was here at the Prince Albert Hotel in 1876 that Oldham Football Club were formed by local mill owners, Quakers and councillors. OFC were, however, a rugby league team and, in the early years, a successful one. Now called the Roughyeds, the local name for someone from Oldham, they remain a major feature of the town’s sporting landscape.

Football took longer to get going. First came Oldham County, who played in the Combination in 1895-96 but subsequently folded after one full season in the Lancashire League.

Founded in 1895, Pine Villa FC took advantage of County’s demise by moving into the Athletic Ground previously opened for their ill-fated local rivals in 1896. Pine Villa duly became Oldham Athletic – the Latics – and the Athletic Ground, on the town’s north-western limits, became Boundary Park.

Over the course of the following century, the form and fate of Oldham’s football and rugby clubs rose, dipped and occasionally dovetailed. While the Roughyeds were rugby league champions in the Edwardian era, Oldham Athletic enjoyed their moment of glory in the early 1990s, with a League Cup final and two dramatic replayed FA Cup semi-finals with Manchester United.

Welcome to Oldham/Tony Dawber

Shortly afterwards, the Roughyeds moved in to share Boundary Park with the Latics, a decade-long arrangement that ended when the rugby league club headed off to the Whitebank Stadium, home of Oldham Boro.

Boro had been founded in 1964 as Oldham Dew, the works team of George Dew, a local builder. Dew moved up the local leagues, becoming founder members of the North West Counties League in 1982 and changing their name to Oldham Town in 1985. When big boys Oldham Athletic were playing in the top flight in 1991-92, Town had just competed, unsuccessfully, in the Westhoughton Cup final.

Town, renamed Boro in 2009 and Borough in 2015, resigned from the NW Counties League in 2015. No-one has yet stepped in to revive the club.

Third-flight until 2018, Oldham Athletic still play at Boundary Park – re-renamed from SportsDirect.com Park that same year.

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Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

Oldham’s nearest airport is Manchester, 32km (20 miles) away. It is linked to Manchester Piccadilly station (£3.80, 15mins) by frequent trains. An hourly train also runs from the airport direct to Manchester Victoria (£5, 30mins). 

The yellow Metrolink Bury line goes from Piccadilly to Manchester Victoria every 12mins (4 stops/15min journey time), from where the pink Metrolink Rochdale line goes direct to Oldham Central (zone 3, £3.80 single, £4.30/£6.10 travelcard off-peak/peak, every 12mins, 25min journey time). Oldham Central is the nearest stop to the walkable town centre. 

Two stops before, Westwood is walking distance from Boundary Park. A network of Greater Manchester buses also serves Oldham, including Boundary Park. Stagecoach (local singles £2) and First Manchester also provide services between Oldham bus station in town and the nearest stop to Boundary Park, Royal Oldham Hospital. Bus 182 runs there direct from Manchester Piccadilly (journey time 45mins).

Oldham’s three rail stations have been converted into Metrolink stops. To travel to Oldham from London, change from train to tram in Manchester. Z Cars Oldham (0161 627 2776) offer airport transfers.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

There’s no shortage of drinking to be done in Oldham, with its old-school alehouses, modern bars and family-friendly, out-of-town rural pubs.

Jolly, communal Buck & Union provides musical entertainment year-round, including its famous Christmas party in July. Look out for the row of piano keys decorating a classic pub exterior by Oldham Central Metrolink stop.

Further up Union Street closer to Oldham Mumps Metrolink stop, the Royal Oak is cosily traditional, with real ales, darts and pool in an interior of light wood and myrtle green. TV sport and regular live acts complete the picture.

Also close to Oldham Central, the Ashton Arms on Clegg Street is as honest as it gets, a CAMRA local pub of the year winner with a regularly changing selection of seven hand-pumped ales.

Nearby Wetherspoons venue the Up Steps Inn takes its name from a pub that stood here during the Industrial Revolution. With its large interior, it follows the usual formula.

The family-focused Toby Carvery Chadderton Park is handy for both town and ground, while for a rural experience, head to the Junction Inn, outside Oldham in leafy, scenic Saddleworth on the edge of the village of Denshaw. Opening times vary, check the website or phone ahead. No TV sport but decent food.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the ground and around town

Visit Oldham has a hotel database.

The nearest lodging to the stadium is the standard, affordable chain Premier Inn Oldham Central, a couple of hundred metres from Boundary Park. When its website refers to ‘world-class football up the road’, it’s referring to Manchester.

Also close – cross the dual carriageway via the underpass and the ground is five minutes’ away – the Travelodge Oldham Chadderton is equally straightforward and wallet-friendly.

In similar vein, the 247 has a 100-plus simple, en-suite rooms, some ‘with skyline views of Manchester’, plus a bar with TV sports. It’s 15 minutes from Boundary Park – across the road, jump on a bus to Lee Street, then walk up Oldham Way at the roundabout.

South of town, Best Western Smokies Park is the best of the nearby chain hotels, with a gym, sauna and free in-room WiFi. Popular for functions, it’s on Ashton Road a mile and a half from Oldham – for the ground, take bus 409 and alight at Royal Oldham Hospital on Rochdale Road.