The name Pine Villa makes me think of a holiday lodge in the Alps but it is in fact the name under which Oldham Athletic were founded some 122 years ago. The club from the greater Manchester town of Oldham, most famous for its Industrial Revolution history in cotton production, were founding members of the Premier League in 1993 but have now been in League One for a remarkable 21 years!
To put that into some perspective when The Latics were relegated into League One in 1997 the internet was dial up speed, DVD’s were the new must have in entertainment and people still cared about what Tony Blair had to say!
But why have a side that Joe Royle took into the English top flight stagnated so badly over the last two decades? Well the obvious answer is money. To get a club promoted from any division in England you more often than not need at least a decent amount of financial backing. Oldham have had several new owners over the past 21 years but have never had one that has had either the financial clout or will to get them back to their former glories. It could be argued that The Lactics have found their level in League One if you base it on their support base but there is still huge potential at the club.
The Royal Era
To me Oldham will always be Joe Royle, Ian Marshall, Craig Fleming, Denis Irwin, Mike Milligan, Graeme Sharp and Earl Barrett but now the club need to move on from an era that still casts its glorious shadow over a much changed football landscape and a club that have lost some of its clout in an area saturated by decent sides from the Greater Manchester sprawl.
I watched those FA Cup semi finals against Manchester United and was completely shocked by the endeavour and ability of a team that I had never really heard of. It is one of my favourite early football memories along with the exploits of a certain unkempt Ian Marshall but unfortunately it did not last long. The Latics were only in the top flight for three season before being relegated back to Division 1 and they struggled to recover after Joe Royle left. Graeme Sharp took over the reigns but at the end of the 1996-97 season they were relegated again, this time into Division 2 where they remain to this day.
Division 2 – Early Days
Like most teams that fall down the divisions quickly, expectations remained high and Neil Warnock was the man given the reigns and job of getting The Latics up at the first time of asking. It was a surprise then that Oldham only managed to finish 13th and Warnock resigned handing over the job to Andy Ritchie but again no promotion push materialised with 20th and 14th place finishes. There was a mediocrity about the club and the days of playing in the Premier League were drifting into distant memory. Mick Wadsworth had no better luck but there was new ownership in the form of Oxford based business man Chris Moore. Moore made the time old mistake of announcing ambitious plans of a Premier League return within a relatively short time frame and when Ian Dowie took over as manager in the summer of 2002 thing began to look up.
On the pitch the team were looking like promotion contenders for the first time since falling into the third tier and with the goals of David Eyres, 16 in the league, they managed to finish 5th! Only Crewe, relative to their size, had a better season. In the top 6 that year were Wigan, Crewe, Bristol City, Q.P.R., Oldham and Cardiff! The Latics dreams of promotion were ended in the play-offs, losing 2-1 on aggregate to Q.P.R.
It was disappointing but many expected the club to kick on and go for another promotion charge but Chris Moore decided to pull out leaving the club in debt and being forced to sell the best players. Dowie left after being unpaid for several months and the club looked as though it would go out of business.
The League One Era – Present
Buyers were eventually found in the form of Simon Corney and two others but the finances were in a sorry state and expectations were adjusted accordingly. The EFL changed the name of Division 2 to League One but the novelty of playing in a Division that sounded a notch higher up the league ladder was short lived and Oldham continued to struggle on the pitch, finishing 19th in 2004-05. Things improved under the management of Ronnie Moore and then John Sheridan with the club reaching the play-offs in 2006-07 thanks to 22 goals from Chris Porter. The play-off semi finals again proved to be the ceiling for The Latics as the lost 5-2 over two legs to Blackpool, who went on to beat Yeovil in the final.
Oldham managed an 8th place finish in 2007-08 and have never finished in the top half since 2009 when they finished 10th. If stagnation hadn’t already set in then it certainly has now. Hopes of another play-off tilt are about as realistic as Lionel Messi finding out that his grandmother was English and deciding to change Nationalities and more and more the team look over their shoulders rather than at the teams above them.
The start of this season saw the team light in numbers especially in forward positions and rumours of take-overs did not help during the transfer window. On deadline day John Sheridan managed to bring in four player including Eoin Doyle on loan from Preston. Oldham haven’t had a striker score 20 league goals in a season since Chris Porter in 2007 but Doyle does at least come with a bit of pedigree having been prolific at this level with Chesterfield. Performances have improved but the habit of conceding early has not really given them a chance and at the time of writing they have lost all 5 of their opening matches. I fully expect them to pick up some point in the coming weeks but the reality at the moment is that 21 years of League One football are more likely to come to an end through a relegation than a promotion. John Sheridan is clearly the right man for the job and will be able to create the siege mentality required for a relegation battle and may even be able to get a run of results going that propel them up the table. The club are hoping for some positive news off the field.
Investment from agent Abdallah Lemsagam is, according to club CEO Mark Moisley, only a matter of weeks away. Speaking to BBC Radio Manchester Moisley said
“Every case like this is different. Some cases it does take months but hopefully it will be weeks. There is still a lot of work to do and talks are continuing but they are very positive.”
For those loyal, long suffering Oldham fans hope always carries a cautious note but they will no doubt be hoping that their side can pick up some points that recent performances have deserved and maybe for this season at least remain in League One for the 22nd season straight!
words James Richards