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99 problems but the pitch ain't one

A week last Thursday (9th March), it was 30 years to the day since we beat Manchester United 1-0 at Boundary Park in the Premier League. Not in a cup shock, but as equals in the top flight. It would have been nice if the freefall decline we’ve been in since hadn’t been quite so brutally illustrated at Eastleigh two days later.

I was visiting family on Saturday so couldn’t listen to the commentary or follow the game, but the sporadic updates I saw on WhatsApp and social media when I had chance to check my phone didn’t suggest I was missing a classic, or indeed that I’d missed out on a decent day out: “Boring as fuck. So little quality on show.” “Great energy from the midfield 3 but no real outlet.” “Another ground with absolutely no pubs in the vicinity.” “Sick of going to these places and drinking next to a portaloo in the rain.”

By all accounts the goal was a belter. I still haven’t seen it. Unsworth felt that we didn’t deserve to lose, that we switched off for a second and were punished for it by a moment of quality. He again praised the fans as “magnificent”, and stressed that we fear no-one in this league, and teams will only beat us if we switch off. Which is certainly better to hear than “we can’t compete with Wrexham”.

So, to summarise, I didn’t go to the game, I didn’t follow it at the time, I haven’t seen the highlights and I can only comment on what other people said about the game on social media and what Unsworth said in his post-match interview. Absolutely fucking sterling reportage, eh. Do buy Matt a coffee if you want to contribute to the running costs of the website and help provide a platform for the illuminating insights of this absolutely-not-award-winning blog.

There’s further disappointing injury news, with Alex Reid being out with a hamstring injury, potentially for the rest of the season. We really do have no luck with keeping our forwards fit. Will we ever see Hallam Hope again? We miss you, sweet prince. Unsworth was quick to bring in reinforcements and Bassala Sambou has joined us on loan from Crewe. He says he likes to “work hard to trouble defences”, so let’s give him a chance before we write him off as lazy, eh?

Off the field, there’s been quite a big story, and a positive one at that. The club, Oldham Roughyeds RLFC and Oldham Council made a joint announcement on Thursday that a new high-spec pitch will be installed at Boundary Park, with the Council investing £1m, and this will allow, among other things, the Roughyeds to play at BP from the 2024 season. Work will start on installing the hybrid mixed fibre pitch (yes, they’re allowed in the Football League, even in the Premier League) in May, and Darren Royle said that it’s hoped that the pitch can be used for other sports and other events – for example, it’s hoped our women’s team will be able to play at Boundary Park. He talked about wanting to “build up a sense of civic pride again.” This was echoed in the statement on the club website: “It is our aim to see Boundary Park Stadium become the centrepiece for sporting activity in the town and beyond, achieving our goal of becoming a football club that can say it truly works for the benefit of the community.”

Aren’t our club statements a million miles better now than they were a year ago? Isn’t it great to hear the club talking about civic pride and working for the community instead of slagging off our fans and making up bullshit?

From a selfish point of view I’m delighted that I’ll have a rugby league club as well as a football club on my doorstep. I’m old enough to remember the good old days when Oldham Bears played at Boundary Park in the Super League, and the Sky Sports commentators described BP as being “like the Wembley of the North”. You’re gonna have to take my word for it but I swear this happened. If that seems ridiculous, at the time I was going to watch St Helens – then, as now, the world club champions - at Knowsley Road, and as much as we’ve got great memories of the place, it was a shithole. The men's toilets were essentially a wall and a trench. We (rightly) complained when there was no running water in the toilets last season; that was standard at Knowsley Road. Boundary Park really would have seemed like Wembley by comparison.

I hope the new pitch and the ground share makes Ice Station Zebra the community sporting hub it should be. It’d be great to see discounts for Latics season ticket holders at Roughyeds games, and vice versa. And, if I’m honest, I’d also like to see Chaddy and Roary Roughyed have a fight on the pitch.

Unsurprisingly, the good news emerging from Boundary Park about the club making long term plans that will benefit the football club, the rugby league club and the town as a whole has reactivated the squawking from what I like to call The Irrelevant Element. Do not give them the attention they’re so desperate for. The past was theirs, the future’s ours.

Safe travels if you’re off to Dagenham and/or Redbridge today. If we do the double over them I reckon the play-offs are back on the cards. As always, KTMFF.

Written by Arlene Finnigan. Photo © Oldham Athletic.



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