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Big Mike Strikes Again

And now, the end is near, and so we face the final curtain. We did it Frank’s way.

The last away day of the season is traditionally fancy dress day, and you lot didn’t disappoint. There were the runners from the 118 118 advert (excellent 20 year old pop culture reference, big fan of it, lads and lass), blue and tangerine sumo outfits, but as a lapsed Catholic, anyone in a nun outfit is always going to be the winner. Take a bow, Jack.

On a day when the national press were wanking themselves giddy over Paul Rudd going to a pub, the real superstar owner of the National League, our Frank, was having pints with the fans and standing on the terrace watching the game. Not in fancy dress, but let’s face it, it’d be a disappointment if he wasn’t in his flat cap and club tie.

Mark Shelton said after the game that the players didn’t know what to expect from a team that were already down and had nothing to lose. Sometimes, when the pressure is off, a relegated team play one of their best games of the season, like when we beat Norwich 3-0 on the last day of the 1996-97 season. And sometimes your first-choice keeper has a broken hand, and you have Jamie Reckord playing in your defence. Poor Yeovil.

Reckord wasn’t the only ex Latic putting in a star performance. On the highlights, the Yeovil commentary told us “Still putting in a shift, is Charlie Cooper!” …. right before Kitching crossed the ball in for Green to score. It looked from the highlights reel like Kitching caused them problems down the left. We were clearly full of confidence after our recent good run, and Shelton tried his luck with a quickly taken free kick (given away by Cooper, bless ‘im) from the centre circle, hitting the bar.

It was the enigma that is Mike Fondop who sealed the win. Unsworth bringing him and Sambou on for Reid and Nuttall early in the second half proved to be a smart (maybe not quite genius) move. Sambou did most of the hard work for the second goal, making a great run down the right, taking it past a defender in the penalty area and unselfishly laying it off for Fondop to tap it in. The third goal was a suitably chaotic, and funny, way to wrap up the game.

Shelton revealed after the game that Fondop wasn’t meant to be taking the free kick: “We both wanted the free kick and we both stood over it. I said ‘I’m taking it’ and he went ‘No I’m taking it’ and I said ‘We’re both just going to kick each other then’.” Unsworth was also screaming at Fondop to leave it for Shelton, but God’s number 9 (well number 20) answers to a higher power and was first out of the blocks on the referee’s whistle, belting the ball into the top corner. Unsworth said in his post-match interview that, having watched him in training all season, he has no idea where that came from: “I have never seen him do that in 7 months of being at Oldham Athletic!” Live by faith not sight, Dave.

Image © Frankie O’Keefe. Hahahaha look how sheepish Shelton looks.

Of course, if Big Mike hadn’t scored, he would have had Shelton and Unsworth remonstrating with him and would probably have got sent off for punching one or both of them in the face. As hilarious as that would have been, I’m glad his free kick went in.

It’s hopefully shaping up to be an uncharacteristically positive end to the season, then. And if anyone deserves a grand finale, it’s Peter Clarke. The club announced yesterday that today would be an opportunity to say goodbye and thank you, in a clear effort to right the wrong done when he was released without thanks or acknowledgement in 2019.

Everyone has plenty of great memories of the leader of the Latics, but the enduring image I’ll always have of him was after the Fulham game. Having celebrated with the players and hugged Pete Wild, there was a moment when he was down on his haunches, hands on his face, looking at the fans, taking it all in. We can only speculate on what he was thinking, but it looked a lot like he was trying to just absorb it all, possibly reflecting on whether this might be one of his last great victories, having worked long and hard enough to know just how special days like this are and how they can’t be taken for granted. I couldn’t find a photo of it in time for the blog, so if anyone can find it, please do share.

Some might suggest that the club have gone a bit overboard in calling Peter Clarke a legend, but players like him don’t come around often. It takes a rare level of dedication to be playing professional football for as long as he has, at the level he does. He’s the absolute epitome of what a leader should be. Good leadership isn’t screaming at other players telling them to ‘grow some bollocks’ and demanding that they do your running for you. It’s leading by example. It’s training harder and being fitter than lads young enough to be your kids. It’s putting an arm round younger players and giving them advice during the game. And it’s smiling politely while a Sky Sports presenter interviews your kids outside Wembley before the FA Cup final, and not interrupting and asking “excuse me, don’t you know who I am?”

Oh, and to the players who summed him up in one word with “old”, 1. You put some fucking respect on Peter Clarke’s name and 2. FORTY ONE IS NOT OLD.

Let’s give Clarkey the send off he deserves, and here’s hoping we’ll be celebrating our first top half finish since he was at school. It’s been a long old season – fuck, it’s been a long few decades – but there’s plenty to be hopeful about. Onwards and upwards. KTMFF.

Image © Alan Howarth


Written by Arlene Finnigan


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