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Don't Let The Sh*te Divide Us


Well the close season is proving to be every bit as chilled as I expected. The entertainment and drama is seldom on the pitch at Banterclub. First, a screenshot from the (ahem) TRUE BLUE OLDHAM ATHLETIC SUPPORTERS closed/hidden group on Facebook appeared on Twitter on Sunday, showing the ever-lovable Kevin Birkett saying “Just spoke to Barry about setting a Q&A meeting up at the club to discuss things & get an incite [sic] into what is going on & how the club is moving forward [yes really]. This is for fans who want to know, anyone wanting to go let me know. This will be inside the club’s boardroom.” If you’re active on social media, you’re probably familiar with Kevin; if you were going to Boundary Park regularly a few years ago, you may know him as Kevin Chuckle/That Creepy Bloke Who Hangs Around The Athleticos And Likes Taking Photographs Of Other People’s Kids. His most recent Twitter account was suspended in April for his incessant, and increasingly vile, abusive tweets, including a stream of misogynistic abuse at Oldham Times journalist Suzanne Geldard. He’s got a history of posting racist, sexist and homophobic abuse from multiple social media accounts. It may well be that his claim to be setting up a secret, closed meeting with the club through Barry is nothing more than a figment of his twisted imagination, or trolling in a bid for attention. He does appear to be friends with Barry, though. The Board refusing to speak to the Supporters Foundation that owns 3% of the club, then getting Barry to facilitate a meeting with someone who spends all his time online sending malicious communications, days after issuing a statement saying “In future, the Club will operate a zero-tolerance approach to all breaches of the law”, would, sadly, be entirely consistent with the utter contempt it’s treated us with under the current regime.

On Monday, the club announced that the pre-season friendly with Bolton Wanderers had been cancelled. They didn’t say why, but thankfully Bolton cleared it up for us: “We are mindful of the reaction of some supporters to the scheduled fixture and will now not be playing the game”. A club that listens to its fans and acts accordingly! Oh that we were so blessed. All credit to the Bolton fans, who have had their own issues with incompetent owners, for showing solidarity, respecting our boycott and putting pressure on their club to do the same. A reminder that we’re not alone in this fight, that we can put pressure on the current regime, and that others will stand with us.

On Tuesday the club announced, in yet another statement filled with Owen’s waffle, that the Joe Royle stand will not be in use next season, quoting, predictably, safety and security. “The Club has given careful thought to the manner in which these premises are operated and have assessed the evidence from recent events.” What recent events would they be? Are you referring to the Salford game, when you blocked the fire exits in order to prevent people who had gone to bar after the match was abandoned from watching the remainder of the resumed game? What exactly was the justification for that? Oh wait, here we go…. “Recent events have also revealed that the management of the North Stand are not prepared to work with Senior Officials [why has this been capitalised Barry] and this seriously compromises the Club”. Ah right, so our newest stand is closed because of you not being able to work with people you’ve got a personal vendetta against. We need to hear Simon Blitz’s and the FLG’s side of the story, and more on that later. I strongly suspect that, yet again, this has nothing to do with the fans’ best interests or health and safety. The Roger Palmer bar in the Main Stand, with its steep rickety steps that get wet and slippy when it rains because the covering over it has been ripped for years, is safe for fans to use. The Main Stand itself, with its toilets that frequently have no running water, is safe for fans to use. The Jimmy Frizzell Rochdale Road end, which you access either from the Broadway side by scrambling up a not-very-well paved hill, or from Sheepfoot Lane over an ankle-breaker of uneven gravel car park, which also has inadequate toilet facilities, is safe for fans to use. The Joe Royle North stand, apparently, is not.

(By the way, if you’re reading this, Barry – and I’m sure you are – I would urge you to take the word Hillsborough out of your mouth before posting a response, or next week’s blog will be the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report and the findings of the inquest, and I’ll be needing you to read both in their entirety.)

Does anyone know who the Safety Officer, on whose recommendation this decision was presumably made, is, by the way? It’s just that a search on the club website for ‘safety officer’ only brings up this statement and the safety officer vacancy being advertised in January. The banning orders that have been sent out have been signed 'For and on behalf of the Safety Officer Julie Cross', and she was the Safety Officer for our last two games, but she's still Rochdale's Safety Officer and I was under the impression she was 'on loan'. Did she advise that the Joe Royle stand be closed? Are Rochdale happy for her to do that? Are they happy with her name being put to letters telling people their name will be circulated to other National League clubs, which is potentially in breach of data protection law? If you have received a letter with a banning order, do get in touch with OASF and Faircop.

If you were in any doubt as to who's writing the statements, on Thursday the Oldham Times brought the expected but unwelcome confirmation that Barry Owen has returned to the club in an 'advisory role', "sharing the responsibility of the day to day running of the club with general manager Steven Brown". "I made a decision that some of the obstacles that were in my way (previously) had been removed......Individuals don't come into it for me." Oh OK, only we were under the impression that you left as a director because you fell out with Karl Evans, our mistake. He's "advising on any matters I think need advising on, with my areas of speciality in regard to governance and safety". Oh. Good. We had a feeling you might be. And if you were wondering, the word of the day is 'fiduciary'. Google it. He probably did. Quite why the club are handing over part of the responsibility for the day-to-day running of the club to someone who's widely hated by its supporters, who has been the one almost-constant at the club over the last two decades of decline, but who has also been critical of the current ownership, is a mystery. As Dominic Weiss pointed out on Twitter, "I criticised the lemmys and got a 3 year ban, Barry does it and gets offered a job". Desperate times, eh.

I don't often talk about the podcast on here, cos it feels a bit self-referential, but the interview Andy Halliwell did with Paul Whitehead and Simon Brooke from the FLG that was released on Thursday was most welcome. Paul Whitehead described how he saw that the club wasn't being run properly when Bunn was sacked, and wanted to do something to help. Simon Brooke described his quite frankly traumatic tenure as a Trust director and the representative on the board, and talked about how wrong things were going under Corney. It was a sobering insight into how bad things were before Lemsagam took over, which unfortunately left us vulnerable. He did say that the Trust had concerns, mainly because Lemsagam was such an unknown, it was difficult to get information from Dubai about him and when they spoke to football agents in this country, they hadn't heard of him. Both recalled their decades of support for the club since their childhoods, and if you still think that the FLG wants to bulldoze Boundary Park and build houses then I urge you to put the crack pipe down. I'm not going to regurgitate the whole interview here, I highly recommend you listen to it, and you'll want to listen to part 2 on Monday, because part 1 ends on something of a cliff hanger.

Fuck knows what will have happened between me posting this blog and you reading it. Maybe Shez will have decked Mo and walked. Maybe the club will have changed its mind about the Joe Royle stand, or maybe they'll have shut the Rocky as well. Maybe Barry will have declared himself the Commandante of the People's Republic of Saddleworth. All I do know is that we're living in interesting times, in the Chinese curse sense of the word, and we need to be up for the fight. We have the cause and the conscience, we have the plans and the purpose.

Written by Arlene Finnigan Banner by @lookersgirl and @keiraholly

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