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If the kids are united, then we'll never be divided

A Friday morning blog this week, ahead of a Friday night kick off tonight. The official reason given for moving the game was that it would give the players more time to recover ahead of the game at York on Monday, but I can exclusively reveal that the real reason was that the club wanted to celebrate a special anniversary that falls today. Happy 10th birthday to the Athleticos.

(image © @OA95Athleticos)

The group were formed in 2012 by Ryan Green, who spoke recently on the Lower League Look podcast about how he and his mates had seen the atmosphere at European clubs, and wanted to replicate the atmosphere that we get at away games at our home games. It started off with a few mates, a few flags and a drum. Not everyone was a fan; I guess we’d got used to the ground being quiet, and not everyone likes change, even when it’s clearly for the better.

One of the Athleticos that gained the most fame was Topoff, otherwise known as George Parkin, who initially only took his top off to celebrate us scoring, but after taking his top off in frustration at us going 2-0 down against Peterborough – which famously ended in a 5-4 win for us – he started keeping it off for the full 90. Incidentally, the Oldham Chronicle article that I looked up for this states that George pledged to get a John Sheridan tattoo if we finished in the top 10 in 2017. George, if you’re reading this, and I’m sure you are, this is your challenge, should you choose to accept it: you need to get that tattoo if Shez gets us promoted this season.

(image © The Oldham Evening Chronicle)

Obviously, as a middle aged woman, I’m not going to like everything that a group of youngsters, mostly young lads, sing. The Mason Greenwood stuff earlier this year made me cringe. I’ve never liked the “oh Lancashire is wonderful” song (although blokes were singing that before they were born). But, whatever criticisms anyone may have of them, the last year has shown, more than ever, the power a bunch of noisy daft kids can have.

This time a year ago, the national media were just about starting to get wind that we were A Crisis Club, and the Athleticos came up with the perfect way to get their attention. After a number of fans invaded the pitch after the 2-1 defeat at home to Colchester in the league a few days earlier, the referee was forced to pause the League Cup tie against Accrington Stanley 5 minutes into the game after a blizzard of tennis balls rained down onto the pitch from the Rocky. So simple, so effective, so funny.

(Image © BBC)

It was exactly the kind of visual spectacle that the media would lap up. Journalist Adam Millington tweeted after the game, “Has always been a sense of animosity towards the ownership, but tonight feels like the start of something”. And so it proved. The club responded exactly how they usually did under the previous regime, ordering the Athleticos to remove their flags and banners from the stand. The statement the Athleticos issued in response added to the momentum behind calls for a boycott: “Due to an attempt by the club to sanitise protests against the ownership we have been penalised and subsequently so has the colour in the terraces….As a result we will no longer attend home game until this has been overturned.” Their flags, banners and noise were more than welcome on the protest outside the ground a few weeks later. The pressure was building; the Lemsagams’ ownership was becoming untenable.

When Abdallah announced that he intended to sell the club in January, the return of the Athleticos was as welcome as the return of Lord Shez. The atmosphere for the attempted Shezurrection was fantastic, and it surely played a part in the initial huge turnaround in the players’ performances. Sadly, with the squad we had and the far deeper problems at the club, the results couldn’t be sustained. When our fate was confirmed against Salford, the message was once again taken onto the pitch. I said it at the time, and I’ll say it again: walking on the pitch with a banner to put pressure on an owner whose tenure has been an unmitigated failure is not the same as running on the pitch to assault people, and trying to equate the two was and is disingenuous dangerous bullshit. Nonviolent direct action is often justified, and often works.

Thankfully we now know that, while the brilliant atmosphere generated by the Athleticos couldn’t quite bring about the miracle we all wanted on the pitch, it did make a massive contribution to securing the long term future of the club. Frank Rothwell has repeatedly said how he impressed he was with the noise they made at the Leyton Orient game, and how that played a key role in inspiring him to speak to his family about buying the club. He specifically asked for the drummer at the press conference where the takeover was revealed, and in a recent interview with the Lower League Look podcast, he said that “the Athleticos are the best singing dancing act in the world”. He’s basically an Athleticos fan boy, and that’s a big part of why we now have our club, and our ground, back. So maybe don’t complain about the drum. Here’s to you, lads and lasses, and hopefully to future generations in JFS3. In what is, once again, our house, in the middle of our street.

(image © @OA95Athleticos)

Written by Arlene Finnigan

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