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If we're just April Fools, I don't care

First of all, I am so sorry. Doing an April Fool’s joke was The Embarrassing Andy Halliwell’s idea, and I was not initially in favour of it, but I couldn’t rise above tweeting that this week’s blog would be a Sportcast takeover. Especially after the increasingly unhinged ramblings from Irrelevant Element Twitter over the last few days. I apologise unreservedly for any distress and disappointment caused.

Last Saturday might not have panned out how we wanted, but how often do you get to cheer someone announcing the drilling of the first 20 metres of a borehole for free water? Frank’s speech before the Solihull game was characteristically mad and brilliant. He announced the massive borehole news, the new LED floodlights, the council’s investment in a “state of the art, top quality, hybrid pitch”, the new owners completing the purchase of Oldham Roughyeds, and finally, the news we’ve all been waiting for: “Today, I can confirm that the Rothwell family have bought Oldham Athletic’s ground, as well as the club!” Then the referee told him he needed to get off the pitch because it had gone 3 o’ clock and he needed to get the game started. Spoilsport.

It looked like the match might actually live up to the celebratory atmosphere. We dominated the first half and fully deserved to go in 1-0 up at half time. Mark Kitching picked up the ball just past the halfway line, ran with it, and his speculative shot from 25 yards bobbled into the net. My thought process at the time was “oh FFS what’s HE doing shooting from THERE…oh it’s gone in. Oh. Cool.” Despite us being well on top it took a good save by Hudson from Maycock, followed by a great tackle by Sutton to clear the danger, to ensure we went in ahead at the break.

We continued to play some of the best football we’ve played all season in the second half. Green looked impressive again, and Rooney was unlucky to hit the post. This is Latics, though, and every silver lining has a fucking cloud, doesn’t it. Bringing on Fondop and Abraham seemed like an ideal substitution to put Solihull under pressure for the last quarter of the match, but we seemed to sit further back as the game went on. For all our dominance, the 94th minute equaliser felt horribly inevitable. Credit to them, it was a cracking overhead kick, but was it really asking too much for us to not shit the bed and spoil the party? After such good news, and such a good performance for most of the game, it was an absolute sickener.

Special mention, though, to Big Mike for getting stuck into Howe after he hit Abraham in the face. No one picks on God’s number 9’s mates and gets away with it.

As if chucking away the win wasn’t disappointment enough, we only stayed for one drink in the fans bar because we were going to the Gujarati Thali evening at the Hindu temple (highly recommend it by the way) and missed out on Frank buying everyone in the bar a drink. Gutted.

Onto Wealdstone, then. Another Tuesday, another southern leisure centre. Or are we classifying it as a playing field? It looked for a bit like they were going to shit out of playing us, calling a pitch inspection for 10am on the morning of the game because they’d had a bit of rain, the soft gets.

Considering the state of the pitch it was a pretty entertaining game. Not that you’d have known it if you were trying to listen to the Latics Player commentary, which was broadcasting Altrincham v Notts County for some reason beyond the club’s media team’s control. Did you know that Alty have only kept 4 clean sheets this season? No prizes for guessing who one of them was against. If they make it 5 clean sheets on Good Friday there’ll be murder.

It was great to see Nuttall score, and a lovely bit of footwork to take it around the keeper. If he did that because he wasn’t confident enough to shoot, well, fair play to him. We had another defensive wobble at the start of the second half when, according to Unsworth, “it was like the Alamo” for ten minutes, and we ended up 2-1 behind.

The pendulum swung our way again when we were awarded a penalty, which Nuttall buried to equalise. Should we worry that he always puts his shot in the same place from the spot, or be impressed that that’s the second time the keeper’s gone the right way but he’s put it through their hands? Whatever, what counts is what works. We piled on the pressure at the end, and Fondop could have won it in injury time, but his header went over. Another point from another difficult trip to another tinpot southern club. I’ll take that.

The fans’ forum on Wednesday was never going to have the macabre comedy value as the one at Royton Cricket Club, and that’s a very good thing. It’s infinitely better to be laughing at Frank completely ignoring the questions and consulting his notes and announcing that “I’ve got a full page of things I need to fit into questions” than to be hysterically laughing at Barry knocking over his water and Natalie, who was the managing director but who Barry appeared to have mistaken for his maid/carer, having to mop it up with bog roll. Having a wry smile at David Unsworth saying “I worked out quite quickly you guys like to play with 2 strikers every week, certainly the guys behind me were telling me that” is, in the grand scheme of things, better than cackling in despair at the worst director in the Football League asking “what is wrong with Urko Vera?”

The overall picture that emerged was one of the club moving in the right direction, but it’s a massive job. Peter Norbury seemed quite happy to be the bad cop to Darren Royle’s good cop, which was funny but also strangely reassuring. David Unsworth was endearingly honest about how much pressure he was under and how much he was clearly dreading the forum – when discussing what the plans are for building a squad for next season he remarked “Jesus Christ do I know your demands”. And Frank was, well, Frank.

Suzanne Geldard was live blogging the event and you’ve probably seen the main points on social media. Season tickets should go on sale early next week. We won’t be limiting pay for injured or sick players because we’re not horrible exploitative bastards. We’re looking to move several players on in the summer and make 8 or 9 permanent signings, including a long throw specialist that we’ve already identified. We won’t be going on an exotic pre-season tour; Unsworth is taking the squad to a SAS training camp in Chorley. (I honestly don’t know whether he was joking or not.)

We’re doing everything we can to protect the academy; Unsworth meets with the academy manager every week, and professional contracts have been offered to 2 players. We’re offering 3 year deals with a plan in place to bring them through to the first team. We’re also hoping to have a B team next season. Improvements are going to be made for disabled supporters, but in the Main Stand it’s very difficult because it’s old and knackered. We won’t be moving home fans back into the Chaddy End next season, but there’s a competitive advantage having fans behind both goals, so it’s something we’re looking at for the future.

Finally, Frank invited everyone to an evening with him at the OEC on Friday 28th April. It’s £15 including supper and all the proceeds go to Dr Kershaws. Tony Feeley is taking bookings on Twitter. Frank had a good chat with everyone afterwards, and I’m sure I heard him say something about pulling Ryan Reynolds’ trousers down on Saturday.

So yeah, another typically mundane week on HMS Latics. It’s nice for things to be eccentric-mad rather than Charles-Bronson-mad. We’re not where we want to be; we’re a million miles from it. But we’re not where we were a year ago either. We’ve hit rock bottom, and we’re clawing our way back up. Imagine being angry about that.

One last thing, if I can be cheeky. It’s my birthday on Monday, and if you want to make an old woman very happy, and you can afford it, it would be lovely if you could give a couple of quid to the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. I walked 100 miles in March to raise money in memory of my dad, while recovering from COVID, nearly all of it in the pissing rain. Massive thanks to everyone who’s already donated, I really appreciate it.

Have a good day out if you’re going abroad to Wrecsam today, whatever happens on the pitch. Try not to be too nawtee off it. And best of luck getting a drink in the ground. Stay obscene. KTMFF.

Written by Arlene Finnigan. Photos © Luke Reynolds.


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