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Oh, my friends, it's been a long hard year

Welcome to my Christmas blog. I’d like to thank you for the year.

On Tuesday just gone, Timehop informed me that it was exactly a year since Bradley Knowles, Nathan Price and Dominic Weiss were banned from all youth and first team matches at Boundary Park “and at any other ground where either team are playing” (something the club didn’t have the authority to do) for three years, because (ahem):

“You have regularly displayed your desire to promote your dislike of Oldham Athletic Football Club, its management and its progression”.

Andy immediately stuck post-it notes on the main entrance saying “#OAFC’S OWNERS ARE REALLY RUBBISH #BANMETOO”. I copied him and sellotaped a sheet of paper saying “BAN ME TOO #ImBradAndBinmanAndDom #SellTheClub”.

On that same Tuesday just gone, we paid actual money to watch us draw 0-0 with Peterborough Sports in the FA Trophy, while drinking mulled wine (cheers Darren, I knew I could rely on you), concluding in Jayson Leutwiler being the hero in the penalty shootout. It’s been quite the 12 months.

When we saw in the new year, standing on the Clayton watching the fireworks, I had to admit that I was looking forward to 2022 with far more trepidation than hope. We were yards away from Boundary Park, which we were boycotting, and I had no idea when we’d be going back. I was absolutely certain that we’d be relegated, and I had no confidence whatsoever that the owners could or would halt our decline, much less that they could turn things around. And with the legal action regarding the Joe Royle stand hanging over the club, who would want to buy us? Andy, as is usually the case, was more optimistic. He thought the pressure that fans were putting on the owners would pay off, that the fight to save our club would continue to gain momentum, and the tide would eventually turn in our favour.

As it turned out, we were both right.

The day we’d been dreading came in April, when our relegation was confirmed with the 2-1 defeat at home to Salford. I thought when it finally happened that I’d be distraught. I’d been worried for months that I’d make a fool of myself and get caught on camera crying. I made sure my mascara was waterproof that morning. In the event, though, I was just incandescent with rage. I was too angry to feel anything else. I wanted to put all the windows in the Main Stand in. I wanted to grab Abdallah and Mo (who were, naturally, nowhere to be seen) by the throats and scream “YOU ORDERED THIS SHIT, NOW FUCKING EAT IT” in their faces. After putting our boycott on hold to get behind Shez and the team in the vain hope that we could avoid relegation, it was horrible walking past the ground every day, not knowing when we’d be going to the match again, not knowing when we’d get our club back. But the fight that the Rebel Alliance was putting up gave me hope that we would.

Image © PA Media

We couldn’t afford to feel sorry for ourselves. We had to organise, not mourn. Meetings were called, a campaign to raise money for the 1895 fund with the intention of buying Boundary Park was launched, a cracking day out at Avro FC for the Fans v Legends game raised both spirits and thousands of pounds. We didn’t give in to despair, however pessimistic we were about the immediate future.

And then, seemingly from nowhere, came the news we’d all been waiting for. A mystery local business wasn’t just buying the club, they were also buying Boundary Park and consolidating the two. The Rothwell family were revealed as our new owners in a press conference on July 28th. Our flat-capped saviour Frank waved at us from the window, then came out for a sing-song. When I was seeing in the New Year with a sense of dread on the Clayton, I had no idea that seven months later, I’d be drinking champagne in the car park a hundred yards away, celebrating getting our club back, three days before the Lionesses brought football home. I didn’t think I’d be part of a triumphant march down Sheepfoot Lane to the first home game of the season. I didn’t think I’d be reduced to tears by a brass band playing Mouldy Old Dough. I didn’t think that a nervy 3-2 win against Dorking Wanderers would be one of the best days of my life. What a glorious summer it was.

Photo by @boundaryblue

Of course, reality soon hit, and we’re seeing out the year how we saw it in – embroiled in yet another relegation battle. But we’ve got people with the club’s best interests at heart running it now, and they’re willing and able to put things right. They’re working on fixing things around the ground. They’re engaging with fans rather than banning them. They’re showing ambition in the players they’re signing. We’re not in the media for not paying taxes, not paying wages, not selling match tickets, making mad statements about players’ dogs. Things are pretty shit right now, but I’ve got a feeling next year’s for me and you.

Oh, my friends, - the Rothwells, the Royles, the Sheridans, Push the Boundary, OASF, the Athleticos, Matt Dean, the Droylsden Poirot, Tory Dave, Billy and the Irish lads, Niamh and Erin, anyone who bought a Rebel Scum t-shirt, everyone who donated to the 1895 fund, everyone who threw a tennis ball, everyone who held a banner, everyone who chipped in to put a blue plaque on the house where they made Mouldy Old Dough, everyone who cleaned the seats, everyone who helped get Bar Station Zebra ready, all the bands who played the gig at Whittles, everyone who volunteered to take the frost covers off the pitch, everyone who fought to get our club back, and all of you who’ve read my ramblings – on this one day of days, thank God it's Christmas. Have a great one. You've more than earned it. All the best. KTMFFF.

Written by Arlene Finnigan

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