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There Goes My Hero

Teatime kick offs are weird, aren’t they? Pottering about the house doing odd jobs because if you go to the pub at the normal time, you’ll be ratarsed by full time and in bed by 8.30pm? Thinking a pie at the match will do you for your tea then really wanting a takeaway at 10pm? Throws you all out of sync. Can’t be doing with it.

The atmosphere last Saturday couldn’t have been more different to the end of last season. Neither team technically had anything to play for; having already qualified for the play offs, Bromley rested several players, with some cynics suggesting they might have wanted to lose to secure an easier play-off game (although they did bring on Dennis Bergkamp’s son in the second half, I wonder if his dad was watching). It was an opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate the rot having been stopped for us, and it was, of course, an opportunity for Frank to give a speech again. Couldn’t make out a word, I’m afraid, but I’m sure it was both inspirational and mad. He went in the Athleticos block during the game. The ‘tra la la la la la la la la, OAFC' bit can’t have been good for his knees.

The game was, of course, a chance to bid a proper farewell and thank you to Peter Clarke. It was always unlikely that he was going to start, especially when he’d been struggling with a groin injury, but it was clear from the club’s media that he wasn’t going to be quietly released without fanfare. Even David Unsworth isn’t THAT much of a shithouse.

For an end of season dead rubber, it was a good, end-to-end game. Kitching caused them problems down the left again, and their keeper (am I right in thinking he wasn’t the first choice keeper?) made a couple of excellent saves in the first half. All the funnier that the opening goal came from him rushing out of his area and taking an airshot of a kick at the ball. Nuttall still had work to do, and he did it very well, taking the ball past two defenders before putting it away. Can we please stop saying that he’s crap and lazy now?

We continued to dominate the game in the second half, and Tollitt really should have scored. Bromley gave the ball away in the centre circle, Fondop passed it to him, and he put on a great sprint to beat the defence but couldn’t lift the ball over the keeper. He also had a good shot from outside the area, forcing their keeper into another good save when it looked like it was going in the top corner.

The moment we’d all been waiting for came in the 76th minute. Ten minutes earlier, Andy tweeted “Get Clarkey on up front”, and fair play to Unsworth, he did exactly that, bringing him on for Fondop. Throwing on a 41 year old centre half, up front, with a quarter of an hour to go and a slender 1-0 lead to defend? Are you OK, Unsy? It was sentimental, it was foolish, it was brilliant. If Clarke had been playing at the back, we might not have let Bromley pass it about on the edge of our area and equalise, but so what, it was worth the gamble to try for the fairytale ending. And it was probably fitting that our season ended with us throwing away 2 points in the last 10 minutes.

I’m not going to go all Serious Criminal Offence, but the pitch invasion at the end was a bit idiotic. The on-pitch peaceful protest at the owners who were killing our club when we got relegated out of the league, fair enough. They were exceptional circumstances, and it was a time for direct action. Kids – and I mean young kids – running about for a bit at the end of the season then running back off again, well, it’s a bit daft but it’s harmless, I’m inclined to say let them have their fun. But if you’re a grown up wanting to take a ‘get the badge in’ selfie on the pitch then you get aggressive with the stewards for telling you to behave yourself and get off so the players can do a lap of honour, that’s just embarrassing.

Thankfully the players were able to come back out, and I’ve no idea how long it took Peter Clarke to make his way around, stopping to sign autographs and pose for selfies with everyone. God bless you, Clarkey. It’s been a privilege to watch you. According to Unsworth, he was in tears in the changing room after the game. Pollen count’s been high this week, hasn’t it?

Image © Andy Ford

I had tickets to see Yard Act at the Albert Hall last Saturday, and the late kick off gave me the dilemma of missing the gig or dashing off straight after the match and missing the end of season drinks. I’m glad I reluctantly missed the gig, as the fans bar was bouncing. I didn’t get Frank to buy us a drink, and I might be the only Latics fan who didn’t get a selfie with Unsworth, but it was a cracking night.

And I want it noting that I was pretty much sober after the match when we covered up the brick in the Joe Royle stand that’s been annoying everyone with some nice pictures of Frank. You’re all welcome.

And so, the 2022-23 draws to a close. It’s not quite been a rollercoaster; more like being pushed down one of the roads off Oldham Edge in a supermarket trolley, being relieved when someone stops you hurtling into the traffic on Rochdale Road, then going for a dead nice curry. We were never going to go up this season; we weren’t going to go down either. Zen As Fuck Andy was right (although even he must have been shitting it after the Notts County game on Boxing Day). The ship has been steadied, and it may not quite be HMS Piss The League next year, but it’s not the Titanic either. We can go into next season with some optimism for the first time in years, and David Unsworth says there’s loads of players desperate to sign for us. And you know what, I’m going to choose to believe him. Let’s enjoy the summer. We’ll have stuff to complain about soon enough, let’s make the most of this strange feeling of hope and positivity while it lasts. Stay zen. KTMFF.

Written by Arlene Finnigan. Photos © Luke Reynolds.

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