Businessman plans to link football and rugby
3 October ~ Earlier this year when Oldham Athletic supporters heard that the notorious boxing promoter Stephen Vaughan might be leading a consortium to buy the club, they knew how to react. A charge sheet that included his time as owner of Barrow and Chester, alongside failing the FA's fit and proper person test, told its own story. But the news of Dr Marwan Koukash's interest in the club has brought a more varied and slightly sceptical response. Dr Koukash is a Palestinian who came to England in the 1970s, achieved a PhD in electrical engineering and made his money from an international training company.
He now has interests in property and horse racing. At the start of 2013 he took over Salford rugby league club and, although he saved them from administration, the team went on to finish bottom of Super League 2013. Koukash renamed the club Salford Red Devils, bought some high profile player and promised more signings before next season.
All of this feeds into his confident prediction that he will make them "the biggest club in the land" inside three to four years; so far so good. And now, he not only wants to buy Latics, he also wants to buy the Oldham rugby league team. The plan involves building a new, joint stadium, and has his familiar predictions about future success.
It is those plans that give rise to the scepticism for Latics fans. They remember well the predictions of Chris Moore when he took the club over in 2001 – the Premier League was, apparently, only five years away. He treated fans to the spectacle of turning up to matches in his helicopter, but the outcome of his plan was one run at promotion, administration and the club near to extinction.
Just as much, despite a long history of possible moves to a new stadium the club remain at Boundary Park. The current owners have committed to developing the ground, for football only, but for Koukash the site isn't big enough for the "sporting destination" he has in mind. His ambition embraces both netball and basketball.
Koukash does not seem to be troubled by the scale of his ambition, and he emphasises the strength of the team around him. Worryingly, football background does not seem to figure too highly in their skill set. Equally, he does not see owning two rugby league clubs simultaneously as a problem, with strong hints that the problem can be worked around with the help of the rugby authorities.
Although Koukash has said he will "never" move the two clubs outside the town, proposals from the current owners to move the football club a few miles down the road, still in the town but on the border with Manchester, created a strong emotional reaction from many fans.
The parties have confirmed that there has been contact – Latics have named a price, Koukash has said it is too high and hasn't made an offer. Fans' concerns have not been helped by local reports of an idea from Koukash's side that perhaps the club and land could stay with the current owners, while the team plays at the new stadium. Leave all of the arguments about where the ground might be to one side and it's an idea that, if it means anything, has franchise written all over it.
After years of uncertainty the idea that both Oldham clubs would have a stack of money behind them, a shiny new stadium and a successful team on the pitch sounds attractive. For this Latics fan it just feels like the club will drift further away. But the who-blinks-first contest has started. The old question about whether Oldham is a rugby town or a football town might soon be irrelevant – now there's a possibility that soon, in sporting terms, it will be a Koukash town. Brian Simpson