Latics faced hunt for new manager, a winding-up petition and ownership uncertainty
6 August ~ The start of 2016-17 can't come soon enough for Oldham Athletic fans like me. Last season ended on something approaching a high. From near certainties for relegation, the return of John Sheridan as manager kickstarted a remarkable recovery that saw us survive for another season in League One.
Sheridan came back saying he had “unfinished business” at the club after his previous spell in charge had ended ignominiously in a shambolic team-building trip to a local greyhound stadium. Yet within days of the season’s end Sheridan was gone, tempted by a higher salary and bigger transfer budget to drop a division to manage Notts County.
News of a winding-up petition brought by HM Revenue & Customs quickly followed. This was seen off but it raised questions about the role of the supporters’ trust representatives on the club’s board – their presence was supposed to at least forewarn fans about further financial disaster. Can the Trust play an effective part in the running and financial management of the club while ensuring the kind of transparency that many fans want?
Sheridan’s final involvement related to the retained list and the future of players whose contracts had either lapsed or had options in them, and departures seemed to confirm that cash flow concerns were taking precedence over team building. Latics were left with a first-team squad too small for a five-a-side game, a situation that persisted until just a couple of weeks ago.
Rumbling alongside all of this was the process of finding a new manager. The rumoured list of candidates contained no surprises for Latics watchers. Iain Dowie and Phil Brown were prominent, alongside former players Shefki Kuqi, Frank Bunn and Neil Redfearn. In the outer reaches of credibility a dream ticket of Ryan Giggs and long-time Oldham fan Paul Scholes occupied some minds. The club then appeared about to appoint former Leeds boss Steve Evans, only for him to pull out after terms had been agreed. So far he remains out of work.
Yet, against all odds, the managerial recruitment process seems to have produced a sound backroom staff headed by Stephen Robinson, fresh from a prominent role in Northern Ireland’s strong showing in the Euros. He is assembling a squad that has grown to a point where a team and substitutes could take the field in pre-season friendlies.
The current club ownership have come in for criticism from many fans (though I’m not among them) and the club are reportedly seeking a buyer. One group seemed to have a natural empathy with the plight of the fans – representatives attended games both at home and away, and then duly lost interest. There have been many times over the past 35 years when I have had exactly that same experience.
The prospect is that the club will be sold to owners who may have money but are unlikely to have past links to the area or the club. The team I watch will continue to consist largely of players on loan or short-term contracts and whose names I have not yet managed to learn. Despite all of this I have my season ticket. The season starts today with Millwall away – optimism can wait a little longer. Brian Simpson