Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Can Oldham Athletic avoid English Football’s worst statistic?

Posted on 8 April 2022 by Roberto Petrucco

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Oldham Athletic were there when the Premier League began, but crisis after crisis has left them staring non-league football in the face.

Ownership problems, winding up orders and fan protests – the club are in turmoil. However, things may get a lot worse before they get better.

After surviving the inaugural season of the newly branded topflight, the Latics were relegated just a year later.

Another relegation left them in the third tier of English football, where they remained for 21 seasons, before their recent struggles began.

Now sitting one place above the relegation zone of League Two, are Oldham about to earn the title of English football’s worst statistic: being the first team to play in the Premier League and then go on to be relegated into non-league?

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Financial Issues at Oldham Athletic

The financial issues go back to 2004, where the club faced liquidation, something they have not been able to shake.

Over the 19/20 season, Oldham faced instability which have played their part in the club’s recent decline, with a lack of funds and transfer embargoes.

The Latics fought off administration by paying money to former owners and avoided two winding up orders due to unpaid taxes during the 19/20 season, before matches behind closed doors hit lower league football.

The financial issues resulted in transfer embargoes, which in this current season, have left the team only able to sign free players of loans.

The owner, Abdallah Lemsagam, has put the club up for sale after claiming he has invested over £5million.

The price of the club is unknown, but with these issues a new owner is going to be difficult to find.

Owner vs Fanbase

Lemsagam has turned the fanbase against him, with rumours of him dictating the transfers and controlling players selection.

Supporter Aaron Diskin said: “When Abdallah came in, it felt like the winds of change, but there were stories of him going into the dressing rooms and doing his own team talks.”

Boundary Park
Boundary Park – Credit @OfficialOAFC

In his four full seasons as the owner, Oldham have signed 88 players, with supporters feeling that Lemsagam, a former agent, was using his agent contacts too frequently.

“There were stories about him [Lemsagam] not playing the players and him and his brother picking the teams.”

As well as the high player turnover, in his four years in charge, Lemsagam has seen 10 different managers, with four not making it beyond 10 league games.

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There have been widespread protests from the supporters, from flares and tennis balls being thrown on the pitch, to fans holding coffins with ‘RIP OAFC’ written on.

Lemsagam also tried to ban Oldham fans from attending away matches, but the other clubs allowed travelling supporters to either buy directly through the club or buy on the day.

Difficult run-in

Oldham have a difficult final six games:

Port Vale (A) – 3rd

Northampton Town (H) – 4th

Forest Green Rovers (A) – 1st

Salford City (H) – 10th

Tranmere Rovers (A) – 7th

Crawley Town (H) – 13th

 

With four of the teams in the automatic promotion or play-off places, and Salford only two points outside the play-offs, there will be no easy matches.

Despite the run-in Aaron is confident that the Latics can survive: “I have seen enough in the period since Sheridan has come to tell me that we might just nick points sporadically to keep us up.

“We’re not playing well, but we are picking up the results.”

Stevenage and Barrow are the other teams in the mix with Oldham. However, both have a game in hand, and both have difficult games remaining.

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Oldham Athletic will need to pick up some valuable points to avoid relegation and to avoid the unwanted statistic.

Although Wimbledon folded after financial issues after being in the Premier League, Oldham would be the first club to suffer the four relegations into the National League. Something that could finish the club off, fears Aaron Diskin:

“I am quite scared to say what the summer might hold for us as a football club, because I am not too convinced, we will have a football club.”

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