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Oldham’s long road back

Oldham’s long road back

Unpopular owner Abdullah Lemsagam has seen his club Oldham relegated out of the football league for the first time in their history. Can they find their way back?

When the Premier League was founded in 1992, it looked pretty different to how it does today. 

Sky had only just invested money into the league in return for the rights to show live matches… and teams like Coventry City, Ipswich Town and Oldham Athletic made up the 22 original members of the newly formed league.

“Let’s go and win it. All the very best, boys.”

“The FA Premier League. Live, only on Sky. It’s a whole new ball game.”

Sky Sports Retro

Now, 30 years later, Oldham Athletic has become the first team who have played in the Premier League to exit the Football League altogether. 

Their match against Salford City was abandoned after fans stormed the pitch in protest. It was later completed behind closed doors.  

“Get out of our club, get out of our club, you useless b*****d, get out of our club.”

BBC Sport Manchester

An eventual 2-1 defeat confirmed that Oldham will play in the non-league next season, ending their 115 year run as a football league club. 

As you heard, fans are understandably furious.

So what’s gone wrong at Boundary Park? 

It’s fair to say that the club has been in demise for at least the last decade, but fans blame owner Abdallah Lemsagam for putting the final nails in the coffin. He was at his home in Dubai when Oldham were relegated.

He’s a Moroccan businessman who bought the club in January 2018 for just £1. 

Since then, he’s appointed ten different managers, including Oldham-born Paul Scholes. 

“All them type of things were going on…there was no hot water at times, they was ripping coffee machines out, the groundsman was coming to me [saying] we need money to do this…we need money to do that…”

BT Sport

The club’s financial issues are complex. It’s owed money to HMRC and the former owner Simon Blitz. Oldham has even lost access to their North Stand because of a dispute over who owns it. 

There have also been mistakes with filing accounts. Football finance expert Kieran Maguire pointed out that Oldham refiled their accounts in 2018 with a £250,000 difference in cash balance and a £4 million difference in profit.

When fans spoke out about the mismanagement of the club, three of the most vocal were issued three-year stadium bans for “promoting their dislike.”

“They don’t have any interest for the club, I guess. They don’t want…”

“Who don’t have any interest in the club?”

“Yeah, I think it’s these people who are getting banned. I think they deserve it. Can I be honest to you?”

“You’re saying that they deserve to be banned?”

“Pardon?”

“Did you say they deserve to be banned?”

“If they’re not behaving like every person and they can’t just watch the game and to be like every person then I think they deserve to be banned.”

talkSPORT

The sheer weight of public feeling against the decision saw those bans reversed, but the damage had already been done.  

So if the fans want Abdallah Lemsagam to sell the club, why doesn’t he move on?

The owner has said he is willing to sell, but the fee he wants is reported to be around £6 million. That’s for a non-league club in a dispute about who owns the stadium. 

Here’s Abdallah Lemsagam talking to Sky Sports. 

“We’re renting here. We don’t own nothing. I mean if we don’t put my money, nobody gets paid.”

Sky Sports News

So is there any hope for Oldham’s future? Ex-boss Lee Johnson thinks there is.

“Do I think it’s fatal? Absolutely not. I think it’s a massive opportunity to reset the club from top to bottom. And I think if you can get that alignment, including the fans, for a club of that quality…I honestly think it can rise again.”

BBC Sport Manchester

That may be true, but there is only one automatic promotion spot from the National League back up to League Two. 

And there are plenty of other former football league clubs competing for that one place.

Oldham’s neighbours Stockport County are currently seven points clear at the top of the National League with five games to play, but they’ve been non-league since 2011 after losing their football league status after 106 years.

So it certainly won’t be easy for Oldham. And their fans would say step one of the rebuilding process would be for Abdallah Lemsagam to step away from the club. 

He says the board and staff are committed to working hard to restore Oldham’s rightful position in League Football.

Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford and mixed by Studio Klong.