What now for Oldham Athletic as protests, ticket bans and boycotts mark final EFL fixture


If Oldham’s final game of the League Two season on Saturday wasn’t set to be emotionally-charged enough, the club’s decision to impose ‘strong measures’ against supporters planning to attend the game will certainly increase the tension between the club and its fans.

Two weeks ago, Oldham’s anticipated relegation from the Football League was confirmed in sorry circumstances as an impending defeat to Salford was halted by hundreds of supporters who ran onto the Boundary Park pitch and forced the game to be abandoned. When supporters were eventually removed over an hour later, the game was quietly finished behind-closed-doors, with the club blocking the view of fans watching from inside the North Stand with advertising boards. Oldham’s relegation was confirmed with the club again at war with its fans, as they have been all season.

Since that game, relations have hardly improved, despite the news that club legend John Sheridan will continue as manager next season in the National League – Oldham’s first campaign in non-league after 116 years of Football League membership. The club declared that they would issue bans for any supporter identified as taking part in the pitch invasion against Salford, with year-long banning orders issued to multiple fans as a result.

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Last week, at Tranmere, the Oldham team were booed onto the pitch by their defiant following of over 1,000 fans, with Sheridan issuing expletives towards his team at full time before saying the hapless 2-0 defeat was one of his lowest points in his 40 -year career. Now, Oldham have moved to restrict fans from buying tickets for today’s final game of the season against Crawley, seemingly in anticipation of more disruptive protests.

Announced on Wednesday, fans were given just 24 hours to buy tickets for the Crawley game before they were taken off sale on Thursday, with no pay-on-the-day facility as the club cited advice from the Safety Advisory Group. No further tickets were sold for the North Stand since Wednesday, and it was confirmed that no alcohol would be sold in the ground. The statement came with a reminder that throwing objects onto the pitch and entering the playing field was a criminal offence, as well as a warning that mandatory searches would be carried out for all supporters.

In response, the Oldham Athletic Supporters’ Foundation said that Oldham Council confirmed to them that the measures were proposed by the club and that they weren’t imposed by the SAG.

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However, Oldham Council told MEN Sport in a statement that they were in agreement with the measures proposed by Oldham Athletic, saying: “We have been in contact with the club constantly over the last few days and are satisfied with the measures they have proposed, which include the match being all ticket and no alcohol being sold on the day. Everyone hopes the game passes off without incident.”

Oldham fans protested on the pitch before relegation was ultimately confirmed recently vs Salford.

It is a group of similar measures to a fixture earlier this season, with a suspension of pay-on-the-day tickets announced with less than 24 hours’ notice for the home game vs Hartlepool along with a temporary block on all future ticket sales for non-season ticket holders. As a result, many older fans, unaware of the measures announced online, were turned away at the turnstiles.

The new ticketing restrictions this weekend will complete what has been a turbulent year at Oldham, where the relationship between fans and the club has hit rock bottom. Before the Crawley game, fans will gather outside Boundary Park for a peaceful protest against owner Abdallah Lemsagam’s running of the club.

Fans have increased their opposition to Lemsagam’s four-year reign this season, with multiple pitch invasions, tennis balls thrown onto the pitch, boycotts, and a previous protest outside the ground where a coffin was placed at the club entrance.

Lemsagam has overseen plenty of off-field controversies during his time at Oldham, with widespread reports of wages paid late, senior professionals banished from the first team, a high turnover of playing and non-playing staff, and a long list of other grievances from fans regarding the day-to-day running of their club.

Organizers of this latest protest, fan group Push The Boundary, insist that Lemsagam must stay true to his word in January that he is looking to sell the club. After relegation, a club statement said Lemsagam remains in talks with prospective buyers.

Their last protest before the Hartlepool game attracted hundreds of fans as supporters dressed as a clown and a grim reaper carried a coffin saying ‘RIP OAFC’ outside the ground. After relegation to non-league, even more will be expected today against Crawley. Push The Boundary and fellow fan group The Athleticos have also encouraged a boycott of games at Boundary Park until Lemsagam sells, while the Supporters’ Foundation are asking fans not to buy season tickets and are working to help facilitate Lemsagam’s selling of the club.

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Fans protest outside Boundary Park ahead of the match between Oldham Athletic and Hartlepool United

The Foundation and PTB are also stepping up efforts to raise money for a contingency fund for the future should they be needed to support a bid for the club, a bid for Boundary Park, or for any administration costs. The two groups will present their plans for the future next week at a Fans’ Forum, as fans, supporter groups, and the club begin preparations for life as a non-league club.

While Oldham say they are committed to backing Sheridan for an immediate push at returning to the Football League, fans are looking further ahead, convinced that the club will not arrest its current decline until Lemsagam is gone.

Attendances at Boundary Park are set to be vastly reduced next season as more commit to staying away and boycotting – and those still attending games will be doing so at increased matchday prices next season, with season tickets also higher than this year.

“It’s one thing after another, it never ends,” says Matt Dean, director of Foundation Oldham, telling MEN Sport of the need to look forward and prepare for the future following relegation.

“They’ve banned fans, u-turns. Against Salford the club boarded up fire exits in the North Stand so fans can’t watch the game. The statements since relegation, everything is insufficient and always too late. Even now keeping Sheridan, they’ve ran out of options. They think signing Sheridan wil appease fans and boost season ticket sales, but Sheridan’s not going to have the tools to really put up a fight or push for promotion.

“Mid-table is the best we can hope for, based on the assumption they give him a full season and full control over who he signs, and at the first sign of panic not sacking him, or interference with the squad. Next season is a complete unknown, at least this season as long as we’re in the EFL there’s a number of ‘knowns’ in terms of finance as a Football League member. It’s a brand new experience for everybody, it’s worrying.”

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Dean says the Foundation are working hard behind the scenes to attract potential new ownership for the club, with one group ‘committed’ to putting money into a bid if the circumstances allow.

“It comes down to what Abdallah’s prepared to do, we know that finance coming into the club is slashed dramatically, we know fans aren’t prepared to go in numbers while they’re still at the club,” he continued.

“There will be a very low number of season tickets, there won’t be much money coming into the club over the summer. They’ve said they’ll keep the same budget as this season, if they do that they’ll have to dig substantially into their own pockets going off what we expect attendance to be next season.

“It’s very difficult to believe what they say, they say they’re talking to people but we’ve no reason to believe they have or there’s any credible bidders. They still want £6m for the club but it’s not worth it. We’re of the mindset that as far as the club and Abdallah is concerned, we know he’s badly advised.

A ‘clown’ and ‘grim reaper’ carried a coffin reading ‘RIP OAFC’ at the last protest outside Boundary Park against owner Abdallah Lemsagam.

“It means we have to focus on what we can control and what we can do. That means thinking of all the worst-case scenarios, thinking of all the potential outcomes and trying to devise a business and survival plan based on contacts and who we’ve spoken to in the club and externally to make sure when the worst-case scenario it happens that we’re somehow ready with finance in place. And we’ve got bodies in place to deal with what happens.

“We’ll fundraise and work on the assumption that there will be a need for fans’ money whether that’s as part of a consortium to take over, or to put it to keep the club running over a difficult time. We’re trying to attract investors, we’ve attracted one group who’s interested but we need more local business leaders and people potentially capable of running the business and contributing significant sums of money. They’ve said if the circumstances can be brought into line they’d potentially put up a significant seven-figure sum towards the purchase of the whole thing.

“That’s what we’ll focus on doing, shouting from the rooftops that Oldham Athletic is a club worth investing in, and if you’re investing in the town of Oldham you really need to invest in Oldham Athletic.”


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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