Updated: Apr 1
It starts very young for most of us, usually taken by a relative for our first taste of the football. I went with my dad, brother and often my grandad too. If your first glimpse inside a football ground was in the late 80's or early 90's like mine was, you'd have had a very different experience to a youngster going for the first time today. As I recall, it was £1.25 for kids back then, pocket change and yet there were still only 4,000 or so fans in the ground for the games I first remember seeing against the likes of Grimsby Town, Bradford City and Shrewsbury Town in the old Division Two.
Boundary Park was the first football ground I ever visited. It had three uncovered standing areas around two thirds of the pitch and a covered home terrace, the Chaddy End. There was a large perimeter fence keeping all the fans off the pitch, which, at Boundary Park, was made of plastic at the time. Away fans brave enough to travel to watch their team play Oldham were left to survive in the open terrace behind the goal at the Rochdale Road end. They huddled together like cattle to stay warm, as an inevitably ice cold wind and sheets of rain lashed against them.
From the relative luxury of the covered Chaddy End, I looked across at them from pitch height, clinging to the cold metal fence that separated us from the large expanse of pale green plastic, the chunky thighs and very short shorts of the always impressively coiffured players. Large "Mind Your Language" signs faced us from the opposite stand, which were, of course, completely ignored by the Chaddy End faithful. I can not repeat here the language that I heard there as a boy but it was exciting to hear it. Anything went at the football. The sheer magnitude of the insults and the political incorrectness of the chants and calls from the terraces is unimaginable now. It was as inappropriate then as it would be now, but the terraces were and are, a reflection of the era in which we live.
The 1980's and early 90's were a rougher, more intolerant time. But that made it seem all the more exciting to me. It was raw, it was unpredictable. A few Sheffield Wednesday fans might appear in the Chaddy End and for a few moments all hell would break loose. There was fear and excitement in those moments, observing them as a small, vulnerable child. But once the excitement was over and the half time whistle blown, attention was drawn to the young lady clad in a swimsuit, sat awkwardly in the back of a Rascal van, casually being driven around the edge of the plastic pitch to advertise a local Italian restaurant.
My first away games were school trips to places like Stoke City's Victoria Ground and Blackburn Rovers Ewood Park. In those days, shoddy, decrepit, old stadia, with toilets that were nothing more than open drains, rivers of beery piss flowing between my little legs as I tried to avoid standing in it, amongst the hustle and bustle of the halftime frenzy. These former cathedrals of football, once packed with tens of thousands, were reaching the end of their functioning lives as the dawn of a Premier era loomed.
Football has changed. Stadiums have changed. Fans have changed. Everything changes. But once you have fallen in love with your team, that never changes. Yes, it hurts and it frustrates, there are highs and there a lows. But once you're hooked, that's it. Supporting Oldham Athletic really is a lifelong affliction and it's really hard to "keep the faith".
Supporting your local team is part of your identity, who you are, who your people are. Football has the power to bring a town together, to be a huge part of its success. Football is the beautiful game, but even more beautiful are the friendships forged in the pubs and on the terraces, the passing on of family traditions and Saturday afternoon rituals. The hours of dedication spent by parents and children alike, at training and matches, as we aim to be the next Roger Palmer or Chris Taylor. The sight of thousands of strangers singing and clapping in unison behind the goal at Fulham, Blackburn or Huddersfield, showing off the town of Oldham at it's raucous, passionate best.
I was lucky, I saw Oldham play in a cup final, FA Cup semi finals, win the 2nd Division in injury time at a bursting Boundary Park and play some of the most exciting football I've seen to this day. The past is a wonderful place to visit, nostalgic conversations, photographs and memories all serve to remind us of places, feelings, senses and emotions. But the past is gone. Our time is now. And now? Well, it isn't so great at Oldham Athletic.
This podcast is focused on the present and the future. It's focused on facing up to our problems and finding the solutions. It's focused on healthy debate, engagement and helping to heal a club, a fan base and a town, damaged by 30 years of decline. We're not the answer, we're not claiming to be, but what we are is part of a movement that wants to help change the future of Oldham Athletic. We have a platform and we have a voice.
We're sick of hearing how much potential this football club has. Now is the time to fulfill it.