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Rebels Taking A Pause


The new lows just keep a-coming, don’t they? Losing at Altrincham and Halifax in the same week. What a time to be alive. But at the risk of being accused of being a happy clapper, I’m going to take the opportunity to reflect on the journey we’ve been on to get here, and pay tribute the efforts of Push The Boundary, who announced this week that they’re standing down their battalion of the Rebel Alliance.


PTB was launched on October 31st 2019. I remember seeing the oblique social media posts and the stickers around the ground before they made their first announcement, and I’ll be honest, at first I thought it was a certain Twitter shitposter launching another ITK account. I floated the idea to Will Gough in the pub after a game, and he gave absolutely nothing away other than to say “no I’m pretty sure it’s not him”. Seriously, don’t take him on at poker.


They were the independent fan group that was desperately needed at the time. The Trust (as it then was) had made it clear that they thought working with the club ownership was the best option, much to the despair of a lot of supporters. People were drifting away from the club and becoming angry, disillusioned and disheartened. The faith was very much being lost, and someone needed to give some direction and leadership to the fans’ anger. The Trust didn’t seem to be in a position to do that; there needed to be an independent group who were free to criticise the club without worrying about the 3% share or jeopardising the place on the board. In their open letter to their fellow fans, PTB stated “We want ultimately, to try and safeguard the club in any way possible”. They said that they had been in touch with fans at Blackpool, Leyton Orient and Exeter for advice, and they wanted to provide a unified voice for fans to air their concerns.


It’s easy to forget now that PTB didn’t immediately call for a boycott or for the Lemsagams to go. They contacted the club asking for a meeting with Abdallah Lemsagam to communicate the concerns that fans had about the running of the club. They sought open and honest dialogue, which wasn’t forthcoming. The ‘return the scarf’ protest (where fans were encouraged to return the free scarves that were given to season ticket holders, to show that we weren’t interested in gimmicks or empty gestures) took place before the Leyton Orient game on December 7th 2019, with Orient fans – who knew exactly what we were going through – showing solidarity, and PTB issuing a video of several former Latics players showing their support.


A boycott on spending money on food, drink and programmes was called for shortly afterwards, with fans being encouraged to donate the money they would have spent to Dr Kershaw’s hospice. Pressure was being applied, but the focus at this point was on trying to engage with the owners and urging them to listen to fans and address their concerns. One of the more hilarious results of this was when PTB highlighted how ludicrous the David Wheater situation was, and asked the club to clarify why he wasn’t being allowed to play. Who can forget the subsequent ‘lifting his dog’ statement? Which, I was absolutely stunned to learn this week, was not actually written by Barry Owen. Who’d have thought?


Head coaches came and went, players came and went, the COVID pandemic made a terrible situation worse – well, let’s put things into perspective, the impact on the shit-show at Latics was hardly the gravest consequence of the worst pandemic in over a century, but my God what a miserable bleak time it was. The anger at the owners and the momentum behind calls for change continued to build. Even Barry Owen contacted PTB in May 2021 after his unceremonious departure from the club, and received appropriate feedback. Shortly after, PTB openly called for Abdallah to go, and urged fans to ‘support the team not the regime’ by only attending away games. Not everyone agreed with a home boycott, but the dwindling season ticket sales showed that many people were either essentially boycotting or simply couldn’t bear to watch any more anyway. Calling for a boycott wasn’t ‘trying to kill the club’; the club was being throttled to death by the owners’ mismanagement.


The protest before the Hartlepool game on September 18th 2021 felt like a turning point. It was bigger, louder, angrier, and there were people dressed as clowns carrying a coffin. That’s one way to get on the telly and in the papers. The media – perhaps at least partly in a macabre search for ‘the next Bury/Macclesfield’ – were finally picking up on the story. By this point the Trust had become Oldham Athletic Supporters Foundation, and were being far more proactive and working with PTB in opposing the owners and calling for change. The pressure was mounting on the owners and the board, who predictably dug their heels in and accused PTB and fans protesting of trying to kill the club and of having never given Abdallah a chance, which was laughably and demonstrably untrue.


The pressure finally told in January this year, when Abdallah announced his intention to sell the club and appointed John Sheridan. It was exactly the news we wanted, and it looked for a while like another Shezurrection was on the cards, but it was too little, too late. When our relegation was finally confirmed, I remember saying that I was more furious than upset, and it helped knowing that there was a well-organised protest movement in the fan base that would fight tooth and nail to get our club back. Meetings were held, plans to try to buy Boundary Park were made, a Fans v Players match was organised to raise money for the fighting fund. And then, from nowhere, came the Rothwells and the news we’d all been waiting for. And of course Will knew ages before it was announced, and of course he didn’t tell us a fucking thing. Seriously, he’d be great in a war.


So, can Push The Boundary's campaign be considered a success? I mean, look at where we are! We're in the worst position in our history! Is that down to them driving the Lemsagams away? Do Barry and his social media attack poodle have a point?


No. That is bollocks, cooked in bollocks sauce, served with a bollocks side salad, washed down with a nice cold glass of bollocks. We're 19th in the fifth tier because of years of neglect and mismanagement, not because Ste Shipman went on the BBC and said the club was a mess. The boycotts didn't hurt the club, spending my season ticket money on Sonhy Sefil and Urko Vera did. If we'd all followed Barry's advice and been grateful that Abdallah put £5m into the club and kept hoping he'd turn it around eventually, we'd be in a far worse position now. Possibly no longer in existence.


Things are shit now because they've been shit and declining for decades. It will take time to turn it around, but I've far more confidence in the current board to do that than I had in the Lemsagams or in Simon Corney. Yes, things need to improve on the pitch to secure our short-term future - and quickly - but regime change was desperately needed to secure our long term future, and Push the Boundary did more than most to bring that about. If Barry Owen feels the need to snipe at you and sneeringly call you "the rebel element" (like that doesn't make you sound cool as fuck and isn't going to inspire a fucking great t-shirt), and Chuckle feels the need to take photos of lies he's told about you on Facebook to post on Twitter, then you're definitely on the right side. So yes, they can be proud of themselves. At ease, soldiers. The Alliance thanks you for your valiant efforts. The rebels have won.


Written by Arlene Finnigan. Photo © Push The Boundary.

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