This is how it felt?

DISCLAIMER: What follows is a completely self-indulgent post about my love and lamentation for Oldham Athletic. If you have no interest in this subject, I would advise you to stop reading now.


I fell in love with Oldham Athletic in 1992. That was the year my late nanna introduced me to Big Joe’s Premier League all-stars and as a naïve seven-year-old, I prepared for a lifetime of watching the wizardry of Gunnar Halle, admiring the tenacity of Nicky Henry and being inspired by the never-say-die spirit of Andy Ritchie.


Relegation from the top flight in 1994 brought tears, yet the football league has brought many memorable moments for me since. At ten years old (and still as naïve), I had faith in super Sean McCarthy and believed his Puma Kings would fire us back into the big time. So much so, my mum invested in a pair and I still remember bragging at school that “these are the ones Sean McCarthy wears.” I doubt he got his from Tommyfield market though.


As the years went by, I watched on from the terraces, transfixed by Lee Richardson’s stop-start shuffle whenever we got a penalty. Hopes pinned on McCarthy, Nicky Banger and my namesake Stuart Barlow, proved to be dashed and more tears were shed as we fell to the third tier. My early teenage years brought mid-table mediocrity (as well as a hefty dose of acne), and we settled in for the long haul in the old second division. Still, a landmark moment arrived at the age of 15, when I discovered the love of following Latics on the road with a fruitful trip to Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground resulting in a comfortable 3-0 victory. Craig Dudley's deadly pace made him a new hero, as the away end sang of “walking in a Dudley wonderland.”


Ritchie (and his magic hat) came and left the hotseat at Boundary Park, but not before capturing the finest pair of free transfers I’ve ever seen in David Eyres and Tony Carss. Safe for another year, we rebuilt and 2002/03 brought one of the most memorable campaigns in living memory. Mike Hoyland and I skipped many a 6th form lesson to leave college early and board the coach to wherever Latics were playing on a Tuesday evening. It was the season big Clyde (later an attendee on my stag do!) destroyed Mansfield. After spending several hours travelling to Plymouth, we found ourselves 2-0 down after just 7 minutes, yet fought back to 2-2. Fitz Hall’s last-minute penalty at Mansfield (them again) had us dreaming of the play-offs, a dream which became a reality. I’ll forever be thankful to Iain Dowie for that season and unfortunately, always remember being robbed of a fairytale ending away at QPR. It was a long way home from Shepherd’s Bush that night, but Mike and I made sure we were both back in lessons the next day.


Chairman Chris Moore pulled the plug and we almost went bust. The buckets were still shaking when Johnnie Sheridan stepped up to convert a last-minute penalty to earn a 2-2 draw at his beloved Hillsborough. Grimsby were put to the sword for Celebration Sunday in a 6-0 drubbing at Boundary Park and the arrival of the three amigos in Blitz, Gazal and Corney brought new hope. Despite more security off the pitch, we still struggled on it and 2004/05 ended with another last day survival mission, this time headed by controversial long-ball specialist Ronnie Moore and loaned goalscorer Luke Beckett.


Although Eyresy was still my favourite, dead ball specialist Andy Liddell ran him close in 2005/06. We turned over the mighty Nottingham Forest and the 4-1 win at Bradford in March 2006 will always remain one of my favourite ever away days. Richie Wellens tore them apart that day and with the game already won, he was substituted before half-time. Under Sheridan’s stewardship (the first time), we flirted with the prospect of promotion and after (again) turning Forest over (twice this time, home and away), we were unlucky to meet a resurgent Blackpool in the play-offs.


The years flew by and memories continued to be made. Craig Davies’s last-minute winner at Tranmere had us chanting all the way back to the car. Hat-trick hero Lee Hughes dancing on the turf at the New Den, completely unaffected by the several hundred angry Millwall supporters who wanted to do him serious harm that day. Beating Leeds in their own back garden in consecutive years. Belting out “we are top of the league!” after another 1-0 win at Tranmere. Witnessing veteran striker turned emergency goalkeeper Dean Windass keeping a clean sheet at top-of-the-table Leicester before the brief return of Royle to the dugout. Booking Anna a surprise weekend away in Brighton before telling her there’s the small matter of a football game at the Withdean on Saturday at 3pm. To this day, it’s still the only OAFC game she has attended and we won 2-0. I still believe things could have been a lot different had she come to games more often.


Another year, another win at Tranmere. Filipe Morais snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat at top-of-the-table Charlton in the run-up to Christmas 2011, a day which saw Ryan Hamer suffer at the hands of an unstoppable escalator. Shefki Kuqi’s flying Finn dive in the final moments of a 3-2 win at Bramall Lane in March 2012. London away trips became legendary, with sambuca breakfasts at the Euston Rocket (along with the occasional overpriced taxi ride after getting lost in the capital) new-found traditions when visiting Brentford or Leyton Orient. January 2014 and who can forget being 0-3 down at home to Peterborough before the Gary Harkins show ensured a stunning comeback for a 5-4 win? For a period of time, we looked unbeatable under rookie manager Lee Johnson before the inevitable happened and he jumped ship to Barnsley. Despite it resulting in a 0-2 defeat, Walsall away is still one of my favourite memories from that year. The last away game is always fancy dress and I enjoyed a cameo dressed as Johnson complete with OAFC tie, Barnsley scarf (borrowed from a colleague), “Judas” plastered to my back, and of course, a replica of his infamous dossier. Any lower league football fan will tell you, some of the most memorable days don’t always revolve around the football and because of Latics, I’ve attended games dressed as Dangermouse, Postman Pat and the hapless Father Dougal McGuire from Father Ted.


2015/16 was largely forgettable, aside from the return of the messiah in January 2016 for Shezurrection 1.0. Twelve months later, Sheridan repeated the trick with a 1-0 win over Bolton securing our seemingly never-ending League One status for another year. Play with fire for long enough though and your fingers will surely get burnt and despite renewed optimism following Abdallah’s arrival in January 2018, relegation to the football league’s bottom tier was somewhat overdue. Still, there were good days. Walking down Sheepfoot Lane with my eldest son on one side of me and my father, a cancer survivor, on the other for the first time is a memory I’ll cherish forever. Heading down from Cumbria to witness Oldham 1 Blackburn 0 is up there with the best of them. Unfortunately, good days have become far too infrequent of late.


Fast forward to February 2019 and Bury away under Paul Scholes was a tipping point for me. After allegations of unpaid wages and the bailiffs knocking at the door, I walked away from Gigg Lane disillusioned and decided on a personal boycott, something which would have been unthinkable when I embarked upon this journey. Barring a protest outside Boundary Park in September 2021, I refused to attend and due to a mixture of COVID-19 and discontent with the ownership, I didn’t return until November 2021 and the planned PTB protest, culminating in a 3-2 home victory over Port Vale. Over the past couple of months, Sheridan’s arrival has injected fresh hope and renewed optimism into everyone involved with the club and I will be eternally grateful to him for that. Unquestionably, the man is a Latics legend and because of the circumstances of the day, the late, late show at Scunthorpe this year is up there with my all-time favourite away days. But I think this is a step too far even for the messiah now and as we travel to champions-in-waiting Forest Green tomorrow, I can't help but feel the Grim Reaper is lying in wait, his axe ominously looming over us.


Some might say it's only a football club, but #oafc has played a hugely significant part in my life for three decades now.


Some might say there are still points to play for and the fat lady is yet to sing. Thanks to the serial mismanagement of my beloved football club, not to mention the terrible recruitment in recent years, she is now undeniably clearing her throat.


Here's hoping they prove me wrong tomorrow and they give us reason to believe there's fight in the old yard dogs yet. On Easter Sunday, with just four league games remaining, Oldham Athletic stand on the edge of oblivion and look set to become the first ex-Premier League member to exit the 92.


Goodbye, football league. It’s been a blast.


By Martin Barlow




552 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All