Since the age of two, I’ve been taken to Boundary Park to watch Oldham Athletic. When it came to which team to support, I never had a choice.
Since the age of two, I’ve been taken to Boundary Park to watch Oldham Athletic by my dad. When it came to which team to support, I never really had much choice in the matter. Some might say it’s a form of child abuse, especially since I live in Yorkshire.
He knew what he was doing – once you’ve been to watch a few times, you don’t have much choice in the matter. Your body decides what it wants, and you’re stuck with its decision for the rest of your life. There’s no way you can go back now, no chance you can pick up your belongings and lodge in another stadium.
No other team can stir the same emotions that yours can. If you ask a man whether he’d rather have a loving wife or a free season ticket to his favourite team for the rest of his life, most of them will choose the latter without hesitation.
My first game was against Wimbledon. I don’t remember the result, but we probably lost if it followed the predictable fashion which Latics have weaved for the next 14 years. No doubt it was absolutely freezing, too. That’s something you come to expect about being an Oldham fan. If there was an advert for it in the newspaper, it would probably read something like this:
Wanted! People of all ages to support small football team. Must be capable of handling extreme cold temperatures and frequent disappointment. Job for life. Moaning encouraged.
Who’d take that on? The answer is ‘people who are forced to’.
In an age where the Premier League presides over football like a power hungry ruler, smaller clubs are finding their fan base slowly trickle away, reminiscent of a bath with the plug slightly loose. It’s inevitable that teams will keep losing supporters whilst the corporates remain in charge of the game, when people see it as simply something to draw money out of. Why would a young boy want to support Oldham Athletic when there’s the far more fashionable Manchester United just around the corner? Who cares if his dad supports Latics, they’ve only got three stands!
It’s not an attractive proposition. But if someone is brought up as an Oldham fan, spoon fed from an early age, there’s nothing they can do. Latics fans are bred to make sure they can handle the inevitable let downs which will occur, are inherently tough skinned – and that’s only possible if they are taught what supporting means by being dragged down Sheepfoot Lane every other Saturday to watch the boys in blue.
But I enjoy it. I like the fact that as my dad and I make the journey from the car to the stadium, I can run though a list of scenarios without having the slightest inkling which of them will happen. I relish when the eleven men - that are such a big part of my life they may as well be my best friends - trot out onto the pitch, thrive on the moment when I glance across all of them and wonder what they will do to entertain me today, and who will be the one to do it.
Usually, it’s nothing. More often than not we trudge back to the car, shaking our heads and mumbling about a ‘lack of imagination’ and moaning that we ‘can’t hit a barn door’. After a run of consecutive poor performances, the journey back becomes synonymous with dark thoughts; I sometimes wonder why I, out of everyone, had the misfortune to be paired with Oldham Athletic.
Yet every so often a magical moment arrives, and those depressive ponderings disperse like they were never there. It could be a comeback completed in the final minutes of the game, or simply a breathtaking piece of skill by one of our players – no matter what, it infuses me with feelings of both joy and pride. Pride in both myself, for sticking with the team, and the players, who are my companions on this everlasting journey.
Last season, I travelled to Anfield for an FA Cup third round tie. Robbie Simpson struck a wonder goal to send us 1-0 up in the first half, a moment that will stick in my mind for as long as I live. As he rushed from the opposite end of the pitch to slide in front of me and around 6,000 other screaming Latics, I experienced emotions which I can’t begin to describe, only to say that it was one of the happiest moments of my life. That’s what’s supporting Oldham Athletic is about - not winning every game, or expecting to – it’s waiting for the moments which you’ll remember forever. They’re made all the sweeter by having to do so.
When I tell people where my allegiances lie, the usual response is quickly stifled laughter, followed by an astounded ‘why?!’ I tell them, and ask them who they support, the usual answers being top level Premier League clubs. I ask them the same question.
Do I resent my dad for effectively forcing me to support Oldham? Absolutely not. Instead, I feel sorry for the people who will never get to experience the wide range of emotions I have the privilege to each season.
Instead of watching the opening matches of the Champions League, I will go to Boundary Park to see Oldham Athletic VS Scunthorpe United. And those who support lower league clubs will know exactly why. Hopefully, after reading this, you will too.