Result: Oldham Athletic 0-0 Port Vale (EFL League 1)
Venue: Boundary Park (Monday 2nd January 2017, 3pm)
After the bangs and noise that welcomed the New Year, I was certainly hoping my footballing year would begin in much the same vein. Following another chilly evening, my original plan of heading to Kidsgrove Athletic was put on the backburner, as a pitch inspection was to be required. An early inspection was passed, but with a further one penned in for 1pm, I decided I wasn’t going to risk it and instead remain closer to home. With little option on the whole, I was left with a revisit to Boundary Park as my number one pick. So, Oldham vs Port Vale it was.
Had I looked at the two teams respective goal stats (Oldham at home, Vale away), then I almost certainly wouldn’t have gone! Alas, due to the rushed nature of the trip I hadn’t and, as such, headed over to Oldham via the medium of rail replacement bus to Manchester before the train from Victoria station to Mills Hill, a 35-minute walk from Boundary Park.
Arriving into Mills Hill at around 12.30, I undertook the walk down towards the ground, dodging the icy surfaces as I went. After getting slightly lost down near Chadderton FC’s Andrew Street, having taken the wrong road initially, I eventually arrived outside the Latics’ home, with its lovely, vintage italic signage, at just after half-past-one. After purchasing a programme from the seller outside the main building, I quizzed him on where the cheapest area on the side was. “Probably the paddock, but there isn’t any sun there, so it will be cold” was his answer. With the temperatures not much above five degrees anyway and with sunlight at a premium after 3pm too, I wasn’t too fussed by this!
With programme bagged, I headed off to the main road linking Oldham & Royton, foregoing the Flaming Grill pub on the corner, as they are all pretty much standard offerings wherever they are. As such, my first stop was to be the Old Grey Mare which, of the pubs along the road to the ground, is the closest. This pub seemed to be a popular one for fans of both teams, with Latics and Valiants fans mixing nicely. It’s pretty cheap too, a pint of Strongbow costing £2.75. I did bore fairly quickly, though and with the hour quickly ending, I decided to squeeze in the next pub along, the White Hart, before backtracking for the game.
The White Hart wasn’t quite so economical, with a pint of San Miguel making me lighter of £3.75, but no real qualms with that. With the uninspiring ‘Boro-Leicester game coming to its end on TV, I thought to myself “My game can’t be any worse than this!”. Oh, how wrong I could be…
Pint finished, I headed off and back down the hill to Oldham’s stadium. After looking for the paddock turnstile in vain, I gave up and handed over £20, preferring a spot in the Main Stand over the rest of the ground, having already sat near the away end on my previous visit a couple of years back. Boundary Park is a fairly modern looking ground to me, bar the Main Stand, with the new stand opposite accentuating this opinion somewhat and all stands are, unsurprisingly, all seater. As for Oldham Athletic’s story…
Oldham Athletic Football Club was formed in 1895 under the Pine Villa FC name, but changed to its current identity just four years later. The club immediately became professional at this time and competed, initially, in the Lancashire Combination (won in 1907) and later the Lancashire League. They gained a place in the Football League for 1907-’08 and after three seasons in Division 2, the Latics gained promotion to Division 1 as runners-up.
1915 saw Oldham come the closest they have ever done to winning the league, missing out by just one point. Following the First World War, Oldham found it harder to rekindle their pre-war success and returned to Division 2 in 1923. It would be 68 years until they were to return to the top-flight. In fact, it was to get worse as 1935 saw the club drop into the Third Division North and here they remained through to the outbreak of WWII. Throughout wartime, the club competed in the Northern League until August of 1946.
1950 saw the Latics appoint former England skipper George Hardwick as boss and 1953 saw the club earn promotion back to Division 2, though their stay here was only brief, a disappointing season seeing the club finish bottom and immediately return to Division 3 North. After a few seasons of struggle – the club regularly finishing in the bottom half- they went on to become founder members of the new Fourth Division in 1959.
After having to reapply for re-election to the League in 1960, the club survived at the expense of Gateshead. 1963 saw Oldham back in Division 3, but after a period of inconsistency here, they dropped back to the bottom rung in 1969. Jimmy Frizzell, a man who has a bar named after him in the ground, took over during season 1969-’70 and guided the club to promotion the following year. 1974 saw the club finish as Division 3 champions and return to Division 2 for the first time in 21 years.
Frizzell left in 1982 and was replaced by Joe Royle. 1987 saw the Latics miss out on promotion through the play-offs, after a 4th-placed finish. They had more misfortune in 1990 as they lost out to Nottingham Forest in the 1990 League Cup Final at Wembley. However, they had success the following year as they won the Second Division title and earned promotion to Division 1. After a 17th placed finish back in the top-tier, the club went on to become a founder member of the new Premiership. After two seasons, Oldham suffered the drop and Royle left for Everton.
1997 saw further decline as Oldham dropped into Division 2. A large managerial turnover wasn’t helping matters and the club continued to disappoint on the pitch. Iain Dowie joined in 2002 as manager and led the club to the play-offs, where they lost out once more. After the short-term owner pulled out of the club at the end of the season and despite the club managing to stave off folding, the debts and threat of liquidation took its toll for the next few years.
2007 saw better things for Oldham as they narrowly missed out on promotion, losing in the play-off semis, though this is as good as it’s got league-wise in recent years. Lee Johnson took over in 2013, becoming the youngest league manager at the time, though his reign didn’t last too long. Last season saw another struggle, with the club looking doomed to relegation to League 2 for a long while. But, following the (brief) return of John Sheridan, the club managed to remain in League 1 with a 17th placed finish. (I watched them at Scunthorpe during the latter part of that season). They currently sit in the drop zone once more, under the stewardship of Steve Robinson.
Before kick-off, I decided I may as well go for a pie now and headed for the food bar within the concourse. Once here, I didn’t take much notice of the menu, as many are often wrong, and instead asked the girl serving what they had on. As she reeled off said list in full, I replied “So, what’s up there then?!” to which she replied “Yep, but I don’t like saying look on the wall”. Good stuff that! I plumped for the Steak & Ale option (£3) and headed up to the seats.
The teams came out not too long after and we were underway. The first half of the game wasn’t all that bad, in between Anthony Grant being on the floor and it was the home side who looked the slightly more likely to open the scoring throughout, despite their lowly league position. Vale, under the guidance of caretaker boss Michael Brown, following the departure of Bruno Ribeiro shortly before the game, looked a little devoid of ideas.
After Ryan Taylor spurned a great chance for the visitors, Oldham’s on-loan Crystal Palace forward Freddie Ladapo, dangerous throughout his time on the pitch, came closest in the first half, his effort striking the foot of the near post when one-on-one with Vale stopper Ben Alnwick. Vale’s best chance came when Sam Kelly’s stoppage-time free-kick forced Alnwick’s opposite number Connor Ripley into a fine stop, the gloveman tipping the set-piece over the bar. Half-time, 0-0.
The second half got underway and despite the Latics dominating the game, they never truly looked like they had that cutting edge to force an opener, more to do with a lack of confidence to take on a shot more than anything it seemed. But, when sub Carl Winchester timed his jump to perfection to meet a ball in, Boundary Park was on the brink of erupting into cheers, only to see Alnwick somehow claw the ball away, despite falling in the opposite direction somewhat. It was a great save and even drew acclaim from a few voices around me.
As the game drew to a close, Taylor forced Ripley into a sharp low save down at his left-hand post from a dangerous looking free-kick, before the big chance of the game came in the 91st minute. Another Latics sub, Billy McKay, worked hard to steal the ball away from a defender in the area and wriggle into space before scuffing a shot towards goal. Despite it looking for all the world a goal, Alnwick got his fingertips to it and diverted it onto the woodwork and out for a corner. 0-0, game over. When I came to write this blog, I thought the game was truly shit. In hindsight, it was decent (rose-tinted glasses?), but my run of no 0-0 was over.
After the game, I headed out down the tunnel-esque steps from the stand and onto the street, before cutting through the park, past the small ground which sits alongside Boundary Park and out onto the correct road this time. After just a thirty-minute walk through the chilly Oldham night, I could see Mills Hill station coming into view. But, with 25 minutes until my train, what was I supposed to do? Sit on the station and freeze? OH NO! To the Rose of Lancaster it was!
A swift bottle of Corona was downed here before I was forced back out into the chill but, thankfully, the train pulled in as I set foot on the platform. I was back in Manchester within fifteen minutes, but now had an hour to my replacement bus back, just when it couldn’t get any worse. I decided to waste this away by pointlessly hopping on and off trams around the city centre, as per my rail ticket allowed, until I wimped out and got to the station with 20 minutes left, eventually finding the bus hidden within a long queue. Ah, the rail network.
So, a bit of a “meh” day overall. There wasn’t too much excitement to be had nor seen around the town or indeed at the game, but I guess it could have been worse. No it could, ok? Anyway, Saturday sees a move onto the FA Cup and a trip down to the “smoke” You could say my destination will be ‘buzzing’…
Value For Money: 3