Oldham Athletic v Peterborough United
Boundary Park / League One / 4th May 2015
“All’alba vincerò! Vinceroooooooooooò! Viiiiiiiinceeeeeeròoooooooooo!” (Cue huge fanfare closing)
For those less culturally-inclined, those are the closing moments of the epic Aria Nessun Dorma from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot; although perhaps it is a tune made most famous by tenor Luciano Pavarotti. No, I wasn’t at some grand opera house in Rome. Nor was I at Italia 90. No, this was the sound riding the ice cold wind on a freezing Tuesday night in Oldham, February 2011. The venue: Boundary Park – home of Oldham Athletic. Yes, I was confused to why the prematch entertainment consisted of a local man on the pitch singing opera too.
This was my first ever visit to Boundary Park and it is a visit that has stuck with me, chiefly for one reason: it is possibly the coldest I have ever been in my entire life. Oldham’s legendary manager Joe Royle once referred to Boundary Park as ‘Ice Station Zebra’ in homage to the arctic-like conditions at the ground, but I had never experienced anything like it at football before or since. I was in the middle of my teacher training at the time and with a week off, me and my Scouse pal Darren headed to Oldham purely because it was £2 entry for their midweek fixture v Carlisle. I can’t remember anything from the game apart from that Carlisle won 1-0. That night was all about surviving Boundary Park – like Chris Ryan on a survival mission in the Arctic Circle. I even had two pies to keep warm that night (I bet Chris Ryan has never put ‘pie-eating’ in any of his survival guides).
For the record, I really liked Boundary Park that night. It really is a rickety, old place and on that evening it still only had 3 sides; the one open side of the ground let the piercing wind shoot in from the Pennines and attack you incessantly. So I’ve always found it strange that despite living in Manchester for the best part of 4 years now, my only venture to Oldham came when I spent a year living in Liverpool. It was time to rectify that. It was May Bank Holiday weekend and, with no work the next day, I thought a Sunday trip up to Oldham would be fun.
One thing that wasn’t fun was having to get up to Boundary Park for the 12.15pm kick-off time; especially since I was still rather groggy from our eventful trip to Knaresborough the day before. Nonetheless, I was on a Metrolink tram heading out of Manchester Victoria towards Oldham Central before 10am.
After travelling for about 20 minutes northeast, I arrived into the large town of Oldham. On alighting in Oldham, it was quite obvious to see why even I, a Valleys boy and bred, found the place a tad on the chilly side; the town is situated high above Manchester with the South Pennines close by and a view of much of Greater Manchester down below – almost as if Oldham is Manchester’s very own viewing platform.
On this Bank Holiday Sunday morning, Oldham was a ghost town. And quite a grim one at that. I wandered the town centre and it was eerily quiet like a scene out of The Walking Dead. Oldham is a sad-looking proper Northern town with a mix of closed down shops, red brick terraced houses and battered old office buildings. The pubs were all closed at this time too, but there’s always one establishment you can count on to be open well before 11am…
Wetherspoons! Of course, I was to end up here. As the church bells rung outside, we went from bells to bellends as I was greeted into the pub by Nigel Farage’s smirking face on all the TV screams. By the bar, I heard many stating their admiration for and I thought…well, I wont divulge into politics here.
Whilst sipping at my pint(s) in Spoons, it occurred to me that I didn’t have the slightest idea where I was going to get to the ground and so using Google Maps, I tried to formulate a route from the pub to the ground. It was much further away than I remembered.
By 11.30am and with kick-off just 45 minutes away, I found myself heading back through the town and trying to recall how I had found Boundary Park so easy last time; of course, it was night time and flood lit. After recognising a pub we had headed into 4 years before (my memory really is rather immense at times), I knew I was on the right track and down the hill I swooped past a whole host of red-brick houses. Still no floodlights in sight though. However, after working my way around Royal Oldham Hospital and then spotting a lone supporter wearing a orange Oldham away shirt, I found Boundary Park halfway down the hill of a residential area.
I really had forgotten how much I like Boundary Park. How I couldn’t spot the floodlight earlier was beyond me, as they rose high into the air on all four corners like metallic goliaths. Below them was the George Hill Stand, which looks more like an old industrial office building than a football stand from the outside – but I do love that retro look. And it was into the turnstiles next to this stand I headed, paying my £20 entry for today’s League One clash.
Oldham Athletic were formed in 1895, as Pine Villa FC, but didn’t move into their current home until 1899, following the folding of Oldham’s first club, Oldham County FC. The move to Boundary Park saw the Latics find quick success and soon they were allowed entry to the Football League and even climbed to the First Division and got to an FA Cup semi-final in the first decade of the 20th century.
Since then the club have yo-yoed up and down the Football League, although many seem to forget these days that Oldham Athletic were one of the founder members of the Premier League back in 1992-93, under the stewardship of Joe Royle. Sadly, for Oldham fans, the club have never reached those heady heights since.
For today’s game, the last of the League One season, Oldham found themselves comfortably away from relegation and their opponents Peterborough were just behind the play-off places, although it was mathematically impossible for them to break into the end of season jamboree. Essentially, as I took my seat in the the front row of the lower tier of the Main Stand, I thought I was in for what I believe is known as a ‘dead rubber’.
The ground was much warmer than when I was last here (although still a little chilly for a May-time game), but practically how I remember it. As I mentioned, I was in the lower of the Main Stand, having sat in the Upper part of this stand last time. To the right of me was the Rochdale Road End, a single tiered covered stand where the Posh fans were placed for today’s game, whilst directly opposite this stand you’ll find the ‘Chaddy End’; here were housed the grammatically incorrect Oldham Ultras dubbing themselves on a banner as the ‘Atletico’s’.
There was one huge difference since I had last been here: there was a fourth stand…well, sort of. Where there was a vast open chasm on my last visit, there now stood the outline of a new stand, which is due to be opened next season and finally making Boundary Park a four-sided ground again.
The game was not quite ready to get underway and it soon occurred to me why. Last time we had Nessun Dorma booming around the ground, but today we had one of my pet hates at football: prematch entertainment consisting of children from some sort of youth club/school performing some sort of dance routine. Sorry to sound cynical, but its not entertaining and not sure football fans are really the audience to showcase such things. Anyway, their routine to Uptown Funk was short-lived and soon it was time for some football.
I expected a poor game, but in general it was played at a fairly decent pace and both teams played good football in parts. The only thing really lacking really was clear cut chances.
I was positioned near the left wing and from here I got to witness Dominic Poleon in full flow. I’ll be honest here and say I’d never really seen Poleon play before, despite him playing for the best part of 2 seasons with Leeds United. Poleon is still only 21, but he really impressed me today with his direct running and pace. AT every opportunity he looked to fly past the right back and cause havoc. Predictably, it would be him who would open the scoring.
In the 9th minute, there were ‘Good Vibrations’ coming from the right wing as Brian Wilson put in a pinpoint cross for Poleon to head home with a clever header. 1-0 to the Latics and the ‘Atletico’s’ were soon banging their drum to show their joy.
As well as Poleon, Peterborough’s no. 10 Ertum Oztumer was very much impressing me, so I was sad to see him leave the pitch with a nasty looking injury on the 16th minute. The break in play, whilst Oztumer was treated, gave me time to pop to the food/drink stand; pie and coffee was acquired (no beer in this part of the ground with no concourse) . Thankfully, it wasn’t cold enough in the ground this time that I needed to go back for more for body heating purposes.
As the game slowed down, the impact Crawley Town have had on me on my travels really began to hit home, as I found myself glancing at my phone to see if they would stay up in League One. A win would see them stay up and so I held a little ‘woop’ when the Sussex club took the lead v Coventry.
At the game I was actually attending, there were good saves from both keepers to hinder anymore goalscoring and Poleon continued to be a constant threat, but the game would remain 1-0 to the home team at half-time.
Half-time: Oldham Athletic 1 – 0 Peterborough United.
Half-time was spent with Oldham legends such as Joe Royle and Paul Warhurst coming on the pitch to draw prizes out of a hat, whilst one of Oldham’s youth teams did a lap of the ground showing off a trophy they had recently won.
The second half was also slow to get going, but soon Oldham found themselves on top, particularly after the introduction of 19-year-old attacker Jordan Bove.
There were a few chances for the Latics, which were thwarted by Ben Alnwick, but an advantage was thrown their way when Posh’s Jonathan Edwards got himself sent off. Rightly so too. Edwards lost the ball up front and in frustration , he flew after the Latics’ defence and lunged in dangerously.
The sending off prompted Posh to bring on a player I was devastated didn’t start the game. Marcus Maddison had been superb when I visited London Road earlier in the season and his freekick is one of the best goals I’ve seen all season. So good it for some reason prompted me to scream “E-OY!” in delight as it soared towards the top corner. Admittedly, today, with a numerical advantage against Peeterborough, Maddison wasn’t as effective.
However, the red card did seem to buoy Posh more than Oldham and soon they had their equaliser. A 76th minute corner into the box was not cleared by Oldham and Peterborough skipper Michael Bostwick fired home from just inside the box, much to the delight of the Posh fans who had brought their inflatables with them today.
And despite a few half chances that was it for the last 15 minutes really. By now my phone had died (not charged the night before), but luckily I had a gentleman behind me relaying the scores around League One. He seemed to ignore Crawley so I asked him how they were doing, “1-1 and going down mate.” This was followed by a “Crawley are losing mate,” 10 minutes later and my heart did sink a little, as I thought of the despair amongst my Crawley pals. League Two now sees what I’ve dubbed the ‘Matt Harrison Second Team Derby’ between Morecambe and Crawley, where the clubs can battle it out for my affection (once again: I don’t really believe in 2nd teams).
Anyway, the final score at Boundary Park…
Full-time: Oldham Athletic 1 – 1 Peterborough United.
First of all, a small crowd of young fans ran on the pitch to take selfies with Poleon (who was more than willing in fairness to him), before someone then set off a blue smoke bomb. Soon the players came back out on the pitch to do a lap of honour, whilst I headed up into the upper tier of the Main Stand to take some more photos. By the time I’d finished, it was only shortly after 2pm and so I had plenty of time for a bit of post match drinking around Oldham.
I was soon in the Snipe Inn back in Oldham town centre and it was in here I encountered one of the great characters of this season’s travels. I’ve forgotten the guy’s name, but he has to be the loudest and most talkative person I’ve ever met, so much so that even I appeared a mute next to him. He seemed to want to make joke after joke towards me before laughing vehemently at every single sentence he uttered. He was the life and soul of the pub and he seemed to love it, whilst I tried to watch Chelsea win the league on TV. He seemed to want to chat and joke with everyone in the pub and I do like a larger than life character like that. He was very good-natured and I think the photo below sums his character up quite well.
By the time I had left, Chelsea had won the league and my ear drums had taken a battering from the jolly loudmouth in the Snipe Inn. I soon found myself in the Last Orders (a proper cheap pub), before then heading next door, where things got slightly more interesting…
As mentioned earlier, my phone had died and so the bar staff in the Snipe Inn had kindly charged it up a bit for me, but it was still battling to get up to half battery. So, I asked the barmaid of the Hare & Hounds out of courtesy whether there was a plug socket anywhere in the pub so I could give my phone one last bit of life to see it home. She didn’t know, but she said there was one somewhere – not once saying you can’t use it.
“Get that out of there!” came the shout of a disgruntled bald, spectacled man in the corner, as I put my phone charger in a vacant plug socket. I initially laughed and assumed this was just a punter demonstrating typical Mancunian humour. This made him more irate.
“Oh, you are serious…”
“What are you doing? I’ve never seen you in here in my life!” he continued to bellow.
“That’s because I’ve never been here in my life,” I replied. He really was getting angry now, so I thought I’d save a confrontation and unplug my phone. I was still chuckling though as it clearly emerged that this guy was the landlord and it became clearly apparent why the place was devoid of customers with his charming hosting skills. I left it a few minutes before going over to speak to him an say sorry (not sure why), but he still kept going on about how I hadn’t been there before or how I hadn’t asked (I had). So, just as Lost Boyos finished off Sir Alex Ferguson’s career after my interesting encounter with him just over two years ago, it’s time to finish this fella’s publican career off: don’t go in the Hare and Hounds folks! I quickly finished my pint and left.
A quick drink in the far more cosy and welcoming surroundings of the Ashton Arms and then it was time to head back south to Manchester itself.
This statement problem won’t go to down too well, but Oldham is probably my least favourite of the Football League towns that can be found in Greater Manchester – I just find it all a bit grim. And not the sort of ‘grim’ that I usually find lovable either. I will say though that I am a fan of Boundary Park and I’ve always quite liked Oldham Athletic as a club for some reason. It’ll be great to see Boundary Park back to being a completed ground next season. Plus, notice how I’ve not referred to it by its ridiculous new name of ‘SportsDirect.com Park’ once…until now. Oops.
Highlights: good to revisit Boundary Park after so long – great ground, great floodlights, decent game, I enjoyed the Snipe Inn.
Low Points: not a huge fan of Oldham as a place, aggressive pub landlords, can be freezing!
See all my photos from my day in Oldham here.