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Oldham Athletic fans set up fundraising in hope to help ‘save’ the club

Oldham Athletic fans have set up fundraising page in hope to help ‘save’ the club as Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham makes a promise.

On the 23rd of April, the Latics was relegated from the EFL for the first time in its history, with a 2-1 defeat to Salford. See more on that HERE.

Many will recall how during the 79th minute of the match, angry Oldham fans invaded the pitch to protest the owner Abdallah Lemsagam’s recent handling of the club.

Next season, Oldham will play in non league – the first time in 115 years that the club has lost their place in the Football League and the first for an ex-Premier League club. Now, fans have set their sights on Boundary Park, as the stadium is not owned by Mr Lemsagam.

Fan group Oldham Athletic Supporters’ Foundation are running a large fundraising campaign to secure the stadium while foundation holds a 3% shareholding and a seat on the board of directors at Oldham Athletic and currently, they have raised £51,472 for the campaign.

A group of Latics fans have told the Manchester Evening News why they have started their own fundraising campaign to collect more donations to the Supporters’ Foundation and ‘save’ their club.

The group say the aim is to bring in investors who can pump money into the club and build it back up with rumoured price to buy the ground around £6m, but supporters say even if they don’t raise that amount, they still want to raise awareness to stop their club from being expelled from the league like Bury was in 2019.

Lifelong Oldham fan Stuart Cocker, 51, started his own JustGiving page to encourage donations and raised over £2,000.

Stuart said: ” I have been an Oldham fan since 1977, when my late father, great-uncles and brother started taking me to matches.My family goes back generations, going to Boundary Park.

“I have seen Oldham in the Premier League, playing against Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool. I have seen it all.

“And now I am seeing the club for the first time in its history, go out of the Football League. Fans are heartbroken.At the last game of the season against Salford, there were men in their 50s and 60s crying. It means so much.

“The previous owners of Oldham Athletic didn’t really help. It’s not all Abdallah’s fault, but since he came into the club, they have suffered such a demise through the lack of money he has put in, or the local businesses alienating themselves from him.

“His relationship with the fans and the local community has gone downhill – and the club has suffered. I want to do something to help the supporters’ foundation to raise money.I think if we can raise a percentage of the £6 million, then investors would be willing to jump on board.

“If the fans can buy Boundary Park, the fans will own the ground, along with investors. Then we will be Abdallah’s landlord.

“If we do acquire the grounds,that would be a fantastic start,” he continued. ” It would mean that Boundary Park would be safe from being demolished and made into houses.

“That is something that a lot of previous investors have wished would happen. It’s prime land for development, it’s next to the motorway and the hospital.

“If fans can get a hold of that land, then they secure the safety of Oldham Athletic.”

He added: “It’s fantastic to see strangers and fans from clubs all over the UK donating and wishing the club well.One lady said that she has supported Oldham for 50 years, so she donated £50. The campaign is about proving that Oldham fans and the Oldham community are ready to back the club and put money into it.”

Stuart’s niece, Faye Booth, 42, said she feels “helpless” watching the “demise” of Oldham Athletic.

“Football was a huge part of growing up in Oldham, and it still is a huge part of my life. In the late 80s or early 90s, the players would meet fans in the shopping centre.

“It was such a part of the community and I think that has completely gone. We need to get back to that and get the people of Oldham supporting the club again.

“This campaign is not just about the fact that we have been relegated. I think that is just a symptom of the disease.

“It’s about getting the club back to owners who love it, who understand the community and can get it thriving again. I think there is a very real danger of the club ceasing to exist altogether. We could end up like Bury – it’s very sad and worrying.”

Meanwhile, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said he will not abandon Oldham fans as they bid to save their football club following relegation from the EFL.

“I’ve had discussions with supporters groups who obviously are trying to do what they can to protect the club for the long term,” he told the Manchester Evening News.

“I’ve had a couple of meetings with them, it’s not just come out of the blue, it’s something we’ve been talking about. Why now? There’s some jeopardy regarding the club’s future, we all lived through the Bury experience and it was too far gone before everyone tried their best but it was so difficult.

“We’re trying to learn from that and come back with a plan that helps the supporters take a decisive stake in the club, thereby protecting Boundary Park and the club for the future and potentially create a model we can take elsewhere working with the FSA and Co-ooperatives UK.

“I’m not trying to push anyone in any direction. I’m simply facilitating and supporting the Oldham public and community who overwhelmingly want to see their club in the hands of the supporters.”

Rose Marley, CEO of Co-operatives UK, says that the taskforce will give supporters groups access and support to the expertise and financial help that would be needed if the opportunity to launch a bid for the club every arose.

“These deals are always done at the point of crisis which is never the time to do a deal,” she explained, adding that the hope is for Oldham to be a national example of how a club can be successfully supporter-led.

“This isnt about anything other than organising, and getting the fanbase ready that should it be required we’ve got a structure that will enable a community share offer so that this is a possibility.

“It’ll be the Autumn we start inviting fans to start participating, which will be very much led by the FSA, they were instrumental in Bury, they set up FC United. This is a growing opportunity. In Greater Manchester, Wythenshawe FC was the last club we did this with and they put out a community share offer, wanted to become fan-led, sort drainage, put in a new stand. They raised £50k, Co-ops UK boosted that by 50k with our community shares booster, and it enabled all the actions they needed., We’re looking to do a similar thing in Autumn and will be led by the FSA and fan groups.

“Both Co-ops UK and the FSA are national bodies. Andy’s passion for football and supporters is brilliant for this task force to enable everyone in the UK to learn, but Co-ops UK have funding through the Hive and the Co-operative Bank, you need experts to create something like a community benefit society, you need expertise. Every situation is different.

“Now we’ve got devolved powers, how can we show other areas how to use these opportunities with things like the community share fund that Bury have used? This would be big money we’d need to organise, if some of it is public money we need to put structures in place to make sure that local economic and social impact is achieved. Communities like Oldham with a brilliant club at the heart of it, is such a big opportunity. If we cant make it work there I don’t know where we’d make it work.”

Boundary Park isn’t owned by the club, but the club’s newest stand, the Joe Royle Stand, houses the Oldham Event Centre which is owned by a third party and Oldham have decided not to open that North Stand for fixtures next season, citing safety concerns, as the disagreements over ownership go on.

“It sounds involved and messy, and it is to a degree, but it’s actually an opportunity because of the separation of ground and club,” Burnham explains.

“I’ve dealt with many of these situations over the years. It’s when there’s not a separation between owner and ground where you have some difficulty. This situation actually gives the taskforce an opportunity to move in and help secure what’s most important to Oldham fans which is Boundary Park first and foremost. You’ve got to secure that before securing the club. It sounds messy but might not be as overwhelming as it looks.

“We can’t force any particular outcome, we’re just standing behind supporters and strengthening their arm and making sure they’ve got all the backup and tools they need. In this case it’s not necessarily the club owner, it’s the ground that’s the first important thing. You could take a step to secure Oldham Athletic by working through other parties. You’re not just negotiating with one person.

“It’s a step-by-step process, you can’t say this can be solved quickly and do a deal and it’s all magically solved. I don’t think this will be like that. This is not a short-lived endeavour, it’s about patient, long-term support. I want the taskforce to be a long-term thing, there and waiting and supporting people. You never know when that moment arises when you can move in and make something happen.

“I set up Supporters Direct as a national body, I see this as a Greater Manchester Supporters Direct, available to any club around the Football League, or non-league to see if they can promote supporter ownership to secure community benefit. It’s about learning from Bury, it was a crisis too far gone, we’re coming at it a different way and create a go-to place for any supporter in Greater Manchester who wants to do something before the storm clouds gather.

“We’ll do our best to bring back the glory days but I’m not bringing back that plastic pitch, I can tell you that!” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget winter on that pitch, you’re not having that back!

“This will be a long-running thing. I know people might be cynical but there’s no promise of a quick fix. The only promise I can make is that we will be there for the long-haul. We will be there throughout and ready to help.

“That’s the promise, we can’t promise when something will happen or what it is, but we’ll be available to help as a taskforce all the way through the next few years as Oldham Athletic tries to navigate that and tries to secure its future.”

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