Inside Oldham's crisis, as fans protest against owner with demos featuring a coffin and Boundary Park pitch invasions

FOR Oldham Athletic fans, the atmosphere at Boundary Park is toxic – and likely to only get worse.

On and off the pitch, the Latics are a club in crisis with their followers pointing the finger at owner Abdallah Lemsagam.

They have spent almost three years campaigning against the Dubai-based former agent in the fear that the club is heading for extinction under his regime.

Since he took over in January 2018, Boundary Park has slowly but surely turned into a war zone with repeated protests by fan groups.

Before a drab 0-0 draw with Hartlepool, police were forced to patrol a demo that featured a coffin inscribed : “RIP OAFC” and was placed outside the main door of the stadium.

Supporters have taken to donning clown masks on a match day, echoing the belief that Oldham Athletic have become a circus.

While there have also been pitch invasions, tennis balls and flares thrown onto the playing surface as the tensions rise.

And although the club moved off the bottom of Football League Two last weekend on goal difference, despite losing at home 2-1 to Harrogate Town, the ill-feeling is still there.

In 2019, fed up with not being heard, four fans launched Push The Boundary to communicate the concerns and dissatisfaction with the current owner regarding the handling of the football club, whilst raising awareness of its precarious state.

Founding member Steve Shipman, 40, tells SunSport: "We started seeing the warning signs a few years ago and that things weren't quite right.

"We wanted to do something about it because we were just shouting into a big, black hole.

"But we didn't want to get to this point, where we're near the bottom of the league, before people start to act and it's too late.

"We've been banging on the door for a couple of years. And initially we were trying to engage with the club, not necessarily saying we want the owner out.

"We made the point of telling them fans weren't happy, we gave them evidence of that through the form of surveys, but the owner chose to ignore it.

"I think what we've seen recently with the protests is a culmination of that pressure, fans going on the pitch because they're unhappy, and now he's got no choice but to address it.

"But the fact is, he could've done this a few years ago. Fans have got to a point now where enough is enough with the new manager appointments and false dawns.

"And if he wasn't going to listen to us, then the fans were going to take matters into their own hands."

SunSport has repeatedly highlighted the growing crisis at the club that was originally one of the Premier League's founding members in 1992.

Before the lockdown in March last year we reported that unless the controversial Moroccan paid debts of £575,000 to the ground’s leasehold owner Simon Blitz then he would put the club into administration.

That threat, which Blitz would have carried out, followed a bitter war between the pair after Lemsagam sparked a two-month investigation by The Sun over his claims that he had found a £5.2M “hole” in the club’s finances

Oldham Police were called in over Lemsagam’s allegations, relating to the construction of the ground’s new North Stand with £1.78M of local council money part of the so – called missing money.

There was no case to answer by former director Blitz as SunSport confirmed.

But depressed Latics supporters declare that Lemsagam very much does have one to answer following years of turmoil.

And many believe that they are witnessing the last rites of the club founded 126 years ago.

Shipman stresses what he would like to happen next.

"The ideal situation would be if Lemsagam works with us and the supporters foundation to help facilitate his exit from the football club," he says.

"Let's work towards something that gets him the most money that allows him to walk away.

"But what we don't want is if he brings someone in on his own accord, because he's already proved he can't be trusted."

Back in March, Lemsagam appointed Keith Curle as manager to save the club from relegation.

Astonishingly, he is the ninth coach to work for the Moroccan, and before his arrival there were on-going accusations of Lemsagam’s interference in team matters, even down to the selection of certain of his favourite players against others.

Lifelong Latics fan and Manchester United legend Paul Scholes lasted only 31 days in the job, saying he could not work due to Lemsagam’s meddling.

Wages of players and staff have frequently been delayed, there have been near misses in terms of administration – not just with Blitz but with the tax man too.

Yet experienced Curle has a managerial career that spans six previous clubs, including 2020 promotion to League One with Northampton Town.

The 57 year-old is certain he can spark a revival and insists he is doing things his own way – as he has always done –  that he is his own man, not just a company man.

Curle hints that some of his predecessors may have taken the easy way out and allowed Lemsagam to carry the can rather than look at their own efforts.

The former Manchester City captain declares that won’t be the case with him.

He stresses that if he fails to keep Oldham up: “I’ll take all the blame. That’s what I do.

“When we win a game I applaud everybody that’s helped.

“When things aren’t going well I shoulder the responsibility. The easy thing to do is look at the past circumstances.

“But I know when I have all of my players fit and available we will be competitive in this division.

“I know where Oldham can get to but the route there is not a straight line.

“A straight line is having £3M in the bank as your budget, you get the best players for the division, and you double up on it.

“As proven by Salford, it ain’t as straight a line as you think it is.

 “Whatever get thrown at me, I deal with it in eight words : it is what it is, deal with it.

“It’s not arrogance, it’s not being aggressive or having a confrontational approach.

“I’m just not one of those people that keep complaining about problems. I find solutions.

“Being bottom of the league without ten injured players and working within the restrictions of an EFL transfer embargo is a problem.

“But I know the solution and we continue to put things together to create that solution.”

Lemsagam’s brother Mohamed is under fire from the fans, who believe the sporting director has only helped deepen the club's crisis with dressing room interference.

Curle stresses : “I don’t know what went on before, but it doesn’t happen with me.

“That’s not the relationship that we’ve got. I make my own mind up, I make my own decisions, I pick the team.

“How else can it work? It’s the only way I work.”

Oldham fans will be praying his efforts save their side and their efforts in raising awareness of unrest might make the owners appear more transparent.

Otherwise, if the club falls out of the National League, they could fall into oblivion like neighbours Bury. Imagine the fans protests then?

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