BOUNDARY SPARKS

Have brought back the Old­ham's cup ex­ploits this sea­son trip from Pen­nine Way to 1989-90 cam­paign and an un­likely down me­mory lane with Wem­b­ley Way. ALEX DUNN walked The Lat­ics' cap­tain of the time,

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - Memories -

IN an era when foot­ball clubs all too of­ten spend like Viv Ni­chol­son, with sim­i­lar con­se­quences, the story of Old­ham Ath­letic's fru­gal as­cent from peren­nial Greater Manch­ester foot­notes to one of the early 90s' more iconic sides seems all the more re­mark­able.

The pre­vi­ous sea­son Old­ham had fin­ished an un­re­mark­able 16th in the then Sec­ond Di­vi­sion but al­chemist Joe Royle was con­vinced that with some tin­ker­ing the squad he had as­sem­bled from other clubs' cast-offs and a hand­ful of home­grown tal­ent might just spark into some­thing spe­cial. Just 65 games later the proof was in the pud­ding.

A con­gested fix­ture pile-up that in­cluded four games in seven days put paid to any pro­mo­tion as­pi­ra­tions but a Lit­tle­woods Cup Fi­nal ap­pear­ance against Not­ting­ham For­est and two FA Cup semi-fi­nal bouts with Manch­ester United still keep the fire burn­ing for those sup­port­ers privy to the 'pinch me sea­sons' of Royle folk­lore.

If you joined the party post-94, God help you. The sub­se­quent 'shoot me sea­sons', which have in­cluded 16 con­sec­u­tive cam­paigns in the third tier, have been the mother of all come­downs.

Prior to this sea­son's sur­prise FA Cup run, queues down Sheep­foot Lane for tick­ets had been rarer than four-sided grounds in Old­ham, but when Mike Mil­li­gan held the arm­band it was a com­mon oc­cur­rence to see lines snake around Boundary Park, which even in its di­lap­i­dated state re­tains an old school charm amid a sea of iden­tikit sta­dia.

Mil­li­gan, a con­ge­nial Manc Ir­ish­man, is both can­did and comic, gen­er­ous with his time and en­dear­ing in that he speaks like a gen­uine fan. For much of our chat he speaks as he played, tear­ing into one topic from the next with the in­fec­tious en­thu­si­asm that made him a nat­u­ral fit as Royle's on-field lieu­tenant; the orig­i­nal yard dog.

When­ever Royle is men­tioned the tone is warm but never rev­er­en­tial and it's clear the re­la­tion­ship the then rookie man­ager shared with his play­ers was more that of an in­dul­gent older brother than dis­ci­plinar­ian.

“What we did that sea­son was just one of those freak of na­ture oc­cur­rences but the man­ager de­serves a lot of credit," says Mil­li­gan.

“The thing with Joe is that he fos­tered a team spirit borne from the fact he treated his play­ers as men. We were se­ri­ous about our foot­ball but we never stopped laugh­ing. It still gets me ex­cited talk­ing about it to­day.”

Known for his sharp wit and laid back man­ner, Royle al­ways made good copy for the news­pa­pers and Mil­li­gan says he was ex­actly the same in the dress­ing room. The way he tells it makes them sound like the world’s best pub team but Old­ham were glo­ri­ous to watch in full flow.

Two good goal­keep­ers in Jon Hall­worth and Andy Rhodes swapped the No.1 shirt like Cle­mence and Shilton, while Andy Bar­low and De­nis Ir­win at full-back were as good go­ing for­ward as they were at the back.

Earl Bar­rett and Paul Warhurst was a rapid a cen­tre-half part­ner­ship while Mil­li­gan and Nicky Henry in front of them were both as hard as nails but could play too. Ei­ther side the whip­pet-like Neil Adams and the vel­vet-like left foot of Rick Holden sent love let­ters of crosses to Andy Ritchie and Frankie Bunn in the cen­tre.

The first pro­fes­sional yeti Ian Mar­shall and the cult mys­tery man (Ooh) Roger Palmer, who ac­cord­ing to Mil­li­gan ghosted as un­no­ticed into train­ing as he did op­po­si­tion penalty ar­eas, were back-ups from the bench when only two subs were per­mit­ted.

“We'd never give up, never die and that's some­thing Joe knew (in the two cup runs Old­ham scored ten equalis­ers). We'd never cheat him, whether we played good or bad, so he knew he'd never have to raise his voice.

“Only a cou­ple of times did I see him lose it. I re­mem­ber one time away from home we weren't at it in the first half. Joe slammed the dress­ing room door at half-time and launched into a tirade. We were all a bit ‘bloody hell, what's wrong with him?’

“Proper rant­ing, go­ing around the team oneby-one. For some rea­son the goal­keeper Andy Rhodes, who'd had bet­ter games, wasn't back in the dress­ing room by this point. Joe’s say­ing ‘Where’s Rhodesy?’ when right on cue from the other side of the door Andy kicks it open and cracks the gaffer in the fore­head.

“And if you know Joe's head it's a pretty hard tar­get to miss! It started to bleed. We were all cry­ing laugh­ing; even Wil­lie Donachie couldn't help him­self. Joe, quick wit­ted as ever, just said ‘as for you Rhodesy, that's the first f***ing thing you’ve kicked right all af­ter­noon!’”

Royle’s Mi­das touch in the trans­fer mar­ket in those days took some beat­ing. Bar­rett and Warhust for a com­bined fee of £45,000 any­one?

Old­ham lineup

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