Trust Oldham is aware of the letter issued by Club Directors Adam Morallee and Richard Bowden to Paul Whitehead (of the ‘Fan Led Group’) regarding the North Stand / OEC at Boundary Park dated 12th August.
This communication demonstrates the potential complexity of the current situation and we would urge fans to recognise this in forming their views on the issue. The club is evidently pursuing a line of enquiry regarding a claimed historic surrendering of its rights in relation to the OEC and it would appear to be taking a cautious stance regarding any further contractual agreement with the OEC prior to fully understanding this.
The Trust cannot vouch for what the club is saying in its letter, though through our representation on the club board we do have a degree of insight into the position the club is adopting on this matter.
It is of course concerning that the issues outlined in the letter are only being communicated to the OEC over 18 months after the current owner’s acquisition of the club. However, we observe efforts (whether well founded or not) to protect the club’s commercial position through this communication and more generally through the dialogue we have had with the club in relation to this matter. The club has evidently taken this decision based on the professional advice it has received.
At the same time the OEC is a commercial operation and it will inevitably seek to protect its interests in order to remain a viable business. The club and OEC are not incompatible (quite the opposite) but common ground clearly needs to be found. It goes without saying that we wish to see this resolved as a matter of urgency in the long term interests of the club.
However, of greater importance is that fan safety and the experience of visiting Boundary Park (and particularly when using the North Stand) is not compromised during this time. Whether wholly, partly or not at all related to this dispute, during the home game against Crewe Alexandra on 10th August, reports were received of a sub-standard catering offer and lighting and PA system failures within the North Stand. This is wholly unacceptable in any circumstances.
Oldham fans are dedicated to this club and loyally put their money into the club year after year. They deserve to have a positive experience when visiting Boundary Park and indeed this is critical to retaining fans and attracting a new breed of supporters. More importantly no fan deserves to have their safety put at risk as was the case on Saturday. Nothing which the club or the owners of ground do is more important than ensuring Boundary Park is a safe place to watch football. This is not negotiable and pursuit of commercial objectives should not come at the expense of this.
It would appear that the current dispute is destined to take some time to resolve. This dispute is now being played out in public, which is itself disappointing. However, as a matter of principle, we support that the club is making efforts to fully understand and to protect its commercial position. This is a matter for the club and the owners of the OEC to now resolve. We have appealed to both to commit to pragmatic and sensible dialogue and to genuinely direct their efforts to achieving an outcome which benefits the football club and its fans first.
Whilst this plays out, it is of utmost importance that the damage to the club, its reputation and commercial standing is minimised. It is even more important that fans are able to watch football in safety at Boundary Park and to have an overall positive experience in doing so. All those with any influence over match day operations at Boundary Park have a duty to ensure that this is an absolute priority whether or not the current dispute continues.
It is our expectation that the conditions experienced in the North Stand on Saturday are not repeated at the next home game on 20th August. We would also hope the club will publically acknowledge that these conditions are not acceptable and will offer an apology to those fans affected.
We believe the club is taking this matter seriously and that meetings are intended to take place between both parties to try and resolve the situation.
14th August 2019