They say in life that however dark the tunnel you may be travelling through, there will always be light at the end of it.
Supporters of Oldham Athletic Football Club have had a bad time of it recently. Older fans will remember the glorious heydays of the late 1980’s and Joe Royle’s swashbuckling brand of football, much to the envy of younger supporters.
Following relegation from the First Division in 1994, Latics soon faced the drop again and 19 years of life in the third tier have followed. Ups, such as two play-off finishes and F.A Cup giant killings, have been viciously overshadowed by the downs of administration and financial instability.
But throughout that period, Oldham had an identity; a set of values through which fans could genuinely buy into and support with all they had. The sacking of club legend John Sheridan in 2009 after an off-field bust-up coincided with the fading of this identity.
Managers have come and gone since but utter the names of Dave Penney and more recently David Dunn to Latics fans and you’ll be met with a glare and a shudder. Only Lee Johnson came close to producing a product and a team which Oldham fans could buy in to and be proud of.
If things had been going downhill for the last 25 years, the pace has certainly accelerated since Sheridan’s departure. Consecutive relegation battles and defensive, sterile performances combined with PR disasters such as the Ched Evans affair have seen a disconnect from club and supporter.
Many of my recent articles have been a depressing read. They all feature similar themes but they are themes which have been horribly relevant to Oldham Athletic in the past year; disconnect, apathy, disillusionment.
But out of the darkness of an embittered 2015 comes a shining light. John Sheridan has returned to the football club as manager after seven years apart.
It’s the news that all Oldham fans have been waiting for. At last prayers have been answered and common sense prevailed. Lying five points from safety in 22nd place in the League One table, John Sheridan has a mammoth task ahead of him.
Indeed there is no guarantees that this appointment will solve any of Oldham’s ills; Sheridan’s management record is little more than average. But what this appointment does do is give Oldham some identity back. A club legend has returned at a time when fans have been left desperately searching for someone or something to affiliate with.
This cannot be understated. Home gates have dwindled to worrying lows and even Latics’ proud, hardy away support has fallen away drastically. Losses are part and parcel of the game. Indeed even spells of drab performances can happen. This is football; no one has a divine right to be good. What fans want more than anything is a club they can associate with and people they can love and believe in.
John Sheridan may not keep Oldham in League One this season. He has experience and a decent record but this may well still fall short of the required effort. Fans can debate that all night long but the answer wont present itself until May.
But what this appointment will do is give disassociated and disaffected supporters their club back. Finally Oldham Athletic is beginning to salvage some form of identity after the train-wreck past few years. For that reason, this is a masterstroke; one which the much criticized Simon Corney must take huge credit for.
Sheridan is back where he belongs and with it Oldham’s first step to rebuilding bridges with supporters. The club have acted, and now it’s time for fans to. Bradford City away is next up and the team need all the support they can get. There is finally something to buy into on and off the field and for this we owe much to John Sheridan.