Tuesday, June 19, 2007

41 Seconds From Glory, or Why I Hate Mark Hughes - leeroycal

Mark Hughes is a respected figure in football, a glittering career as a player has led to managerial achievements and he is universally liked as a man and as a professional. I however am an Oldham Athletic fan, so I hate him.

Under Joe Royle, the Latics dared to dream for five glorious years between 1989 and 1994, we had cup final and semi-final appearances, goals galore and finally promotion to the first ever Premier League season in 1992 . When Sky TV invested millions in football broadcast rights I doubt the trendily-spectacled creatives wanted the image of a sweaty, ugly, ginger, balding Andy Ritchie running on a treadmill as part of their prime marketing push. Our elevation gave them no choice in the matter.

Oldham stayed in the top division that first season on goal difference thanks to a typical humdinging 4-3 win against Southampton on the final day. The 1993-94 season was an equal struggle, but we did put a decent FA Cup run together, bringing us face to face with Manchester United in the semi to be held at Wembley.

The game itself was so turgid that I half expected Leonard Cohen to be the half-time entertainment, but this all changed in the second period. From a corner, United keeper Schmeichel dropped the ball and Oldham full-back Neil Pointon, fresh from a tour as the lead singer of Iron Maiden, smashed the ball in. All we had to do now was hold on. And hold on we did, until 41 seconds from the end.

Brian McClair hoofed the ball over his head into the area and as the ball dropped over Mark Hughes' shoulder, and while four feet in the air and parallel to the ground, he scored one of his specials by volleying it full blooded into the top corner of Jon Hallworth's net. To this day I am convinced that he dislocated his leg to hit the ball it was so improbable a strike. United went absolutely bananas, but for us it was the end of our season.

We had a tough run-in to face in our attempt to stay up, but that one strike laid waste to our fight and our desire. If you watch the slow-motion replay, as Sparky peels away to celebrate you can actually see the souls of the Latics players drop out of the bottom of their shorts. We were hammered 4-1 in the replay.

The ripples of this moment could not have been in more stark contrast for each club. United had until this point been struggling for recent form, they had lost the League Cup to Aston Villa, and indifferent League performances threatened their push for the title. Following Hughes' volley, they put together a run of wins that secured the League and then the Double by defeating Chelsea in the final. They have done alright since as well I think.

Oldham spent the rest of the season looking like they were running through treacle, and when the drop came it was as painful as it was inevitable. Captain Mike Milligan left for Norwich and centre-back Richard Jobson went off to reform The Skids. Joe Royle himself took the Everton job in the autumn and the club then dropped once more two years later. There have since been liquidation scares, bungled takeovers and more managers than a branch of McDonald's.

Still, at least we're not Leeds.


andrewm said...

leeroycal, I feel your pain. I also fucking hate Mark Hughes.

With hindsight it does seem like a key moment, for a lot of reasons. I really liked that Oldham team - and hated Man U, of course - and that moment taught me that life was unfair and you don't get what you deserve. It replays in my head whenever I get shafted in life. I'm not joking. That was a very impressionable age for me.

Neil Pointon. I always liked him.

Coincidentally, it was around the same time that my brother was managing Oldham in a game of Championship Manager and lost in the FA Cup to non-league Wealdstone. I laughed about that one for days. Wealdstone.

pipita said...

Nice one leeroycal. Im a great admirer of Joe Royle who Everon so ridiculously sacked. Your piece Made also tok me back to the Oldham team of the late 80's and early 90's, particualrly remember that cracking 3-3 semi final draw with Man U. I liked them because they had all these former evertonians. Apart from Pointon, I also recall Snodin, Sharp, Adams and Marshall. Cheers

mimi said...

I'm Welsh. I know nothing of football. I don't do comments here any more.I am a visitante of the Salon Des Pseuds, where we play happily eating raspberries and driving Morgans.

Ebren said...

don't leave us mimi!

We need you.

Who else can control Offside or wield the ceremonial whip!

Also good stuff Lee - facebook friend and adversary of the great Smyth.

Lee said...

oh yes, I got Smyth well and truly told today. Or not.

bluedaddy said...

1994 was a bad year for the FA Cup all round.

If only that Peacock volley had dipped another couple of inches.

Sparky's great though.

file said...

blimey Oldham had a lot of famous musicians playing for them at one time, is this a record?

Lee, my natural club is equally small, precarious and generally unfashionable. We've had fleeting moments in the off-spotlight too, all I can say is don't worry about Sparky build for the future glory days how ever remote they look right now

we were in administration for years too, but we're out of it now and while not exactly rosy at least we have a supporter on the board now and are debt free

gwan the latics, don't look back

DoctorShoot said...

thank you leeroy
I am an aussie ignoramus re UK soccor, since the match of the day faded from our zone, but the name Oldham Athletic is so charming and your passion so evident that I found the piece most entertaining.

"To this day I am convinced that he dislocated his leg to hit the ball it was so improbable a strike."


I too have suffered, and seen my precious heroes hopes snuffed by a turning point created from nothing by a moment of genius...
there is tomorrow of course.

the worst thing is if a moment of genius by somebody you hate sticks in your mind and cannot be removed. to be mired in admiration of the victorious enemy is to be doubly defeated.

offside said...

And the best thing about Oldham is that it translates as "vieux jambon".

Too bad greengrass is away, that would be right up his alley.

greengrass said...

It is right up my alley!

Thanks, Leeroy - nice to see a Latics fan on here. Oldham is my home-town club, though my side is Manchester United.
This piece evokes all the memories, some of which I chronicled on here months ago in "The Meaning of Sport".
Barefoot days!
Do you live in Oldham, Leeroy?
I'm a Shaw lad myself, at present doing missionary work in Sweden.

Lee said...

no, I'm from Leigh, which is a big rugby league town with no football team of note. I picked Oldham just to be awkward as all my mates supported Liverpool, Man U, Bolton or Everton generally. There's a moral there: contrariness leads to misery, or somthing like that...

I went out with a girl from Shaw for 12 months once, so I know it quite well.

Ebren said...

My uncle was annoyed with his Arsenal supporting father - so decided to pick the first team that beat them and become a fan.

As this was in the 1950s the next team to beat Arsenal was Blackpool (I assume inspired by Mortensen and Matthews).

He still supports them today poor man.

Lee said...

blackpool have gone up ebren, so I imagine he's quite pleased at the moment!

I should know, they tonked us in the play-off semi. Mind you, if someone had offered me play-offs at the start of last seaon I would have snatched their hand off.

Ebren said...

he might be happy now - but promotion to the second teir is hardly good revenge on a father. One assumed he thought by picking the next team to beat arsenal his side would be better than them.

But then I can't talk - I'm a Kingstonian fan.

greengrass said...

my rugby team was Oldham, when they boasted Kellett, Pitchford, Jackson, Winslade, Little, Ganley and - my childhood hero! - Alan Davies. I believe Alan was a Leigh lad.
Many's the time I went to watch Oldham play Leigh away. I remember the mighty Mick Martyn.
When travelling to Wigan and St. Helen's, the charabang always stopped at a pub on the East Lancs Road near Leigh - can't remember the name...
A Shaw lass? Anyone I know?

Lee said...

no idea mate, she was called Angela, as a starter for 10

Anonymous said...

C'mon lads...

how can anyone hate sparky?


duncan said...

I remember that goal, but in contrast to your pain, for me it was one of the best goals scored on earth in the history of football. To get that power and control from that position was un-be-lievable. I like him all the more having a great touch, taking and giving stick without whining and diving, and for personifying the quietspoken Dr.J off the field and the raging Mr.Hyde on it.

I don't love all United players but I do love Mark Hughes.

Simon McGrother said...

Despite the 15 years that have elapsed the pain of that moment remain and always will.
I cried, at Wembley, in front of my mum, and my girlfriend.
My mum, who to the best of my knowledge had never been to a game before, shrugged her shoulders and said "oh well". Truly the woman could not have mis-gauged the mood more.
My happiness, joie de vivre and very soul disintegrated in that hideous, heart-breaking split second.

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