Push The Boundary met up with club CEO Karl Evans on Monday evening as part of our monthly catch ups. This was the first time we had spoke since director Barry Owen had left the club and news broke that further sponsors had turned their back on the club. As a result, there was inevitably quite a lot to discuss. There are still some key issues that need resolving, not least the situation around the North Stand and whether this will be open to fans for the start of the 2021/22 season.
As always we took questions from fans and we tried to cover as much as possible in the time that we had. If there is anything you would like further clarification on, please contact us and we will do what we can to fill in any gaps.
Following rumours circulating the fanbase, Karl confirmed that Mohammed Lemsagam has left the country. He went back home a few weeks ago. We asked if he was due back in the country before the end of the season and Karl confirmed this is unlikely as he has gone home to be with his family for Ramadan. He has however been in contact with Keith Curle as they look towards next season and existing players who are out of contract soon.
Karl advised it’s been an extremely difficult time of late around the club but feels he’s doing everything he can to move things forwards and he feels that there is a team in place at the club that can do that. The club are in the process of regrouping following recent changes but they can’t spend too long on that and have to look forward as there is work to do.
We advised that it is of many fans opinions that too many people over the years have not had the club’s best interests at heart and it has gone on for too long. He advised that people in the club have been very supportive of the decisions that they are trying to make within the club and while it’s tough work, everything they are trying to do is for the best.
Karl said he came away from the Morecambe game (lost 4-3) feeling as low as he has done this season. He looked at the (Morecambe) players and didn’t think that they were any better than ours. Yes, they are a tidy team and they work hard but feels like we should be up there challenging when you see some of the talent in our squad. It was forced home how low this makes supporters feel to see have far we have fallen. Karl understood our frustrations.
He feels that under Keith Curle, there is already more discipline within the dressing room. It was raised by PTB that stability around a squad, the head coach and how that team has been put together and given time to gel like Morecambe has resulted in them having a positive season.
We said that we have talented players but there are crucial parts of the jigsaw missing and it feels like we are going round in circles in terms of recruitment of players and Managers/ head coaches. The likes of Diarra and Fage being signed of further one year deals doesn’t fill supporters with hope of a promotion push.
We had an experienced manager at the start of the season in Dino but we saw fit to relieve him of his duties and replace him with Harry (Kewell) and following a 6 month spell, we have gone back to yet another manager with league 2 experience.
There had been a number of queries raised by fans around season ticket sales and Karl admitted the club were happy with the number of season tickets sold as per the end of the early bird. This was given the fact that there had been no confirmation Keith Curle being retained yet and there are no key decisions made on the North Stand. Karl feels that a number of people are saving their money until decisions are made that will give fans more certainty.
Some key points regarding season tickets:
– 1691 tickets sold in total
– 678 adult tickets sold
– Just over 400 new tickets
– No free tickets have been handed out (excluding competition winners)
Karl advised that he would provide a full breakdown following the meeting. Depending on the split in adult/concession tickets and people renewing from last season, PTB would estimate that this would generate circa £170,000 once tax has been accounted for.
As part of this process, 300 people were contacted who hadn’t renewed. 15% of these people (45) said they wouldn’t renew until Abdallah leaves the club.
We said that it was commented that there was a lack of activity around the promotion of season tickets. Karl advised that had put a billboard up and were looking to get further adverts on the roundabout on Sheepfoot Lane and also they wanted to push an advert in the Oldham Times. They wanted a more subtle marketing exercise as they are aware of the negative feedback that some of the club literature has received in recent times and this affected the thinking.
Regarding the future of Keith Curle, we asked if Keith would be looking for a longer term deal and he said that managers would want as long a deal as possible at the current time. We said that it would be a good sign of intent from the club to give him a longer deal as it would show signs of stability and giving an experienced manager time to get things right.
We asked Karl to see it from a supporters view and how it must feel as a supporter when you are seeing lots of players and managers coming in on one year deals, why would people part with the money for a season ticket when they keep seeing the same thing happening and no improvement in league position. It all comes back to the word stability which we still fail to have! We understand that certain players would only come to the club for a shorter period of time to put themselves in the shop window (Conor McAleny) but there needs to be a balance in the squad so that the squad only requires small adjustments rather than an overhaul every year. Karl understood that while decisions have been made this season for the right reasons, fans have been feeling this for much longer than just the current season. There has to be an immediate change in policy regarding security around the manager / head coach and the contracts of players.
Karl advised that Connor is keeping his options open for next season and he wouldn’t be making a decision on whether to re-sign until the season had finished.
Following the departure of Barry Owen and a number of questions from fans, we asked if Barry resigned or whether he was removed from the board, as there were contradictory messages from the club and via other parties) and also why this happened? Karl said he would prefer not to say at this stage. We did push this as a number of your queries were regarding this and clarity around this would be helpful, but ultimately we had to accept Karl’s stance on this. We asked if there were plans to replace Barry on the board, but Karl said that there are no immediate plans and that he is currently picking up the EFL correspondence and that is would generally fall to the CEO in any case.
At the last meeting Karl advised he was looking to pull together a vision for the club that could be agreed with the owners, but the events of more recent times have meant that this got sidetracked. That said, this will be done soon and presented to the board and to fans.
Sponsors New and Old
As mentioned above, following 2 sponsors walking away from the club mid-season, we wanted more information regarding this. We asked if there are plans to replace these sponsors as this is income that will obviously need to be replaced. Karl advised that there are some sponsors in place who are looking to renew for next season and there are others where positive meetings are ongoing. There are more meetings this week in this regard. For the front of shirt sponsor, there are agencies looking at this but no decisions have been made as yet but given where we are in the season, there is no immediate concern or need to rush this.
We were asked why the sponsors left and Karl advised that he would rather not comment at this stage but that they had chosen to leave the club and that’s all he wishes to say at this juncture. Again, while we want to push this, we have to accept Karl’s response while some areas remain outstanding and that answers may not be able to be given for legal/ contractual reasons.
Regarding finances, we asked if people were due to be paid on time etc and Karl advised that he’s not been advised anything different of late that would raise any red flags. A number of larger bills had been paid this month also which had been outstanding.
Offers for the club
There have been rumours of bids being made for the football club and this led us to ask whether Abdallah is looking to sell the club and if their heart is still in this project. Karl advised that Mo is the most passionate owner he’s come across in terms of wanting Oldham to win football matches and he’s not seen that change. Regarding bids for the club, Karl said he’s not heard about any bidders/suitors for the football club of late so that is news to him but he said that Abdallah is a very private man and he doesn’t know what goes on behind closed doors or whether he has held said talks with any potential new owners.
The recurring nightmare which is the North Stand…. Karl said he wanted to get these seats back for fans and sort the hospitality side of things out. That’s the bit he is in control of at the current time. There was due to be a cinema evening and this has been discussed with the OEC, this was something that was initiated by the previous CEO but the idea had been shelved during lockdown. He wasn’t sure at this stage whether it would be rearranged but hadn’t been given the green light by the relevant parties.
We said that surely the owners must see the benefit of having fans in the stand and receiving money from it, rather than not using it, even if the club don’t own it. Karl agreed and said that there are things he has to do to convince the owners that this can work despite the differences in opinions. Karl said that while it doesn’t feel like a big step for supporters or from the outside, the fact that positive discussions are now taking place within the club is a huge step forward. The council are still involved in the process and the biggest requirement is to have a shared/signed document that all parties are happy to work together. This is what is being worked on. But at this time no discussions have taken place with Simon Blitz or the OEC regarding its use. We again, pushed the message that the North Stand MUST be opened for the new season and fans allowed in otherwise this would be another failure in Abdallahs reign which would further support the idea that is it time for him to source a new owner and move on.
Karl also advised that the club are partaking in the social media silence this weekend in support of the campaign around the online abuse of players and people associated with the game.
From the meeting a lot of questions remain unanswered. To say it is disappointing is an understatement. We want a thriving club at the heart of Oldhams community, a club fans are proud to say is theirs. It is fair to say this summer really will be a make or break for the club going forward whether we see the change we require is yet to be seen but it won’t be for a lack of trying on our part.