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Official Review by Matt Rees, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Boundary Park has played home to Northern English team, Oldham Athletic, since its opening in 1904. In its day, it held nearly 50,000 people. However, the current capacity is 10,638 and only became an all-seater stadium in 1994. "The Latics", as they're known, are a team steeped in English football history, though in recent years have suffered a miserable decline. After originally being a member of the Premier League in 1993, they were relegated a year later and haven’t returned to the English top flight since. Their last scent of glory came in 2006, when they won the “Lancashire Senior Cup”, but have had numerous downfalls since - one being the fact that they have had four different managers in the space of four years.
The 2012–2013 season was quite a mixed year for The Latics. In the league, they just avoided relegation to the bottom flight of English football and saw the sacking of their highly-rated manager Paul Dickov. On the contrary, in the F.A cup, they beat Premier League giants Liverpool 3-2 at home, in what was a superb spectacle, and forced rivals Everton into a replay, which they sadly lost 3-1.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
When visiting Boundary Park, I was generally impressed with what was on offer. It is one of the first grounds I've visited where the food stand is outside, which I find quite cool. As usual, there is the overpriced chocolate bars (£1.20), crisps (£1), and hot and cold drinks. Despite this, the pies on offer prove to be a popular option (mainly because at the game I attended, it was warming up the freezing away fans!). People I've spoken with said that a pie 'n' pint is fairly priced and gets the thumbs up from basically all away fans.
Now before I say much about the atmosphere, one of the stands at Oldham is completely rundown and unused. I am saying that because it has an empty feeling whenever the ball goes over there.
It is extremely rare for the stadium to be more than half full, and I know the reason for this. Oldham do not play attractive football, and you can't lure more fans in when your team is losing. The "noise-o-meter" at Boundary Park is pretty dire and very negative. The fans don't sing loud and proud, but to the annoyance of everyone else, most of the noise is made by a man banging a bass drum. The away stand is split into two sections (home and away), and the majority of the home fans in this section are youths trying to wind up the away fans. Personally, I loved that at least some people were trying to create an atmosphere and it was quite amusing at times.
Travelling to the game is pretty grim. Quite a lot of the city is rundown, and I didn't feel too safe either. Arriving at the ground, it is like you are back in the 1970s. Terrace houses surround one side of the stadium, but on the other side it is a massive contrast. It is a complete desolate wasteland and is not pleasing on the eye. I think the reason for this is because Oldham Athletic are supposed to be building a new stand, where the current "unused stand" is. For the fans sake, I hope this is sorted out quickly and swiftly.
The Latics have a mediocre attendance record, finishing 16 out of 24 teams in League One in 2013. The average attendance just topped 4,000, a figure 400 less than the year before. Now, it might not seem a lot, but if the team doesn't improve, I can only see this figure getting worse. The noise made by the fans isn't at all remarkable. Even for the games when they play the "big" teams in League One, the fans don't turn up in force. I think the most reliable set of fans are the juniors on the main stand (probably because it's cheap as chips). I'm not saying there isn't the hardcore group of fans that every club has, but the fans just don't get behind their team enough. When they were losing, it was just the reaction on the fan's faces that summed it up. It was almost as though they didn't care. A key for a team in being successful is loyal home support, and unfortunately they don't have that at Oldham.
Getting the to the ground, admittedly, is very easy. In and around the stadium, the traffic is dealt with very well and there are numerous car parks. Personally, I'd advise to go in the main car park (the deserted wasteland) by the "unused stand", where it's priced at £5. Recently, a line from Manchester to Oldham was completed, making it a much more accessible place. Other than that, you can catch a bus at Manchester Piccadilly Train Station, which is a 25 minute ride. I was surprised at how easy it was to find the ground and travelling through Oldham itself.
The prices at Boundary Park are decent, but are you really getting the full experience for what you pay? To watch the game, adults are £20, OAP's are £10, and U16's £5, and I just feel this is too much for what you see. Don't get me wrong, the club doesn't pay for itself, but the quality of football is poor, and it's just not enjoyable to watch Oldham play. It's not like going to a Premier League game, where you can enjoy the city and stadium. It's the not the most touristic of places and, to be brutally honest, the stadium is in an incomplete state. I certainly wouldn't take a family of four to watch a team lose 3-0, for £50 at least.
Other than a mandatory programme for £3, there really is not much else. Taking everything in, the quality of the pitch is very good and the team can boast former Everton striker, Jose Baxter. While The Latics have looked to build a new stadium, it has been a troubled process. Instead, they are looking to build on the derelict stand, furthering the capacity by 2,400.
All in all, visiting Boundary Park is something I won't remember for years to come. Like most lower-tier teams, the stadium is tight and compact, but unlike others, this one is in desperate need of redevelopment. Like every team, they need a lucky break, and when they get one, the team and stadium experience will certainly get better.
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