Supporters of Oldham Athletic Football Club are plans for community ownership with the backing of Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham.
Mr Burnham announced the launch of a new taskforce to give fans an active role in their club at Co-op Congress on Saturday 18 June. “Latics are at the heart of the Oldham community,” he said. “To protect its future the club should, ideally, be in the hands of the community, not private individuals.
“If successful, the club’s future should be secured for the next 100 years and beyond.”
Co-operatives UK, the Football Supporters’ Association and Greater Manchester Combined Authority are working with Oldham Athletic Supporters’ Foundation to discuss plans for a community share offer that would give groups and individuals a chance to own a stake in the club, bringing it under community control. The work is supported by the Hive co-op development programme, funded by the Co-op Bank and delivered by Co-operatives UK.
The plans follow Oldham Athletic’s relegation from the Football League in April. A fan-led campaign has been running since 2019 calling for the club’s owner, Abdallah Lemsagam, to sell up. Before the club’s relegation, Mr Lemsagam announced that the club would be sold.
Paul Whitehead, from Oldham Athletic Supporters’ Foundation, said: “After a long period of upheaval for the club, we are committed to finding solutions that can unite the fanbase and command the support of all those who care about Oldham Athletic. We are putting in the work now to establish a structure for the longer-term stability of the club.”
Mr Burnham drew comparisons between Oldham and Bury FC, which folded in 2019 and was expelled from the Football League, saying “we are determined not to let this happen with Oldham.” Though Bury FC is now on the road to recovery with a fan-owned takeover announced this year, the taskforce working with Oldham Athletic aims to ensure fan-led solutions are in place before crisis point is reached.
Oldham Athletic could lead the way for more supporter-led initiatives to receive backing from mayoral combined authorities. Andy Walsh, from the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA), said their work of developing model constitutions for community benefit societies and governance frameworks for football clubs “gives supporters a voice but began before devolved powers existed. This task force has the opportunity to really innovate and find new ways to help clubs and supporters embed community wealth through football’s engagement with local economic and social impact initiatives.”
Rose Marley, CEO of Co-operatives UK, said: “Famously started by Oldham’s sister town Rochdale, co-operatives are becoming the go-to business model for communities and businesses that want to take control and ownership of their assets.
“We’re seeing it more and more across community energy companies, data ownership and control and of course, everyone is familiar with The Co-op shops, owned by their customers, but this opportunity with Oldham will create a blueprint for other clubs and sporting assets to ensure they have a stake and a say in their club’s day-to-day operations as well as all future decisions.”