Oldham: Oh God. What Have I Done?

There are things the Chairman should have told me before I signed this contract…

The Oldham Athletic meeting room. Complete with free pens and pads.

“It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to Oldham.”

I look up with a start. This is my first time in Oldham and I have very quickly discovered that it is not like living inside the M25. I have been mulling over this.

“Congratulations!” Noureddine el Hamdaoui, the vowel-hoarding millionaire owner of Oldham Athletic continues, “And welcome onboard!”

Now the first thing you’ll notice here is that I’ve opted to play the game with real player names turned off. There’s a simple reason for this. I have zero desire to be sued or punched for being mean about someone. The game will use the same base stats and personalities for players and staff, at least to begin with, but I won’t run the risk of being sarcastic or horrible about someone who is actually quite nice in real life. It’s just more fun to write about it this way.

In fact, the moment I know that the game is modelling the personalities accurately comes when I see the expectations my delightful new boss has for the season. For he is clearly batshit insane:

Top half finish?! Top half finish!!

But more on that in a bit. Because there’s more information in that first screenshot that has already got the little grey cells in my journeyman mind turning. Some good, some bad, and I’m already starting to think about how they’ll affect our season and beyond.

The good

Boundary Park, our stadium, has a capacity of over 13,000. That’s decent at this level. Decent enough that if — no, when — things start going well, we should be able to fill it and start making some money off the gate. Same logic applies to friendlies. If we can drag some big clubs over, or package those games in as part of player sales, then we can make some northern dollar.

Our training facilities are also “average.” That may sound… well… average but for a club stuck to the bottom of League Two that’s actually better than it sounds. This is critical because, early on, a lot is going to stand and fall on my ability to get the most out of the players we’ve got. And that means training.

The bad

The game literally describes us as being in a “thirty year barren spell.” Bit harsh. When was the last time Tottenham won the league? Would you say that about them, FM?

The media are predicting we’ll finish dead last. That’s a bad sign. It’s a good indication that our squad is pretty bad and that there’s lot’s of work ahead.

The other problem is that transfer budget. I wasn’t expecting to have much, but I was expecting to have something. No money and a bad squad is a bad combination.

This is doubly true when you factor in everything in that second screenshot above. We have an owner who thinks that despite the above restrictions and predictions, we’ll be able to play entertaining, attacking football and — wait for it — finish in the top half.

Now I’m normally pretty good at exceeding expectations in this game. In part because I’ll often pull the Scotty-from-Star-Trek trick of deliberately setting them low. But my main hope for season one here is avoiding relegation. Top half finish is so far beyond that, that this series may actually end quite early if (as I expect) were floating near the bottom come Christmas.

Still, I knew this was a challenge going in. And — to blow my own trumpet a bit — I’m pretty damn good at finding value in the free player lists.

So our next step will be to do just that. I’ll click through the summary screen quickly and…

…wait. What?!

I feel like a six month transfer embargo is something you should have warned me about before I signed…

I can’t sign any — and I mean any — players until December.

Oh fuck.

This article is part of my ongoing series on trying to rebuild Oldham Athletic in Football Manager. You can find the full series here.

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Writer. Narrative designer. Historian. I focus on tales of ordinary people who did extraordinary things, and helping companies tell their own stories better.