The FLG (Fan Led Group) who recently took control of the new Joe Royle north stand have met and have given an update after stories of a fall-out with the Latics' owner. The update is as follows:
"This modern bar was constructed as part of the hospitality facilities in the stand many years ago as one of a series of hospitality and conferencing facilities that were supposed to provide the club with a regular income stream. This dream of financial stability never came to fruition. As the club ran low on funds to complete the stand in 2013, Simon Corney (the club’s then-owner) turned to a company called Brassbank for help. Brassbank is made up of two former owners of the club that bought the club with Simon Corney in 2004. This group provided funds to build the stand, but they also took ownership of it. The ownership remains unchanged to this day and rent has been paid to Brassbank since 2004.
In recent months it has come to light that a group of fans, known as the “Fan Led Group” (FLG), have been in the process of purchasing the Joe Royle stand and the stadium as a whole. They are currently in charge of managing the Oldham Event Centre, which is responsible for the hospitality and catering facilities in the stand as well as the refreshment kiosks around the stadium. The club presently owes £12,000 for these services. This revelation has been met with a combination of scepticism and intrigue. Many fans have been uneasy with the prospect of the stadium changing ownership, it is well documented that the stadium is built on land that is seen as incredibly valuable by housing developers. This has historically led to fears that the club’s future at their more than century-old home could come under threat.
The meeting was preluded by an interview with the club’s former manager Pete Wild, who is also a friend of the FLG. Paul Whitehead then took to the stage and introduced himself as a member. Mr Whitehead is a lifelong Latics fan and has spent over 40 years working either for or with the club. He was keen to stress that the group intends to purchase the stadium, including the North Stand and Car Park, for the long-term benefit of the club. He explained that the group has the financial plans and backing to do so. Other members of the group were also revealed to be Simon Brooke and Simon Wood. There are also members of the FLG that presently wish to remain anonymous for reasons of financial and business sensitivity. Mr Brooke is a former director of the club and brings with him business experience and knowledge of the ground. Mr Wood is a ‘Master Chef’ winner and owner of ‘Wood Restaurants’ and he brings with him knowledge of high-level hospitality. Trust Oldham, who own 3% of Oldham Athletic, are also providing financial advice.
Mr Whitehead spoke in a calm manner in regards to the group’s plans. He is keen to see the club “turn the tide” against 30 years of disappointment. It was clear he was passionate about the North Stand project, he described it as his “pride and joy” that he wanted to see fully utilised for the benefit of the club. He hopes this is possible in the not too distant future, as critical negotiations continue with Danny Gazal – a shareholder in Brass Bank Ltd. The end product, Mr Whitehead said, was to see the club and stadium owned by one party – this is theoretically possible under the current club’s ownership.
The group are purchasing 14 acres of land, which is the footprint of the stadium and car park behind the North Stand. The remaining land will remain under the control of Brassbank, including the “Little Wembley” training pitch (which is not in the club’s current lease agreement), who intend to use it for housing development. Indeed, it was revealed that the club was notified in May that it has access to the training pitch until December.
This deal is valued at £7 million, which Mr Whitehead stressed was at a significant discount due to his relationship with Mr Gazal and Mr Blitz. He had previously been against housing deal on the land when approached to help with these matters in the past. However, it is now seen as a necessity if the purchase is to be completed. Without allowing this construction to take place, more cash would be required to buy the stadium. This would have to be acquired through loans, which in turn would mean less revenue for the club.
The short term plan for the group is to secure ownership of the stand and stadium, before allowing fans the chance to purchase shares. Mr Lemsagam (the club’s owner) will also be able to buy shares should he wish. It was stressed that no one person or group, including current members of the FLG, will be allowed to hold a majority of the shares. The medium-term plans for the group are based around the continued development of Boundary Park. Their plan is to develop office spaces in the stand which would be available for use by the club at no cost. The group also wants to build a hotel on-site, as was planned by the former owner of the club in 2009, in which they could potentially build changing room space. This would be situated between the Joe Royle and Jimmy Frizzell stand. A “global brand”, Mr Whitehead said, is interested in being part of the stand development though this is some way down the line.
The group informed the room that the stadium has been available for purchase for many years. Indeed, Mr Lemsagam was offered the chance to purchase the stadium when he bought the club in 2017 but could not meet the valuation. Mr Whitehead said he would be willing to sell to Lemsagam if he offered £7 million upfront (i.e. without the use of loans) and could show a business model that would show the group he’d be able to generate the same level of annual revenue – an estimated £500,000. Blitz and Gazal are both keen to wash their hands of Oldham Athletic, too. They have been involved with the club since 2004 and are now keen to move onto new ventures, though they have been keen to see the stadium returned to the fans.
Whitehead and Brooke opened the floor up to questions from an audience that looked excited, if a little sceptical, about the plans they had just seen. One of the key concerns of the fans present was around the use of the North Stand for the upcoming season. It came to light that the seats in the stand are available to be used by the club, providing the club meet fire safety regulations known as the ‘Green Guide’. The seats in the stand are part of the club’s leasehold on the stadium and are not part of the Service Level Agreement (SLA). The SLA allows for use of the stand’s hospitality facilities, which is separate from the rent the club pays for use of the stadium and covers the cost of food and other amenities provided on matchday by the OEC. If the club chooses not to use the OEC, there will be no financial impact on the FLG, as the club collects matchday revenue and the OEC makes no profit from the SLA.
When asked if Abdallah Lemsagam could move the club out of Oldham over this matter, Mr Whitehead said that the EFL would be unlikely to sanction it. He explained that because the club has a secure leasehold (until 2031), the EFL would not view the issue in the same way they view the rental issues at Coventry. Mr Lemsagam was fully informed of the ownership structures and leases of the club before he agreed to buy the club, according to the FLG.
Brooke and Whitehead then thanked the fans for attending and were happy to discuss their plans over a drink in the bar. A level of scepticism was still present, alas the fans have been sold false promises in the past. For the first time in many years, though, there was a sense of hope at Boundary Park.
Oldham Athletic have been approached for comment on a number of the matters discussed in this article."