At the start of last year I had a dilemma: would my daughter support Liverpool or Oldham? Since we lost 5-1 in the FA Cup at Anfield I thought I'd also lost her, but what I didn't count on was the rematch. For all of two minutes when Robbie Simpson put us 1-0 up against the mighty Reds I felt something I hadn't felt for a long time watching football: a sense of fun.
When you live on past glories and your fans have unrealistic expectations (that’s the Latics, not LFC) it can be quite depressing hearing people constantly moan about everything from pies to players – especially when for one reason or another your team seems to be treading water. So for 120 seconds you can forget all the ills in the game, and your own disappointments and go bananas thinking that it all might change.
Who'd have thought that we'd have the same opportunity just over a year later and go one better? In this year’s FA Cup fourth round we played Liverpool again and this time the romance of the Cup became the new romance of the Cup as both teams belted out duelling 80's classics: Jose Baxter Baby to the tune of Don't You Want Me Baby vs. Luis Suárez's I Just Can't Get Enough. Maybe we both harked for a rosier period for both clubs.
Most commentators seemed to think we were big and physical in the game but if you've watched us this season we're anything but at League One level. It was mainly down to lazy journalism, 6’6” Matt Smith having the game of his life as an old-school centre forward and the fact that we outplayed them. But this time there was over ninety minutes of fun.
I've questioned the route football has taken in the last couple of decades. It doesn't seem to be geared up for the fans enjoyment. With high prices, big wages further distancing the connection between fan and player and governing bodies continually burying their heads in the sand over racism, I seriously wondered if I wanted to subject my daughter to this week in, week out.
Then we beat Liverpool and I bought her the Oldham home kit.
I have spent each week since then taking the piss out of at least one of my (former) friends and annoyed half of the city in which I reside. The blue half loved it too, until we drew Everton at home in the next round. I think we'll find it tougher against a more solid team (watching Liverpool I thought Raheem Sterling was a mascot & Sebastián Coates had won a competition to play for the day) but hey, anything can happen – like in 2007 when we beat them at Goodison.
Bizarrely, we go into the game without the manager that got us this far, Paul Dickov. A decent bloke and hard worker but unfortunately a terrible run of league results and bad luck did him in and to be fair some of our players need to realise they are at this level because of consistency issues: you can't just turn it on because a Premier League team are in town. Maybe there's less pressure for caretakers Tony Philliskirk (a great servant of the club and top youth team coach) and former keeper Paul Gerrard.
We have nothing to lose and I don't even care if we win (of course we will), I've realised there are more important things that lead to my enjoyment. There has been lots of talk about the monetary benefits of these two games, but that's one of the things that sucks the joy out of the game for me.
I want us to be financially secure as the dark days of near-administration in 03/04 at Oldham were not fun, but that is in part the failings of the top of the game where financial fair play seems to still favour the richest. The thing that makes me happiest is not balance sheets but bouncing up and down with the crowd as we score a third against the five-times European champions (maybe Brad Jones was doing a 'Debrecen').
Former friends who turned to the dark side (Manchester United) after our relegation from the Premier League are slowly coming back having been left behind as Old Trafford prices skyrocketed, and it's like being back at school meeting up with mates and win, lose or draw, enjoying the game and atmosphere.
As long as we give it a good go against the 'other Blues' I won't mind, I'll have some banter with mates who are Bluenoses and I'll still have the win against Liverpool. David Moyes seems determined to win the Cup this season: they've tended to send out a strong squad and with players like Marouane Fellaini and especially Leighton Baines some of our young defenders could be in for a rough ride.
Luckily, up front they've been off form and leaky at the back, both teams look likely to press and run their proverbials off, the interesting thing may be who can do it for longer and if either has a Plan B. How well our loanees, Obita, Barnard and Iwelumo perform could be a factor and whether recently recovered hero Smith will start could be a factor along with whether former Everton starlet Baxter can keep his composure and show his potential.
There's a smile back on my face regardless, my daughter has learnt to chant 'come on Oldham', and despite the relegation battle the FA Cup has shown me football can still be fun (mainly down to the Liverpool defenders!)