Keith Curle, Oldham and long-forgotten memories of the Sky Strikers

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“Meat pie, sausage roll, come on Oldham, give us a goal … ooh, we’ve got a corner,” as Grandad Roberts and his son Elvis once sang so lustily. Chance would be a fine thing for the Latics, staring down the barrel of relegation from League Two and the fate of becoming the first ever former Premier League club to plunge into non-league. Andy Ritchie’s goals, Jon Hallworth’s saves, Joe Royle’s head, Mike Milligan pointing and passing, Nicky Henry’s biting tackles, Richard Jobson not being the lead singer of the Skids of the same name, the patronage of the Inspiral Carpets … it’s a long time since the Sky Strikers were shaking their thang in the vicinity of an Oldham team in the FA Carling Premiership.

Wednesday witnessed Oldham issue the ‘Do One’ card to manager Keith Curle, after Tuesday’s defeat at Northampton proved an 11th of the season. Third-bottom, they have won just one of the last nine, and are just two points above Carlisle and Firewall FC in the drop zone. Mind you, Curle’s eight months in charge look like Lord Ferg’s tenure at Manchester United when considering he is the ninth manager since the club was sold to Abdallah Lemsagam, a former Mr 15%, in January 2018.

Paul Scholes lasted barely 31 days after bringing his positive vibes and training-ground party trick of being able to hit a bin lid from 100 yards to Boundary Park in February 2019. He left implying interference from the owner. Laurent Banide, a former boss at Monaco no less, was sacked in September 2019 after just 11 matches in charge. His replacement, Dino Maamria, was appointed 20 minutes later, and at least lasted the rest of the season, only to be canned in favour of Harry Kewell. Ah.

Sick of all that and the team playing like a drain for years, many supporters have decided they don’t want to pay any penny that might end up in the pockets of Lemsagam and his brother Mohamed, the club’s sporting director. Instead, wearing clown wigs and carrying fake coffins, they’ve protested inside and outside the ground, though some also have had their season tickets suspended after protests in the stadium. The brothers Lemsagam, meanwhile, stay away.

Not even some classic football-man-babble could save Curle. “I’ve got a bad habit of telling players the truth and when I say a bad habit, some players don’t like it but those players will go on a journey and I sincerely wish them well,” he roared on Tuesday night. “There’s an easy way of telling them, and using a lot of expletives, but the modern-day players don’t respond to that.” Using a lot of expletives, particularly one the Cambridge English Dictionary defines as “in a very bad or difficult situation” may be the only way to describe Oldham Athletic right now.


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“Football is something irreplaceable. It is the thing I love the most in life and I will always love it and I will do it whenever I can. Even though I am not with a team now, I try to play and to train to do it as best I can” – Gai Assulin, who was once known as the “Israeli Messi” when he came through at Barcelona, tells Will Unwin he still hopes to have a successful career in the game despite currently having to get his kicks playing five-a-side in Stockport.

The wilds of Stockport, earlier.
The wilds of Stockport, earlier. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian


“Maybe worth a mention of a good news story. Connor Jennings returned to first-team football with Stockport County on Tuesday, some nine months after a medical check revealed he had a rare form of cancer. And, as in all good stories, there is a happy ending: he scored the fifth goal during his 10 minutes on the pitch as a substitute. Very down-to-earth man as his post-match interview shows” – Brian Ross.

“Could I suggest to disgruntled Manchester United fans that they take this opportunity to form their own club, one more focused on football than on commerce? I can’t see what could go wrong. Unless, of course, not near enough actually sign up, the club get marooned in the Northern Premier League and are overtaken by some ersatz burlesque of an arriviste club from the town next door who’ve been financially doped by unfathomably feted bored millionaires, who, if they’d had any guts, would have backed you. What? Oh” – Jon Millard.

“Was it just me who thought the misty-eyed Barça love-in from yesterday’s Fiver was a bit much? Instead of pining for the days of Rivaldo and co, it’d perhaps have been more apt to call out that the Catalan ‘giants’ are quite rightfully in a ruddy mess due to years of lining the pockets of players like their now estranged former No 10 with enough Euros to purchase a small army of Ricardo Quaresmas, and more patatas bravas than you can shake a muleta at” – Johnny Connelly (and no others).

Send your letters to And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Brian Ross.


Sheffield United’s John Fleck is recovering at home, having been discharged from hospital after collapsing during their win at Reading. “One moment he fell down. It was a really complicated situation,” said manager Slavisa Jokanovic.

Karim Benzema has been given a one-year suspended prison sentence and a €75,000 fine after being found guilty of conspiring to blackmail former France teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a bongo tape.

Karim Benzema’s lawyers talk to the media as they leave the courtroom in Versailles.
Karim Benzema’s lawyers talk to the media as they leave the courtroom in Versailles. Photograph: Yoan Valat/EPA

Manchester United pre-interim manager Michael Carrick reckons the 2-0 Big Cup win over Villarreal had nothing to do with his coaching. “It’s not about my ideas,” he blabbed. “It’s about the lads working hard … I’m delighted.” Meanwhile, the club are in the midst of chats with Ernesto Valverde about keeping the managerial hot seat warm for whoever they appoint next summer.

Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell could be out for the season with suspected anterior cruciate ligament damage sustained in the 4-0 rout of Juventus.

D1ck Advocaat has quit as Iraq boss after just three months and no wins in six Human Rights World Cup qualifiers.

And League One strugglers Fleetwood Town have marched manager Simon Grayson through the door marked Do One.


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The future is bright, the future is Sancho, writes Jonathan Liew.

Sanchoooooooooooo. Photograph: Domenech Castello/EPA

Thiago Silva, 78, has still got it and epitomises all that is good and surprising about Chelsea, reckons Jacob Steinberg, who is also effusive about Reece James and the Blues’ academy.

Which outfield players have impressed most between the sticks? The Knowledge takes a deep dive into the world of emergency keepers.

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