It was not a day for queuing. The rain was incessant, the Pennines were blocked out by the midwinter grey and two of those hemmed in around Boundary Park, the highest and often the coldest football ground in England, collapsed while waiting for an FA Cup ticket and were treated for hypothermia.
Oldham had been given 6,136 for tonight's encounter with Liverpool and they did not last long. Boundary Park is most people's idea of what northern lower-league football looks like. The stands have corrugated roofs with faded advertising and old, traditional floodlight pylons above. A town that once spun more cotton than France and Germany combined was financially ravaged long before the recession came calling for the rest of England, which is maybe why football and the FA Cup matter. In 1990 and 1994, Oldham reached the semi-finals and were denied in furious contests by Manchester United. In 2005 they knocked out Manchester City.
Sitting at home, watching the draw with his wife and three kids, Paul Dickov was hoping for Manchester City, the club where he spent eight years in three divisions. Instead, the man who is now Oldham's manager learnt that, should his side beat Southend in a replay, they would go to Anfield. "We were hoping for a big tie," he says. "Oldham needed it, not just the club but the town, which is struggling economically. We both needed a lift."
He first went to Anfield in 1989, only then the prize was not a place in the fourth round but the league championship. He had just signed professional terms with George Graham's Arsenal and was bussed up to Merseyside and given a place in the crowd for one of English football's most extraordinary games. Arsenal needed to win by two clear goals on a ground where they had not tasted victory in 15 years to snatch the title from Liverpool. They did it in the final minute. "I can't remember much about the end," Dickov smiles. "Just a lot of people jumping on top of you."
Kenny Dalglish's memory of that match is also something of a blur. Growing up as a Celtic supporter in Livingston, Dickov had idolised the Liverpool manager. "I had everything on him; posters, videotapes, the lot," he says. "I have met him a few times just to say hello. I was a kid at Highbury the first time I met him and could hardly speak, I was that much in awe of him."
Dickov describes himself as a "lucky bugger", having gone straight from playing to management. "It was a culture shock. You ask a player what a manager does and they have no idea what the job entails. It is literally 24/7. I'd like to say I don't take the job home but my wife would go mad if I denied it.
"As a player everything is done for you. You just turn up and often you don't need to remember your passport because the club takes it off you. You live in a bubble. When I applied for this job it was the first time I'd had an interview. People said I should go with a flip-chart or a laptop and do a presentation but that wouldn't have been me. I just went in and spoke about football."
As a striker with Manchester City, Dickov was a complete pest. He got under the skin of defenders and he enjoyed it when they lost their temper because it meant he was winning. Winning at Oldham has been a mixed affair. His budget is, if not the lowest in League One, then very close to it, although if a few hundred quid a week matters that much to a footballer, he would rather they went elsewhere.
Oldham have managed to take points off Charlton, Preston and Huddersfield and then lose depressingly at home to Hartlepool on Boxing Day. He had given his players Christmas Day off, a mistake he will not be making again. His players responded by taking four points off Notts County and Chesterfield.
Outside his office his players are having lunch with roast chicken and pasta in what is essentially a corridor at Boundary Park. The banter is good. Shefki Kuqi, a warhorse coming to the end of a career that has taken him from Kosovo to England via Finland, has a rule of thumb for players in League One. "Those who do their job, get on with it and are quiet; they are the ones who succeed," he says. "The ones who think they are better than they are and should be at a bigger club, they struggle."
Dickov says: "When we get the basics right we are a talented bunch. I am not daft enough to say we are going to go to Liverpool and win; that would see me locked up in a straitjacket, but in every round of the FA Cup, all the way back from the qualifying rounds to the semi-finals, there are shocks. And it could be us."Reuse content