The Oldham Times' sports reporter Suzanne Geldard recently sat down with Oldham Athletic chief executive Darren Royle to reflect on last season and discuss plans for the future at Boundary Park, for both on and off the field matters...

SG: Can you believe it has been almost a year since the takeover?

DR: No. There's a lot happened obviously and it's gone really quickly.

SG: What stage where you at this time last year?

DR: The exploration stage, just observing. I'd been speaking with the Rothwells and it's been well documented I was putting together a consortium. I spoke to Frank in his capacity as business ambassador, through Jimmy (Frank's son in law Jimmy Schofield), and when Frank looked at it and looked at the vision, that was when he thought it would be great for the family to do it on their own and just reduce the complications of putting a consortium together.

The rest is history in that respect. That was over a year ago now but obviously we took over at the end of July, which was a week before the start of the season, the squad's already been assembled, it was a case of then trying to get the place operating as well as possibly, get the stadium safe.

There was significant amounts of work to do on the stadium, working with the safety assessment group at the council closely, and supporting John (Sheridan) and Tommy (Wright) through what had been a really difficult summer for them.

They had a lot of injuries, and it was a really tough window for John and Tommy to recruit in with everything that was going on.

Pre-season, and the pre-season schedule, is so important, having training facilities right is so important, so our schedule by the hour is sorted out for this summer. The coaching staff and the management staff have got everything nailed on, a lot of thought has gone into the scheduling of the friendlies, the strength and conditioning, the fitness, the players have all got individual gym programmes, we've obviously got access to the gym (at Boundary Park) now because everything has been consolidated into one, we've taken on a member of staff from the gym to work with players one-to-one, which has been brilliant. So it feels completely different in terms of being planned and prepared, and it's the same with recruitment as well. We've had a year to assess the market, scout, we've got great assistance with stats bomb, which is an unbelievable objective analytical tool for looking at players and they've got National League data.

Overall it's a lot tighter, a lot more informed and a lot better planned.

SG: What has been the highlight so far since last July?

DR: I think the highlight has got to be the end of the season, the Bromley game, the feeling around the stadium. We went a goal up and they equalised, but even after that you could just tell that the supporters had realised we had turned a corner in the performances that season and our form since Christmas was brilliant.

It's been really difficult, there's been a lot of frustration, understandably, because of what's happened to the club, and I think when you're trying to change it around in that environment it's difficult. It's tough, because you're trying to pedal knowing that the ground underneath is not always solid.

I think the biggest thing was getting the football operation and the football model set, because without that the team will just continue to go down the leagues.

The last game of the season was really good just to go 'actually, we have turned a corner, we've got a squad of players together, a football staff and a club staff as well'. We've basically taken on three other business after the football club purchase, and it was about bringing all those staff in.

I'm not just talking about paperwork and contracts but culturally, it's about getting people happy and motivated and comfortable to be part of one team, so there was all that to do. There will still be stuff to do around that. The next challenge with that side of it is to get all those businesses as profitable as they can be and build them up.

SG: David Unsworth has had to win a few people around but he seems to have largely done that. For you and the board, was it a case of patience and perseverance and believing in the vision?

DR: I think you've got to look objectively and to do that it's getting information, whether it's data or whether it's the context of where the manager and the coaching staff are operating, it's understanding what's going on in the dressing room and the squad with fitness, with injuries, with recruitment and what they've inherited. They had inherited a really difficult situation, and to change it around mid-season at what is a very big club in the league with big expectations is difficult, so you've got to feed all of that in and look at stuff and when you're looking at results objectively it's to say 'have we turned a corner'.

Now early on it was great to see from an expected goals perspective that very quickly our expected goals against and our expected goals for went in the right directions, so even while we were not winning games you could see that actually we were starting to compete and get into games with a chance of winning games, and when you can objectively look at that and say 'right, what can we do?' that's reassuring.

You know that when you get three people from a Premier League club, effectively, you're getting people that have coached and played at the highest level and have got an idea around how to organise and run an operation like a training ground, like the training schedules, like tactics. The frustrating thing was sometimes you pick up on frustration and you think the manager's getting it in the neck about a formation, but he's got to play that way because of the players that he's got available to him, which again is sometimes stuff that - understandably - people don't know about.

I'm a supporter as well at the end of the day and the emotions of a game you've just got to put aside if it's not gone right, you say 'what's the bigger picture look like and where are we going?'.

From day one we had Kevin Roberts (founder of RedRose consulting and former worldwide CEO and chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi, now Latics director) take us through purpose on a page organisationally, which is brilliant, so we've got our one-page purpose. That was from day one, and he's done it with the biggest clubs in the world, the biggest league in the world, the biggest organisations in the world, and it works.

So to have that strategy and the inclusion of all the Community Trust, the Supporters Foundation, even the media people were involved as well as all the club staff, it was really good and the timing was great and important. So we have got a plan, where we get to...we need to get out of this division first of all and figure out how to do that.

SG: Does not having Wrexham and Notts County in the division now make that task a bit easier?

DR: They are two great teams, two great clubs, great supporters. I'm sure the National League will prefer to have them because it brings great profile to the National League, but there was a relief.

There was a bit of sadness because Paul Cook's a personal friend and I did feel sorry for him. I think he's one of the best managers in the country with his CV and it's a harsh way to finish the season after they had really gone toe-to-toe with Notts County. But, I'm glad Notts County went up.

SG: Season ticket sales must be encouraging, to see the town get behind the team?

DR: I'd like to thank the supporters for the continuing support from a season ticket sales perspective.

We've got to now bring back together the commercial side of the business to life. Businesses out there that want to partner with us and sponsor are going to be really important moving forwards to increase commercial revenues.

Clearly we've got to provide benefit back in return for that. We feel that with the ownership, the board, the team now it would be a good place to bring your business and sponsor us.

Thank you to everyone that has helped and bought season tickets and sponsored us, but we're looking to bring that commercial business back to life, and the events centre.

We've got an iconic football shirt that's going to be launched, so we want everyone to buy one. I'll be buying a home and away shirt for my kids and myself.

Obviously Puma is mega but the actual design and with the sponsors on it looks great. We're hoping that the launch in the shop we're going to do on June 29 at the Mansfield game.

The retail business and the events business is going to be really important to us.

SG: How are you hoping to drive the commercial side of things?

DR: Where we are sat now was the shop and Alan Hardy ran an amazing operation here. You could book your holiday, get driving lessons, buy a stationary kit or buy a football kit and trainers, it sold everything. And I think in terms of branding and the different sectors of the market in terms of what people want to buy for themselves and their kids, in a football club store we need to get back to that. We own it now, so the revenue that we generate will go back into the club from that.

The events business we've got to look at what the opportunity is in the market. We don't do any weddings but we know that people like to get married sometimes at football stadiums. So it could be anything from weddings to corporate conferences and that facility can certainly be used more.

We do have an education business in there in the week, but we do want to expand our operations in education to provide something that's worthwhile to the community, to fill a gap in provision and not compete with colleges in Oldham, but also it's about generating non matchday income as well.

The gym's really busy. It has 2,000 members. It dipped after the pandemic, understandably, and then it had a blip when the electricity was cut off before we took over. But it's back up to 2,000. It's busy most of the day. It could be busier and we're going to start a promotion with them because instead of paying for parking they could go to the gym and park.

But more importantly than anything it provides a really good service to the players and the academy players so the quality of their training programme has again been enhanced because they've got these individual gym programmes which the club has never had. It's always gone elsewhere, over to Everlast. We've got a gym on our footprint and now they're using it and utilising it as well, as are the rugby club.

We want to also create the Oldham junior football league. Boundary Park Juniors produced loads of players like Paul Scholes, David May, Trevor Sinclair, but they never played football in Oldham. So despite having the playing fields, junior football league's never been there. It's an obvious thing, let's set one up, and let's get local kids playing in Oldham. That's another thing. The East Manchester Junior League is massive and there are seven or eight leagues in it, so it's not going to hurt other leagues, we're just providing something locally for our kids.

Curzon Ashton is a great club, it's got a great model, family run, the chairman's a great guy and he has got the East Manchester Junior League there, and it's a secondary business income as well as providing opportunities to local kids. So that's something that we want to do as well.