It was indicative of his new circumstances that when a bunch of reporters fetched up at Oldham Athletic ahead of Paul Scholes’s unveiling as manager, they were let into a locked Boundary Park by none other than the man himself.
“Welcome to Oldham,” he said, before adding that he hoped they knew where they were going as he had no idea where the press conference was due to take place.
If it seems an oddity that England’s finest midfielder of his generation should begin his managerial career in the modest environs of League Two, preparing for a first game against Yeovil Town in a humble stadium routinely dismissed as the coldest in the country, it should be pointed out that, for Scholes, this is less a job and more a labour of love. While Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, his international contemporaries, have started out in the sizeable surrounds of Rangers and Derby County, there was only one place he wanted to manage: the club he first followed.
“My dad was always an Oldham fan,” Scholes said, speaking in what passes for Boundary Park’s corporate hospitality suite, a wooden shed perched at one end of the main stand. “He used to take me to all sorts of away games. At home games, I’d go in the old Chaddy [Chadderton Road] End. Honestly, you couldn’t stand up in there. I went to the FA Cup semi-final against [Manchester] United in 1990 at Maine Road. I was in the Oldham end. That’s probably one of my best memories; so close. That was a good team, great to watch under Joe Royle.”
Those days in the top flight and Cup semi-finals, however, are long gone. While Scholes went to Old Trafford and won everything in the game, his favourite team sank. Life in the bottom tier, with crowds of about 4,000, is now the norm. But he has maintained his support, buying a house in the area, frequently being spotted in the crowd. And such is his enthusiasm, he appeared unfazed by the fact that the club had latterly become a short-stay venue for managers.